The following is part one in a series entitled, “Walking Through Walls and War Zones.”
It started with a thief. On June 22, 2017, My husband (Bruce), my brother (Dell), and I were in Paris for a long layover prior to going to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where we had particular projects.
There in Paris, someone stole my brother’s passport. He got an emergency one, but it lacked the visa to let him into the Congo. The three of us all went to the Charles DeGaulle airport together in time to catch our flight to Kinshasa. We had copies of the visas and indications that all three of us had received them. We hoped that we could talk our way onto the plane—with Dell.
Such was not to be. The answer at the gate was a solid no. Dell was forbidden to board. Bruce and I said goodbye to him and added, “We’ll see you in a couple of days.”
In Kinshasa, our first priority was to get that visa. Several people told us how to do this. We paid money and met with officials who seemed willing to help and who made easy promises. Those “couple of days” went by quickly and with no success in the visa department. Each succeeding day, we were told, “Probably tomorrow.”
Two weeks went by, and my husband had to return to the States. (I had always been scheduled to stay there with my brother through mid-August.) It was obvious that the routes we had tried were dead ends. And we had spent a lot of money in our efforts—which meant that other plans had to be cancelled.
Scott Wyatt, a friend and the president of Southern Utah University, had requested that I go to Lodja, a place he and his colleagues had visited two years earlier, to assess how we could help its university. Lodja had been in my travel plan, but I no longer had money to pay for that trip.
Alone in Kinshasa, I thought about my uncle, Elder John Groberg, who also found himself without a visa and with little money to get to his destination–Tonga, where he had been called to serve as a missionary in 1954. In Suva, Fiji, facing all of these obstacles, John Groberg contemplated his dismal situation. Suddenly, he could hear his mother praying for him—all the way from Idaho. This is how he described it in April Conference, 1982:
I closed my eyes in prayer, when suddenly I felt almost transported. I didn’t see anything or hear anything, in a physical sense; but, in a more real way, I saw a family in far-off Idaho kneeling together in prayer; and I heard my mother, acting as mouth, say as clearly as anything can be heard, ‘And bless John on his mission.’
I had not recalled that this particular event in my uncle’s life involved an absent visa, but I remembered his testimony of prayer. Drawing on his faith and on my own, I wrote this email to my family on Saturday night, July 8th, 2017:
We are pursuing a promising path to getting Dell’s visa. Special prayers tomorrow. Jim, if you and your family could get to Mom’s for a special, kneeling prayer tonight (Sunday), that would be wonderful. Remember those Groberg prayers for John. Let our faith be likewise firm. “I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand–upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.” Please share with other family members. I am including Uncle John in this email.
Bruce, who was the voice of this family prayer, reported on his preparation for it:
Friday or Saturday, while watching an episode of “Joseph Smith Papers,” I learned about an event in the life of Lucy Mack Smith that echoes what we had been going through–being stuck in a journey.
In 1831 Lucy was traveling with other Saints on the Erie Canal toward Kirtland, Ohio. At one point their boat was stuck in ice, and so progress in their journey was stalled. To the others on the boat, she said: “Where is your faith? Where is your confidence in God? Can you not realize that all things were made by Him and that He rules over the works of His own hands and suppose that all the saints here should lift their hearts in prayer to God that the way might be opened before us. How easy it would be for Him to cause the ice to break away so that in a moment we could be on our journey.”
Then she specifically addressed the group of Saints she was with: “Now brothers and sisters, if you and all of you will raise your desires to heaven that the ice may be broken up and we be set at liberty, as sure as the Lord lives, it will be done.”
At that instant, they heard a loud crack as the ice split. The passage opened up—so narrow, though, that the water buckets on the paddle wheel were broken off as the boat moved through. Immediately after the boat got through, the passage way sealed up again behind them.
Hearing that story, and thinking about Margaret’s request that members of the extended family join in prayer for getting Dell to Kinshasa, I felt several things at once: a stronger, deeper realization of and faith in God’s power, and a sense that (perhaps) Dell’s way forward was about to be opened up.
I was the voice for the prayer. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember calling on God, expressing confidence that he could do all things and pleading with him to open the way so that Dell could get to Kinshasa. Along with confidence in God’s power and wisdom, I also acknowledged that God knows best and that his will might not be exactly the same as our desires. And so I sought to be humble and submissive in asking that all be done according to his will.
What I learned was not a complete revision of my understanding of faith–but it was a deepening and enhancement of it. I learned that faith in some way combines confidence and humility. It is not confidence that I will get what I want but rather that God has the power to do all things, including granting my desires if they are in accordance with his will. I learned that I need to plead with faith that God can do what I ask but also with the humility to accept his will if it is different from what I want and confidence that God’s will is for the best.
Of course, I was also aware that we (humans) would still need to do our part. I had rebooked the ticket. Margaret went forward doing what she felt she needed to do. And so our work not only joined with our faith but was an expression of our faith. We needed to do our part, but if God was willing, he would make up for anything we were unable to do.
The day after my family joined in prayer an ocean away, I met with a high government official in Kinshasa, DR-Congo. That meeting was simply offered, the way opened up, and I walked through the door. As it happened, Lodja was this official’s hometown, and he was eager to have me visit. Not only did he arrange for me to get my brother’s visa, but he paid my way to Lodja.
With the visa in hand, I sent an email to my husband, who was on the phone with the DR-C embassy in Washington DC. He was on hold when he read my email: “I have the visa!” The clerk at the embassy returned to the call and said that there was nothing they could do for us. “That’s okay,” my husband said. “We got it.”
Dell got to Kinshasa, but his new visa was not adequate to get him to Lodja with me. I would make that trip alone. It would have its own challenges.
In Kinshasa, my friends (filmmakers mostly, as our projects heretofore had been centered around film) spoke English. In Lodja, nobody spoke it. I would be forced to use the little French I had learned—which was paltry. I did not know where I would stay. I knew only one name: Abbe Veron, a Catholic priest and the rector of the university there. I assumed that I would meet him at some point—and I knew he wouldn’t speak English..
My step onto the plane headed for Lodja was one of faith. I certainly did not suspect that my life was about to change.
To be continued in the next installment in the series.