Trials increase record keeper's faith
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Modibo Diarra serves much as an anchor in the Church in the northwestern African nation of Mali, a "keeper of the record" of sorts.
Diarra, who was born and raised in Mali, helps tie the past and present together. A faded green book, with the word "record" etched on its front cover, is left in Diarra's care. The record contains the agenda of all sacrament meetings held in Mali since 1981, the year in which he was baptized and meetings began to be held.Diarra learned of the gospel from a Church member from the United States who was living in Mali, a veterinarian whom Diarra met through another American, a man whose last name was Miller.
"I was giving French lessons to the Millers," recalled Diarra. "One day I told them I couldn't teach them because my dog was sick with what I thought was rabies. The Millers told me about a veterinarian they knew, a Dr. Zaugg.
"Dr. Zaugg came to my house to examine my dog; fortunately it wasn't rabies. I asked my wife to make some tea, but Dr. Zaugg declined. He later explained he didn't drink tea because of his religion. I asked him about his religion."
Dr. Zaugg began taking French lessons from Diarra. After each lesson, they talked about the Church. "We had to speak very slowly in English because my English wasn't very good," said Diarra. "Dr. Zaugg invited me to attend his Church meetings with another family, the Martins. At the meetings, everything was in English, which was very difficult for me to understand. However, I was given many Church books in French."
Among the books was a copy of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. He was baptized April 12, 1981.
"My wife and children attended," he recalled. "At the time they thought everything was strange, and they couldn't believe how I had changed. My two oldest boys, Amadou and Gausou, attended Church with me and began reading the Book of Mormon."
Several LDS families, mostly from North America, moved in and out of the branch during the next few years. Among them was Don Van Noy, who stayed for three years. "Brother Van Noy was a good teacher of Amadou and Gausou," said Diarra. "One day they both told me they knew the Church was true, and they wanted to be baptized."
As often happens, great blessings are preceded by the trial of faith. In February 1988, Diarra lost his job and his position as leader of the national teachers' union. In the months that followed, he did a lot of soul searching since his dependents consisted of 19 people from his extended family, including close relatives who struggled to have enough to eat. Diarra was forced to sell his car, for which he had saved years to purchase.
In March, the Church sent him several copies of the simplified version of Gospel Principles for him to check the translation into Bambara, the local language. Also, 12 Church songs were sent for him to translate into Bambara. As he began translating, he realized the importance of his work.
"It is necessary to do the work well because our translation should be the best," he said. "It is a great responsibility."
Last May, Dr. James Ferwarda, a non-member eye doctor whom Diarra had accompanied on a tour of Mali in 1985, sent a letter and airplane ticket, inviting Diarra to go to the United States to visit him. North Americans then residing in the Bambara Branch encouraged him to accept the invitation, and, if possible, to visit the nearest temple.
"I went to the United States because a friend - who is not a member of our Church - invited me," Diarra said. "When I arrived at his home in Wisconsin, I told him it was very important to me to visit Salt Lake City. My friend said, `No problem. I respect your opinion, and I will pay for your ticket to go to Salt Lake City, too.' He is a good friend.
"I was very impressed with the opportunity to travel to Salt Lake City. When the opportunity came, it was unbelievable that someone who was barely surviving could make such an expensive trip."
While in Salt Lake City, Diarra was ordained an elder by Elder Alexander Morrison of the United Kingdom/Ireland/Africa Area presidency. Diarra also went to the temple for his endowments.
"The serenity of the people in the temple impressed me," recalled Diarra. "There was always someone there to help. For several years, I had hoped to be able to visit a temple, and it has finally happened because of someone who wasn't even a member of the Church."
Diarra visited wards in Salt Lake City, as well as one in Boise, Idaho. "I was very impressed when I went to Church in the United States. The only differences were the number of people, the facilities and equipment. We have the same spirit in Mali."
While in the United States, Diarra saw full-time LDS missionaries for the first time. "They were marvelous," he said. "It is a great thing that the Church encourages young men to become missionaries. I want my sons to go on missions. Every person should be a missionary. It is a superior way to do the work of the Lord."
Diarra feels his visit to Salt Lake City has helped him become a stronger, more convinced member of the Church. "I know I have a great responsibility in my country for the Church," he said.
His testimony has grown because of the trial of his faith and the blessing of receiving his endowments in the temple. "Even going through all this, I kept my faith in God," he said of the hardships after he lost his job. "The Lord has helped me many times in very difficult circumstances. There are 19 people in my extended family, but we eat every meal, morning, noon and night. That is a blessing from God."
Diarra continues to work on translations for the Church in Bambara. He has made an additional trip to Salt Lake City to discuss translations and has started the process to enable Amadou, his 18-year-old son, to go on a mission.