Relief Society message: Working to keep them strong
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Each month, the Church News publishes a message to complement the Relief Society visiting teaching message found in the Ensign magazine. This article is based on the July 2010 theme, "Strengthening at every opportunity."
A smile lit up Julie Maree Beugre Powa's dark brown eyes as she bore testimony of family, faith and helping those in need.
From Africa's Ivory Coast, Sister Powa traveled to Utah for general conference in March and April. She went to all four of the conference's general sessions, and also attended the auxiliary training meetings for the Young Women and Relief Society.
Sister Powa served as first counselor in the Cocody Ivory Coast Stake Relief Society presidency during the Ivorian civil war in 2002 and is now the stake Young Women president. Members in her stake told her to come learn all she could so she could teach them when she returned home.
During the war, the Relief Society presidency's job was more difficult than usual, she said.
Visiting teaching — traveling to the nine wards in her stake and making sure all the sisters had food and water — were big responsibilities made harder when the police instigated a curfew, Sister Powa said. When they couldn't visit teach in person, they made telephone calls instead. But they were thankful they had followed President Gordon B. Hinckley's counsel when he advised members to collect food storage for emergencies.
"The area was big and we had to go from ward to ward to help the sisters. We were all relying on faith," she said in a Church News interview. "It was easy for us to have the food when we couldn't have a taxi or a bus to go to the market."
Working together was essential to taking care of everybody. There were different zones in each area of the stake. The Relief Society presidency assigned a sister to each zone to make sure the sisters in that zone were all right. That sister would then relay the information to the presidency so they could know what was going on in the lives of each sister in the stake.
When families from the war-stricken area of Ivory Coast left their homes, the bishops asked the members of Sister Powa's stake to host them. Most of them never returned home, but stayed and tried to begin life anew.
The Church's welfare program was a big help to the members at this time. While trying to keep track of each sister, the stake presidency made a list and asked the Relief Society presidency to put the needs of the sister in front of her name, whether it be money, food, help finding a job or help going to the market.
These difficult times challenged Relief Society sisters' and many members' faith, but Sister Powa and other leaders tried to help keep them strong.
"We taught them that they should keep their faith; most of them did keep their faith," she said. "You have to rely on God. If you don't have hope, your life is gone. You have to keep praying that the war will stop; you shouldn't give up."
Eventually, the war did end, but members still face difficulties every day. What amazes Sister Powa about her ward and stake are the people who walk miles and hours to and from church, who have tough challenges in life and who sell goods on the street to feed their families when no other jobs are available. These people come to church with smiles on their faces, excited to be part of the gospel, she said.
Sister Pam Norby, a member of the Relief Society general board, served with her husband, Richard Norby, when he was called as mission president of the Ivory Coast Abidjan Mission in 2003. She noticed the good spirit Ivorian members had about them.
"They were just so excited and I think, like Julie says, they just live the gospel," Sister Norby said.
Sister Powa's own challenges in her calling have strengthened her, both as a person and as a member of the Church.
"People are watching me and I need to be an example. That's helped me a lot," she said. "I have to learn a lot. I have to read the scriptures and the manuals so that if someone has a question and I don't have the answer, I can guide her with what to read."
Sister Powa joined the Church in March 1994. She visited some friends, discovered the missionaries, became interested in the gospel and was baptized three months later. She served in the South Africa Durban Mission three years later and, since then, has served faithfully in many callings — in the ward and stake Young Women, in the stake Relief Society presidency and now in the stake Young Women again as president.
When she attended general conference, Sister Powa loved listening to Sister Cheryl Lant, former Primary general president, speak of members being the angels that Heavenly Father has sent to help teach and bless the children of the rising generation. She looked forward to watching conference again with her stake after she returned to Ivory Coast. Stake leaders received a DVD of conference and called special meetings so that all would have a chance to listen to the teachings of Church leaders.
When she came to Utah, Sister Powa was happy to discover that the Spirit works the same way here as it does in her own country. She attended the Salt Lake, Bountiful and San Diego temples, and visited the grounds of four other Utah temples; she loved how beautiful they all are. In Ivory Coast, they have to travel a long distance to get to the Accra Ghana Temple.
"The architecture is different, but the feeling is the same," Sister Powa said. "Ghana is a small temple, but still is a temple."
However, even though the feeling in the temple is the same, when she arrived in Utah she noticed something different and was surprised by what she found.
"It's like you have something special, but you don't know it. You just take it for granted," she said. "When someone in Ivory Coast takes [the gospel] seriously, the life of that person changes a lot ... In Ivory Coast, you are excited about [it]. This is the Church of Jesus Christ."
There are so many things that make members in Utah fortunate, Sister Powa said. Resources make genealogy research easy in Utah. Members don't have to travel long distances to villages, tracking down people who may or may not remember a story about a distant ancestor. Resources for understanding the scriptures are easily accessible. Temples are "everywhere."
"All I know is that I'm so happy to be in the Church. I love when I went to the temple; the Spirit is the same inside," she said. "This is what I like — the Church is the same no matter where you are. You are so lucky; you have everything here. You are really blessed."