In many ways we find Malawi strange. Yet the first Sacrament Meeting we attended in the Zingwangwa Branch, after arriving in Malawi, reminded Carole and me of a fundamental gospel truth. The setting was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. The branch meets in a modest sized home, located across from the “dead” truck, and is accessed by a steep staircase, with stairs of uneven depth, making it treacherous to enter the building, especially for the elderly, sight impaired and children. When it is rainy, everyone tracks red mud into the building, smearing the tile floors, generally making a mess of everything. The two adjoining rooms used for the Sacrament service are too small to accommodate the entire membership—so each Sunday there are two Sacrament Meetings, one at 8:00 a.m. and the other at 11:00 a.m. The meetinghouse is a far cry from the spacious, clean, tidy, comfortable buildings used in the United States, many built using the same or virtually same architectural plans. We were surrounded by our new Malawian members and apart from a pair of young Westerner missionaries, we were the only “azungu”s (whites) in the room. But as soon as the members began singing familiar Church hymns, we instantly felt at home, a sensation that intensified throughout the service. Though in a foreign land, miles from home and family, and though among people quite unlike ourselves, we took comfort from the affinity we felt to those around us, feeling the same Spirit we would feel week in and week out when attending church in our home ward in Seattle, Washington. The differences--in venue, appearance, and surroundings--were suddenly of little consequence. What we sensed were the similarities.
As Church members know, this experience is not unique. To the contrary, it is an experience, replicated each Sunday around the world, as travelling members meet in chapels, rented halls, or even homes, with local members gathered together for Sunday services in the far flung corners of the world. It brought to mind for me the divine promise found in Matthew 18:20—”For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
The Apostle Paul touches upon the reasons why members, though having diverse gifts and coming from different backgrounds—find unity in the Church. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” 1 Cor. 12: When visiting with members in their homes, Carole and I have often shared this scripture, speaking to the “commonalty” we have as members of the Church. There are certainly many differences between us and those we visit—different language, different skin color, different educational systems, different birth places. The differences are in fact endless. But at one point, we are all the “same”—each of us has been touched by the Spirit and have become “members” of the same body.
This commonalty we sense during fast and testimony meetings, when singing together the well-beloved hymns, as heart felt prayers are expressed, and when hearing the conversion stories of our new members. It is the spirit we feel when welcomed into their homes, when sharing testimonies, in the greetings given each Sabbath morning.
The Lord explains how it is that individuals learn and share spiritual truths. He does this in the context of the preaching of the gospel, but the message is equally applicable when members meet together and share feelings about the restored gospel. There is one way, and only one way, in which spiritual truth is conveyed from one person to another. “Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained? To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.” D&C 50:13-14. “Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that received the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it was preached by the Spirit of truth. Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.” D&C 50:21-22. This commonalty transcends all of the superficial differences and through it we feel our kinship of all men--all children of a loving Heavenly Father, and “brothers and sisters.” Whatever differences there may be are all swallowed up in this supernal truth.