I remember having a talk with one of my missionary friends during lunch at a zone conference when I was a missionary in France. He was telling me about an amazing experience he had by finding a family, teaching them the gospel, and seeing them get baptized. He said, “This is the reason I came to France.”
The miracles that you see as a missionary are incredible as people grasp onto the gospel of Jesus Christ, change their lives for the better, and commit to keep the commandments. But I wasn’t sure that I had ever thought, “This is why I came to France.”
In my last area, in the city of Pau, I really had seen some miracles and the missionaries were seeing some success. One of the assistants to the mission president (AP) came to our town and we went on exchanges together. (We called them splits.) We went to a building which my companion and I were previously tracting out and continued where we had left off. We knocked on a door and a nice lady answered and said that her husband would be back tomorrow. We left a Book of Mormon with her and said we’d stop by the next day.
The next day my companion and I stopped by to see if we could speak to them about the Book of Mormon that we had dropped off. To our surprise we were greeted with a smile as the husband welcomed us in. His name was Etienne Kapinga Mwamba. We learned that he and his family were refugees seeking political asylum in France from Zaire (Congo.) He had been a high-ranking officer in the army, and then there was a coup and all of a sudden he was on a hit list. He said that if he was forced to return, he would be killed. He had managed to escape with his wife and two young daughters. He had left behind two older boys whom he hoped could join them later. They lived in pretty humble circumstances with very little to their name.
We asked him if he had a chance to look at the scriptures we had suggested to read. To our surprise he had read them all, and had actually started reading the Book of Mormon from the beginning. He shared with us that he had been praying to know how to find eternal life for him and his family. He said, funny enough, when they moved into the apartment, it was completely empty, except for a Book of Mormon that someone had left behind. He said that he couldn’t believe that he had this book on the shelf and had never opened it up to see what treasures were inside. We were eager to explain just what this precious book was that he was holding.
We set up a time to come back and teach him. Initially he didn’t want to have his wife and children in the discussion. I think he wanted to see what we were all about first. I could respect that. After everything that he had gone through, he was being cautious.
The first discussion went really well. He had a strong Christian background and had read and studied the Bible. He had been educated in the USA, and had enjoyed a successful life in Zaire. He embraced it all, and really loved the Book of Mormon. He was reading through it quickly.
When I was a missionary, the second discussion (meeting) was generally when you challenged the person investigating the LDS religion to baptism. We went by the book, and asked him if he’d be baptized. He said that he would fast (go without food or drink) and pray about it before making a decision.
Missionaries work during the day, and back then we didn’t have cell phones, so the next day after our work was finished, I called him in the evening to see if he had prayed and fasted. He had been reading the Book of Mormon and had been fasting, but he had not received an answer. We also had been fasting and praying. I encouraged him and said that he would get his answer. We ended our fast, but kept a prayer in our heart. The next evening, I made the same phone call. Once again, he had not received his answer. I was very disappointed. I encouraged him not to give up. To my surprise he was still fasting. The third day, I called in the evening just as the other times. I was nervous to call. When I heard his voice he sounded very happy. He said that he had a dream and that in the dream he was lost. He wasn’t sure where to go. He said then I came with my companion and we showed him the way. He said, “This is my answer from the Lord. I wish to be baptized.” I was so happy and excited for him.
The next lesson that I worried about was on the law of tithing. Faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pay a tithing on their income. I knew of their circumstances, and what little government money they were getting, it wasn’t much. He was not legally allowed to work in France, so it was simply a wait and pray situation for their family. When we taught him the principle of tithing, he said, “I have always felt that I was robbing God by not paying a tithing. I simply did not know how to do it.” I couldn’t believe my ears. Once again, I was worried and didn’t have enough faith, and Frère Mwamba had the faith to accept the law of tithing without hesitation.
Eventually we finished teaching all of the discussions and we needed to settle on a baptismal date and plan the program. He asked that I would baptize him and that my companion would bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost.
After his baptism, he wanted his wife and daughters to receive the lessons. We invited the sister missionaries in the ward to teach them and they were later baptized after I had come home from my 2 year mission. I had found my reason for serving in France.
I don’t know if everyone always finds their reason, but I was pretty sure that there were no coincidences in the timing of my mission, of me serving in Pau, and of me tracting out the Mwamba family.
Many years later, my wife and I traveled to Pau and went to church while on vacation. We found out that Frère Mwamba had had a stroke and was hospitalized. After church we went to the hospital and found one of his daughters and his wife there. We visited for some time. Frère Mwamba was pretty unresponsive, just on life support. They gave me a gift that he had got from Zaire. It is a wooden carving of an elephant and another of a guitar. They said that he had hoped that one day he would be able to give them to me. Before leaving, they asked if I would give him a priesthood blessing. It had been quite awhile since I had given a blessing in French, but I was able to. I blessed him with peace and that he would be able to realize the truthfulness of the eternal life we had spoken about so long ago. He passed away a short time later.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is everlasting. This mortal life is not. Through our mortal journey, sometimes we are lucky enough to meet a Frère Mwamba in our life. I was blessed to be the one to introduce him to the fullness of the gospel which he loved. He was kind, charitable, and showed Christlike love to me. God be with you till we meet again, Frère.