One summer, I traveled to Ghana, in West Africa, for a work assignment. It was a life-changing experience. I was struck by the humility and spirituality of the people in general. Many Ghanaians live in abject poverty, but they are a happy, God-fearing people. One of the first things I noticed when I arrived was that a lot of cars had stickers on their back windows that proclaimed, “God Is Great,” or “Peace Be Unto You.”
Many businesses had scriptures on the front of their buildings and stores were named Biblical themes. One I remember, for example, was “My God is Good” car repair.
A huge billboard on the road into Accra, the capital city, declares in large letters: “Repent!” Underneath it read, “Jesus is coming soon.”
Because of their stark poverty, many of the people I met in Ghana seemed to have every reason to feel bitterness, but they did not. They seemed to have every reason to be discouraged. But they weren’t. They love people, and they love life. For them, it’s not what they can have, but what they can give.
I attended a sacrament meeting and a baptismal service in Ghana and I noticed young Aaronic Priesthood holders wearing white shirts and ties. The members of the Church are faithful, and enthusiastic about the gospel, and they love the Lord. Some walked for miles to attend church. Next to the chapel in Accra is the temple. I learned that Saints from countries throughout West Africa sold everything they had, and risked their lives, to travel hundreds of miles to Accra to do temple work. They would spend a week there, living in an apartment complex owned by the Church near the temple. Their sacrifices for the gospel are inspiring.
We visited a school in Ghana made of cement and surrounded by dirt roads. There were no glass windows, no electricity, no plumbing. The children of that village were very poor. But when my group from the United States arrived, the dozens of children that attended the school excitedly welcomed us, smiled, asked our names, asked us questions, and hugged us. They loved it when we took pictures of them.
Others in my group visiting from the United States had brought boxes and bins filled with books, school supplies and toys for the children, for which they expressed profound gratitude.
One 7-year-old boy, named Hadji, for some reason took a particular interest in me. The purpose of my trip was to write stories, so I didn’t bring much of anything, other than some pieces of butterscotch candies from Wal-Mart that I had in my pocket and handed out.
I found that this young boy, Hadji would cling to me, hold my hand, and talk to me constantly. We spent two days at the school and before we left, he came up to me with tear-filled eyes and said in his broken English, “Please don’t go.” Then he began to cry.
A 15-year-old American girl in my travel group asked me why the boy was crying. I told her it was because he didn’t want us to leave. Then she started crying. This boy didn’t know me, but he treated me like he loved me. I couldn’t help but feel love for him as well. I thought that maybe I should bring him home with me. When you have six boys, what’s one more?
Even though the gift seemed nonsensical, it made perfect sense to me. He unwittingly gave me something that had special significance.
At one point just before we left, Hadji came running to me with something in his small hand. I bent down and he whispered to into my ear, “Good luck. I love you. I will never forget you.” Then he placed into the palm of my hand a wadded-up piece of newspaper. He then turned and ran away. I unfolded the paper, and it didn’t seem to have any significance, other than I work for a newspaper, though the boy did not know that. Even though the gift seemed nonsensical, it made perfect sense to me. He unwittingly gave me something that had special significance.
Still, I was puzzled as to why he would give me a wadded up piece of newspaper. I asked one of the teachers why he gave the wadded up piece of newspaper to me. She said, “That’s probably the only thing he had to give you. He wants you to have it as a way to remember him.”
I felt a lump in my throat, realizing I probably would never see the boy again in mortality. He gave all he had. And so I’ve kept the wadded up piece of newspaper.
Hadji taught me a memorable lesson about unconditional, Christlike love.