Mamadou

July 12, 2007 | 33 comments
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Mamadou has AIDS.

His fingers shred the bread while we sing the hymn.

Mamadou has been with us for more than a year now. He comes from Guinea, former French colony in West Africa. Born in the humid hills of Fouta-Djallon, he has experienced what repression does. The details of his journey, first to France, then to Belgium, are those of thousands like him. His request for asylum has been denied, but his disease granted him permission to remain for treatment.

When the missionaries found him, he was straightforward about his HIV. The therapy came too late. Six to eight months left.

He stands behind the sacrament table. For his shrinking body the jacket is too ample now. Too wide has grown the collar of his shirt.

Mamadou breaks each piece slowly, thoughtfully, as if saying a prayer for each soul to whom it is intended. His face is reverently cheerful, nurturing divine delight for the ordinance. His lungs, ravaged by PCP, take in short breaths to ease the pain as he stands in the lavender fragrance of the white table linen, starched and ironed to perfection, and which he has helped to fold with liturgical care over the water trays.

Father, from me remove this cup.
Yet, if thou wilt, I’ll drink it up.
I’ve done the work thou gavest me,
I’ve done the work thou gavest me.

The deacons move forward.

Mamadou kneels and reads the prayer from his own Book of Mormon in French. A couple of words per expiration.

… et garder
les commandements
qu’il leur a donnés,
afin qu’ils aient
toujours son Esprit
avec eux.
Amen.

The deacons break up to their zones.

Some in the audience follow which tray goes where.

Some fake taking from the bread which his fingers have shred.

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33 Responses to Mamadou

  1. tyler on July 12, 2007 at 7:26 am

    I suppose he, also, notices–does he care? I imagine he’s accustomed to such treatment (and worse, probably, since having AIDS in Africa is akin to being a leper). Still, I’d hope church would be his escape from such: “inasmuch as ye have done it…”

  2. Ugly Mahana on July 12, 2007 at 7:56 am

    In one sense, I hope that Church is Mamadou’s escape. Since he is blessing the sacrament, at least some part of the congregation is not only embracing, but also entrusting him with something sacred. I have a hard time blaming Church for the actions of some members. It seems that this is a situation that calls some to live better, to be more willing to mourn with those that mourn, to accept others as Christ accepts them. If some in the congregation do not do so, then I think we had better remember that Christ came to call the sinners, and not the righteous, to repentance. Thus we should not expect perfect charity from church members, even as we strive for perfection, and fail, ourselves.

  3. Wilfried on July 12, 2007 at 7:55 am

    Thank you, Tyler. Many African converts find their way to our European wards and branches now. Whatever they may sometimes experience in the outside world, it is clear that within the walls of our chapels they feel part of the community and they give generously of their spirit and dedication. Local members do also a lot for them, very often above their capacities, and it is a growing experience for all to cooperate in such diverse environment. I would hope this vignette does not give another impression.

  4. John Scherer on July 12, 2007 at 8:08 am

    I want so much to condemn the member that did not partake. However, if I’m honest with myself, I think I’d have the same initial reaction. Hopefully, remembering who’s body I partake in memory of and who’s name I take upon myself would alleviate these irrational fears.

  5. beeshnkj on July 12, 2007 at 8:22 am

    I served in a bishopric with the father of a disabled child. That child’s friend, also disabled, had terrorized primary leaders one Sunday morning, who called us to quell the disturbance. Before we arrived a teacher ill-advisedly gave Susan a sucker as a peace offering and Susan still had the sucker in her mouth as we escorted her out of the primary room and into a nearby classroom. She offered me the sucker as I tried, unsuccessfully, to re-orient her behavior. I faked a lick and said “num, num, num.” I will always remember what happened when she offered the same sucker to my fellow counselor. He put it in his mouth and enjoyed it for a several seconds before handing it back to her, and Susan immediately calmed.

  6. Xena on July 12, 2007 at 8:52 am

    Perhaps it would be helpful to educate the members that HIV CANNOT be spread by casual contact, especially by touching. There is absolutely no danger of transmitting HIV by Mamadou breaking the bread. I would be far more worried about a priest breaking the bread who had not washed his hands after using the bathroom. It is so sad that with all we know about HIV and AIDS today that people behave this way. I admire his dedication and courage.

  7. Nick Literski on July 12, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Wilfried, what a remarkable post. You have quite a way of expressing your point. I was finding your description deeply moving, and then the last line hit me like a slap in the face, bringing tears to my eyes.

    Perhaps my reaction is in part because I remember, years ago, when I worked at a nursing home in Utah. Two partnered gay men worked on my night shift, one of whom had fairly recently been diagnosed with AIDS. I remember he brought lemon squares for the staff one night. I think I ate a lemon square–I’m honestly not sure now. I may have “politely” found an excuse not to. What I do remember, all too clearly, was my own hesitation and revulsion. I wish I could say that it was long enough ago that nobody knew there was nothing to fear. I recall that education was going on at the time, regarding what kinds of contact were or were not a risk. I seem to recall I didn’t trust that education at the time. I also remember that deep down, I felt ashamed.

  8. Kevin Barney on July 12, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Tremendous, as usual, Wilfried.

  9. Tammy on July 12, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Initially, I thought to judge those members as well. Yet, despite their weakness, at least, when they did not partake, they did pretend to. Perhaps, even though they couldn’t get past their own fears (however unfounded), they could see how important it was to this man to be a part of something holy and sacred.

  10. KyleM on July 12, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    “I would be far more worried about a priest breaking the bread who had not washed his hands after using the bathroom.”
    Was my ward growing up the only one in the world where the priests used wet wipes before breaking the bread even if we had just washed our hands before the meeting?

  11. Adam Greenwood on July 12, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    When the Savior comes we’ll break bread together without the ravages of sin or unworthy fears. Speed the day.

  12. Ray on July 12, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    Wow.

    Thanks,Wilfried – also John and Nick.

  13. Margaret Young on July 12, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Such a beautiful post, Wilfried! I met with our brand new MTC missionaries last night to welcome them to their missions and our branch. All are French speaking. Two of the newbies are headed to Madagascar. Four are headed to France. As I understand it, many if not most of the serious investigators in Europe are from Africa. I was aware of that, and also aware of how ubiquitous AIDS is in Africa, but I hadn’t put the two together–that some of the African converts who join the Church in Europe and elsewhere enter the waters of baptism with a disease the water will not cleanse.

    Years ago, before the priesthood revelation, my co-author (African American) was sitting in a sacrament meeting. The deacon serving the sacrament went to great and obvious lengths to be sure Darius did not touch the tray at all.

    As we worked on the documentary yesterday, we were watching footage filmed in 1968, which flooded Darius with memories. He remembered his first Sunday as a baptized Mormon in 1964, when he was preparing a talk in the little corridor between the chapel and the cultural hall. A child bounced in and when Darius greeted her, screamed “Mommy! A nigger!” and ran out. When Darius returned to that chapel 30+ years later to give a fireside, he went to that corridor alone, but was soon joined by his former bishop. “Is this where it happened?” the former bishop asked. “Yes.” “I’m sorry,” the former bishop said. Darius wept as he told us this story. It is similar to another. As a student at BYU, he had been called in to the administration building to meet with the dean of students, where he was told that there had been complaints. Caucasian parents had learned that he was talking with their daughters. He was told to stay away from them. Again, years later, Darius and I did a presentation. The former dean happened to be in the audience. He came up to Darius afterwards and extended his hand. Darius said gently, “You don’t have to introduce yourself. I know who you are.” The former dean teared up and said, “I am sorry.”

    In thirty or forty years, whether on this side of the veil or beyond it, I wonder how many will look into the eyes of today’s “lepers” and realize just who they were rejecting when they feigned to partake of what was offered. How many of us will need to ask forgiveness?

  14. Wilfried on July 12, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you all for comments that touched me deeply. It is indeed interesting to note that in many parts of the world we have moved to become one of the most culturally diverse and racially mixed churches when one looks at the audience in our chapels. What progress we have made in 30 years.

    My post, of course, had also much to do with irrational fear for a disease, for Mamadou could just have been anyone, black or white. And on a deeper level, I hope we will always be able to see behind a body ravaged by illness, behind the skin of the leper, the depth of dedication and spirituality.

  15. Adam Greenwood on July 12, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    some of the African converts who join the Church in Europe and elsewhere enter the waters of baptism with a disease the water will not cleanse

    A sentence can be so lovely that its painful. A truth can be so painful that its lovely. This is both.

  16. Thomas Parkin on July 12, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Wow. Thanks Wilfried. For a minute, I felt full of love for your friend.

    Now I have to go to the restaurant and deal with the insufferable minutae of my own life – and try to put this far enough out of my mind that I can do it with some marginal degree of effectiveness. I can be tearing up while I … oh, all the nonsense I have to do on any given day.

    I have thought often lately on how it took Enoch 300 years to build Zion. Would that we could walk right through the gate tomorrow. I’d give away all my sins, every smallness of soul, to do that. It says that when Zion comes again those old Enochians will fall on our necks, and we on theirs, and we will kiss them. And I feel fully confident that your Mamadou will be there, if that is his desire, with a health in his body like we none of us have ever known, knowing as he is known and seeing as he is seen, clean and free.

  17. Margaret Young on July 12, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    Wilfried: “My post, of course, had also much to do with irrational fear for a disease, for Mamadou could just have been anyone, black or white. And on a deeper level, I hope we will always be able to see behind a body ravaged by illness, behind the skin of the leper, the depth of dedication and spirituality”

    There are so many dimensions to your post, Wilfried, including those you identify above. The faith of Mamadou touches me deeply. Surely he would notice the subtle rejection of the bread he had touched. Yet his devotion connects him with the meaning of the sacrament and allows him to perform his duties (privileges?) with dignity and love. Beautiful.

  18. J. Stapley on July 12, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Wilfried and Margaret, thank you.

  19. Brian on July 12, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    This goes beyond the “contagiousness” of AIDS. This man had an interview with his bishop and was found worthy to bless the sacrament. Who are we to say he is not?

  20. Guy on July 12, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Great post (and responses). I love reading heart-warming posts like this. And this one was done so effectively that it not only conveys wonderful meaning, but challenges us (indirectly) to look at our own lives / insecurities / biases and prejudices.

  21. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Brian,

    *If* he could infect others through blessing/passing the sacrament, he shouldn’t do it regardless of how worthy he is. The point is that that is obviously not the situation in this case.

  22. jjohnsen on July 12, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Thank you Wilfried, wonderful post.

    Margaret, every story you share about Darius makes me admire him more. I’ve known very few people that have the amount of faith he must have had to continue on his journey through the church. Your post was as satisfying as Wilfried’s original post.

  23. Brian on July 12, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    Julie, that is why I put the quotes around contagiousness, because those who choose to educate themselves on this matter know otherwise.

  24. Brian on July 12, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Oh, and I doubt the bishopric would allow someone to administer the sacrament if he was a danger to those taking the sacrament.

  25. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    Brian, thanks for clarifying. I didn’t get it.

  26. Jim Cobabe on July 12, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    I think there is natural fear of disease we all know to be contagious and dangerous. Also a lot of misinformation and poor understanding about AIDS and similarly infectious disease. Should everyone be expected to suspend their personal concerns because we are in a church? Rather than suffer in silence, I would prefer to acknowledge the legitimate concerns, and would appreciate help to understand how and why to dismiss the baseless fears.

    When I am at work around several family members that carry infectious blood-borne pathogens, I am aware that there are risks, have informed myself about how to minimize them, and have discussed this with the infected people. None has ever taken offense that I expressed a desire to protect myself with best practices.

    I think the ideal might be that we ought to inform and prepare ourselves to deal with such problems, just as health-care professionals routinely do. In this day and age nobody should feel offended at such reasonable precautions.

    Why not offer some word of explanation to members of the congregation? Perhaps both they and Mamadou would find comfort and solace through better understanding.

  27. Tatiana on July 12, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Wilfried, thank you. Your posts always touch me and make me a better person.

  28. manaen on July 12, 2007 at 10:08 pm

    I’m glad we now see LDS congregations, like those in LA, being comfortable in their diversity.

    Interesting contrast in this story and later comments:
    * In Mamadou’s European story, the branch allowed/encouraged his participation and hesitant members tried to hide their reticence
    * In Darius’s American stories, the deacon obviously tried to prevent Darius from touching the sacrament tray and the BYU parents not only were open about their reticence, they demanded — and obtained (!) — institutional support.

    Is this a cultural difference in the Church between continents or beween pre- and post-Revelation versions of the Church (the pre- dean apologized post-Revelation)?

  29. Brian on July 12, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    Are there actually church members out there who think a bishopric would put them at risk of physical harm?

  30. Wilfried on July 12, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    Certainly not, Brian (29), but people are sometimes irrational in their fears. And indeed, as others have said, we need to educate our people, either discreetly or publicly according to circumstances.

    Manaen (28), to answer your question, I don’t think there is a difference in the way people react to situations like the one in Mamadou’s story, if one would compare it between continents. I think many of us, as has been said in some comments, would recognize their own reticence if in a similar situation confronted with a person who has AIDS.

    As far as racism or other differences are concerned, I think many of us need to go through a maturing process in order to become more accepting persons, in any place in the world. From a politico-cultural standpoint, it is evident that such changes in attitude, viewed per country, have happened in different periods. And that today some countries, as to average feelings of racism, are still behind others. Getting used to diversity and equality therein takes time.

  31. tyler on July 12, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    Wilfried–

    Sorry if my comment came across too harshly: all members, including those abstaining from the bread, are seeking perfection through Christ. AIDS is a frightening thing, especially for those who are ignorant of how it is passed from person to person.

    Margaret–

    I am often surprised, even amazed, at the bigness of those who are able to forgive like Darius–he sets a high standard for the rest of us.

  32. Razorfish on July 12, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    C’etait formidable (encore)…Merci….

  33. annegb on July 13, 2007 at 12:44 am

    I would have eaten the bread. I’m not afraid of AIDS.