The Blessing of Blackberries: Side Effects of a Joyous Baptism

In May I had one of the most joyous days of my life as two friends of ours, a courageous and very talented mother from Africa and her intelligent, faithful daughter, were baptized into the Church.  Knowing how hard it is for African immigrants in our area to leave their lively local churches with many dozens or hundreds of friends and relatives, I recognized how much faith and courage it took to do this.  In the year or so that we’ve been friends with this family, I’ve been touched with the spiritual gifts this great woman has and believe she will be a blessing to many people in the Church. I  am so impressed with the faith and courage that helped her to endure terrible afflictions and injustices in her life and still remain hopeful, loving, and full of faith and patience.

The night before her baptism, I was rushing around to remind a few other African friends of ours about the baptism on Saturday morning. My wife was home baking some refreshments that we would bring. As I was about to return home, she called and asked if I could buy some lemons for her lemon cake. Sure, no problem. I was right next to the large Meijer grocery store on the north side of town. It was getting late but the store was still open. I ran in and grabbed some lemons, and then saw one of the most amazing signs I’ve seen in grocery store: “Blackberries $0.50.” Fifty cents a box for blackberries, when they are normally over three dollars? That’s almost free. How could that be?

There was a huge pile of blackberry cartons stacked in cardboard containers. I thought of how nice it would be to have blackberries at the baptism, along with the strawberries I already had and the baked goods my wife was making. I also thought of the eight grandchildren we would be feeding on Sunday and of frozen blackberries that we and others could snack on in the future. So I loaded up on blackberries. At that moment, I wasn’t sure if these would be fresh and delicious — perhaps they were already going bad. But never mind! They looked good and I was so excited about this low price that I had to tell someone. I looked around, anxious to find someone with whom I could share this good news, but there were not many people in the produce area.

Then I noticed a young man and an older woman walking into the produce area. They looked carefully at the fruit and then paused, appearing slightly confused as if searching for something they couldn’t find. I suspected they were from Africa. The thought struck me that it might seem weird for a stranger to approach them and start gushing about blackberries, but it was such a great find that I had to say something. I approached them and cautiously say something like, “Hey, if you like blackberries, there’s an amazing sale, just 50 cents a box, over there are the end of the produce section.” They looked at each other and then at me in surprise. “Blackberries? That’s exactly what we were looking for!”

How many times have you run into a person who was looking for blackberries? That strange coincidence motivated to do more than just point. I took those excited people over to the blackberries and encouraged them to stock up a bit like I did. I mentioned freezing and after they inquired, shared some simple ideas on how to freeze them. I learned that the woman was the young man’s mother who had just arrived in Wisconsin from Uganda to attend his wedding that weekend at his church, and then she would be going back to Africa. I have a lot of friends who came here as refugees who have lived in or were even born in Uganda, where Swahili is spoken by a fair percentage of the people, so I spoke a little Swahili with the mother (fortunately, she was a Swahili speaker). She was quite surprised but very glad to hear it, though I am not at all fluent. We chatted for a while, mostly in English (her son did not speak Swahili) and the young man asked about my church as well.  We had a very pleasant chat. It seemed like finding new friends, brought together by the blessing of blackberries.

After I left these new friends with my contact information, hoping to see them again, it hit me that what happened with the blackberries was very much like what often happens with the Gospel. There are good people who are searching for religious truth, but don’t know where to find it. They need someone to approach them and help show them where it can be found:

And also it is an imperative duty that we owe to all the rising generation, and to all the pure in heart—

For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it…. (Doctrine & Covenants 123:11,12)

It turned out that the blackberries I purchased weren’t merely fresh, but were perhaps the most tender, juicy, and delicious I’ve ever tasted, something my wife pointed out before I noticed that.

The next morning at the baptismal service, my wife and I both had assignments to speak. I abandoned most of my prepared remarks in my talk on baptism to share my blackberry story, holding up a carton of blackberries and comparing them to the sweet fruit of the Gospel that can motivate us to boldly share the joy of the Gospel with others around us. And then I had the added joy of stepping into the water with that wonderful woman whom I admire greatly and baptizing her, while our kind and supportive Stake President had the joy of baptizing her daughter. After the service, about a dozen cartons of blackberries were consumed by the large group, along with many strawberries, cookies, Congo bars (how did this very non-African food get that name?), and lemon cake. I had many comments abut how unusually delicious the blackberries were. They will remain a symbol to me of the Lord’s grace and the joyous fruit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the surprising and joyous connections that missionary work can bring.

One added blessing in all of this was the decision to hold the baptism at an unusual time, 9:00 AM on a Saturday. When our dear friend announced her decision to be baptized, our hard-working, super-diligent and faithful missionaries, Elder Carlsen and Elder Emmelkamp, said they felt the baptism should be on Saturday. She said she had been thinking of Friday, but if the Elders felt Saturday was the right day, let it be so. When we learned of the day that was selected, my wife and I were worried that this would be a problem since there was a ward temple trip on that Saturday for the youth and thus many people would be unable to attend, especially the young people that we hoped could be there for the daughter. But that “mistake” turned out to be the most ideal time possible. Since many people were already planning to meet at the church at 10 AM and then drive down to Chicago for temple service (baptisms for the dead) at 1:30, the Bishop scheduled the live baptismal service for 9 AM, allowing many more people than normal to attend the baptismal service before going to Chicago. I think we had over 40 attending. Perhaps best of all, we later learned that our friend’s sisters and mother, most of whom live in Chicago, were coming to town on Friday night and were able to attend the baptism on Saturday — but would have missed it had it been held on Friday. We were really amazed at this group of women — so warm and supportive. They stayed long after the baptism to ask more questions, and we were then invited to an event with them on Monday where we feasted on some really delicious Congolese/Rwandan food.  We had a lot of fun with these kind new friends and look forward to seeing them again.

I marvel at all the little side effects already from the baptism of one mother and her daughter. New connections, new friends, new sources of joy, new strength to testimonies, new excitement in the ward — and I believe there is much more excitement and joy to come from the faithful actions of two of God’s precious daughters.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

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