I, Refugee: Family Division

Press here for Part One

Time did not befriend us. 

Time completely abandoned us as we searched Richfield, Utah, trying to find a tire station with the right size of tire for our van. See, we had started out on this journey as a family to see General Conference for our church amid the grunts and groans of our eldest son Xavier.

Kids have a way, especially teens, to make a bad situation worse if they are forced to do something that they don’t want to do. For example, being the only child at home growing up for many years, I would threaten to run away anytime my mother did or said anything funky about anything. I threatened her under my breath and behind closed doors—not to her face.

I wasn’t crazy enough to say it to her face for many reasons, but I knew that since I did things like that as a teenager karma had a way of showing up in my kids. Xavier did not want to leave Phoenix for the trip wanting, rather, to hang out with his friends. I could not blame him. I wanted to get him to the conference before he turned 18 and tried to run away—actually doing it, opposed to fake threatening to do it like I did with my parents.

I did not seriously think he would run away, but at 18 we planned that the boy would start asserting his right to refuse to do as we said. There is power in having the right to determine your path. I know when I was 18, I never went to any more extended family gatherings, family vacations or outings with Mother unless I EXPRESSLY wanted to go! His birthday had come and gone since this experience, and he still obeys, but, you know, he legally does not have to be subject to us anymore. So, basically, I was scared of losing my you-have-to-because-you-live-here card because of his I-can-legally-move-out-at-eighteen advantage. It is so easier to parent when kids have no opinions or rights of their own.

We had already started the trip and went through a hardship. I was not about to turn around. I needed this trip for self-satisfaction! Plus, we were so close to the destination and so far from the starting point.

Our family had never been on vacation; so, the conference for our church would be our first one. Just in case you missed it, we were in Utah driving to Salt Lake City to attend a church conference we have every six months of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yeah, we are Mormons. We usually watch it online or TV, but we wanted to be ambitious and literally attend!

The Force be with You!

I figured that we could force the fun of a family road trip into Xavier. I was completely wrong. Every inconvenience seemed to justify Xavier’s grunts and groans about the journey, his murmuring. Especially when the tire blew out, and it appeared we were going to miss the second session of the conference for which we had tickets looking for a new tire that Saturday. Afryka, my wife, was driving at this point. Oh yeah, my name is Rodric.

A man named John helped us get our donut spare tire on so that we could get to a tire shop. We threatened Xavier’s life if he did not stop complaining, which he did for a time. I suppose he gave up since we were so close to the destination and it would be foolish to turn around and go home from there. We found a tire and sped on our way out of Richfield only to encounter our next challenge, the police!

By that time, conference, the first session of it had already started, and we played it on the radio. Had things gone the way we planned we would have been listening to the first session of Conference at Russel’s house. Russel was the one who baptized me while serving as a missionary in South Georgia, particularly Nashville, Georgia. I mentioned to him that we would be attending the conference and he offered us a place to stay while we did so.

One of the motivating factors I had to make this trip was to see Russ. He has always been a hero to me because he taught me the gospel and I wanted him to see the fruits of his labors, my family. I know how happy I would be to hear from some of the people that I taught on my mission who are still faithfully serving Christ in the church. Since all of those who I taught and baptized live in South Africa, save for five of my seven kids, I figured I could visit my missionary and experience the joy of reuniting with him.

As I thought of meeting up with Russ, the feelings of inadequacy tugged at my pride until I realized what I was doing to myself. My dark hole of self-depreciation turned away from promoting self-loathing to sponsoring how much of a disappointment I would be to Russ. Depression in any form is a great tool of the Devil to destroy the joy of any follower of Christ. I said a swear word in my head. 

Magwenthu Kids Baptism

Kaleidoscope of Discouragement

If the adversary could not discourage me by what was happening IN the van with Xavier or what was happening TO the van with the flat tire, he would try to do so with ANY weakness with which I could come up! I decided not to succumb to more anger. I thought about Russ’s face when he told me about the gospel and how happy he was that I listened. I then thought of how I would love to see the faces of the Magwenthu family, the first family I helped teach and baptize while serving in the city of Umtata on my mission. I knew that I would love to see them no matter what their station in life is and would weep with gratitude at so doing! The Spirit let me know that Russ would be happy to see me. God knows that I wanted to see him!

We had missed that appointment with Russ and family due to extenuating events, and it looked like we would be going through more inhibiting circumstances when the flashing lights pulled us over to the curb. My wife tried to turn down the radio, but I advised her that he may be a member of the church and show us pity because we listened to conference. I hoped so much that he would because we could not afford a ticket.

Dead Black Man Walking?

Police officers had been killing unarmed Blacks in several places, which popped into my mind as the copper approached the van. I had read on Facebook from some Blacks living in Utah that it was a racist place to live. They, those Facebook Blacks currently living in Utah, told me to stay away compounding my internal struggle to quiet the fear I created in my heart about racial prejudice.

I-SHOULD- HAVE-LISTENED's screamed in my head referring to those Facebook writers who filled my mind with cynicism towards Utah people; though, I knew better! Heck, my missionary lives in Utah, Russ! He doesn’t think that way!

I told my wife to put her hands on the steering wheel. I figured that she had nothing to worry about being a female. I did not want to die! I prepared myself to be asked out of the vehicle. Xavier remained quiet, but I could feel his I-told-you-so vibrating from his cranium like the force of a heating lamp on my neck! The multiplicity of emotions in the van coursed into a viscous fluid that prompted my wife, and me to pray. We did not pray to get out of a ticket per se, but we did pray that the Lord would soften the heart of this man approaching the vehicle.

“I hear you are listening to conference,” said the uniform. “I am too. You know, you were going pretty fast. Where are you from?”

I cannot recall if  Afryka or I vomited our story on the poor man. We just wanted to get our family to Conference for our session on time. He gave us a warning instead of a ticket. I did not receive a bullet wound! 

Again, I felt the shame of my prejudice. I assumed he would mistreat us because of our race when he could care less about it. I remember the few Black Utahans that spoke of the great life they lead in the state. How could I have forgotten that? Murphy’s law was too entrenched in my mind—if something could go wrong, it will! The officer bid us farewell, and we put out on the road to Salt Lake City making record time just to get stuck in traffic due to a terrible accident while one of the family members fought a life and death battle with a bout of diarrhea.

To Be There & Not To Be There. That Is What Happened

We had made it to Salt Lake City near the Conference Center simply not to be able to enjoy it. We spent almost two hours in traffic with the suffering member who found relief finally at a fast-food place with golden arches. The first session was over of conference and the second session was soon to begin. We were running out of gas and had no place to park when we finally approach the Conference Center. All of us were tired, cranky and smelly. We looked and smelled like we had just come in from some refugee camp. 

Propitiously, President Linda K. Burton, one of our church leaders, had spoken about helping refugees the week earlier on the first day of General Conference (Women’s Session). With her words ringing in the ears of the members of the church our prospective trials would be lighter—but I get ahead of the story.

We decided to divide the family. Afryka, Naomi, Sariah, Mosiah, and Ephraim would go to the second session while Xavier and I searched for a place to park. It crushed my wife that we would not be attending the session together. We would not be taking pictures. By this time, the meeting had begun. Afryka and the girls felt self-conscious about going into the Conference Center in traveling clothes smelling like boy’s feet and fast-food, but in they went. I assured her we would find a gas station and park the car in record time to meet them before the session was out. Boy was I made a liar!

For the entire second session, we drove up and down the hilly streets of Down Town Salt Lake City looking for gas. When we finally found some, we could not find a place to park to get into the Conference Center before the meeting let out—nowhere close enough for me to walk using a walker. I suppose Xavier could have used his skateboard to get to the meeting since he had it. We did not think of it. Consequently. Xavier and I missed the second session of Conference that Saturday.

I suppose that Xavier could see that everything was going poorly for us; so, he did not murmur anymore. We had failed to do what we wanted to do—view the session as a family together. Technically, since our youngest, Miriam, was in Phoenix with a ward member, the Wilsons, we still would not get to go as a family even if all would have gone well. We left her home so that no one would need to sit out with her due to her age. We understood that anyone below eight years of age was not particularly invited to attend the meetings—though I would assume she would not have been turned away.

Mahona Means Family, but we left someone behind!

Miriam not being with us caused another issue. My wife was getting antsy about being away from her for so long. I could take a bit of niggling from the kids, but not from my wife! She did not nag, but she would sigh and worry over Miriam. She could not enjoy the good parts of the trip because of that longing to be with the little one. (HA! I said good parts of the trip! Reader, I, at the time, saw no good parts, to be honest. No, that would come later.) Mothers do not like to be away from their young kids. I did not mind, but I am not a mother.

We talked about how horrible the trip would have been had Miriam gone with us. She would have been miserable the entire time. For the other kids, however, this experience seemed to be unifying in degrees. Xavier still thought of the whole affair as a colossal waste of resources.

Sixteen hours of driving, a flat tire, sedulous nagging, a police scare, no parking and missing the very thing that we drove to Utah to see, I felt disappointed about it. I tried to see the best in the situation, but I could not help but feel the smiling glee of the devil at my embarrassment. Xavier and I missed the session with the rest of the family, but we had the priesthood session still! I thought so anyway until it was time to go to the thing!

Press Here for Part Three

I hate parking near Temple Square. I had no idea what I was doing. With all the people in Phoenix I told I would be going to Temple Square during General Conference, and all the online people, SOMEONE should have mentioned how difficult the parking could be.