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Watching general conference made Angola feel like home

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 28 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Ramona Siddoway (Provided by Ramona Siddoway) Ramona Siddoway (Provided by Ramona Siddoway)

Editor's note: While thousands gather in the Conference Center for general conference, many more tune in around the globe via several types of technology. This week, Mormon Times shares experiences and memories of those who have participated in general conference outside of the United States.

The country had yet to be dedicated for missionary work, but there we were, worshiping with faithful Saints in Luanda, Angola. Our branch consisted of mostly native Angolans and three American families.

We met each Sunday in a stuffy, rented cement-block building in a neighborhood that even the local members shied away from after dark. The building had just enough rooms for a chapel, president’s office, Relief Society room and storage area for keeping the bottled water for the sacrament. There was no running water, and electricity was spotty at best. Our Young Men and Young Women shared a small building located next to the chapel that they reached by stepping over streams of mud and sewage.

It was challenging, but the Saints were happy. No one complained, and we were grateful for a place to worship.

Several months after the live sessions of general conference, the branch waited patiently for the Portuguese DVDs to arrive. While the Angolans met to watch conference in the chapel, the American families met at a home near the American embassy to listen in English. Dressed in church clothes, children in hand, we settled onto couches and chairs to watch the previously taped messages from the apostles and prophet.

It wasn’t until I heard the session open with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that I realized for months I had been holding my breath. I sat, mesmerized, hungrily devouring every word, taking copious notes on what the Spirit whispered to me. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how much I missed hearing the gospel in my native tongue. From that moment, general conference became the grounding in my upside-down world, bringing me back to center. It was the familiar in a foreign world.

Living overseas created in me a new appreciation and an intense love for general conference. It gave me strength to get through another six months of struggling with the Portuguese language and overcoming the general difficulties of living in a foreign country.

For the three years that we lived in Africa, our family looked forward to each general conference. We chose a different home to meet in each time and at the end of the sessions shared a meal together. It was a feast after the feast!

We drew close as expatriate families during our foreign assignment. The gospel united us as friends and family, and general conference made Angola feel like home.

Ramona Siddoway is a freelance writer who has published articles in Belgium, Angola, and the U.S. She blogs at ramonasiddoway.wordpress.com.

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