SALT LAKE CITY — Yvonne Baraketse lost her father and half of her extended family during the 1994 Rwandan genocide before arriving in Belgium as a 13-year-old refugee.
While Baraketse tried to move on with her life, the next few years were full of trauma, depression and hopelessness.
Baraketse rediscovered joy and faith through her conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and through her love of dancing.
Now nearly 25 years later, Baraketse, a Utah emigrant and French immersion teacher at Edgemont Elementary School in Provo, is giving her love of the LDS faith as well as her dancing talents as a choreographer to Friday's First Presidency's worldwide celebration, "Be One," the 40th anniversary of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, at the LDS Conference Center.
"It's been a testimony, a blessing, to be part of this. It's been wonderful," Baraketse said during Thursday's rehearsal. "To spread happiness from Africa, to educate people about the culture of Africa is exciting for me. ... I think the world is a happier place when people understand one another."
The live event, already sold out, carries the theme of "Be One," words spoken by Jesus Christ in LDS scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 38:27: "Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine."
The event will feature messages from church leaders, traditional African dancing and soul-stirring Christian gospel music performed by prominent artists like Gladys Knight, Alex Boyé, the Bonner family, members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Unity Gospel Choir International, with each performer arrayed in colorful costumes.
Six people from different cultural backgrounds, including the United States, Ghana, Brazil, Jamaica, Nigeria and Haiti, will narrate the program, weaving together the music and dancing with personal accounts from black Latter-day Saint history. The program will lead up to the 1978 revelation received by President Spencer W. Kimball, now known as Official Declaration 2.
The program highlights the stories of stalwart saints like Jane Manning James, an early convert who lived with Joseph Smith and his family before settling in Utah; Elijah Abel, one of the few African-American converts to be ordained to the priesthood; Nigerian convert Anthony Obinna, who dreamed about the church before it came to Africa; Joseph William Billy Johnson of Ghana, one of the first to receive and share the teachings of the Book of Mormon; and Jamaican LDS pioneer Victor Nugent, who joined the church in the early 1970s despite knowing he couldn't hold the priesthood.
Baraketse said the production came together in about three or four weeks. While that wasn't a lot of time, they relied on heavenly inspiration. Baraketse also felt the participants were talented, enthusiastically ready to work hard and eager to share their heritage.
"This is a way of offering our joy and our culture to Heavenly Father," Baraketse said.
Temanuata Laussen, a Provo resident whose parents are from Samoa and Tahiti, wiped away tears of gratitude as she spoke of her chance to sing in the choir and learn from "Sister" Knight.11 comments on this story
"It's been a huge blessing for me, a special privilege to be part of this," Laussen said. "I am so grateful that the church wants to highlight this and to celebrate modern day revelation. We celebrate all cultures in the church, right? And that is what this is really about, it's about everyone. This applies to the entire church and the world, honestly."
Laussen hopes people leave the event wanting to "Be One.”
"I hope they leave feeling the love of our Heavenly Father, feeling the love of the prophet and leaders of the church," she said. "I hope they go home really wanting to make changes in their lives so they can 'Be One.' Let's go home and be builders."