My First Book is Out!

My first book is finally out!!! It’s taken about five years to write, revise, cleanup, format, edit, and publish, but Giraffe Tracks is available as of today! I’ll have it on its own webpage soon, but the webpage isn’t ready yet, so for now I’m linking to straight the store from my blog.

So far, it’s available in:

Softbound book

Hardbound book

PDF download

Kindle book

or you can Read a Sample

I was hoping to release the audio book at the same time as the book release, but couldn’t have it ready in time.

If there is a format that you would want to buy it in that is not listed above, let me know. I’d like people to be able to buy it in whatever format they want, even if it’s .doc, .jpg or even .mov (that would be interesting). If you’re willing to buy it in a certain format, I’ll make it in that format and sell it at the same price as any digital text format.

I’m publishing it through Willowrise Press, which is my family’s independent publishing company.

Anyway, please buy it!

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book, so you can get an idea what it’s about:

By the late 1990’s, South Africa was in the midst of heavy political and social turmoil. With the ending of Apartheid in 1994, which was a legalized system of racial segregation which heavily curtailed the rights of the black population, the country was left in a dangerously challenging situation. The white population, who had enjoyed relative wealth, government protection, and exclusive employment opportunities, were now forced to share those resources with the massive majority population of native black Africans.

Native Africans, who had been socially, economically, and physically oppressed for centuries, were now allowed to leave their reservation-like townships and come into the cities and suburbs. Having been held back for so long, black Africans continued to experience severe poverty. As new opportunities were thrown at them, poverty-driven crime rose to a frightening level, leaving sour feelings in the hearts of the country’s general population. It became a time of anger, reunion, bitter feelings, fear, and hope.

Giraffe Tracks is the true story of an LDS missionary serving in the Johannesburg, South Africa Mission only a few years after the ending of Apartheid. Using compelling stories, humor, and spiritual insight, the story demonstrates that even in a land overflowing with crime, poverty, and racial hatred, peace and joy can be found through the gospel of Jesus Christ. As the powers of evil shake the foundations of human society, the truth and light carried in the testimonies of the Lord’s missionaries can change hearts, heal minds, and turn fear and hatred into faith and love.

The Ancestor: The Meaning Behind the Music

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The Ancestor

ancestor(art by Maria Hathaway)

I served my mission in South Africa.  I loved learning about the people, the history, and the culture.  I was also fascinated by their religious views.  The native African religion – the one that was present before Christian missionaries ever came to South Africa, and which is still quite popular, has a very strong focus on one’s own ancestors.

Africans hold a great esteem for their ancestors.  Those practicing the native traditions would gather together annually with family to sacrifice a cow or sheep to their ancestors, and petition them for help, rain, protection, or whatever they felt they needed.  The major part of their religion focused on their ancestors.

When Christians of other faiths came and proselyted Africans, they told the people that their ancestors did not exist, that they had died, and were gone forever.  I don’t know if those Christians didn’t believe in an afterlife, or if they just said it to reject African tradition.  Either way, they taught the people that their ancestors no longer existed.

What a joy it was to be able to tell these people that their ancestors most certainly did exist, and that though we did not need to call on them for help, they were in need of our help.   They needed the help of their living descendants to perform the essential ordinances of the gospel in their behalf.  Because of their strong feelings towards their ancestors, most Africans received this news with great joy.

Setswana is the native language of Botswana, and while serving in that area, I made an interesting discovery about the Setswana word for God.  I had known throughout my mission that the word for God was Modimo.  Sometimes we would tell people we were barumua ba Modimo (messengers of God).

In Setswana, the word Motswana meant a Tswana person, or a person of the Tswana tribe.  To say Botswana would be the plural form of the same word – “Tswana people” or “people of the Tswana tribe.”  The prefix “mo” was singular form, and the word “bo” or  “ba”  was plural.

This fact became very interesting to me when I learned that the word for ancestors is badimo.  If I was understanding correctly, the word for God, Modimo, and the word of ancestors, badimo, were simply different prefixes for the same word – ancestor.  What insight that holds!

I suspect that the word Modimo was adopted by Africans because grasping the concept of worshiping someone besides an ancestor may have been difficult to understand.  But over time, this connection was likely forgotten as Christianity became the dominant religion in South Africa.

I think the connection is significant.  It would be hard to grasp the idea of honoring a great and powerful being who has no real relation to us.  If we were merely a clay or wood project God is working on, why should we want to emulate Him?  A statue can never take on the real characteristics of its model.

But if we are God’s children, and I testify that we are, then we can become like our Heavenly Father, if we will but follow the steps that He teaches.

Joseph Smith taught that “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves” (History of the Church, V. 3, pg. 303).  I believe that until we know and seek to fulfill our potential to become like Him, we cannot become all that He wants us to be.  We are children of God, and as children, we are also heirs of all that He has and is, if we will live according to His word and commandments.

President Boyd K. Packer has said:

“You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!”
Boyd K. Packer, “Your Test of Courage,” New Era, Mar 1990, 4

So I think the word Modimo is a very appropriate name for our Father in Heaven.  Truly, to each and every one of us, He is The Ancestor.

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I Live in a Mansion


talltab1I live in a mansion.  There are so many rooms, and so many doors, that it would take more than a lifetime to explore what is in them all.  From one room, I can explore the sciences, and watch the progression of the stars and planets.  I can chart the known universe and discover things that it has taken mankind centuries to understand.
talltab1 From another, I can learn the religions of the world, make connections with things divine, and come to a deeper understanding of why people are the way they are.
talltab1 From another, I can become my own symphony, and follow the practices of the master composers.  I can perfect the principles they have learned and carry them on to new levels.
talltab1 There is a room in my house where I can practice medicine and learn how the human body works.  In this room, I can also learn how to strengthen the powers within my own body through exercise, activity, proper nutrition and rest.
talltab1 In one of the larger wings of my mansion, I can enter a fantastic world with creatures and people that most people only meet in dreams and movies.  I can converse with them, and in essence, leave the world entirely through time machines and spaceships.
talltab1 I have rooms that bare the perfect resemblance of locations all around the globe.  I have been to Egypt, China, South America, and Africa without having to leave my home.
talltab1 In my favorite room, I have met the Savior and His prophets.  I have come to know God, and converse with Him regularly.  I have met Adam, Enoch, Abraham, and John the Baptist.  I have met the reformers and those who took part in the great restoration of the Gospel.
talltab1 I have visited many of the rooms in my mansion, and plan to visit many more.

talltab1 My house is small, and my means are meager.  But in every room, there are books.

Land of Opportunity

Every once in a while I have a dream that is so real, and so vivid and detailed, that I write it down. I had one like that recently. I dreamed I was a slave being brought to America in the early 1800’s. I had been convinced to come, but once I’d left, I realized I’d been taken in and lied to. When I woke up, it was so fresh and clear in my mind that I wrote it down. I wrote it in the style I felt I would have told it in the dream – though I doubt it’s historically or culturally accurate. Dreams take things whatever way they want, and this dream was no exception. I think I felt like an old man, rehearsing my story of when I was younger. I also wrote the dream at about 5:30 in the morning, so the grammar is not the best, but later I lightly touched up the wording:

Land of Opportunity

I had been told that it was a land of opportunity. I had been told that it was a land flowing with milk and honey, like the promised land in God’s Holy word. I’d heard of slavery. Why, we’d had it it my own land. A man gives seven years of his life to work for a family, then goes home and has money to care for his own. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but my family needed it. We were poor. Even for Africa, we were poor. But I loved my wife and our little child, and I wanted to see that they were cared for. So when they talked to me about coming to America, I signed up.

But it weren’t near so nice as they made it sound. There was milk and honey alright, but it weren’t there for the takin’. One man was kind enough to give me two small boxes of seeds. A kind white man, says it’s gonna be hard, wanted to give me somethin’ to help me by. Says they’ll be probably taken by my owner, once we arrive, but maybe it will give me a good name from the start.
After the boat arrived, I was told with others to go to the check in, where I would be told where to go, and what to do. We had come to the south, as they called it, and a large man with a straw hat and a strong southern accent sat at a desk. He didn’t look like the kind I wanted to deal with, but I wasn’t given no choice. “Hey, boy,” he says when I arrived, “What you got there?” my hands were shaking, and it was them seeds I had in my hand rattlin’ away, and I says, “nothin, sir, just some seeds.” The man straightened, very angry, and says, “You don’t tell me ‘nothin’ boy when you got somethin’ in your hands.” I bowed, much as I’d seen the others do. “Yessir,” I said, “didn’t mean nothin’ by it sir.” The man looked ready to strike, but just asked, “What’s your name, boy?” I told him, and he scrolled it on a paper.
Then he sat there a minute, lookin’ at me kinda funny, and said. “I want you to go in that room down there and wait till you’re told what to do.” He pointed to a large house with a wide open door, looked like some kind of public place. I bowed and said, “Yessir.”
The house was a big place, and as I got close, I saw there were many lights inside. But when I got to the door, I saw what kind of place it was. There was girls in there dancin’ in a way that I knew I couldn’t go in there. I turned away from the door quickly, feeling awful and afraid. I was near panic when the man from the desk was already there to meet me. I bowed again and dropped part-way to the ground in complete humiliation and feeling like trash. I knew to him that’s what I was. “What’s the matter boy?” he said, laughing. I didn’t look at him. I didn’t want to talk to this man any more, but I knew by now that you couldn’t ignore or talk back to a white man, unless you wanted to be whipped or even killed.

“I… I can’t go in there, sir…”

He looked like he was gonna strike again, but said, “Well why not?”

I stammered but managed to say, “Well, see sir, I’s got a wife, sir… and…” He pushed his hand down on my shoulder, making it hurt. “That’s the life of a slave, boy. I tell you what to do, and you do it. That’s the life of a slave.” I just keeled there, his hand pressing down on my shoulder. I felt completely humiliated. Then the man turned and returned to his desk. I was glad to see him leave.
I got up and began walking away when I realized I’d misplaced one of my boxes of seed. I looked around quickly, and my heart dropped through the floor when I saw the big man at the desk showing the box to someone and laughing.
Meekly, I wandered back over to the desk and asked the man if he’d seen my other box of seeds. “Why, no,” he said in a humoring voice, “I guess you better go look for it!” I nodded, and turned back around. I knew I weren’t no good trying to get it back, so I just moved on. It was a short walk to the colony, where the many slaves were. Someone had pointed it out to me.
As I walked, I thought how much I missed my family, and about the horrible stories I heard on the ship. I knew I wasn’t going home. But I still hoped. Maybe the good Lord could make a way.
If I thought I was about to greet a solemn and humble bunch of folk, I was mistaken, for as I arrived, I could hear an uproar of singing, dancing, and rejoicing for life and all it’s bounties. I ran to meet them, and quickly joined in with a group that was having a great party around a fire. When they saw me, they paused, and said, “My friend, from where do you come?” I knew by their manner that they were asking what language I spoke. In my native Zulu, I told them my name and said, “I am a Zulu.” Some of the crowd cheered and some of the crowd booed, though I knew it was all in fun. Some even spoke back in their own languages that were close to Zulu. I realized that in this group, the many languages and accents of people was a subject of great fun and teasing. I immediately felt at home with them. In my small village in Africa, all had spoken the same Zulu, and though I’d met a few folk who spoke other African languages, I had never met so many in one place. The dancing and singing continued, and they encouraged me to join them. I did so, and it lifted my spirits.
All were slaves, and all were in a very bad situation, torn from homes and family. But even here far from Africa, with these people, it felt a little like home.