“Florence Chukwurah: The Miracle of Change,” Liahona, June 1996, 12
Joy shines radiantly from the face of Florence Chukwurah of Lagos, Nigeria. And so it should. In the things that really matter—her faith, her family, and her education—Sister Chukwurah is a woman supremely blessed. She is the mother of faithful children. She is a competent and experienced nurse. She has worked ably with her husband, Christopher, while he presided over the Ghana Accra Mission. There she helped reduce sickness among the missionaries by teaching them to boil and filter their water, eat well, and keep their surroundings clean. Now the Chukwurahs have even greater opportunities to serve. Brother Chukwurah was recently called to be an Area Authority for the Africa Area.
But life did not begin so promisingly for Florence Chukwurah, and the story of how she has become an accomplished and successful woman is the story of a miracle.
The caterpillar’s gradual transformation from a lowly worm to a jewel-winged creature always seems miraculous. But the transformation of a human life is even more stunning. And, as President Ezra Taft Benson taught, this miracle is available to all: “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace” (First Presidency Christmas devotional, 7 December 1986).
Just as the change from caterpillar to butterfly is gradual, no human life is transformed in an instant. But even lifelong challenges can become strengths to those who steadfastly look to the Lord and align themselves with his divine will.
In the life of Florence Chukwurah, the miracle of change has been gloriously visible. She was born into a life of poverty in Onitsha, Nigeria. Her father, who worked at sea on a ship, was rarely at home. Florence’s mother was not educated and worked hard to feed the family.
As Florence approached young womanhood, she began to realize just how poor her family was. By the time she was about 11 years old, a steadfast resolution had formed in her mind: She would escape from poverty. What made this more than a childish wish was that she also made several powerful commitments. These, she felt, would help her find a better life. First, she recalls, “I determined to break from poverty by seeking God earnestly.” Besides this fundamental decision, she made three practical resolutions. “I decided to be obedient to my parents and to older people. I decided to be serious with my schoolwork. And I made up my mind to work hard with my hands.”
Hard work had long been a constant fact of Florence’s life. She hauled water for the family from the public taps or from a stream. She fetched firewood from the countryside and cut it up for cooking fuel. And she helped her mother with the laborious preparation of the cassava root—the family’s staple food.
After school, there were younger children to tend and feed and schoolwork to do. On Saturdays, there was laundry to wash at the public taps. Even on holidays, Florence bought and sold vegetables to help pay her school fees.
All this Florence could do with a willing heart because of the decisions she had made as an 11-year-old girl. “I was happy doing these things as a way to demonstrate my love for my family and also to honor my father and mother,” she explains.
Florence Chukwurah has a special understanding for children from poor backgrounds—especially those who feel shy because of poverty or lack of education. Visiting the branches of the Ghana Accra Mission as the mission president’s wife, Sister Chukwurah carried a special message to such young people. “We were visiting a small branch,” Sister Chukwurah recalls. Many of the young people could not read, and many were not coming to church. “The Spirit said, ‘Tell them the story of your life.’ So I told them that I grew up in similar circumstances. I told them that I was able to overcome my shyness by studying and by obeying my parents and teachers.”
As a young girl, Florence deepened her commitment to schoolwork when she noticed neighbors who were educated. The parents of several of her girlhood friends were teachers and headmasters.
Florence became interested in nursing partly because she liked the way nurses dressed. Taking care of her brothers and sisters had also developed her natural interest in helping others. Her father had borrowed money from a moneylender to pay for her secondary schooling, a debt which Florence later repaid. But she could not afford to attend a university or teacher’s college. The government would subsidize her in nursing school, however. So at age 16, Florence traveled six hours away from her home to begin her training as a nurse.
The year Florence graduated from her training at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, she was given the Florence Nightingale Award for best nurse of the year. She continued her education, finishing her training as a midwife five years later, in 1970.
Today Sister Chukwurah strongly encourages the young people she meets to break away from illiteracy with the help of the Church’s literacy program. “I tell them that they are the future of Africa,” she says. She encourages young people to appreciate what they have, but also to work hard to improve on it, using creativity and imagination.
Even deeper than her desire for education was young Florence’s yearning to go to church with her family. In fact, she says this was her “greatest longing.” She saw the people in her neighborhood who went to church as a family as especially blessed. And she admired a man called “Holy Nweje,” a retired Anglican minister who went around the neighborhood admonishing children to be of good behavior.
It was Florence’s exemplary behavior that began the series of events that fulfilled her greatest longing. She was back in her hometown of Onitsha, Nigeria, practicing nursing. A woman in the neighborhood noticed that Florence came home after work, rather than going out with men. The woman suggested that her nephew contact Florence.
When Christopher Chukwurah met Florence, he told her immediately that he was looking for a wife. Based on his aunt’s recommendation, he said, he would like to marry Florence. Florence promised to consider his proposal.
“I had been very close to the Lord all my life,” recalls Sister Chukwurah. “Something kept telling me that I had to be close to the Lord.” She had been consistently praying for a good husband—someone who would care for her and who would not drink alcohol. “I wanted a family that would really be anchored on the Savior,” she explains.
When she prayed about Christopher, she had a warm feeling that this was a man who was spiritually inclined. When he returned for her answer, Florence accepted his proposal. They were married on 3 March 1972.
Just as she had felt, Florence found that Christopher Chukwurah shared her hunger for spiritual things. Together they investigated a number of churches, fasting and praying together regularly.
Christopher also shared her desire for education. He had a bachelor’s degree in political science and information sciences, and shortly after he and Florence married, they left Nigeria for the United States. Christopher earned a master’s degree in educational administration from Illinois State University. Florence studied psychology part-time and worked in several hospitals.
They returned to Nigeria in 1977, still uncommitted to any one religion. By 1981, they were weary of moving from church to church.
Over the years, the Chukwurahs had developed the tradition of holding a special family fast on the last day of each year. On New Year’s Eve, 31 December 1981, the purpose of their fast was to seek guidance in finding a church they could remain in throughout their lives.
Just nine days later, Florence was preparing a meal in the kitchen and Christopher was preparing a lecture for a college class when both received an impression in answer to their prayers. “I had this persistent feeling that we should visit a family friend of ours. When I told my husband, he said, ‘I have the same feeling. Can we go right now?’”
When they arrived at the home of their friend, they were surprised when he offered them a soft drink instead of the more usual beer. He explained that because he and his wife now belonged to a church called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they no longer drank alcohol or smoked.
“My husband and I looked at each other,” recalls Sister Chukwurah. “We love each other so dearly that we can speak with our eyes. After looking into each other’s eyes, we immediately asked, ‘How can we become members of this church?’”
After receiving the missionary discussions, the Chukwurahs were baptized in February 1982.
Ten years after joining the Church, Christopher Chukwurah was called to preside over the Ghana Accra Mission. That calling opened the door for a crowning blessing when the Chukwurahs were sealed as a couple in the Salt Lake Temple.
Their oldest son, Emeka, who is serving a mission in the South Africa Johannesburg Mission, was able to be sealed to them also.
The Chukwurahs look forward to a time when their other two children can also be sealed to them. Uchenna, their second son, has finished high school and seminary. He is the branch music director and organist and wants to study medicine. Their youngest son, age 10, is named Oluebube, a name meaning “miracle of God.” He is an excellent student and has a beautiful singing voice. The Chukwurahs also have two foster daughters.
Brother and Sister Chukwurah have learned to follow the promptings of the Spirit, both in regard to Church callings and in caring for their children. There was a time when Uchenna became very sick and Sister Chukwurah stayed home with him while her mission president husband traveled to Sierra Leone. Medication had been prescribed for nine-year-old Uchenna, but he kept getting sicker. He kept vomiting and losing strength until he finally collapsed. Florence checked his pulse and found it very weak. She was convinced he was dying.
Without a priesthood holder available to give her son a blessing, Sister Chukwurah knelt by her son’s bed and held him while she prayed for help. During the prayer she got the distinct impression to stop giving him one of the medications. This was at 5:45 P.M.; she was scheduled to give him the medication at 6:00 P.M. She rose from her knees feeling a great relief. Knowing clearly what needed to be done, she changed his medication. Immediately Uchenna’s pulse became normal, and the nausea lifted.
“I missed my husband, who would have given him a priesthood blessing,” Sister Chukwurah says. “I had no hope anywhere except from the Lord. So I exercised my faith and called upon the Lord. And the Lord saved him.”
Florence Chukwurah names the miracles in her life gratefully. “I have never had to beg for food,” she says. “I have been able to be self-reliant. I have succeeded in teaching my family how to prevent communicable diseases by practicing hygiene at home, and I have educated many others. I have a husband who holds the priesthood and who helps me raise our children in the fear and service of God.”
The life of Florence Chukwurah has been transformed from one of uncertainty and want to one of peace and joy. “The Lord heard my prayers,” she says. “He understood my struggles and my search for a bright and happy future. He crowned my efforts with blessings too many for me to express. Since I have joined the Church, I wake up with peace in my heart. I sing in my heart all the time.”