They Decided in Advance

“They Decided in Advance,” Liahona, Sept. 1999, 10

They Decided in Advance

Houston Chinweoke Nmeribe and Raymond Idio Egbo have a lot in common. They were blessed for their decision to choose the right.

Houston Chinweoke Nmeribe and Raymond Idio Egbo have a lot in common. Although they did not meet and begin their friendship until they were serving missions, both converted to the Church in their homeland of Nigeria. Both were baptized in their youth, completed four years of seminary, and served full-time missions in the Nigeria Lagos Mission, where approximately 80 percent of the missionaries are native Nigerians. And while they both faced challenges and difficulties as they worked to serve the Lord full-time, both were blessed because they had prepared in advance and decided to choose the right.

Prepared During Seminary

Both Houston and Raymond credit attending seminary, which is held Tuesday through Friday evenings in Nigeria, with helping them make the right choices. “Seminary made me desire to go on a mission in the first place,” recalls Raymond.

“Seminary made it easy for me to understand the gospel principles and doctrines I would teach on my mission,” Houston says. “Seminary teaches principles in a way members can understand them. It convinced me of the truthfulness of the gospel and helped me to be able to teach others.”

Strengthened by the Scriptures

Seminary also helped these young men learn to study and receive strength from the scriptures. “My strength is drawn from the Book of Mormon,” states Raymond. “The words of King Benjamin in Mosiah 2:41 gave me the zeal to continue even in the face of great opposition: ‘I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.’”

Houston’s strength comes from reading and pondering about the Savior. “As a missionary, I saw myself as one who was called not only to serve Christ but to follow His example,” he explains. “Whenever I had difficulties, I remembered that Jesus Christ suffered and overcame many difficulties. I draw my strength and resolve from Him, so that, like Him, I can also overcome.”

Blessed by Obedience and Hard Work

These two young men realized even before their missions the importance of obedience—especially obedience to mission rules. Houston explains, “I viewed obeying the rules as keeping God’s commandments. When I started my mission, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish. I would do everything in my power to succeed. I fasted and prayed often for strength to choose the right. I decided very early in my mission to work hard.”

Raymond continues, “I realized early on that ‘hard work is more important than intellect’ (James E. Faust, “What I Want My Son to Know before He Leaves on His Mission,” Ensign, May 1996, 40). I tried to develop spiritually by intensifying my study of the Book of Mormon. I resolved from the beginning to obey the mission rules and prepare myself by studying and working to the best of my ability.”

Growth through Opposition

All of their preparation was put to use as soon as they arrived in the mission field. Their preparation did not, however, prevent them from suffering opposition. But it did give them strength to keep trying.

Houston reported to the Nigeria Lagos Mission in April 1994. His first proselyting area, Agege, covered an expansive territory. The closest branch was in Ogba, four kilometers away. Because of the distance between the two towns, it was difficult for investigators to attend the number of Church meetings required for baptism. Houston and his companion completed almost four months of persistent hard work without a single baptism. But after redoubling their efforts, they found and prepared a family of five for baptism.

“One Saturday afternoon, as my companion and I were waiting to board a vehicle to witness my first convert baptism,” Houston recalls, “the assistants to the mission president drove up and informed me that I was being transferred. A new companion replaced me immediately, and I proceeded to Benin. I initially felt quite unhappy that I didn’t see the baptism of my first converts, but I later realized that what mattered most was their conversion.”

It was Houston’s transfer to the Benin City stake that introduced him to Raymond. Raymond arrived in Benin a few days later directly from his missionary training in Lagos. Houston joined Raymond and his companion to proselyte on Raymond’s first day. When Raymond expressed his fear about teaching a discussion on his first day, he remembers Houston’s encouragement: “Elder, go ahead and do it. I had the same experience. If I did it, you can do it, too.”

Raymond recalls, “I was filled with strength and confidence. And when I finished the discussion, Houston tapped me on the knee and said, ‘Elder, you came out okay.’ This experience kindled a feeling of respect for him. And as our paths have crossed many times since our missions, that feeling has only increased.”

Four months later, Raymond was transferred to Lagos where he became a senior companion. “After three months in Lagos without a baptism, I felt inadequate as a leader,” he says. “We had to put forth extra effort. It came time to report to the mission president. He advised me to pray for our investigators.

“Seven of our 14 investigators decided to be baptized,” Raymond remembers. “Two weeks before the baptism, I received a note from the assistants to the president informing me to prepare for a transfer.” This time it was Raymond who was unable to be at the baptisms. “Within a month, all 14 were baptized. I felt bad that I missed those baptisms. However, I accepted the Lord’s will—some will plant, others will water, and yet others will harvest, but all are working for the Lord of the vineyard.”

Fortified for Their Challenges

Doing the Lord’s work also includes dealing with challenges. But as Raymond and Houston learned, the Lord does provide a way.

“When I became an assistant to the mission president, it was difficult initially,” recalls Houston. “I had to train missionaries, including some who had more education than I had. I felt inadequate until I prayed and received a testimony that ‘whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies’ (Thomas S. Monson quoting Harold B. Lee, “Who Honors God, God Honors,” Ensign, November 1995, 50). This knowledge helped me proceed.”

For Raymond, developing patience was difficult. “It was hard to see people who have been taught correct principles, who know their responsibilities but fail to do them,” he remembers. “I coped with this situation by reminding myself to make sure that the Lord can count on me to choose the right.”

Continuing to Build the Kingdom

For Houston Nmeribe and Raymond Egbo, the best mission moments were when they saw investigators come unto Christ through baptism and become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For both, the feeling that comes with these moments still lingers, even a few years after returning from their missions.

Their service in the kingdom, however, is far from over. They continue to be blessed for their choice to serve the Lord. Houston Chinweoke Nmeribe serves as elders quorum president in the Calabar Third Branch, Calabar Nigeria District. Raymond Idio Egbo serves as Calabar Second Branch mission leader and second counselor in the district mission presidency.

Photography courtesy of F. Onyebueze Nmeribe

Below left: Elders Nmeribe and Egbo as companions. Below: The two elders as assistants to the mission president. Below right: Elder Egbo, Sister Elizabeth Kwaw, mission president Stephen Kwaw, and Elder Nmeribe.