Elder Joseph Ssengooba is from Uganda. His father died when he was seven. At age nine, with his mother and relatives unable to care for him, he was on his own. At age 12, he met the missionaries and was baptized.
Joseph told me of his first day at Church: “After sacrament meeting, I thought it was time to go home, but the missionaries introduced me to Joshua Walusimbi. Joshua told me that he was going to be my friend, and he handed me a Children’s Songbook so I wouldn’t have to go into Primary empty-handed. In Primary, Joshua put an extra chair right next to his. The Primary president invited me to the front and asked the whole Primary to sing for me ‘I Am a Child of God.’ I felt very special.”
The branch president took Joseph to the Pierre Mungoza family, and that became his home for the next four years.
Eight years later when Elder Joseph Ssengooba began his mission, to his great surprise his trainer was Elder Walusimbi, the boy who had made him feel so welcome on his first day in Primary. God loves His children.
Here are Elder Ssengooba’s thoughts about this part of his life:
“We lived in humble surroundings. It seemed that you couldn’t take five steps without passing a bar. Almost everyone around us was addicted to drinking, and the influence of alcohol was all over. Our family and the family of the branch president were the only members of the LDS Church in the area. The way these two families conducted themselves within these circumstances portrayed to me and the community what it means to be a true Latter-day Saint. This was evidenced by the fact that the branch president was unanimously elected to be the political leader for the area and remains in that position even today.
“I watched their daughter work with the full-time missionaries almost every day, and she would come home and share spiritual experiences she had with them. We read Book of Mormon stories together. For the period of time that I stayed with them, I saw their commitment to serving the Lord. Despite the situation of the family, the older siblings felt it was their duty to serve missions and trusted that while they were away, the Lord would take care of the family. At one point, three of them were serving at the same time. I learned for myself the blessings and joy of serving a mission. Seeing pictures of them wearing their name tags and standing with people in baptismal clothes made me picture myself as a missionary.”
At age 17, Joseph was a leader in his school. Without any intention of drawing the displeasure of the school, he shared Book of Mormons and Church materials on important principles such as the law of chastity. The headmaster was incensed and not only required him to stop, but told him he was no longer welcome at the school unless he renounced openly his belief in the Church. Unwilling to deny his beliefs, he left the school.
Fortunately, through the fasting and prayers of the members and the influence of leaders of the stake, the decision was reversed, and he was able to return. Joseph said, “I stood for what I knew to be true, and that led to the growth of my testimony of this restored gospel. I was allowed to remain in school and gained the respect and honor of both students and faculty.”
“In June 2010, [at age 16] I learned of the death of my mother. My adopted family and I went and attended the funeral together. At the funeral, I was reunited with my sisters, but was discouraged to learn that none of them were attending school because they didn’t have any money. Now, more than ever, I was determined to work even harder to provide for not only myself, but for my sisters as well. My goal was to see that they would all be able to attend school again. I had the opportunity to attend Church-funded self-employment seminars from which I learned the skills of planning, budgeting, and goal setting.
“I was later blessed with two decently paying jobs. From these jobs I was able to save a little money over a few years. I continued to pay my tithing, pay my school fees and the school fees of my sisters, and start saving money for my mission.”
Elder Ssengooba shared his testimony with me: “This is just the beginning of the many miracles that the Lord has placed within my path because of this beautiful gospel. I cannot wait to finish my mission and be sealed to one of Heavenly Father’s beautiful daughters in the holy temple. I cannot wait to be sealed to my family: my father and mother, and my own children. I still hope and pray that my four sisters will have the opportunity to receive and embrace this wonderful gospel. I can truly testify that He lives and loves and cares about each and every one of us. I know with all He gives us, He only requires us to be diligent and live the gospel.”