This morning I decided to get to work on one of the Personal Progress experiences for faith. It asks you to read Alma 56:45-48 and 57:21, and then consider what qualities a mother needs in order to teach her children about faith. I’ve done this experience before, and came up with all the stock answers: integrity, commitment, being an example, etc.
But today, I started thinking about those actual women talked about in the scriptures. We don’t get a lot of detail on them, just that they taught their children faith. But as I started thinking more about it, I started thinking about what we do know about the society they lived in, the events that brought them to where they were, and what that must have been like.
These women were part of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, a group of Lamanites converted by Ammon. We know that they had been a very war-prone people, that they had much blood on their swords. They didn’t have a concept of Christ or redemption- just of a Great Spirit that their fathers spoke of.
I’m assuming the women didn’t go fight, but think of what a lifestyle that must have been. Husbands, sons, brothers off to war, not knowing if they’ll return, with no hope of reunion if they don’t. Or maybe the war came to them, with loss of home and destruction of family and community.
Then Ammon came and taught their king the gospel of Christ, and the people were taught, and their conversion was such that they struggled to come to repentance of their many murders and when they finally felt forgiven and free of their sins, they buried their weapons of war and covenanted never to raise them again.
Think of the change that must have come over these men, to go from being so quick to anger and violence to complete pacifism. Think of the change that must have meant for their families. Think of the peace these women were able to have in their homes, of the hope in their hearts, the joy in the idea of Christ and his Atonement.
When other Lamanites came against them in anger over their conversion, they knelt down and were slaughtered rather than fight back, and this changed the hearts of some of their attackers and they were also converted.
Can you even imagine? To see husbands, sons, fathers, brothers exhibit that kind of faith, that commitment to their covenants? To watch them slaughtered, knowing that you and your children are next, with no one defending you? Holding on to your new found faith in a Christ who has promised redemption and resurrection? And then to see those same attackers stop, and leave you alive?
They were attacked again, and more were slaughtered, until the Lord instructed them to leave and go to the Nephites for help. The Anti-Nephi-Lehis were willing to be their slaves, but they were accepted with open arms and forgiveness, and given a land of inheritance. The Nephites protected them against attacking Lamanites so that they wouldn’t have to break their covenants.
I’m sure, given the numbers, that there were still men alive in their community, but there must have been so many widows and single mothers. Women who had seen the miracles the gospel of Christ had brought to their lives, who had hope and faith that the sacrifices they and their families had made- in blood, no less – would be rewarded. Women who had to provide for their families, physically and spiritually.
As I thought about this today, I knew for a complete surety that the women of that community supported and strengthened and served each other. They watched each others kids, they brought over food, they prayed and mourned and worshiped together. They spoke to their children, and to each other, of the blessings and miracles they had been witness to. They testified with a sure knowledge that the Lord delivers the righteous, even if he doesn’t save them from physical death. They honored and gloried in their covenants, and drew strength from them. They approached trials with faith, knowing that they had the support of the Lord, and of those around them; humble in their willingness and necessity to accept help. And they were just as willing to provide that service.
And it was those things, not just a five minute lesson during family home evening, that taught their children faith. Taught them to the convincing of their souls, so that when the time came that their lives were again threatened, 2000 of their sons offered to go and protect their community, to give that service in defense of the covenants their parents had made. 2000 young men who had never fought, (who possibly, given their communities culture of pacifism, had no idea how to fight), yet who “did not fear death; and they did think more on the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” (Alma 56:47) Because given their mothers’ lives, their experiences, their testimonies, which of them could doubt that their mothers knew it?
I am filled with such love, such admiration for these women whose names we don’t know, but whose actions and example are written on my heart today.