Eleven-year-old Dan Balyejusa lives near the shore of Lake Victoria in Entebbe, Uganda. The largest lake in Africa and the second largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Victoria covers parts of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. It is a giver of life. Fish teem in its blue waters, and fishermen cast nets that float in the air like silver webs. Lake Victoria is the source of the Nile, the storied river that nourished the dynasties of Egypt and floated baby Moses to safety.
The lake is beautiful, but Dan is too busy to spend much time admiring it. Instead, he can often be found digging in his family’s backyard garden under the broad leaves of banana trees. Here he cultivates and harvests cassavas (a kind of root vegetable), yams, and potatoes. At other times, he lugs heavy jugs of water from the neighborhood faucet, washes clothes and dishes, waters and feeds the chickens, and helps his mother, Margaret, shop at the outdoor market and cook in the kitchen. One of his favorite foods is mandoke, a dish made with steamed and mashed green bananas and flavored with various sauces.
Each member of Dan’s family has an African name as well as an English name. Dan’s African name is Mugwisa. He has two older brothers, Ronald (Kinty, 18) and Rogers (Wavango, 12), and two older sisters, Sarah (Namuwaya, 16) and Mary (Nabutono, 14). He also has a younger brother, Yeko (Balyetuysa, 10) and two younger sisters, Dorah (Namugogo, 7) and Clare (Kalembe, 4). When his younger brothers and sisters quarrel, Dan acts as a peacemaker. He considers both sides of the squabble calmly and fairly and then finds a way to reconcile everyone. Any conflict he can’t resolve is passed on to his parents, but that is seldom necessary.
Dan wasn’t always as helpful as he is now. The “old” Dan didn’t like to work. He was sometimes disobedient and impolite, and he didn’t study very hard. Then one day his father, Jones, met two Latter-day Saint missionaries on the street. In time, the whole family joined the Church. Learning that he was a child of God who could grow up to be like his Father in Heaven gave Dan a new point of view. His baptism and confirmation helped it grow. “I felt forgiven and clean and good, and since then, the Holy Ghost has helped me do what I should. And when I repent, He helps me know that I’m forgiven.”
Seeing himself differently, Dan began seeing others that way as well. “I love my brothers and sisters like I love myself. I would do anything for them.” Dan changed in other ways, too. Barely able to read, he studied hard and became a good reader and a good student.
Brother Balyejusa has noticed a change in all his children. “Since we joined the Church, I don’t have as many problems with my family. We are now like one person. Before we were divided.”
To stay united, the Balyejusas hold a family home evening with scripture reading and a lesson each evening. When it’s Dan’s turn to give the lesson, he usually talks about repentance and forgiveness. Each Sunday afternoon, the missionaries come and give the family a special lesson. The elders are like big brothers to Dan, teasing and teaching and guiding him. Dan wants to follow their example and fulfill a mission himself someday.
For now, he reads the Book of Mormon hungrily. He especially loves the words of Nephi: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Ne. 3:7).
Another of Dan’s heroes is Enos, who prayed all day and all night for forgiveness. Dan also feels a deep love for Joseph Smith, who prayed to Heavenly Father when he lacked wisdom. “We must ask God to tell us what is true,” Dan says.
Given his reverence for prayer, it isn’t hard to guess what Dan did when he found that fasting was hard for him. “I prayed to Heavenly Father. He helps me to fast, and fasting helps me to solve my other problems.”
On any Sunday morning, one of the finest sights in Entebbe is the Balyejusa family walking to church in their Sunday best. Their faces shine with joy at the prospect of taking the sacrament and studying the gospel with the brothers and sisters of their branch.
They also know that the gospel is for more than meetings and Sunday worship. It helps in their lives on the other days of the week and in all they do. For instance, they all enjoy athletics. “Sports were good for me,” Brother Balyejusa says. “They kept me from smoking or drinking, which made it easier for me to join the Church.”
He and Ronald play football (soccer). Sarah and Mary enjoy netball and other sports. The children join in epic neighborhood football games in their front yard. There are quieter pleasures, too. Yeko specializes in being a jokester, and Dorah is a quiet thinker. Clare sings like a grown-up, though she is the youngest child in the branch.
Uganda, like most of Africa, is a land of many ethnic groups and languages. Dan speaks Bugosa and Buganda as well as English. Better yet, he is becoming fluent in the most important language of all—the language of the Spirit. Like Lake Victoria, the Spirit is life-giving and beautiful. Unlike the three-nation lake, It covers every land on earth.