The story The Book of Mormon Musical won’t tell you

By: Danny Rasmussen // 

The Book of Mormon, the Tony-award winning musical, is currently playing in my hometown in Orange County. It tells the story of two white, clean-cut Mormon missionaries who are called to serve in the most unlikely and foreign of places: Uganda. Naïve and inexperienced, the elders undergo various mishaps, misunderstandings and crises of identity & faith, all while learning what life outside “the bubble” is really like. The portrayal of missionaries in the show has been described by one Mormon scholar as a “fun-house mirror” – rather than an accurate reflection, it aims for one that is entertaining.

People all over the world have been swept up by the story of Elder Price and his companions, a bright and clueless bunch who attempt to force their religion on a tribe of mindless Africans. But beyond the songs and the shock value and the hype, the musical’s fish-out-of-water storyline struck a particular chord with me for a very important reason: I actually lived it.

The Dannypack

Hello! My name is DannyRas. And I would like to share with you how very white I am.

Nearly seven weeks after graduating from high school in the safest city in the United States, I – the whitest, cleanest-cut Mormon you’ll ever meet– flew across the world to Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe, to serve my two year mission. In many respects, things started off for me the same way they did for The Book of Mormon’s protagonist, Elder Price. But real life was nothing like the story told in the musical.

Today I’d like to give another story. A true story. The story of my African mission companion, Peace.

—————

Peacefull “Peace” Ncube was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 1985. The nurse who wrote out his birth certificate misspelled “Peaceful” with two L’s, so he later ditched his full name and went simply by “Peace.”

As a teenager he found it difficult to stay out of trouble. He regularly got into knife fights. Yeah, knife fights – this despite his 90-lb. build. He generally believed in God but never really gave much thought to it. In his mind, he was just a punk kid from Bulawayo. But all that changed for him when he met the missionaries.

Encountering the Missionaries

Initially, Peace attended church as a courtesy. He wasn’t prepared to feel what he felt as the missionaries began teaching him the message of the gospel. Over time, Peace’s parents noticed a clear difference between the Peace they knew before he met the missionaries and Peace they came to know after. He cared more about the way he lived and in finding answers to the big questions. He cared more about his purpose in life.

Things were moving along toward Peace’s baptism, until Peace’s father’s health took a turn for the worse. On the day Peace was scheduled to be baptized, he received news that his father had passed away.

Now living in a single-parent home, it was up to Peace and his older brother Proletariat (“Pro” for short) to care for their ailing mother and younger siblings. Peace gave up knife fights, opting instead to fill his time with whatever work he could find, while Pro followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the military.  But Peace soon learned that he didn’t have to do it alone.

Crispen and Mike, two young Zimbabwean men in the ward, bonded with Peace. Something changed in him as he saw these two friends go out of their way to reach out to him and show him that he mattered. This lit in him the desire to do the same for others. Soon the three were inseparable, and they became known in their ward as “The Three Nephites,” a reference to a story in the Book of Mormon (book, not musical) of three of Christ’s disciples who became ministering angels and went about doing good. The work they were doing not only fostered a greater love for God and for each other, but for their neighbors as well.

Becoming a Missionary

Peace wanted to keep doing good. He wanted to take the joy and the perspective and the peace he had gained and spread it far beyond his own small village. While reading the scriptures, he was overwhelmed by a verse in the book of 3 Nephi (that’s also found in Matthew) that reads, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” Peace wanted to serve a mission. But when the time came for him to submit his application, he struggled to convince his non-Mormon mother that it was a good idea.

Peace’s 11 year-old sister Patronella suggested the two of them participated in a fast (going without food or drink for 24 hours) in order to petition to God to help open their mother’s heart to the idea of his serving a mission. So the two fasted. Every day. For ten days.

On the tenth day, Peace’s mother called him into her room, and said, “It’s OK. You can go,” as she signed his application. He gave her a kiss and sprinted to his bishop’s house to submit his application with his mother’s signature still drying on the paper. And in March of 2006, Peace gave his mother and siblings hugs, told them he loved them and set off for the MTC.

Elder Ncube

Puppy love

Two weeks into his mission, Peace’s mission president called to give him some tragic news from his hometown: his mother had passed away.

The president dialed his brother back in Bulawayo who did everything he could to convince Peace to return home where he belonged.

But Peace was no longer the same punk kid from Bulawayo. While he was deeply saddened by the loss of his mother, he knew that there were others out there who had experienced just as much and who needed his help. He had a new found perspective that when you ‘seek first the kingdom of God,’ everything else will fall into place. I recently asked Peace about that experience:

“I remember when I first read the Book of Mormon, and I read that verse in 3 Nephi about ‘seek[ing] first the Kingdom of God.’ I looked back on the previous year that had brought me to that point, and I knew that it was God who delivered me there and that He would continue … Everything that happens in life, happens for a purpose. Where I’m from. Why I’m here. Why I go through hard times. When people lose their loved ones. I understand that God is in control of whatever happens and that it will all work out.”

Peace had found a source of strength and (pun not intended) a source of peace – one that hadn’t been there to steady him before. In a time where it would have been very easy to do so, Peace didn’t turn the focus on himself – he kept it on others. He decided to stay on his mission and felt a very real confirmation that he was where he needed to be and that God would take care of the rest.

Enter Elder Rasmussen

Three days later, Peace arrived in his first area where meet me, his first companion. As he walked in the door, we bro-hugged (like guys do when they don’t know what to say) and I quickly introduced myself. I immediately offered my condolences and support, asking him if there was anything I could do to help him. His response? “Let’s get to work.”

Skinny Missionaries

After awkward bro hugs come awkward side hugs

So we did. And that was it. For the next four months, we forgot ourselves and focused on helping others. And if you ask either of us what the greatest time during our mission was, we’ll answer those four months.

Glasses

Missionaries are allowed to have a little fun

Peace had no idea that he came to me at a time in my mission where I was particularly down. I had spent the previous three months with a notoriously difficult companion, and our area had very few people who were interested in our message. I was frustrated and emotionally deflated. And it took this 90 lb. orphaned Zimbabwean to help me break out of that mental and spiritual funk. I learned from his example – I forgot myself and went to work.

Peace and I had come from completely different worlds. The experiences that had led him to missionary service stood in stark contrast to the manicured, suburban, southern-California upbringing I was raised in. But we found a common bond in the gospel. And we developed a profound and lasting friendship through sharing that gospel with others and watching it bring strength and joy into their lives, just as it had done for Peace.

Danny & Peace

We perfected the selfie long before Instagram

 

A Life Transformed

Peace Ncube’s life was transformed as a result of the efforts of two young missionaries in Bulawayo back in 2005. That transformation accelerated as he prepared to serve a mission of his own, and it catalyzed while serving as a full-time missionary. The once cocky knife-fighter had become a man who visited the sick, mourned with the broken-hearted and lifted the hands of those that hung hopelessly down.

He took the challenge to “seek first the Kingdom of God” and made the Lord make good on his promises. Some of the blessings of his service? Consider these:

  1. When she heard about his mother’s passing, another missionary’s mother back in the States decided to help take he and his family in. She wrote him every day of his mission like she did her own son and sent him care packages of Skittles and Tommy Hilfiger ties. She also helped his siblings make ends meet while Pro got them on their feet.
  2. Peace married a faithful woman, Olini on 14 February, 2009. The two were sealed in the Johannesburg temple four days later. The two are currently expecting their second child.
  3. Peace has served faithfully in several callings including as the Bishop of his home ward in Nketa. He is currently serving as a counselor to the Stake President in Nkulumane.

I haven’t seen The Book of Mormon musical. I can’t speak to the shenanigans that Elder Price and his companion get into as clueless 19 year-olds in Africa. But I actually was a clueless 19-year-old in Africa. I didn’t know a lot at the time, but I knew that somehow what I was doing was bringing people real and lasting happiness. And I met a quiet, kind African man with a troubled past, who chose to do something hard because he was dedicated to improving his life and the lives of those around him.

For Peace, and millions of people like him, the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t the butt of a joke. It isn’t the setup to a punch line. It’s a very real and powerful message than can help those in the depths of despair find the peace and strength to go on – especially when things are most difficult. My experience as a Mormon missionary in Africa was more thrilling than any musical. My experience was real.

Peace & Members

A recent photo of President Ncube with his wife, Olini, and two Missionaries now serving in his ward

 

59 comments

  • This was one of the most heart-warming stories I have read. My niece served in the U.S. with a Zimbabwean companion who was also a very faithful and brave young woman.

  • I didn’t serve a mission in Africa, but I did an internship in the bush in Ghana, and I saw a difference in people’s lives who were converted to the Gospel. I haven’t seen the play either, so I can’t attest to its accuracy, but many Africans’ lives have been changed for the better because of missionary work and the Gospel of Christ.

  • Book of Mormon musical is my favorite because I love to laugh. It’s absurdity prevents anyone watching to believe it is non-fiction. Being a fan, I was drawn into this headline and I am very glad I was. I am recovering from an illness and wallowing in my pain, Elder Peace reminded me that if I humble myself, I will be taken care of. Laughter is not the best medicine, as it turns out. Danny, thank you for writing this. If the church still buys ads in Playbill for the musical, I cannot recommend more how perfect it would be to include this article.

  • This is real life of a truly converted young man and all the experiences lived by young missionaries that leave everything to help others become better people in different parts of the world.

  • I taught Peace while I was on my mission, was present for his baptism and worked with him while he prepared for his mission. I remember when Peace lost his father and how humbled he was through his life trials. He truly loved his God and his faith. It was real for him and it became real for me too.

    I echo the sentiment of Elder Rasmussen’s well-written post. It is challenging to communicate to those who have not watched religion work. It worked in Peace’s life. It worked in mine. There are social, political, scientific reasons to reject faith as a positive moving factor in one’s life, but none of those matter when you see faith work.

  • June 8, 2014 at 5:32 pm // Reply

    I read your story after my son posted it on his Facebook page. Thank you for writing it and thanks to Peace and you for living it. One of the people who read your story commented, “Laughter is not the best medicine, after all.” I think this was well said because in light of your story we are reminded that the “best medicine” is not what can cheer up a heart for only a moment but rather that which can change a heart and iift it for a lifetime and even an eternity.

  • I am currently serving a senior mission – my 3rd senior and 4th total. I have no idea what the “Book of Mormon Musical” is about, but I do know African converts we shared the gospel with, who became Temple workers and have served faithfully for many years. I pray more people will know the real joy and laughter of the gospel as opposed to “fiction”. Thanks for sharing your story and President Ncube’s.

    S/Patricia

  • Brother Danny,

    While we’ve never met, I was directed to your blog by a link to this post that appeared on a board I frequent at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion. Thank you so much for sharing accounts of your real-life African missionary experience and of your inspired, inspiring missionary companion. It struck a chord with me on several levels: First, while I didn’t serve a mission in Africa, I did serve in Southern California. Second, good satire, at which The Book of Mormon: The Musical, makes an attempt, has at its root a grain of truth which its creators discovered by attempting to understand its subject as insiders understand it. Parker and Stone’s play fails because they did not make such attempt. And third, an ounce of real-world experience is worth a pound of ill-informed, clumsy satire. Thanks for tipping the scales!

    For whatever they’re worth, here are my own thoughts on The Book of Mormon: The Musical: http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/laughing-at-mormons/. And here are some reminiscences from my own mission (though I’m sure your mission was far more challenging than my own sojourn in that exotic, faraway, foreign land of Southern California ;-D): http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/gods-army-and-my-own-mission/.

  • Danny, thank you for this post. It is a great reminder of the many memories we had and how many people like Peace and so many others.

  • June 9, 2014 at 7:51 am // Reply

    Thank You For Sharing This Wonderful Uplifting True story. This Is What Testimonies Are Built From!

  • June 9, 2014 at 9:02 am // Reply

    Relax! Life is too short wasting time on writing something like this. The Book of Mormon was created just for entertainment value. Those who get offended needs to maybe focus more on spreading the word and accepting that others may find what they do odd or worthy of satire. It’s not like the artist is saying don’t be Mormon. Life too short, laugh a little

  • Gh@gmail.com You know, good humor is just that, Good. The play crosses the line into mean, low spirited rude pokes at sacred things. If it, and I am sure it has, makes people avoid taking a good look at the most important thing in life, Truth directly from God (Joseph Smith’s vision and a living prophet of God on the Earth today), it is a shame with eternal consequences. Best not to go against things of God; very ignorant and rude of them to make light of such sacred things.
    Can you not see the miracle in the fact that so many prepared and faithful youth are out there under hard circumstances fulfilling prophecy to bring everyone who wants to the reality of what this life is about. They should be applauded and emulated not mocked for profit and a laugh.

  • June 9, 2014 at 1:03 pm // Reply

    Thank you for sharing with us. My heart has been touched by your words and thoughts. I am always grateful to hear about those who truly live the Gospel. Our friends’ grandson recently returned from a mission in Botswana. He had problems in his life, but when he decided to go on a mission, he promised Heavenly Father that he would do the very best he could do. He came back a very changed young man who had served well, done his best, relied on Heavenly Father, gained a strong testimony, and testified about the Atonement in his life. Living the Gospel does change our lives for the better. As for the musical, I don’t want to see it because it doesn’t appeal to me. I told someone who asked me if I were going to see it when it played in Los Angeles. I told him that if I wanted to hear that kind of language, I could go walk around the high school campus and hear enough bad words. We served 26 months in our own mission as car and apartment coordinators. We loved the missionaries, and we found out that they can be a lot of fun since the pulled a lot of pranks on us. Again I want to thank you for this wonderful article, and I only wish that I could meet Peace.

  • June 9, 2014 at 3:28 pm // Reply

    I don’t like roller coasters for many reasons, but I don’t find it necessary to belittle those that do.
    I certainly don’t recommend Book of Mormon Musical to my friends who don’t approve of foul language. They won’t enjoy themselves and will miss the jokes.
    I am LDS and I happen to adore the show. It is fun. In the end, the audience learns that being Mormon means being happy. It is actually very positive. Yes, they wade through a sea of some of the filthiest language to ever hit broadway (worse than any film I’ve heard of) but it is not derogatory against the church.
    I write this because I worry that by turning one’s nose up and dismissing it like I’ve seen on this thread, we are missing an incredible missionary opportunity.
    Stop saying “I haven’t seen the show” before excoriating it and it’s creators. People that have seen the show and left with positive feeling about Mormons might lose that good vibe. Just say “I’ve been warned about the language and it’s not for me.”
    Like it or not, the play has introduced millions to the church. There are doors open to missionaries that would never have been before. Let’s not reject these people with assumptions. Let’s be the open happy people they think we are.

    • To be fair, I didn’t think this article was at all harsh with regard to the musical. He basically said he hadn’t seen it and wasn’t interested in seeing it. “Excoriating” is definitely an inaccurate characterization. Few religions would have responded as gently and peacefully as we Mormons have.

      • Oh I know! This article is perfect, actually. I wish it was printed in every Playbill for the show.
        I was referring to the comments that followed.

  • This was a wonderfully thought through response to something that has bothered me since the Book of Mormon: A Musical has come out. I feel that being able to laugh at oneself is very important, but that this real life account of serving in Africa was anything but a laughing matter. Your account with Elder Peace was heartfelt and beautiful. Thank you.

  • Great article! As you know my son Nathan also served in the Zimbabwe, Harare mission and had many of the same experiences you related here. The Gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives. It can even change ours if we will let it in. Thanks for you kindness towards Nathan and many others.

  • June 9, 2014 at 7:43 pm // Reply

    I am a Non Mormon guy, however I do have a lot of Friends who believe in the Church of LDS. The story was a very nice story, I’ve heard very similar stories, in fact, Trey Parker and Matt Stone WROTE a very similar story. I feel like I have to defend the musical being a Musical Theatre person because what really does not make sense to me is why you even brought the musical up if you had never watched it or read the book. Why couldn’t you just tell your story, maybe a one line reference saying ‘i want on a mission to Africa, oh yea, like that one guy in the story, here’s my story.

    One of the biggest points made in the musical is the fact that your religion (like most religions) puts you in this huge glorified bubble, where there is black and white, good and bad, “oh we dont judge, but you’re goin to hell… Oops my bad, I mean ‘not going to heaven.’

    I’ve been to your church many times, I fell in love with a beautiful girl from your church so I tried to convert, then i read it…

    If you were to watch the musical, or read the book, yes, they go overboard especially in 1 song (hasa diga ebowaii) which I didn’t appreciate, but you know what, thats how some people actually think so YES, maybe it had to be in there, you will realize that their story is actually quite beautiful, and true to the religion and inner thoughts of its members… Maybe, JUST maybe, it’s because Trey Parker and Matt Stone were born and raised Mormon…

    With that said. Good story. Thank you for sharing. Keep up the good work.

  • I read this article and loved it. I have never seen the Book of Mormon musicale. Though I would take this over watching the play “Book of Mormon” musical any day!

  • June 10, 2014 at 12:29 am // Reply

    WOW! WHAT A FANTASTIC REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE! Thank You for sharing it! I will pass it on. I know a lot of members and non-members alike that will be impressed. It’s amazing what different kinds of experiences we have as members of THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS have that change your perspective of ones relationship with HEAVENLY FATHER and JESUS CHRIST. The fact that you, as an individual, are actually known to THEM! When someone makes that connection, it changes their life for the better forever!

  • Nice story where the gospel changed a person’s life and the ward supported him.

    Where’s the REAL story where the ward turned their back on a person because of false rumors or a person doesn’t fit into their social group.

  • I got to be Elder Ncube’s companion for a short time (areas were split and somebody got deported to bring both of us new companions quickly if I remember correctly)! He’s a great guy, with a mean spin kick.

    Yeah, I remember some of my friends that got onto me for saying I wouldn’t watch “The Book of Mormon” musical after reading some of the reviews. They asked me how I could know it was insulting to both missionaries and Africans alike if I didn’t watch it. I replied by asking how the writers could know what the missionaries were actually like without devoting two years to serving God and living with them.

    Those guys have no clue as to the unique and diverse personalities missionaries encompass, or the reasons why we did what we did, or how we reacted to things when we got there.

  • June 10, 2014 at 5:20 pm // Reply

    Thanks for your words. I have struggled on how to deal with this topic. I have followed the given counsel but it has been tough. I am a convert and a fighter and my first instinct is to fight back – but I know that is wrong. Your testimony provides reality and a good perspective.

  • This story just found its’ way into my early morning seminary lesson for tomorrow morning. This is why we teach the Book of Mormon, why we ask the young and old not to take our word for it, but to find out for themselves. This is taking the teachings of the Book of Mormon and making them real, today, right now. Thanks for an inspiring read.

  • Beautifully written. I’m LDS and currently living in Harare(grew up in Utah). Unfortunately it’s very common in Zim to lose both parents as a child. The youth in our ward just returned from a temple trip in which many of them were baptized inbehalf of their own parents. It’s uncanny the struggles people go through here and incredibly humbeling to see the strength, happiness and faith that the Gospel has given them. You can ask any member here and they will tell you the exact day they we baptized and the names of the missionaries that taught them. Thanks for your service.

  • I currently live in Harare and have the missionaries over to our house all of the time. The missionary in the photo (right) is assigned to our ward right now. The comment above about our Harare ward temple trip highlights how the church truely changes people. It is very much in line with what the former Elder Rassmussen said. You can see a change. There is a spiritual difference and a physical one too. We had a wonderful young man (26) who got baptized in Rwanda and his family ask when he visited the first time out in the village what he had done. He looked different, what had changed? He told them he quit the last semester of theology school so he could join the church of Jesus Christ of LDS. A young woman I home teach brought her mom and sister into the church. Her mom said even her teachers at school commented they do not know what is different with her, but to keep on doing it. It was a full circle that the next day after doing our Home Teaching, that the new member mom showed up at my house. She is my wife’s visiting teacher. Beautiful!

  • I have a feeling that Brother Peace knows by the Spirit that the restored gospel is true. The world might not understand that and even many within the Church may not understand that but it’s real. Only a show which ridicules missionaries and the doctrines of the Church would appeal to the world. This is a much more exciting story.

  • Gh@gmail.com Said: “Relax! Life is too short wasting time on writing something like this. The Book of Mormon was created just for entertainment value. Those who get offended needs to maybe focus more on spreading the word and accepting that others may find what they do odd or worthy of satire. It’s not like the artist is saying don’t be Mormon. Life too short, laugh a little.”

    Ken K. Gourdin Sez: I see: so, Parker and Stone somehow aren’t the ones who wasted their time crafting a clumsy satire that some (perhaps many – including people of all religious stripes, not just Mormons, as well as people of no particular religious stripe)) might (and often do) find offensive. (Mark Steyn, for example, isn’t Mormon, but he’s pointed out the irony that few people who think that The Book of Mormon Musical, in which a character utters the line, “F*** you, God” is uproariously funny, while, conversely, if the play were lampooning Islam rather than Mormonism and the character, instead, uttered the line “F*** you, Allah” would think it equally funny).

    Rather, Brother Rasmussen has wasted his time writing a response because you feel that response is too uptight. GH, the fact that many Mormons are offended by Parker and Stone’s clumsy attempt at satire doesn’t mean that we don’t have a sense of humor or that we don’t realize that there’s plenty to laugh about in Mormonism. We do, on both counts, as I point out in my own response to the play (which, I realize, alas, you are apt to dismiss as simply more whining from yet another uptight Mormon; still, in case I’m wrong, see the following link: http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/laughing-at-mormons/.)

    I think your assessment of who spent his time in fairer, more worthwhile pursuits has it exactly backward, GH.

    Non Mormon guy Said: One of the biggest points made in the musical is the fact that your religion (like most religions) puts you in this huge glorified bubble, where there is black and white, good and bad, “oh we dont judge, but you’re goin to hell… Oops my bad, I mean ‘not going to heaven.’

    Ken K. Gourdin Sez: Methinks thou paintest with too broad a brush, there, Non Mormon guy. The Mormon conception of the afterlife actually is probably the most nuanced of any such conception in all of Christianity. Yes, we do take literally Christ’s injunction that, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (John 3:5). We also believe Peter when he said that Christ (in spirit), after His death but before his resurrection (the reuniting of His body with His spirit) went to the spirit world to preach the Gospel there. (See 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6 and 1 Corinthians 15:29).

    It’s really hard to go to hell in Mormonism! ;-D

  • June 17, 2014 at 12:10 am // Reply

    i remember when you came to my house to tell me about your new companion and that his mother had died. Seems like yesterday the sadness we felt.
    What a glorious time that was, and i am grateful for the lessons and experiences we all had. The growth and service you guys gave. and the example of Peace at that time weighed heavily on all of us, till today. It was during that time that my kid brother decided to also serve a mission, and that was due to your example.
    I have not watched the Musical, do not have to, i have seen many ‘clean-cut white’ missionaries serve in Africa, eat my food and have soo much laughter and fun while at it.
    Peace is now serving in the Stake Presidency. but i am sure you know that.

  • Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. My husband and I have discussed many times how the best thing we can do to help any nation is to share with them the Restored Gospel. It changes lives.

  • Thank you so much for your wonderful story! As a newly returned missionary from Southern California I appreciate the boldness you used to share the “real story” we as missionaries see each and every day. It just reminds me that this is the Lords work and nothing will stop it from progressing forward!

  • What a great success story. I never tire hearing or reading stories about missionaries who have made a huge change in their lives and how their missions gave them a solid base for the rest of their lives.

    Getting excited to serve a mission with my spouse in a year or so. I loved my first mission, gained a strong testimony and I know the church is true. What a blessing and I cannot wait to share that message as a full time misdionary once again and this time with my spouse as my companion. Nothing could be better!

  • Great story!! Thank you so much for sharing. I have a son serving a mission in Ghana now and is having an amazing experience!!

  • Wonderful message! It is though individual stories and experiences like this that the gospel will continue to spread and grow and overcome all obstacles.

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