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From Darkness to Light

Sahar Qumsiyeh PhD Mathematics Faculty at BYU-Idaho
September 27, 2022 11:15 AM

""Heavenly Father does not simplify our tests and often does not remove our trials, but He does help us through them. He provides light and comfort to guide us through our mists of darkness.""
Good morning brothers and sisters. It is an honor to be with you today.

I was born and raised in Palestine. My hometown is called Beit Sahour and is close to Bethlehem. Four years before I was born, my entire country of Palestine was occupied by Israel. Half of my people lost their homes. We lost our identity and nationality. We were not allowed to raise our flag and lost many of our rights. My people demonstrated against the Israeli occupation. I saw many Palestinians get shot and killed by the Israeli soldiers. I lived during days of curfew. I smelled tear gas so often that somehow, I felt my body developed some immunity for the nasty gas.

When I was your age, during my first year of college, I saw a student get shot in the head. The soldiers not only shot him, but they didn’t allow us to take him to a hospital. They also didn’t allow his family to give him a proper burial. They took his body to a remote field at midnight and dug a hole and threw the body inside. They only allowed his parents to be there, not his siblings and other family members. Watching that student die and knowing what his family went through changed me. I became angry. I became hateful and bitter. For years I let that anger grow until I felt I was in a very dark place.

Brothers and sisters, the mist of darkness spoken of by Lehi is real. I was in it, I felt it all around me. As a teenager, I believed in God, but didn’t really think He cared about me. I wanted to die and prayed every night that I would. The world around us is full of that darkness. It gets worse as the Savior’s second coming gets closer.

Some of you feel that darkness now. You may be carrying heavy burdens such as depression, loneliness, confusion, doubt, and fear. Some of you question your faith and wonder if you are even in the right place. Some of you are struggling with feelings of hurt and anger. You may be trying to feel your way through the darkness wondering which path you should take. You may be asking, “What decision is best? What path will lead me to greater happiness and peace?”

Because each of us are living through some sort of darkness, I want to speak today about adding light to our lives. We all need more light. We all need more clarity to see which direction we should go. I want to offer a few suggestions about how to add light to our lives.

First, get on the covenant path and stay there.

While I was in my mist of darkness in Palestine, I started to question, why? Why does God allow this to happen? Why does He allow my people to suffer like that?

I didn’t get the answer to my questions until I was led by His mighty hand thousands of miles away from Palestine to a city called Provo. I went to school at BYU and did a master’s degree in statistics there. It was there at BYU that I was introduced to and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

My life completely changed. I found the peace that my country sought after for many years. I found light, joy and comfort. I can only describe my feelings by using the words of Alma:

Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word.” (Alma 5: 7)

Some of you are on the path. Some are sitting on the side, and some have wondered off. Some may think they are on the path because they have been baptized, but they don’t seem to have that burning testimony in their hearts anymore. I feel sometimes we think God’s standards change. They do not! It is not okay to break the word of wisdom. It is not okay to skip church. And, yes, you need to read your scriptures and pray every single day. If you or someone you know have wondered off the path, I know that there is a way back. Because of Christ’s atonement, we have a way back. The Lord loves you and welcomes you back with open arms. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said this:

“However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made … , or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”

Some of you wondered off because you got offended by a church leader. Or maybe because you read some negative things about Joseph Smith. Remember, we don’t worship our Bishops, nor do we worship Joseph Smith. We worship Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. They are the ones who are perfect. The church is not perfect. We are all imperfect human beings trying to become perfect like the Savior. We are not there yet, but we are striving to get there. Let us be forgiving and loving towards one another.

It took me months to allow Christ to change my heart so I can forgive the soldier who shot and killed my fellow student that day in 1996. When soldiers prevented me from getting to church, I got angry. I could not forgive and love. I let anger grow until one day I heard the words “Love your enemies” ring in my ear as I looked at the face of one of the soldiers. I fasted and prayed for help. Heavenly Father healed my heart and helped me forgive and love my enemies. We are only human. Sometimes it’s hard and our hearts can’t forgive someone who has hurt us so deeply. If we look to Christ, He can teach us how to let go of the anger and hate. He can show us how to forgive and love as He does.

Second, Trust in the Lord.

When I joined the church and returned home to Palestine, I was the only member of the church in my entire area and in my family, of course. My family tried their best to convince me to leave the church; they did this all day every day. They mocked me for reading my scriptures and threatened to burn them. They ridiculed me for not drinking tea like them, and for wanting to go to church.

The only branch of the church then was at the BYU Jerusalem center. Palestinians who live in the West Bank are not allowed to enter Jerusalem. I felt isolated and it was hard. Then, I decided that I made a covenant at baptism. I wanted to partake of the sacrament to renew that covenant. So, I started sneaking in to get to church in Jerusalem. I climbed hills and walls and hid from soldiers. It would take me about three hours to get to church. I got shot at and almost arrested several times.

As an example, I want to share with you how I got to church one sabbath in 2007. That year, the only way to enter Jerusalem was through a hole in the separation wall. Many areas around Jerusalem are now surrounded with a 25-foot concrete wall. It prevents Palestinians like me from entering. The hole was small and, luckily, I had the right body size to fit.

The hole was about an hour and a half from my house. I had to take a taxi to where the hole was. Then I had to wait for the soldiers on the other side of the hole to change shifts so I can go through the hole without being seen. Then I had to run and climb a shorter 10-foot wall. I would then jump to the other side and hide and wait for a bus to come. I would quickly jump on the bus without being seen by the soldiers. Once I got on the bus, I started to pray fervently that the bus won’t be stopped by the many checkpoints on the road from there into Jerusalem.

For 12 years I sneaked in to get to church. I didn’t go through the hole each time, it was a new adventure each Sabbath. Heavenly Father protected me and helped me. I felt joy, peace and comfort from His Spirit.

Heavenly Father allowed me to struggle for twelve years. I prayed fervently for that this trial to be removed and for the ability to go and worship freely. But it took 12 years to get an answer. Sometimes, in our darkest hours, we must trust that the Savior is there. He never lets us walk the path alone. He has been by my side every minute. He carried me multiple times when I didn’t have the strength to take another step. In proverbs we read, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3: 5-6)

Sometimes trusting the Lord means remaining faithful even when trials are not removed; even when the darkness does not turn into light. Sometimes we think we lack faith when we pray and don’t get what we ask for. We often pray so hard for that darkness to go away and it does not.

Life is not easy, brothers and sisters. It’s not meant to be easy. Life is a test. We need to grow and learn from that test. I know you students like easy tests, but easy tests don’t test our knowledge well. Heavenly Father does not simplify our tests and often does not remove our trials, but He does help us through them. He provides light and comfort to guide us through the mists of darkness.

One day, years ago, an Israeli helicopter was bombing areas in my town of Beit Sahour. I have about 2000 relatives in Beit Sahour. The bombing broke some cables, so we had no electricity and no phone connections. The town was dark and we didn’t know which houses were being targeted. My parents and I went to the roof to see which houses were being hit to see if my sister and other relatives were okay. I don’t know why we thought it was a good idea to get on the roof during a bombing, but we didn’t know what else to do. We just wanted to make sure our relatives were ok.

From the roof all we saw was pitch black darkness and the glow of bombs in the distance. I was scared and worried about my sister and her family. I left my parents on the roof and went down to my dark bedroom and knelt in the darkness by my bed and prayed. I felt the most amazing peace and comfort I have ever felt that night. The bombs did not stop, and the electricity did not come back on, but I knew that everything was going to be okay. Sometimes, Heavenly Father comforts us and strengthens us through our darkness. He provides the light of hope and peace even though our trials are not removed right away.

Third, Be Patient. Light will come.

I was once having a hard day and was sharing my problems with my district president. It was a time in my life where I had so many trials and felt darkness and hopelessness everywhere I looked.

My district president asked me to think of the first vision. He then read these words that Joseph smith wrote to describe the darkness he felt:

“Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.”

My district president said that Joseph didn’t give up despite the darkness. And just at the moment when Joseph was about to give up, the light appeared. Joseph says, “But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction…just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.” (JSH 1: 15-16)

The light will come for you as well brothers and sisters. Sometimes it takes a while. Sometimes it takes 12 years. Heavenly Father sometimes allows that mist of darkness to linger in our path. Because that is the only way we can learn and grow and develop the faith necessary to make it back to His presence. You are His child. He loves you. That is the one truth that will never change.

Elder Neil L. Anderson said, “For you, the righteous, the Healer of our souls, in His time and His way, will heal all your wounds. No injustice, no persecution, no trial, no sadness, no heartache, no suffering, no wound—however deep, however wide, however painful—will be excluded from the comfort, peace, and lasting hope of Him whose open arms and whose wounded hands will welcome us back into His presence.” (Neil L. Andersen, Wounded, October 2018 General Conference)
Fourth, stay close to the Savior.

I was born in Jerusalem. I love the old city. The smells of spices and good food fill the streets. I managed to go to church a few years ago. I had to obtain security clearance and then get a permit to enter Jerusalem. I was lucky enough to be allowed in without having to go through the hole or sneak into Jerusalem. I crossed the checkpoint and took the bus to the old city. As I walked down some of the streets of Jerusalem, I noticed that the city was full of soldiers. The Israeli flag, not the Palestinian flag, was on every corner. The homes that were once Palestinian homes were now occupied by Jews. I felt that my Arab city has lost its identity. I felt I did not belong. I was an outsider. I was sad that I did not belong to my birth city. So, I started to cry.

Luckily I had a few moments before church services start. So, I decided to go to the garden tomb. This is what the garden tomb looks like. It is a tomb in the rock and it is by a beautiful garden. It is where some people believe Christ was buried.

The garden tomb is by the ‘place of the skull’.

That is a formation in the rock that looks like a skull. You can’t see it clearly in this picture. I walked from there towards the garden tomb in Jerusalem with tears in my eyes. But as I walked in the streets of Jerusalem, suddenly, I felt that I was there on that day almost 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ walked down those same streets carrying His cross to the hill where he would be crucified.

It felt so real, and it was as if I was there watching Him walk with the cross on His back. I could almost hear the crowd mock and criticize him. Then, it suddenly dawned on me that He did not belong either. He did not belong to this city, and He did not belong to this earth. Then I heard the Savior whisper in my ear, “you belong to me”.

I know we try so hard to belong. Especially students, sometimes we try to belong with our group, with our friends, we try to fit with the crowd and we try to adjust our lifestyle to match others. But, brothers and sisters, we do not have to belong to this earth. Because we belong to our Savior. We are His. We are His disciples and faithful followers. We should dedicate our lives to Him and live the way He would have us live; nothing else matters.

Jesus Christ is the light of the world. He is “the light which shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not”. Darkness can never win over light. If we stay close to the Savior, we will never ever walk in darkness. He lights our path, and He shows us the way back to Heavenly Father.

Sister Sharon Eubank said, “One of the fundamental needs we have in order to grow is to stay connected to our source of light—Jesus Christ. He is the source of our power, the Light and Life of the World. Without a strong connection to Him, we begin to spiritually die. Knowing that, Satan tries to exploit the worldly pressures we all face. He works to dim our light, short-circuit our connection, cut off the power supply, leaving us alone in the dark.” (Christ: The Light That Shines in Darkness, Sharon Eubank, April 2019 general conference)

Fifth, If you don’t see light around you, well be that light!

I didn’t fully realize the effect our light has on others until I lived in Turkey. I did my PhD in Turkey and had to learn Turkish. It’s the hardest language in the world, I think. While I was there, the first missionary couple arrived in Ankara. I was their translator when they needed to go shopping and run errands. Turkish people don’t generally talk to strangers and in a busy city like Ankara everyone was hurrying to get to where they were going. However, I was shocked at how many times people would stop us in the streets. They would point to sister Ellet and say, “Why does she glow like that? Tell us about the light that she has.”

In Doctrine and Covenants we read, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”

We are all meant to shine, but we need to understand that we don’t shine on our own. We merely reflect the light of Christ that is within us. The closer we get to Him, the brighter our light shines and the more people we can bring back to Him.

Remember that Christ tells us, “Ye are the light of the world.” Our dark world needs us. People need your light and mine so that they can find the way back to Heavenly Father.

Sister Bonnie H. Cordon said, “The Savior testified, “I am the light which ye shall hold up.” He reminds us that He will bring the light if we will just point others to Him.

You and I have enough light to share right now. We can light the next step to help someone draw nearer to Jesus Christ, and then the next step, and the next.

Ask yourself, “Who needs the light you have to find the path they need but cannot see?” (That They May See, Bonnie H. Cordon, April 2019 general conference)

Sixth, Remove whatever is blocking your view of the light

We sometimes block our view of the light and create our own darkness. We let hate and anger get in the way of our view of the Savior and His gospel.

You all probably remember the eclipse that happened a few years ago. Elder Gary E. Stevenson describes it this way.

“A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the earth and the sun, almost completely blocking any light from the sun. This is a marvel to me. If you imagine the sun as the size of a common bicycle tire, the moon in comparison would be scarcely the size of a small pebble. How is it possible that the very source of our warmth, light and life could be so greatly obstructed by something comparably insignificant in size?

“In the same manner that the very small moon can block the magnificent sun, extinguishing its light and warmth, a spiritual eclipse can occur when we allow minor and troublesome obstructions to get so close that they block out the magnitude, brightness, and warmth of the light of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell took this analogy even further when he stated: “Even something as small as a man’s thumb, when held very near the eye, can blind him to the very large sun. Yet the sun is still there. Blindness is brought upon the man by himself. When we draw other things too close, placing them first, we obscure our vision of heaven.””

(Spiritual Eclipse, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, Oct 2017 General Conference)

Sometimes our minds are so clouded by trials, and by emotional and physical afflictions, we can’t see any hope and any deliverance in sight. I was in a place this dark. When the persecution from my family was so harsh and long one day, I escaped into the bathroom because that was the only place I could go to avoid their hurtful words. I didn’t know what I believed anymore. I was so confused.

I decided to exercise the little amount of faith I still had and knelt down, and prayed, “Heavenly Father, are you really there? Is this church really true?”

He answered me that night in a remarkable way, too sacred to share, but I know, because of that, He will also answer you if you go to Him. Remove from your life all distractions that are blocking your view of the light and go to Him in humble prayer. I testify He will hear and answer you as He heard and answered me that night. We all have questions. Having questions is fine, as long as you go to the right source to answer your questions. Heavenly Father will always be there to help you.

We often hear talks and then forget what was said the next day. I hope you will do something today. I hope you will go back to this talk and use it to help you add light to your life. I hope you have been prompted to do something that will bring more of Christ’s light into your life. I challenge you in the coming days to think of one area you can improve on. These are my suggestions,

1. Get on the covenant path and stay there.
2. Trust in the Lord.
3. Be patient. Light will come.
4. Stay close to the Savior.
5. Be a light to others.
6. Remove whatever is blocking your view of the light.

But there are countless other ways to bring more light into our lives: Serving others, going to the temple, praying, pondering, reading the scriptures, spending more time doing things that help us get closer to Christ…etc.

I want to end with this quote which is from an episode of Music and the Spoken word that was broadcast right before the April 2017 conference:

“When the darkness around us seems overwhelming, when we can’t seem to find any light, it helps to remember that even when we can’t see it, the sun is always shining. It may be hidden by the shadowy clouds of daily living, but it is always there. Perhaps night has made light seem like a distant memory, but darkness is ever the herald of dawn. No matter the darkness in our lives, the light of God’s love still shines and it can fill our hearts. It gives us hope in our suffering, joy in our sorrows and light in our darkness. Yes, there is much in this life that brings sadness and distress, but God has also filled the world with an abundance of His light and love. If we seek it and receive it, this light can fill our lives.” (Music & the Spoken Word, April 2017 general conference)

I testify that Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. He is the source of all light. He loves you more than you can ever imagine. He wants nothing more than to guide you through your mist of darkness back to Heavenly Father’s presence. Stay close to Him and you will notice your life being filled with light and hope. He is my Savior, redeemer and friend. He is the light and life of the world. He was born in my town of Bethlehem and died on the cross in Jerusalem. But, the good news is that He lives today. He lives to succor us, to strengthen us and to guide us back to Heavenly Father’s presence. He does this by shining His bright light of hope and peace in our path. My we all stay close to Him and fill our lives with light is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

About the Speaker

 Sahar Qumsiyeh

Sahar Qumsiyeh

Sahar Qumsiyeh is a Palestinian Arab. She was born in Jerusalem, Palestine, and grew up in Beit Sahour, a town close to Bethlehem. She is the youngest of six children and the only member of the Church in her family.

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Bethlehem University, Sahar earned a master’s degree from BYU and a PhD from the Middle East Technical University in Turkey, both in statistics. She has taught at various universities in Palestine and worked for four years as a data analyst with the United Nations Relief and Works agency in Jerusalem. She currently teaches in the mathematics department at BYU-Idaho. She is also the author of Peace for a Palestinian: One Woman’s Story of Faith Amidst War in the Holy Land.

In addition to serving a mission in London, England in 2014, Sahar has held several callings in the Church, including Relief Society president, Primary president, Relief Society teacher, and Sunday School teacher. She currently serves as the stake Primary president in her stake.
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