Stepping off the plane two years ago in Salt Lake City, aspiring Provo student Moses Cissoko joined the bustling crowd and managed one thought: “Whoa, this is different from my country.”
Cissoko hails from Mali, a nation in western Africa of over 14 million people. Like other African countries, it has had its problems. The country was ruled by a dictator until 1991, when a military coup ushered in a time of democracy. But in March of this year, the government suffered another coup. This instability carries over to the country’s economy, which appears to be struggling.
Cissoko came to the United States to change that. He wants to learn English, go to management school, enter the business or government sectors in Mali and eventually work for the United Nations. Cissoko said he believes that the more Africans working for the United Nations the better.
“The U.N. is very involved in Africa,” he said. “We always have troubles there. We don’t have money to give the United Nations, but we can bring our knowledge about our country, how to bring people together and how to solve our problems.”
Yeah Samake, mayor of Ouelessebougou, Mali, and a BYU grad and family friend, suggested an English-language school for Cissoko to attend in Provo. He commuted from Salt Lake for awhile, but eventually made his way down close to the school.
Nate Orr, a student from Salt Lake City who studies at Utah Valley University, was one of his first roommates.
“Living with Moses was an absolute blast!” Orr said. “He would laugh at the insane amounts of sports that I watched, and I would laugh at his love for broccoli, soul music and the way he would just yell something ridiculous and have everybody laughing.”
“It was easy to make friends,” Cissoko said. “People like to meet new people, and to see people who come from different cultures, and different countries. They want to know how your country is like.”
Social interactions like these helped Cissoko reach his short-term goal of learning English. “I didn’t have anyone around that spoke French or my native language,” he said. “So I had to speak English. That made it faster to learn.”
In addition to learning a new language, Cissoko started learning about the Church. He met sister missionaries at Temple Square and they sent other missionaries to his house in Salt Lake. He met with them for two months before he came to Provo.
For Cissoko, learning about the gospel was a process.
“The missionaries were always asking me to get baptized,” Cissoko said. “I was trying to find my own answer. When I moved here, I kept going to church and praying about the Book of Mormon. One time I was feeling good about the Church. I hadn’t found anything wrong about the Church. I said, ‘This is the right thing to do for me.’ And I made my decision to join the Church.”
Tony du Preez, Cissoko’s bishop for most of his time in Provo, has nothing but positive things to say about Cissoko.
“He has always been committed and consistent in the callings that he’s had,” du Preez said. “He has a great sense of humor, and is secure enough to laugh at himself.”
Joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made Cissoko only the fourth member from Mali. Things haven’t always gone smoothly since he joined the Church, though. He’s lost his sponsor, couldn’t find work and even faced deportation. This summer his bike was stolen, lock and all. But he’s also seen some miracles. He’s found another sponsor and been able to get a job at the school he attends. He even found a friend to lend him a bike.
Through these challenges, Cissoko has learned how the gospel can affect people.
“It has helped me to be a better person, to understand the challenges of the world, and how to face these challenges,” Cissoko said. “The gospel can bless the people of Mali.”