Life experiences shape the person we become. However, some are subjected to life experiences most of us could not comprehend. Harindranto Rasolo, native of Madagascar, has lived a life full of diverse people, cultures, and experience. From this combination, he has learned the key to expanding our world does not lie in visiting as many countries as one can in a lifetime; the key is in learning about people unlike you and taking time to listen to someone no matter their background. While travel can help diversify and widen your narrow understanding of different cultures, the only way to truly understand a country outside your own is to interact with the people in that country. Rasolo speaks many languages. Since birth, he’s spoken Malagasy, an Indonesian-based language. In grade school, he (like all students in Madagascar) learned three languages: two required—French and English, and one by choice—Spanish, because of his mother’s love for it. On his mission to the Netherlands in 2006, he had the opportunity to learn Dutch, bringing his total languages to five, but that is getting ahead of the story.
In Madagascar, Rasolo met the Latter-day Saint missionaries on their preparation day. His mother talked with one missionary on the street as Rasolo played basketball with others. After taking the discussions, his mother and brother were quickly baptized, followed by his father; however, Rasolo had a harder time. He knew he wanted to be a good person and live a life of integrity, but he also wanted to be in control of himself and not force himself into a church unless he was sure it was the right one. His change of heart came gradually after the conversion of his family, but particularly in response to three specific experiences. First, as the missionaries taught him that the Lord wanted to help him in his education by giving him the Holy Ghost, he got the impression that the Lord did really care for him and know his needs. After a friend insulted his interest in the Church and invited him to instead become a member of his denomination, as they could do anything they wanted, Rasolo felt the need to know the purpose behind being religious at all. He felt an urge to understand the reasons behind the doctrines he was learning instead of merely following a religious congregation who did not practice what they preached. He recalled feeling the Spirit for the first time while listening to two sister missionaries sing in Sacrament meeting. He knew it was a special witness and could not have come from man. Although all his questions were not yet answered, that witness was his confirmation that the Church was the place he belonged, and he was baptized. His true conversion took place after being forced to leave his homeland.
Rasolo’s father had been hired by the government to work as part of a panel of experts in distinct fields to develop projects to help build Madagascar’s economy. When Rasolo was fourteen, Madagascar was hit with severe political unrest when both major candidates, Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana, claimed victory. If their political viewpoints weren’t different enough, their distinct ethnic backgrounds—Ratsiraka coming from the coastal Betsimisaraka tribe and Ravalomanana from the highland Merina tribe—escalated distrust between the opposing groups and created a crisis. Thousands of people gathered in the streets to show support for their candidate. Gathering led to mobs and mobs to riots. Ravalomanana supporters burned down part of government headquarters, and took control of Toamasina, the nation’s chief port city; Ratsiraka supporters cut major transport routes from Toamasina to the capital, consequently cutting off supplies to Ravalomanana’s supporters. Violent demonstrations continued for seven months ending in a battle that killed twenty-five soldiers and civilians and injured many others. Although his father was not involved in politics, his government affiliation connected him with the problems and he became a target. He, along with other members of the panel knew they had to act quickly to protect their families from danger. Rasolo’s father decided to move the family to Belgium, but before their new Belgium identification cards could be issued, their request for citizenship had to be approved by the UN. They were forced to stay in a refugee camp with others from many countries who were attempting to make Belgium their new home, as they went through interviews and waited for background checks to clear before the final decision could be made on whether or not they could stay in Belgium.
Rasolo spent just under one month in the refugee camp with those who he now refers to as his “wounded family.” They were there for diverse reasons—women running from abusive husbands or human trafficking, homosexuals who had been exiled, families in search of a better life for their children, rebels running from their governments—but despite their backgrounds, they all had one thing in common: going back to where they came from was not an option. They were all in pursuit of new opportunities and praying Belgium could give them that chance. Almost as soon as his family arrived, they were welcomed by women who had taken it upon themselves to serve those entering the camp with hearts full of joy. Rather than letting their circumstances harden their hearts, they humbled themselves and did all they could to serve. Their trials had given them compassion; they embraced everyone and behaved with dignity. During his stay at the camp, Rasolo sought for the Lord’s strength to help him. He would sing the hymns, particularly “Abide with Me,” as a source of comfort for himself and others almost nightly. The feelings of uncertainty felt throughout the camp were calmed as the hymn touched the refugees’ hearts and calmed their minds. Although many did not know what they would do, or where they would go if their citizenship in Belgium was denied, the hymns nonetheless helped to fill them with hope for their future. Approved to enter the country at the end of August 2001, they left many new friends behind to begin a new life in Belgium. His testimony grew as he continued to study the gospel in Europe. He saw the difference the gospel made in his life and wanted to share it with others, at age twenty-five, four years after joining the Church, he chose to serve a mission and was called to the Netherlands.
The key to growing is to learn about other people
Returning to Belgium after his mission presented Rasolo with an unforeseen dilemma. The changes he had made and the growth he had felt on his mission made him more sensitive to the somewhat harsh environment he came home to. His progression seemed to come to a halt, and his spiritual well-being that up until that point had been improving, was being neglected. He had already planned on higher education after his mission and knowing that BYU was a top university, and hoping Provo’s atmosphere could fulfill his spiritual desires, he applied.
He arrived at BYU in 2009, anxious to discover why so many Latter-day Saints flocked to this particular area. As a leadership and educational foundations major and international development minor, his long-term career goal is to become an educational programmer for French and African countries and eventually work for the Church—either as a consultant or as a CES instructor. Wherever a career takes him, Rasolo wants to share his story with others so they can understand how fortunate they are to have grown up as members of the Church and not neglect the great blessings they have been given.
His goal for the wider world is for people to discover a sense of unity that transcends political borders, race, religion, and all other facets of life. “The key to growing is to learn about other people” is his mantra. Each person you meet can teach you something new based on their unique life experience, and no one should ever be written off as simple or ordinary as each individual has a story to tell and a lesson to teach. When we widen our circles of acquaintances despite physical or cultural differences, and allow our perspectives to widen, the smaller the “great big world” we live in becomes. We are all more alike than we are different, and that is the perspective we must remember if we are to grow from our associations with others.