By Amy Wenk
Buckhead resident Martha Hopper Poston has devoted her life to helping others, sending love into hearts far and near.
For the 72-year-old “showing love to others is rendering the most precious service,” as the preface reads in her book “In the Service of My God.” Poston is revising the book for reprint next year.
The inspirational book chronicles how her time in the Peace Corps prompted her spiritual awakening.
“I had read and studied the Bible, but I had never realized the great peace and humility that came from it until I began my Peace Corps service,” said the North Carolina native, who began as a volunteer in 1972 after earning a degree in home economics.
Poston wanted to make a difference in someone’s life “by bringing them hope and knowledge.”
Her understanding of health, child care, nutrition and sewing was put to good use in Jamaica, where she served as an area extension officer for two years. She worked in rural areas to improve living conditions and often aided troubled young adults.
When she relocated to Liberia in 1974, she felt her Western knowledge would bring hope to many more people. She did not realize what she would receive in return.
“My faith has grown in working with these people. They made me strong,” said Poston, who taught classes for unwed mothers at a university. “Now I can look back over the years at what I accomplished for those people. It gives me hope, courage, strength, confidence and knowledge.”
Poston taught the rural women how to make household devices and modernize domestic chores. She introduced clotheslines to people who had long dried items on the ground, using a charcoal iron to kill mites that settled into clothing. The people learned to filter water and create bamboo beds and straw pillows.
“I took a great knowledge to them,” she said. “They were so happy because they didn’t know who to turn to. They were destitute people that I was working with, and I really enjoyed every bit of it.”
She showed the women how to construct raised-hearth stoves from mud and cement, as well as ovens from two 5-gallon oil cans sandwiched between stones. Sand filled the bottom to regulate the temperature.
“You should have seen what came out of that oven,” Poston said. “We baked bread and cake. It looked like it was baked from a conventional oven. Those people were so happy” because they had items to sell at the market.
She accepted the opportunity to work for the Ministry of Agriculture as an educational material specialist when her term with the Peace Corps expired in 1978.
“As I continued to lose myself in service, I began to awaken spiritually,” Poston said. “I occasionally became discouraged, but I remember I felt close to God. I’d take my thoughts to him in prayer for strength and direction.”
That faith allowed her to keep her composure when the country was overtaken by a military coup in 1980.
“If I didn’t have the Lord, I couldn’t have stayed there,” she said. “This government robbed and murdered innocent people by taking their personal possessions and even their personal freedoms. Some people fled Liberia, leaving their families behind because they had no place to go and could not finance the transportation.”
The saddest event for Poston was seeing Liberian President William Richard Tolbert Jr. the night before his assassination.
“That was a horrible way for President Tolbert to leave this earth,” she said. “It was a really dark day in Liberia. They told us to stay in and don’t come out.”
She left the country in 1981 and came to Atlanta to care for her ill mother. During that time, two missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to her door.
She made a spiritual connection and was baptized in May 1983. Two years later, Poston was asked to teach the Gospel at the Atlanta Temple in Sandy Springs, the first Mormon temple erected in the South. She has worked the first shift each morning for 24 years.
Since her conversion to Mormonism, Poston has shared her life and faith in two published books, “Walking in the Path of Angels” and “In the Service of My God.” She also contributed to a compilation called “My Heart, My History” by Imani Evans, and she wrote a children’s book.
Short stories about her experiences were published worldwide in the 1980s and ’90s through Latter-day Saint publications including Tambuli, Ensign and Liahona, which are read by more than 12 million people.
In recent years, Poston has gone on some grand adventures. As a choir member, she has traveled to Spain, Scotland, Russia, Australia and New Zealand.
Last year she ran the Peachtree Road Race, and this year has been extra-special because she attended President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January.
“It was a spiritual experience for me,” Poston said.