Jennifer Brinkerhoff Platt may be new to teaching religion on the BYU-Idaho campus, but her influence and testimony have already taken her to the other side of the world. Platt, who is an Arizona native and mother of two, moved to Rexburg from Provo last summer to start as adjunct religion faculty.
In January 1985, President Spencer W. Kimball invited members to fast and donate fast offerings to famine relief in Ethiopia. According to ldscharities.org, this became LDS Charities, the humanitarian aid program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Platt was a young girl at the time of this fast, and this started her love for Ethiopia.
“I was a young girl and we participated, and it stirred in me something that I cannot even put words to,” Platt said. “I knew I had a work to do in that country. I tucked it into my little heart and it was dormant for a long time, but when I started my Ph.D. I met some women who were doing work there, and I got that feeling in my heart and knew that I needed to do this.”
Platt started her doctoral studies in fall 2008 and took her first trip to Ethiopia in summer 2009 to research. During her first trip to Ethiopia, Platt helped plan and carry out the first youth conference. It was during this time that she met Fiker Mekonnen, a BYU-I sophomore studying nursing, and Kalkidan Mekonnen, a BYU-I sophomore studying accounting.
Platt continued to visit Ethiopia over the next three years, studying how rituals and culture shape a woman’s identity.
“I studied Ethiopian women in a ritual context and how does the ritual of coffee, or buna, shape who this woman believes she is supposed to be in regards to her culture,” said Platt.
Platt said the women of the village participate in a ceremonial preparation of making and drinking coffee, called buna.
Platt said that for Ethiopian women, coffee is their Relief Society. “In so many ways, what they do with buna is what we are trying to accomplish with ministering,” said Platt. “They just love each other. They say, ‘If you have a problem, I have a problem.’ It’s beautiful.”
Platt applies what she learned in Ethiopia to her current position as a religion professor. Platt said she is passionate about helping students clarify doctrine and their purpose.
“The most important thing that I learned, if I were to sum it all up, is that God has a purpose for us. You and I each have specific missions to fulfill. I think that I was being trained before, but I was not clear in my purpose,” said Platt. “For me, it was a shaping and refining time of realizing that I was living my life mission. I got there and knew that I was sent to Earth to do that.”