28 September 2007

A call from Antonio

In order to really appreciate this recent history, I'll need to relate a couple more stories beforehand.

First, one about an old missionary companion. He and I were companions in Santo Tirso, Portugal for the summer of 2001. It was very hot one Sunday afternoon in June, and we decided to stop for a break. We were a little down-trodden because we weren't having much success. Particularly, Elder H was more or less "fed up" with missionary work that day (it happens to every missionary some time during their mission).

We decided to take a minute to make a goal and ask the Lord to consecrate our efforts. Indeed, part of this was just to motivate Elder H, and helping him get out of his slump; however, I felt impressed to tell him that the Lord would hear this goal, answer our prayers, and lead us to a family that would be baptized before the end of July. We wrote down the goal, what we had to do to achieve it, and set out again.

The following Friday, we were thin on work, so we stopped. I asked Elder H, "is there any family at all that you and your last companion visited that seemed promising?" He said, "well, there was this one family with 6 kids. They seemed really open." Great! We went to go visit them.

They were a very happy family, though they had very little. The cupboards were empty and, we learned later on that they were about to be evicted from their apartment. The wife had just left her husband due to abuse, and she was trying to take care of all six kids, ages 3-13. Parenthetically, it amazes me the extent to which the human being can suffer and still find a way to survive.

The first time we actually visited was the following Monday, which I believe would have been July 2. The mom cried during our first visit as all the stress came out of her during the closing prayer. I thought that she wouldn't invite us back. She might feel that it was just an additional stress to think about God and religion during this season of her life.

However, she did. The second visit went much better, and they wished to be baptized! Four of them were of baptismal age out of the seven (remember that the father wasn't around). We set out to prepare. We introduced them to many of the ward members, and helped them get to Church each Sunday.

During these weeks, I came to understand that Elder H had never had a baptism in his entire mission. He had been out for 18 of his 24 months. For those unfamiliar with missions, a missionary will often judge the success of his mission by how many people join the Church under his tutelage. While this isn't always a good measure, you can see what happens to missionaries who don't baptize someone for three-quarters of their mission: They feel like they are a complete failure.

Anyway, one night, we went to drop off some invitations that we had made for them to distribute to their family and friends. It was almost 10 o'clock at night, which was our curfew, so we only had a few minutes. They weren't home. Now, where would a family with little kids be at 10 o'clock at night? Odd. We left the invitations at the door and went back out to the street.

Once we got to the street, we saw a car pull up. It was our Ward Mission Leader, Bother Magalhaes! He rolled down his window and said, "We thought we'd do a Family Home Evening with your family tonight!" He pointed to the back seat which had all six kids and Rosa, the mom, squished together! It was an amusing sight seeing them pile out once the car stopped.

The kids started running around as soon as they got out, and Rosa, Brother and Sister Fernandes, Elder H and I stood around talking about the Family Home Evening they just had. It turns out that Sister Fernandeswas going to help Rosa get a job at the sewing place where she worked and Brother Fernandes was going to help Andre, the oldest boy, do some work for him to get the family some more money. Further, the Fernandes were moving, and they offered to rent the place where they were now living to Rosa so she could live closer to Famalicao (where most of the ward lived), and have a more sustainable rent.

I was completely floored. The Fernandes seemingly came out of nowhere to scoop this family out of their beleaguered situation and put them where they could be a happier and safer family. Two weeks before, they had accepted the invitation to change their spiritual lives, and now the Lord was already blessing them with temporal blessings as well.

Eventually, the conversation ended. Rosa and her kids went into their house, the Fernandes drove home. Elder H and I walked quickly to our car to get home before curfew.

Now, in our car was a little tape player since the car had no radio. It was a recording of a number of gospel songs. We started the car and turned the music on. The very first song that came on the tape player was "Just Hold On". It's a beautiful song, and the words go something like this:

The message of this moment is so clear,
And as certain as the rising of the sun.
If your world is filled with darkness, doubt, and fear,
Just hold on, hold on, the light will come.

Anyone who's ever tried, and failed
Stands much taller when the victory's won.
So those who've been in darkness for a while,
Just hold on, hold on, the light will come.

It's a lesson every one of us must learn:
That the answers never come without a fight.
If there's anyone who's struggled far too long,
Just hold on, hold on, the light will come.

And the lyrics go on, but I can't remember all of them. The Spirit testified to us in that moment that Elder H's wait was over. He was going to see an entire family baptized!

A few days later, we were driving somewhere else, and, in the middle of a conversation we were having, he said, "You know, Elder Cummings, if this family actually gets baptized, maybe my mission will actually mean something."

To this day, I am still moved when I imagine that evening with the Fernandes and Rosa and when I imagine Elder H and his reflections on the matter.

They were baptized on July 29, 2001, according to the promise that we received from the Lord a month previous.

I tell this story because of the miracle that conversion often is and the lasting effect that it has on all parties involved. It requires a change of heart on everyone, even the missionaries doing the preaching. It is all worth it.

Anyway, this post actually took me a lot longer than I thought. I am going to need to continue the story tomorrow about Antonio.