08 October 2007

A Call from Antonio, Part II

With Rosa's story in mind, I'd like to tell you about the day Antonio Santos was baptized.

It was March 3, 2002 in Castelo Branco, Portugal, which was my last Sunday serving in that city. My new appointment in the mission would be "Traveling Assistant," which means that I would have no area, but that I would stay with a different set of elders every week to train, etc.. I had three months left of my mission, so I knew that this new appointment would be my last. My personal proselyting mission, as I knew it, was ending in just a couple of days.

We were all so happy for Antonio because of his wonderful conversion story, which I'll not take the time to relate here. March 3 was the culmination of a dedicated conversion process on his part, including giving up smoking, etc., and devoting time to Church each Sunday.

The baptism was to immediately follow Fast and Testimony Meeting since some of our members traveled far to get to the meeting house, and it was better to ask them to just get there once a week instead of multiple times. The branch president (similar to a bishop), President Cruz stood, bore his testimony to start the meeting, and then invited those who wished to stand and bear their testimony of the restored gospel.

I was surprised at the first man to stand up; it was Brother Magalhaes. He was a man that my companion at the time, Elder Davis, and I had met out on the street about 6 months ago. He had confessed that he was a member, but that the city that he had moved to was so far away that it was going to be difficult to attend Church. We empathized and challenged him to attend anyway, showing him (since he was in town at the time) where the chapel was. Today, he had come, and he was the first to get up upon invitation from President Cruz. He bore his testimony of Church attendance and how he missed coming and how he was so happy to be at Church today. He also mentioned how he was grateful to see so many people that he admired in the chapel.

He pointed out one particular person in the congregation. He said that he had admired him from the day he was a boy when he saw him serving in the military. He said that he hoped to emulate the good qualities that he saw in this man. He pointed to a older fellow named Luis; he was about 70 years old. This was special because Luis was an investigator at the time, and he had just changed his work schedule so that he could attend Church meetings for the first time today. What a powerful coincidence! Brother Magalhaes and Luis chose to attend church on the same day, Luis for his first time, and Brother M was inspired to bear his testimony and praise Luis particularly for his good character! Brother M was not aware that Luis was investigating at the time. One could see that Luis was deeply touched, both by the sentiment and by the coincidence.

After this, the second counselor in the branch presidency stood and bore his testimony of the power of the words of the prophets to change lives. This was momentous because he had recently reactivated himself, giving up drinking and other bad habits in order to again become worthy of his position in the Church. I will never forget the words that he said, "And I owe much of my strength to make my way back to Elder Cummings." I was surprised, but incredibly touched. No one was aware at this point that I was to be transferred away this Wednesday (except Antonio was vaguely aware that I could leave at any week in the near future).

After several more testimonies, Antonio was baptized. It was a singular event after such a wonder and uplifting series of testimonies. He was now a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and his life would be changed forever.

The reason that I tell this story is two-fold: First, Antonio is a very special person to me. We became very close friends over the three-months that we new each other in Castelo Branco. Still today, we will talk over the phone every few months to catch up on one another's lives. Just seeing Antonio baptized was enough for me to know, like the Elder I mentioned in "A Call from Antonio, Part I", that my mission "actually meant something." Second, though the Lord could have stopped there, He inpsired Brother Magalhaes to testify on the same say that his boyhood hero attended church for the first time, and for the Second Counselor to bear witness of his "re-conversion". By the end of the baptism, the overwhelming feeling in my heart was that the Lord was pleased with my efforts in that city, and that I could close the book of my personal proselyting mission, knowing that He was pleased.

It looks like this story is going to need a Part III. :) It's much harder with kids to find the time to dedicate to really tell some good stories. :)