Saturday, December 1, 2007

Lessons of the Spirit

There was a lady in Sapporo (Japan) who had been meeting with the missionaries for almost two years, while simultaneously attending another church and listening to their lessons. By the time my companion and I started teaching her, just about everyone thought it was hopeless. We would teach her something; she would attend the other church and meet with the other missionaries; we would meet again and do nothing the first hour but go through the scriptures answering the questions they had given her, then have a few minutes left to teach the Gospel; the cycle would repeat over and over again. Each time, we asked her to pray about it, but they kept telling her she couldn’t trust what she might feel - that she could trust only what her mind would tell her, while they kept her mind confused and in turmoil. It was frustrating to see how miserable they made her, and we often wondered if we should move on to someone else - but each time we prayed about it we felt good about continuing to teach her.

My companion had been out only a month, and his Japanese was . . . really, really bad - to be charitable. One day, as we rode our bikes to her apartment, he asked if we just could read from the scriptures with her - not answer any questions or teach anything new, but just read. He said he had felt impressed to do so, and it felt good, so I agreed.

We started in the Bible and ended up in the Book of Mormon reading 2 Nephi 31. After we had alternated verses with her throughout that chapter, she asked us to stop while she read it again (the entire chapter) silently to herself. When she finished, my companion asked me to translate for him as he simply said, “Sister S, would you like to be baptized?” As soon as I had finished translating for him, she burst into tears - and the Spirit was as tangible as I have ever felt in my life. (Given some of the miraculous things I have witnessed, that is saying something.) When she was able to speak, she said something like, “Now I know what the love of God feels like.”

She was a sweet, honest woman, so she told the other church members of her decision. They immediately sent eight members over to her house, forced their way through her door and spent eight hours belittling us and the Church and her witness - refusing to leave as she begged them to stop. When they finally left, she booked a flight to Tokyo for the next morning in order to escape what she knew was coming the next day. She returned two weeks later with the following story:

She had called her aunt and uncle, who were like second parents to her - and whose judgment she respected more than anyone else she knew. She didn’t know how to break the news of her testimony to such devout Buddhists, so she didn’t say anything - until they cautiously told her Sunday morning that they were going to church later that day at the Mormon Church where they had been baptized two months previously - and that she didn’t have to go with them since they didn’t think she would understand their decision. When she told them of her experience, they burst into tears - amazed at what had happened.

Obviously, as soon as she returned to Hokkaido, she was baptized.

That experience taught me so forcefully that it isn’t the missionaries who convert. Of course, we need to know the Gospel as well as we can, but Sister S wasn’t converted because we had been able to answer her questions and “convince” her we were right. We HAD been able to answer her questions through the scriptures, but it hadn’t converted her. That came through a simple meeting where we read scriptures with her, something touched her heart, and a humble, sincere missionary who couldn’t teach the Gospel in Japanese well enough to convince a three-year-old asked her if she wanted to be baptized. He didn’t “challenge” her; he simply asked if that is what she wanted. It literally changed my perspective of missionary work - ironically, by humbling me to be able to accept what my parents and leaders had told me all my life.

I am SO grateful that I was called to serve in a foreign speaking mission, because I’m not sure I could have learned that life-altering lesson teaching in a language where I would have been tempted to impress investigators with my vocabulary and what I thought at the time was a solid understanding of the Gospel. If that had been my only memorable experience during my entire mission, it would have been worth it.


Patty said...

What a beautiful story!! It's amazing how Heavenly Father gives us just the right helps at just the right time- like finding out her family members were new members at the very time that she was considering joining herself. If anyone doubt that God knows us and will give us what we need, they should read your post!!
I also think you have a very good point about serving a mission with a foreign language- you are so gifted with the english language that you probably did learn lessons that you couldn't have learned otherwise. Yet another example of being given what you need when you needed it! I love hearing your stories of your mission.. they are great testimony builders!

ANTSYLLI said...

You have inpired me once again with a powerful story about the love of the Lord. I have several nephews serving missions right now. As I have read their e-mails each week, I have been reminded of this same lesson. Thanks for giving me something meaningful to ponder today as I go about my mundane weekend activities.

Louann and Bari said...

Thank you. It was a beautiful story.