“The best thing that happened on my mission was…” is quite a question. And it begs the question: “What does ‘best’ mean?” One could refer to a most memorable experience, or the experience that had the greatest impact, either on one’s self or on another person. Is the best thing that happened that my own testimony became more unshakable, or that I was privileged to be instrumental in bringing into the Church someone destined to be a local leader, or is it a particular, specific faith-promoting experience? I almost feel like I have to say all of the above. The best thing that happened on my mission was that I had many experiences that strengthened my own faith and that led to the conversion and strengthening of several people, with the end result that the Kingdom of God was built up. But I’m sure the point of the question must be, rather, to elicit stories of faith-building experiences, so that others can share in those vicariously. So with that preface, I will cheat, and share more than one.
As background, I served in the Bolivia-Santa Cruz mission, between October 1978-October 1980. At the time, the mission included all the ‘departments’ (states) of Bolivia except La Paz, Oruro and Potosí. The city of Santa Cruz is laid out in concentric rings, with broad avenues forming ‘spokes’ radiating out from the central square, or plaza.
One night my companion and I were tracting along one of the ‘spokes,’ making sure we visited the scattered homes along the avenue as we made our way from one neighborhood to another. We were admitted to one house where we sat with the father of a family and his son-in-law and his daughter’s boyfriend. The father was quite resistant and smug in his ‘born-a-Catholic, die-a-Catholic” comfort, and seemed to enjoy contradicting and arguing with us. Ultimately we fell back to bearing our testimonies in preparation for excusing ourselves. As we reviewed the basics and bore testimony of Joseph Smith and the Restoration, most everyone in the room sat politely and the father leaned back in his chair, the very picture of skepticism. The daughter’s boyfriend, however leaned forward with his eyes wide, raptly attentive to every word. As we bid farewell, he shook our hands vigorously and said, with a directness not usual in Latin culture, “I want you to visit my house!” We did so and by the end of our first visit, the Spirit was so strong that, standing at the door we explained the need for baptism and invited Rolando to follow the Savior in being baptized. He readily agreed and, after determining that sacrificing soccer play on Sundays was worth the reward, became a member of the Church. Lessons with Rolando were always spiritual feasts for all of us and we were often moved to tears. In particular, I will always remember the spirit that attended us as Rolando read for the first time from D&C 121. His girlfriend later joined the Church also, they married and Rolando went on to serve as Bishop, Stake President and Mission President. Proof that the Lord knows where his sheep are hidden and is able to call them one of a city and two of a family.
In another town, Quillacollo, near Cochabamba, I was newly assigned and went with my companion to visit a woman he and his prior companion had baptized. She had health and employment issues and had asked for a blessing. Her husband had just abandoned her, she was expecting and doctors had told her that without surgery she would lose her child, yet her employer had told her if she took time off for the surgery, she would lose her position. My own faith was weak and I was afraid that I would not be able to do anything to help her. In fact, I’m ashamed to recall having thought, almost scornfully, “What does she expect? A miracle!?” As I listened to her explain her plight, however, I was touched by her simple faith and resolved within myself to give voice to whatever prompting I might feel in blessing her. As soon as I placed my hands on her head, I had a flash of understanding, like comprehending the entire contents of a book just by picking it up. From there, I was left to put into words everything that I had learned so suddenly. Sister Justiniano received her miracle, and while she did have to submit to surgery, she kept both her job and her baby and the son I had known she carried was born and I was privileged to be present as he was blessed.
These experiences, among others, taught me that God is real, that he knows his children individually and that He hears their concerns and responds to them with compassion and love, that the priesthood authority claimed by the Church is indeed the power of God directed through men to bless His children, and that a person’s faith is efficacious in calling down blessings from heaven. Above all, I can testify that the work of the Church is His work and He actively directs it.
Book of Mormon