The Sticker on the Door
Late one evening, out of the blue, I received an instant message from a mission friend. Though we were never missionary companions, we had served in the same area in Brazil for a few months and were roommates. I hadn't heard from him in years. At least a decade. Probably more.
My friend had been reading entries from his personal journal about the time we served together and he reached out to compare memories. We had a delightful conversation.
He reminded me of a particular experience we shared together. But when I looked through my own mission journal to see what details I had recorded about this experience, I was horrified to realize that I had a gap of about a month in my journal entries, and that this experience happened during that gap!
At the time, I probably figured I would never forget it, so I didn't need to write it down. My 19-year-old self was partially correct, because it has been seared into my mind as one of the most impactful, amazing experiences of my entire mission. Now, 20 years later, I'm finally writing it down.
Finding the Door
It was my first area. I had only been in the mission field for about six weeks and Elder Branson* hadn't been out much longer. Of course, our senior companions decided to go on exchanges, leaving Elder Branson and me with an entire afternoon together – and without a single scheduled lesson.
So we did what every missionary knows is the least effective thing to find people to teach: we went door to door. In Brazil, nearly every house is fenced, front and back. Rather than knock on the front door, you clap in front of the house outside the fence to get the attention of the residents. So there we were, two rather flustered Americans in white shirts and ties and a poor grasp of the native tongue, clapping away up and down several streets, asking everyone if we could share a message about Jesus Christ with them. At least I hope that's what we conveyed through our broken Portuguese. We were met with disinterest or otherwise ignored. It was very discouraging.
Then we found – or rather were led to – Luna* and her daughter. It sounds cliché, but it really was the last house on the last street we tried before we were going to head back to meet up with our companions. Ignoring custom, we walked up to the front door. We noticed a large sticker on it that proclaimed:
A você que bate em minha porta — tenha um bom dia, e que o altíssimo lhe conceda o dobro que você deseja para mim. Só uma coisa lhe peço: quando se trata de religião, não discutimos. Aqui somos católicos, e isso é inegociável.
To you who knock on my door – have a good day, and may the Most High grant you double what you wish for me. I ask only one thing of you: when it comes to religion, we don't discuss it. We are Catholics here, and that is non-negotiable.
The Lord knew what he was doing sending us there. If either of us had been with our senior companions, they may have read that sticker and decided it wasn't a good idea to try. But since we couldn't understand most of what the sticker said, we knocked (or probably clapped). A woman opened the door about six inches. I think it was my turn to speak, so I introduced us and asked her if we could come in and share a message with her. She curtly said she already had a religion and started to close the door. But before the door closed I blurted out “oh, then you will love our message because it's about Jesus Christ!” She paused for moment, then invited us in.
Her home was clean and well-furnished. A large copy of the Holy Bible was prominently displayed on a book stand along with some rosary beads so that it could be seen from anywhere in the room. The Bible was open, but I don't remember to which place. She lived alone, but her adult daughter was visiting her at the time. We taught them both.
I don't remember the content of the lesson. I do remember that the Holy Ghost was present. Peace and joy permeated the room. Despite the language barrier, there was understanding. By the end of our visit, it was clear they were ready and eager to learn more. We introduced the Book of Mormon and gave Luna a copy, inviting them to read some marked passages. She held it reverently, understanding its importance. We scheduled a follow-up visit and went on our way. We knew what had just happened was a miracle – the kind of experience every missionary lives for. We were elated as we hurried back to meet our companions and tell them about our experience.
Making a Choice
My companion and I were the lucky ones who got to teach Luna and her daughter the rest of the lessons. When we arrived for the second lesson, I noticed that the copy of the Book of Mormon we left with her was sitting open on the book stand in front of her Bible.
As the lessons progressed, they listened to what the Spirit was teaching them. They studied and prayed as we invited them to do and they accepted the invitation to be baptized early on. Luna's daughter eventually backed out due to pressure from her husband who had declined our invitations to join the lessons, but Luna pressed forward.
A week or so before her baptism date, Luna expressed some concerns she had about being baptized. She was afraid of alienating herself from her family and friends, who were not supportive of her decision to join another church. We bore our testimonies of Jesus Christ, of the truthfulness of what we had taught her, and of the blessings promised to us through the baptismal covenant. We invited her to study and pray to know if she should be baptized. She said she would.
The next time we visited Luna, there was a notable change in her. Instead of worry and hesitation, she radiated peace and resolve. We asked her if she had received an answer to her prayers about being baptized. She said she had prayed about it and then opened her copy of the Book of Mormon to a certain place in the book of Alma (unfortunately, I forget which one). She felt the Holy Ghost as she read, and her attention kept being drawn to the word yes (“sim” in Portuguese) in the passages she read. She took that as her answer from God that she should be baptized.
Cold Water, Warm Hearts
Luna was baptized on a cold, rainy day in late May. My mission was in the southernmost state of Brazil, which is far enough from the equator that it experiences seasonal weather patterns. May is Autumn in the southern hemisphere. The branch of the church in our area met in a large rented house and baptisms were performed in an above-ground pool in the back yard. I had the honor of performing her baptism. I asked her if she was okay being baptized in the rain. She said she didn't mind the weather. She wanted to go through with her baptism to show her family how important it was to her and to show her faith to God.
We entered the pool and shivered in the water. I was nervous and worried I would butcher the Portuguese version of the baptismal prayer or get her full name wrong. But as soon as I raised my right arm and closed my eyes, I stopped shivering and didn't feel cold anymore. She stopped shivering, too. I pronounced the prayer clearly and confidently. Luna was immersed in the water and when she came back up, she was beaming. We embraced. And we started shivering again.
In a visit soon after her baptism, my companion asked if he could remove the “We are Catholics here” sticker from her door, to which she enthusiastically replied yes. He kept it and still has it to this day.
We were transferred from the area days after Luna's baptism. It was difficult to leave her so soon – we were hoping to help her adjust to life as a new member of the church. We loved her and would miss her very much. And she loved the missionaries – especially me and Elder Branson who had first knocked on her door that fateful day. We could only pray that the members in the area and the missionaries who would replace us would not let her fall through the cracks. I lost contact with her, but heard through the mission grapevine some time later that she was serving as the Relief Society president in her little branch, and that the missionaries always looked forward to her lunches. (Church members took turns hosting the missionaries for lunch in their homes each day. Lunch is the principal meal of the day in Brazil). I pray that if she is still on this side of the veil, she's still holding fast to her faith. I look forward to a joyous reunion with Luna someday.
This experience was a critical link in an ever-growing chain of experiences that have shaped my faith in and understanding of Jesus Christ and His gospel. It changed me forever and I am still learning from it. Here are some of my takeaways:
- Despite your shortcomings and imperfections, God can use you to bless others and accomplish His purposes. All He needs is your “heart and a willing mind.”
- Don't be quick to judge a person or situation by appearance or reputation. The sticker on Luna's door wasn't consistent with reality.
- Resilience – pushing through opposition and obstacles despite your discouragement – is important for progress and growth. We could have skipped that last house, but we didn't. We could have taken Luna's first response to our invitation at face value, but we didn't.
- God knows each of us individually and loves each of us perfectly and wants to bless us. He knew Luna's heart and that she was ready to learn and accept the truth. He blessed her by sending two willing, hapless young men to her to teach her that truth. He knew and blessed those young men by answering their prayers to find someone who would embrace their message about Jesus Christ and His restored church.
- The Holy Ghost is the best teacher. If you want to teach or learn the truth, live worthy of His influence and He will do the rest.
- Keep a journal. Write down sacred experiences. Don't assume you'll remember everything. Your older self and your posterity will thank you.
*Name changed to respect privacy