This week was a week of the softer side of the Lord’s influence in our work. There were a handful of moments in which the Lord, in his mercy, reached down and put someone in our path (or put us in someone else’s path) so that we could help them feel God’s love for them.
On Friday, we had a day of days. We were knocking doors, making street contacts, talking to a lot of people who simply didn’t want anything to do with anything. A handful of them were sweet about denying our message. Another handful were not so sweet. Brazil is also in the middle of summer, so the sun made sure we knew he was still there. Needless to say, we had just about had it. We decided to stop by Rafael, the Ward Mission Leader’s house, who recently had returned from São Paulo. We wanted to discuss plans for the Ward Counsel Meeting on Sunday. We took a back road and got ourselves a little bit lost. Lost, tired, drowsy, hot, sweaty, feeling generally dejected – we were on our last when who shows up on their motorcycle but Rafael’s dad. He explained to us that we were close and we just needed to keep on heading downhill (yus!) and we would soon show up at Rafael’s doorstep. Walking downhill, as the sun started to fully set and twilight turned to darkness, we heard someone shout our name(s): “Élderes!”
There was a middle-aged man with marks of age and worry on his face. He told us how he had joined the Church, and loved participating in the activities and serving other people through the Church organization, but that he had passed through a hard time and had fallen away. He did mention, however, that his wife had never joined the church but had shown interest in the past. We took down his address and phone number and told him we would come back.
Flash forward to Sunday, we mentioned to the Bishop that we had encountered Valter in the street and described his current situation. The Bishop said he would whatever was possible to visit him. Sunday afternoon, the Bishop made a visit with one of his counselors, during the which Valter and his wife both expressed interest in coming back to and joining the church, respectively. The Bishop passed the report and marked another visit Tuesday night. We’re excited to follow up. But, the most incredible aspect of all this is the way the Lord works. He put Valter right in our path, or maybe put us in Valter’s path, and we still didn’t get it right the first time, losing ourselves on the way, he let one other person take part in the miracle, putting Rafael’s Dad in the way to point us in the right direction. It’s often hard for me to see the hand of the Lord in the present, but in retrospect, his influence in our lives becomes so much clearer. I’m reminded of a wonderful talk by Boyd K. Packer on such personal revelation called “The Twenty Mark Note“. How important it is for all of us to actively and carefully evaluate our lives, looking for the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us. Those who don’t take the time to reflect often lose the chance to see just how carefully God guides us – and, oftentimes, raise their fists to the sky in defiance, claiming that the Lord has left them completely alone.
We had ward counsel this last Sunday. It was a beautiful though trying experience. I noticed as we were all seated that out of the 16 members of the Ward Leadership Counsel present, 15 of them were converts to the church. In other words, only 1 person out of those 16 people was raised from day 1 in the church. For the rest, their testimony and understanding of the gospel had to come first from within. They had experienced a life without the Gospel of Jesus Christ, had made a decision to follow it, and for years had stayed firm in their decision. There were tears, there were stories, there were decisions and complaints and consolations, and at the end of it all I realized more than ever that we are all human. The Church, though perfect, is run by imperfect humans. The Gospel, though perfect, is taught by imperfect messengers. But the Atonement and mercy of Christ make possible real progress and change until we all become witness to the redeeming grace of Our Savior. The process of repentance and forgiveness are not remedies for those chronically sick, but proactive and paramount prescriptions for the well-being of the Body of Christ (Corinthians 12). As a very wise philosopher and talented musical artist once said, “We’re all in this together”.