Sunday, August 4, 2013

Stories from My Mission: "She is in the twilight of her day of grace."

This story is perhaps a little more sensitive than most. Do not judge any of the people involved too harshly. The true nature of this story can only be understood if you have a truly eternal perspective of the nature of our existence, and of eternal progression. Also realize that what I write here is only a small part of what happened, thus be mindful of that when deciding whether the actions of everyone involved were justified or not. Some times I wonder about whether or not some of my actions were correct or not.

I will not say where or when this happened and I will try to keep it as anonymous as possible.

Sometime after arriving in my new area I met the family, which consisted of the mother, two daughters and a son. The two younger children, a boy and a girl, were already members of the Church but I only recall seeing them attend church a few times while I was in the area. I never found out anything about the father. The home situation was shall we say, less than ideal. The mother had health and mental issues which meant that she could not work very much, the eldest daughter had previously worked as a prostitute and had been forced to stop working due to her getting pregnant (and had been unwilling to get an abortion).

From what I could gather the family had been meeting off and on with the missionaries for about 5 or 6 years. The two youngest children had been baptized about a year before I got to the area, but the oldest daughter had not been baptized due to her profession, and the mother, well, that is the point of this story.

With my first companion we made a few visits to the family, but it was not until my second companion was in the area that things started to change. We were meeting more with the oldest daughter, partly because she was coming to the realization that her choice of profession was not a very good one and was making an honest effort to change, partly for her own sake but also because she realized that she didn't want her own child to grow up like her and viewed the Church as the best way of protecting her unborn child.

Every time we visited the mother would insist on telling us that she knew the Book of Mormon was the word of God and that Joseph Smith was his prophet, but when ever we asked her to come to church he answers would be evasive and inconsistent. We encouraged, prodded, cajoled, joked, exhorted and commanded, but she never came to church. Try as we might we couldn't get her to make the effort to come to sacrament meeting. She kept telling us that she knew she needed to get baptized and she even informed us that if she could get baptized then there were some things about her life that could get fixed.

There never was any indication that there were any major sins (i.e. prostitution, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, murder etc.) that prevented the mother from getting baptized so we were a bit baffled as to why she would never come to church. There always seemed to be some excuse (i.e. it rained, it was hot/cold, she was sick, her legs hurt, they had to go visit their cousin etc.).

During all of this I felt the need to keep visiting them. It was not a strong feeling or an impulsive feeling, just a gentle feeling that I should keep stopping by. All this came to a head when my third companion got to the area. Of my three companions in the area my second companion had the greatest rapport with the family. My third companion, not so much. After just a few weeks my companion was getting impatient with them and began making comments about how we shouldn't waste any more time visiting them. But I had seen how desperately the mother and daughter had wanted to change their lives and I just wanted to be there when they finally decided to take the first step.

I visited the family a few times with my new companion but I he was getting more and more impatient with them and with me. Things fell apart one night when we went to visit them and my companion insisted that we have some members there with us (getting members to help us out was not the easiest thing on my mission). This meant that we were late getting there and when we did arrive something about the family was very off. The eldest daughter was upset with us because we were late and yelled at us (with two Aaronic priesthood boys aged 14 and 16 who were with us, the only ones we could find on short notice).

After the yelling stopped the mother came out and was visibly upset with us, and while she spoke to us from her front porch she became more and more incoherent at some point she went back into her house, but didn't get very far when she was overcome by some type of epileptic seizure. I saw her start to seize up and I sprang into action. I dashed through the front door and with the help of her oldest daughter we got her sitting in a chair. Her convulsions were not very violent, but she was unable to speak. My companion, who had wanted nothing to do with the family, stayed outside even refusing to set foot in the house, even when I asked him to come help me give her a blessing. Because my companion was refusing to come in and I was unsure what to do I went ahead and placed my hands on her head and gave her a blessing.

I don't know what I was expecting, perhaps something miraculous, but instead she got worse. Again with the help of her daughter we were able to carry her into her room and lay her down on her bed. After a while her condition improved and she motioned to us to get a Book of Mormon that she kept on her bedside table. She took it and held it close to her chest and when she did that she seemed to calm down a bit more. After a while she was able to speak again and told me that when she gets bad she uses the Book of Mormon to calm her fits. She said that only the word of God could cure her of her ailment.

After making sure that she would be fine I exited the house and rejoined my companion, who had been standing outside, along with the two young men who were looking very awkward. As we walked away I told the two boys that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to talk about what had happened. I told them that it was OK to tell their parents but no one else. My companion didn't say anything until we got home. I don't remember what he said exactly but one thing he said was that he would never return to visit that house. This put me in a predicament because I suddenly felt a stronger need to visit them again to resolve some things that came up. Not knowing what to do I contacted my zone leader to see what he had to say. He agreed to come to the area so that he and I could visit with the family so that he could make an assessment of the situation.

Approximately a week later my zone leader came to our area and I went with him to visit the family. He spoke to the mother and all the children. He asked about their desires to get baptized, or whether those who were baptized would come to church. There were no dramatics or apparent problems. He couldn't figure out why the mother wouldn't come to church, the eldest daughter on the other hand was about 7 months pregnant at that point and had a hard time making it all the way to church. After meeting with them he said that he didn't find anything majorly wrong with them, except for the fact that the mother who had spent 6 years meeting with the missionaries had never come to church, despite her insistence on knowing that it was true, and that it would help her.

Shortly after this the mother did make the trek all the way to church, but only after the meetings were all done and the only person there was the branch president and his one counselor. She came asking the branch president for a blessing and he obliged. Because I was not present at the time what happened next was told to me by the branch president. In the middle of giving her a blessing she entered into one of her fits. The branch president said that when this happened he felt something wrong with her, beyond the obvious medical or mental issues, and was given to know by the Spirit that she was possessed by an evil spirit. So right then and there he exorcised the evil spirit from her. She calmed down significantly after he did that.

After this happened he met with me and we discussed everything that had happened. After much discussion he decided to go with me, and me alone because my companion refused to go, to visit the family because both he and I felt it necessary. It was in this meeting that the branch president told me something about the mother that I had not known previously. Before meeting the missionaries and coming in contact with the Church the mother, but not any of her children, had attended a certain Assembly of God church in the city. This particular denomination was known by the missionaries, due to the number of run-ins that we had with its members and pastors. There seemed to be at least one of this particular strand of Pentecostal church in every area that I lived in and no one seemed to every have anything good to say about them.

While this church was affiliated with the Assemblies of God movement that started in the US in the early 1900's, the particular sub-denomination that the mother attended was of a variety that had started independently in Brazil. They were known for being more extreme in their displays of "being filled with the spirit" and "speaking in tongues" than all the other Assemblies of God churches. The branch president told me that he had heard very bad things about that church and that most of the people who had spent any amount of time there end up being very messed up. That is apparently what happened to the mother, and somewhere along the way she had become possessed.

Shortly after this I went with the branch president to visit the family so that he could make an assessment about how the two children who were members of the Church were doing and to get an idea of what the eldest daughter was like, and to meet with the mother again. We both knew that we needed to go. So I left my companion with another priesthood holder (he was still upset that I was going to visit the family) and went with the branch president to meet the family.

I had been thinking a great deal about what had been going on and I was wondering why I felt the need to keep visiting the family. While meeting the family with the branch president was uneventful as we left we were talking about the situation and wondering what to do. That is when I received the key insight about the whole situation and shared it with the branch president. I didn't have the proper words to say it in Spanish so I had to first ask the branch president for the proper word. What I told him was, "She is in the twilight of her day of grace." When I said this he turned and looked back at their house as we walked away and paused, nodded and expressed regret that we had to see this.

What we both realized is that the mother had been given many, many opportunities to accept the truth. But she had made conscious decisions that resulted in many of her problems. Because she continued to refuse to come to church, despite all her experiences, she was quickly approaching the end of her day of grace when she would have no more opportunities to accept Jesus Christ. Not in this life or the next. This was her last chance, and the reason why I was prompted to be there (along with the branch president after my companion refused to go) was to bear witness of the twilight of her day of grace. She never did come to church. He two youngest did start coming again after I left, but she never did.

No comments: