Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stories from My Mission: "You need to repent!"

I won't say where this story happened so that I can preserve the identity of those involved.

In my mission there was a senior couple, the Elder and Sister Wilcox, who were serving as missionaries. Shortly after they arrived Elder Wilcox was asked to serve as a counselor in the Mission Presidency. This meant that he would travel to the various District Conferences (like Stake Conferences) where the Mission President was unable to attend (we had about 15 districts in our mission). It was during one of these conferences that I was asked to accompany Elder Wilcox in an interview. He was not very proficient in Spanish and needed someone to translate for him.

The man Elder Wilcox was going to interview was someone who had been a member for many years but recently had been disfellowshipped. The purpose of the interview was to sort out the problems and to see if the man could return to full fellowship in the Church.

The interview began as a simple fact finding procedure, "So what is your story? When you were disfellowshipped by the District Presidency what were the reasons they told you? What have you done about it?" etc. According to this man's version of events, he was disfellowshipped for having a general disagreement with the local church leaders. Basically what it came down to was they, the church leaders, didn't like him, and he didn't like them so they told him that he couldn't use his priesthood and that he couldn't hold a calling.

Since I was only there as an interpreter and a facilitator I didn't have any say in the matter, and I will refrain from making any statement about who was right other than what Elder Wilcox ultimately decided.

To back up his case he said that he was a good man who did many good things. He said that he took care of his children, even those who were not strictly his children. He mentioned that before he met his wife she had worked as a prostitute and had three children from that. When he married her he took those children as his own and raised them accordingly. He was even sealed to them in the temple (which in this part of Argentina, to have a family like that who had been to the temple was very rare). He used this and other examples to make the case that he was a good man who tried to live within the covenants and commandments.

He then made the case that the District President was not so holy (they were neighbors). He related an experience where he said that he saw the District President beat one of his children in a rather harsh manner. He said that his being disfellowshipped was simply a result of the District President projecting his own sins and failing on him.

After listening to all of this, and after I made sure that Elder Wilcox had understood everything that had been said, Elder Wilcox paused, bowed his head as if in prayer or contemplation for a moment. Then he raised his head, looked the man in the eye and in flawless Spanish told the man, "You need to repent! The problem here is that you have not forgiven your wife! That is what you need to repent of!"

The man was rather taken back, because up until now this had all been about the dispute between him and the District President, but the thought that the real problem was one between this man and his wife had never occurred to him.

Elder Wilcox continued on and explained, "You have never forgiven your wife for the things she did before she met you. You said that she worked as a prostitute before she met you, and you said that you married her anyway. You said that you brought her to church, along with her children who were born of her prostitution, and that this made you a good man. She has been baptized, she has gone to the temple and wears the holy garment."

"The Lord has forgiven her her sins and remembers them no more. But you still remember them and you still think of her being defined by her past sins. You should not have mentioned them or even brought them up. You will not be forgiven until you humble yourself and never speak of her past sins any more. She has given them up, and the Lord has accepted her repentance. Now you need to accept her change of life."

When the man heard this he was left almost speechless. He said that no one had ever told him that. He didn't realize that his perception of his wife was having such a profound impact on him and how he viewed others. In a moment his entire demeanor changed. Whereas before he seemed to be inflated with pride and wounded pride as having been disfellowshipped, be was now immensely humble and contrite. It was as if in a moment all his pride was stripped away from him. He promised that he would forgive his wife, and that he would never again mention her past sins. The issue between him and the District President was not even mentioned again. Due to the force of the Spirit that accompanied Elder Wilcox's admonition he had experienced a sudden and dramatic change of heart.

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