A British Stake President: “Be Careful What You Pray For”
Their house was packed, the sale contract ready, and the Vingoes were ready to start their new life in Yorkshire, England. But the Lord had other plans.
I know a man who once made a promise to the Lord and has seen His hand blessing him with countless service opportunities. His story shows a God of love who knows each of His children personally; the events happened in Great Britain.
Lawrence and Michelle Vingoe had travelled at the end of July 1994 to Michelle’s parents in Thetford, England, with the car full of suitcases. They were planning to stay overnight, and then the following day, Michelle’s Dad was going to drive them to Gatwick airport for a month-long trip to Utah/California, including a week at Disneyland. It was going to be the holiday of a lifetime.
Their 6-year-old son Chris went with his cousin, John (age 7), to play at John’s house in the warm afternoon. John lived only a few minutes away, but they had to cross a busy road, something that Chris had never done on his own. Unfortunately, a car hit him. The two boys hadn’t told anybody where they were going. Lawrence and Michelle only knew that Chris had been hit by a car when Michelle’s Dad returned from the scene and told them.
Little Chris had suffered a fractured skull and a broken leg. A large clot quickly developed in his brain and he fell into a coma; the prognosis wasn’t certain and the Vingoes prayed as only parents do at their son’s bedside. In one of his most heart-felt prayers, Lawrence pleaded with the Lord “Please take my health, and heal my dear son”. He also promised the Lord that he would always serve Him in any capacity.
His son was in coma for a total of six days; then he surprised everybody by waking up and having a steady recovery, showing no signs whatsoever of his ordeal. His health was so good that he was able to serve a mission and continues to live a normal life to today.
Needless to say, his parents were very relieved because of his recovery and grateful that the Lord had spared him death or a disability.
Several years later Lawrence Vingoe was a strong, healthy man who was always busy between his calling, his job and his family. He was serving as the stake president of the Norwich England Stake and one can just imagine the sheer exhaustion that must have overcome him at times.
One day he started to experience heart problems, which required medical intervention and his full attention, and he was promptly released from his calling in order to get the needed rest. A new stake president was called and served faithfully for several years. Lawrence’s vibrant testimony remained strong as he went through this trial with the loving support of friends, family and Church members. In time, he recovered well and learned how to deal with his heart condition with appropriate rest and exercise. The future was looking bright again.
He had always planned to move with his wife to Yorkshire, in the North of England, where two of their three children live. They had loved that green, peaceful area, and they felt it was a natural step to move near to their children. Moreover, they would have been in a much bigger city where Lawrence’s practice as a psychotherapist would be able to develop further. They prayed about it, went to the temple with this matter in their mind, and they felt that moving was the right thing to do. After all, recalls Brother Vingoe quoting Elder Johnson of the Seventy, “It doesn’t matter where you serve, but how you serve”. And he was ready to serve in Yorkshire.
So in March 2009 Lawrence and his wife, Michelle, put their Norfolk house on sale and started to look forward to their new life in the north of England. Within a short time, they received a good offer for their house which they accepted. Michelle quit her job as a child minder; Lawrence referred or finished working with his clients.
Finally the house was fully packed; they donated some of their furniture, and they took care of all the complex financial paperwork required in the UK for a house sale. It was a busy time again, but everything was going according to their plan. That was, until the Estate Agent who was dealing with their house sale called them one day in the middle of July, to give them some bad news.
The buyer had suddenly changed his mind and the sale was cancelled. The Vingoes were stunned: after all the work and energy they had spent, their dream seemed to be vanishing. How could this be? They wondered what was wrong. The house was put on the market again in the hope that a new buyer would materialize soon, as summer is usually a very good time to finalize a house sale. However, time passed and nobody seemed to be interested in their property.
The couple lived in a limbo, not knowing what would happen next and were unable to make any long term commitment with anybody. They took part-time jobs to keep busy and kept praying that their house would sell. But Lawrence was not given enough hours of work in his new job, and was getting rather bored. He remembers kneeling in his house among all those boxes and praying, “Please, Heavenly Father, give me some more work to do. I am an active man.”
Soon after, an excited phone call arrived from their Estate Agent. A cash buyer had suddenly come forward and was ready to visit their property right away in view of an immediate deal. After four months of uncertainty, the Vingoes happily agreed for the visit to take place on the following day, the Saturday of Norwich Stake Conference.
They managed to make the house look good with their stylish carton boxes disguised as a double and a single bed and looked forward to the visitor’s arrival. On Saturday, Lawrence was in Norwich, where the stake center is located, for interviews with the brethren and was about to pay for a sandwich in a supermarket. The phone rang, and he was informed that Elder Teixeira of the Area Presidency, who was in the process of re-organizing the Norwich Stake, wanted to see him and his wife that afternoon. "Surely they must be wrong" he thought while recalling a strikingly similar phone call many years earlier, "Everybody knows we are moving"
And yet, at that point he knew that he was not going to have lunch after all – his throat felt a little tight.
He phoned his wife and told her that he needed to travel all the way back to Kings Lynn, where they lived, to pick her up, so she could attend an interview with him. Michelle thought that Lawrence was joking, but soon she realized that he was dead serious. A new calling was probably on its way. Their afternoon was taking an unexpected turn, as they set aside the possible sale of the property and attended the interview. Elder Teixeira lovingly extended to Lawrence Vingoe a calling to serve again as the Norwich Stake President, which he accepted immediately.
He had always felt immense gratitude for all those who had sustained him during the times when his heart was causing problems. He was ready to serve again, and to return that love to his stake. “It doesn’t matter what calling I have. I can keep my covenants in any calling”, he said to himself, and simply accepted the fact that he was not moving to the green land of Yorkshire just yet – the Lord had another plan for him for the time being.
“I am so grateful to God for healing my son”, says President Vingoe remembering the promise he made when Chris was in coma “He has done His part and I am doing mine. I love serving people.”
While President Vingoe and his wife are missing out on the constant company of their children, the stake is thriving under his capable hands and members are grateful to enjoy a few more years with a beloved leader. His priority as a stake president, he said, will be to focus everything on Jesus Christ, reach members with love and improve the effectiveness of members’ missionary work.
When President Vingoe was called, last November, I am sure that all the members of the Norwich Stake felt deeply that he was the right person to be called at this time to lead them. There was a sense of déjà vu when everybody was excitedly waiting for the new stake president to be called, and his name was given. And when he called the same counselors who had been released with him all those years earlier, we almost felt like shouting for joy as if a circle were coming to completion. When President Vingoe stood up in that stake conference as the last speaker, he gave us a heartfelt testimony about the events that led to his calling and in his emotional address he stated that the Lord was giving him and his counselors a second chance!
I knew then that I wanted to share this inspiring story with others so that they too can recognise the Lord’s hand in their lives, and I interviewed President Vingoe to write down the details of his story accurately.
“Is there anything else you would like to add?” I asked before we finished our video conference.
“Yes," he chuckled, “be careful what you pray for!”