As Father’s Day is approaching and like the rest of you, I’m trying to find a meaningful way to honor the father in my home, I am reminded of two sweet stories from two of our missionaries when we were serving in the Dominican Republic. Due to space constrictions, I’m going to tell you just a little about both of them. Next month I will finish the story in how they came together in an unusual way.
Just an explanation about how I got these stories: My husband, John, used to interview all his missionaries four times a year. While he was interviewing a missionary, I would meet with his/her companion, and they would share stories from their missionary experience with me. This was one of the ways that our missionaries tried to help me learn Spanish. The stories were told in Spanish, but I wrote them on my laptop in English, then read them back to the missionary in Spanish; a process that required me to translate them twice! It was great practice! The following is from one of these recorded stories.
Elder Cox: John and I received a tender email from Elder Cox’s mother before he ever arrived in the mission field. She sent a beautiful note explaining their family situation. The father in the family had recently died. Our newly arriving missionary was the only Priesthood holder left in the family, as he was the only son. The other children were girls. Sis. Cox wrote about how completely she had come to depend on her son after her husband’s death and how the entire family looked to him. It was with some misgivings that she was now giving him up to serve a mission for two years. While all were thrilled for their son and brother, they were also deeply feeling the expected two-year long loss.
Elder Cox arrived a short time later. He was an enthusiastic and committed missionary. I think he was well-aware of the sacrifice his family was making for him to have this opportunity and he was determined to make the most of it. That first Christmas in the mission field he had an interesting experience. Here’s the story in his own words:
“It was Christmas Eve, and we were eating with a family we’d been teaching. We went with all the missionaries of Monte Cristi. There were four of us. When we finished, we went to another house to eat with other members. We ate with them. The night was wonderful. One week later, Elder Colon (another missionary in his District) had a meeting and told me there had been other persons that had seen us going to the second place to eat. These persons all told him the same story—that there were eight missionaries in the streets, when in reality there were only four of us. Three or four different persons told him this same story. It was very special for me, because as a missionary we often sense that we are being protected by God. My father died three years ago, and I felt that he was protecting me that night.”
It was interesting because I had been told the same story earlier by Elder Cox’s companion, who had since been transferred to a new area. Both of them felt that they must have been in danger that night without realizing it. Their area at the time, Monte Cristi, was near one of the Haitian enclaves where there had developed a lot of gangs, with attendant gang violence. I was convinced that the prayers of a loving mother and several loving sisters were being honored that night.
The next story is from Elder Challis, one of our young missionaries from Central America, and is set the week after Christmas.
This year, the week following Christmas brought a tragedy. John had to go down to Navarette the week after Christmas to spend an evening with one of the Elders there, Elder Challas, when he got word that the Elder’s father had unexpectedly died. John came home teary. He said it had been a difficult evening—tender, but difficult—as a young man came to grips with a great personal loss.
This past week, we had interviews in Navarrete. So, I was eager to talk to Elder Challas and see how he was doing, and try to determine if there was anything I could do to help him. I was totally unprepared for what happened. I expected Elder Challas to be sad and perhaps, even depressed.
Elder Challas came up to where I was sitting, when it was his turn, and eagerly took the seat I offered him. He was smiling. No, not smiling—he was beaming. I was surprised. I’m going to try to share with you what he said, but without that shining, happy face, I’m afraid I can never do this experience justice.
He said, “It is the 10th of January. Exactly one week ago I received a very sad announcement, that my father had suddenly died. He was sick with his leg. It swelled up. The blood couldn’t circulate. He got a blood clot. It traveled to his heart and caused a heart attack. He died within one day. He had the problem earlier, but this had never happened.”
I asked him why his father had a bad leg. He continued, “He was working three years ago as a construction worker. They were building a two-story house. There was a terrible accident and one of the walls of the house fell on him. His leg was crushed. It never healed. He could walk only a little on his leg. He has been an invalid ever since.”
Elder Challas explained that at times things had been difficult with his father. His father was very opposed to Elder Challas’s conversion to the Church. Elder Challas is the only member of the Church in his family. His father was especially agitated when his son told him he had decided to serve a mission. He forbade him to go, telling him he would miss the chance to get an education, and would be basically ruining the rest of his life. Elder Challas had wanted to honor his father but felt even stronger the need to honor his Heavenly Father, and keep his commitment to serve a mission. With a heavy heart, he decided to serve a mission, in spite of his father’s feelings. I got the feeling that when he left for his mission, there were some bitter feelings.
Elder Challas, with tenderness in his voice, told me that it had been very special to him when he was allowed to call home on Christmas. He talked to his father. “It was a blessing to be able to talk to my father on Christmas. In this last conversation I had with my father, I was able to talk more with my father about the Gospel. I have been writing him every week that I’ve been on my mission, trying to share my experiences with him. But he never wrote me back. I wasn’t even sure he would talk to me when I called. But it was like a miracle. He said he was happy for me. He said he was very proud of me. This was a great blessing. I never thought I would hear him say this. He died nine days later, on the 3rd of January.”
I told Elder Challas that it seemed like a tender mercy of God, that he had had the opportunity to have this last conversation with his father, right before he died. He agreed with me.
He continued: “Today I feel a lot of hope. I know I will see my father again. Now I feel joyful. When Pres. Douglas came to tell me about my father, he shared a scripture with me from the Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8. It reads, ‘My son, peace be unto your soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high.’ This scripture spoke to my soul. For the next few days, when I had sadness, pain or fear, because I couldn’t share more with my father, I would think of these words. Because of the president’s words, it has been incredible the peace that I have felt. I don’t know totally what will happen, but I no longer feel the sadness. My pain has been turned into happiness. I actually feel happiness. I’m not happy about what happened. My happiness is that I truly know that I will be with my father in the resurrection.
Elder Challas spoke these words with glistening eyes, but a radiant face. I was pretty choked up by this point and was having a hard time not crying. But then his next words broke down all the barriers and the tears flowed freely.
He continued, “The most important experience was this past week. This Monday, in our zone meeting, when we received the mail from the office, I received the last letter my father ever wrote. My father had actually written me! He must have mailed this letter after I talked to him on Christmas night. He said he was very grateful I had made the decision to serve a mission. He said he was very proud of me and was interested in learning more about my beliefs. It was as if he were speaking to me from the grave.”
“After this experience, I can say that I really know that the Plan of Salvation is real.” Now I understood why Elder Challas was smiling. The testimony of the Resurrection had become very real and very personal for him.
Pres. Douglas had given Elder Challas the choice of going home to his father’s funeral or staying and finishing his mission. He had chosen to finish his mission, saying that he felt this was the way he could honor his father best.
These were two amazing examples to me of young men who had already learned what it was to truly honor, not just their earthly fathers, but their Heavenly Fathers, as well.
Years ago, I received a copy of the book, The Glory of the Sun, by Elder Sterling W. Sill. Elder Sill, a General Authority of the Church in the mid-1900s, recounted hearing a story where someone had imagined how heartbroken and devastated Mary, Jesus’s mother, must have been following the cruel crucifixion of her Son. We know from the scripture that after Jesus died Mary was taken to the home of John, the beloved disciple of Jesus. In spite of their own sense of loss, I’m sure John and his wife did everything they possibly could to comfort the stricken and mourning woman. There were other sisters from the followers of Jesus who had quickly and instinctively come to be with Mary in her desperate hour of need.
In the midst of this unspeakable sadness, there came a knock at the door. One of the sisters hurried to answer the door to send whoever it was away. But surprisingly she returned to the room with another woman following behind her. In the story, this newly arrived woman carried an air of forsakenness and distress so intense that even Mary was moved to try to comfort her.
As the woman began to speak, between sobs, she poured out her condolences to Mary. But she added with trembling lips, “In spite of your terrible and overwhelming loss, at least you can take comfort in the great life of your Son.” Nodding to the others in the room, she added, “And there are many who mourn with you.”
The stooped and downcast woman seemed shrouded in hopelessness. Mary moved closer to embrace the suffering woman, who continued sobbing uncontrollably. “For me, she said, there is no comfort.” She slowly lifted her bowed head and said to Mary, “You see, I am the mother of Judas Iscariot.”
While the scene is an imagined one, it teaches a great truth. The greatest way to honor our parents is by living a great and honorable life. More than anything we can give them, more than any words we can speak, this is the thing that every father and mother desire in the deepest recesses of their hearts. Every father and mother want their children to live great lives.
I find it beautiful that in the few instances we have in recorded scripture of God the Father introducing His Son, He introduces Him as “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”, acknowledging the greatness of the life lived by Jesus. You can feel the Father’s joy in that simple statement.
As Father’s Day is approaching, I was reminded of this story. Like all of you, I want my father to be really proud of the woman that I have become, in spite of all my obvious weaknesses. Carrying it one step further, I also want my Heavenly Father to be proud of me, His child.
This year as we search the stores or the internet for something that might convey the great love we have for our fathers, we ought to remember that no matter how incredible the gift is we might find, there is no greater way to honor our father than to become a great and righteous person. And that gift inherently demands the most of us!