Two wise zone leaders called us recently with a question. Our mission in Puerto Rico is using family history as a powerful lead in missionary work, so we meet together through Zoom on Tuesdays with all the zone leaders to plan our unique approach.

In one of those recent calls, a sister asked about negotiating the waters of talking about family history or talking about the gospel of Jesus Christ, since they are two separate things? Forward discussion left her comment behind, but five minutes later, Scot broke in and said, “I just have to correct one word that was said a few minutes ago. I can’t let it pass. It should be Family History and learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ not or because they are not two separate things. It is one great whole with the temple. We have to think of it as one, not two. We’re not teaching family history and then hoping people can make the leap to Jesus Christ. We’re teaching it as essential to Christ.”

The next day these two zone leaders called us and said, “Yesterday, we noticed that you corrected the sister missionary, but even though you contradicted her earlier statement right in public, she was not offended. Can you teach us how to do that?”

We had noticed that they had looked at one another and nodded, during that correction, but we were so pleased that they would ask such a mature question. Of course, as zone leaders, they have to sometimes correct things that the newly-minted and very green, younger missionaries that they serve sometimes do, but when they have to correct, they want to do it in a way that created connection, not division. These zone leaders were so smart to ask.

We had so much to say to them about this. We said to start with the heart. In Scot’s correction the day before, the sister missionary already knew that Scot and I loved her, so her sense of dignity wasn’t taken away with this correction. We also taught them about how easily we can create defensive behavior in someone else, because most of us are anchored and chained to our working view of the world. Don’t assault my hard-won narrative. New information that might ask a change in my story can be very threatening.

It’s easy for a kitten, when corrected and cornered to become a lion.

We told them that when defenses are raised, learning ceases. We talked to them about considering the context of others. We talked to them of draining themselves of either superiority or disdain when working with someone else. We talked to them of how the Lord teaches us. We talked to them to think in terms of teaching best practices, rather than correcting a fault. There was so much to say, and they were sponges for learning.

They are not the only missionaries who have come to us with important questions that impact their life and leadership. We’ve sometimes seen tears turn into confidence. When we prayed about what the Lord wanted us to do on our mission, one of the distinct impressions was “Nourish my missionaries. Mentor my missionaries. Strengthen my missionaries.”

Calling our Thanks from the Rooftops

This has all blown me back to a different time in our lives, when Scot and I were constantly and generously mentored. Each of us had remarkable, life-changing mentors before we married, and, again, since. I’ll just mention one.

Years ago, we were commissioned by Deseret Book to create a book on the life of Christ, called Source of the Light, featuring photographs on every page of places and things He would have known. It was a romp of a glorious time for us as we explored every cliff, crag, lake, corner and ancient site of Israel to take representative and stunning photos. This usually meant we were up at 4:00 a.m. to be at our photo site by sunrise. Photographers know that to inherit the best lighting for their images, you have to capture the golden light just after sunrise and that special light before sunset. That meant at the flat light of day, you are enjoying a long lunch and needed break.

Truman Madsen was the director of BYU’s Jerusalem Center at the time, and since we were going to be hanging around the area for a month, he kindly agreed to let us come there every day for lunch. When he saw us, he would often say, “Do you have a few minutes? Come into my office,” and there he taught us some aspect of the Savior’s life, urged us to see something in a more profound and probing way. In turn, we would tell him what we had been out shooting that day and the miracles we saw.

How well I remember the day we sat on the patio and he described the agonizing, tearing, lung-burning, ragged-breathing experience of crucifixion, until we all wept together that our Savior had experienced that for us. He pointed to our two-year old who was weeping with us and said, “Look at her perfect empathy. This is what it means to become as a little child.”

His thinking about the Savior immersed us in knowledge, which generously turned up in the text of our book.

How can we ever express enough thanks to those who took someone younger and so incomplete under their care and taught us. I love you, our mentors, who have now mostly passed this sphere, and that’s why I want to shout my gratitude from the rooftops for you.

I think one of the best ways to nourish someone younger in our lives is to give them gifts of knowledge.

Inviting Ourselves into the Young Missionaries’ Lives 

We try as often as possible to connect to the missionaries. On Easter we made bags for our zone, that included one of Scot’s photos of a 28-year-old man born and raised in Nazareth, who was playing the role of Jesus Christ. On his shoulders we had carefully positioned a sheep, for purposes of the photo. In reality, I use that “we” mistakenly, because in reality it took four men to heft an unwilling, sprawling and terrified sheep on his shoulders.

Still, this photo of Scot’s is one of our favorites, so we added the words, “Feed my sheep,” to the photo and then included in our bags of snacks for them, one lost lamb, which they were to find. It was quite the hit, and wherever we go in our zone, we see that the missionaries have added the photo to their walls, mirrors or bulletin boards.

We also invited two different groups from our zone to two different Saturday sessions of General Conference, serving different meals to each. It was simply wonderful and awe-inspiring to combine the elevation of hearing the talks with the sweet and rapt looks on the missionary faces. Again, the word is absorbent. They were ready to learn, and not one of them was without a journal and a pen to write down the thoughts that particularly moved them.

So much of General Conference focused on the temple, that one of the missionaries exclaimed, “They are teaching just what we are doing in our mission.” Our goal is to start with the end in mind—the end, meaning help people come to the temple and make their covenants and then in turn, help their ancestors to also have the ordinances. We start with family history, because people care about that. Ask who had the best rice and beans recipe in their family, and before long, we are open on our phones in family search and on our way.

Watching the young missionaries unfold is like viewing a time-lapse camera on the blossoming of a flower. It just happens so fast because they are so focused on the Lord.

The Power at Our Family Council 

Two days after General Conference we had our weekly Family Council meeting where we teach and encourage some of our missionaries in temple and family history. Sometimes that is a nuts-and-bolts meeting where we talk about the best practices in proselytizing this way, but usually it also has a time to set our missionaries on fire about what the Lord is doing to gather Israel on both sides of the veil.

That meeting, two days after conference, was so full of light, you would think it would set off fire alarms across our island. Our council is growing in size and in strength. We started by remembering that President Russell M. Nelson had taught us in April conference, 2023, “Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of his mightiest works between now and when he comes again.”

It was just so clear in conference that this massive project of building temples across the world is part of this mighty work.

Elder Neil L. Andersen asked, “Have you wondered why the Lord would direct His Prophet to now dot the earth with His holy houses, His temples? Why would He, at this specific time, give the needed prosperity to His covenant people that through their sacred tithes, hundreds of houses of the Lord could be built?” He answered his own question, “The Lord warned that in the last days, there would be distress among nations, people would “be lovers of their own selves,” “all things [would] be in commotion,” confusion would abound, and “men’s hearts [would] fail them…

“With this prophesied commotion and disbelief in the world, the Lord promised that there would be a covenant people, a people eagerly awaiting His return; a people who stand in holy settings and are not moved out of their place.” The people would gain power in the temple, and then the temple would also be in them.

With this backdrop we had slides demonstrating the great flurry of temples announced at each conference, this hastening of the work happening right before us. We reminded our missionaries that they were on the frontlines of not just a great work, but in pointing their friends and new converts to the Lord and his covenants, they were doing the greatest work. They were helping to find the forces ready to meet the Lord when he returns.

At this point, so many of us were thrilled by the Spirit, that missionaries wanted to comment. Here’s a small sampling:

From Sister Germane: I was on my mission when the Puerto Rico temple was dedicated and I remember hearing that now there’s more heavenly power on earth to stand against the power of the adversary. With all these temples that are coming to dot the earth, it is like pillars of light, like a shield of protection around the planet, you know, a celestial shield protecting us against Satan.”

Elder Barnes: “It came to my mind that the mighty work of Christ is to bring more people to Him. What we are doing by building these temples is making the covenant more accessible to everyone. It makes the opportunity more equal for everyone, allowing everyone to have the confidence and ordinances necessary to return to Him.”

From Elder Bingham: “I felt strongly, over and over through each of the talks at General Conference, that the key to the conversion really is the temple.”

Elder van den Akker spoke of how when we baptize someone here, their generations of ancestors on the other side must have been cheering them along, so eager were they to soon get their own ordinances performed, and then he added a statement President Paul Horstmeier liked so much he made it into an illustration.

Keys in the Shifting Sand 

We had family come and visit us for a few days, and we took them to the beach one day in Fajardo, about an hour from our home in San Juan. About five that evening, as we got back to our car, we checked in the Ziploc bag where we had sealed and stored our valuables, and our fob and the keys for the car were gone, missing, as if they had fallen into some parallel universe, just beyond our view. All the other valuables were there.

We couldn’t believe it. We had sealed that Ziploc bag at the beginning of the day, put it in another bag, and hadn’t gotten into it all day. How could they possibly be missing? Six of us were there and we tore through every bag, double-checking, hoping to find that familiar fob, but nothing, nada. We searched our bags a second time, opening every towel to the breeze, shaking them, searching every pocket in our bags, looking for those familiar keys, but they were not there.

We took a minute-by-minute walk through our minds to see if we had ever opened that bag, and we could not remember one instance.

At last, Scot and our children went back to the beach to search through both spots where we had been. Early on, we had changed spots for a better vantage of the sea, carrying our stuff the two hundred feet to the new spot, so we had two spots and the beach in between to search.

Five of them went to look for the keys, while I stood by the car, guarding our stuff. Yet how do you find keys in sands that are littered by dried sea grass, shifting with each tide, shuffled across by feet back-and-forth and back-and-forth through the day, one footprint covering another. In each square feet of sand, there can be a billion granules of sand, and keys can be hidden, sucked in, covered in the twist of a footfall. Where in this sea world were those mysterious keys?

The family combed the beach for an hour, and Scot went back again for an additional 90 minutes, asking the parking attendant, the life guard, the food stands, and five different security people if they had seen keys or if anyone had turned keys into them. No one had a whisper of an idea; no one had seen them.

During all this frenzy of concern, I experienced something I can never forget. From the moment we saw the keys were missing, a calm assurance, as sure as the rising of the morning sun, came over me. I was flooded with a delicious sensibility that seemed to light every cell that we need not worry, that all was well, and that the Lord had this completely in His hands. I didn’t just hope it, or wish it, but in some sunlit way through my being, I knew it. It was a sure knowledge, so I was completely unruffled. I knew no stress, no anxiety that somehow Scot and I would be sitting in that parking lot for a week, hoping for a key. I knew we had to play our part, act with intelligence and vigor, but I knew the Lord would be giving us a gift, and that I would see it as a gift.

By the time Scot had searched again and made his rounds asking, “Have you seen my keys?”, the light had left the beach, and we were sitting in a dark parking lot, where an occasional light pole cast a pool of light. Our children were in a separate rental car, so they brought us food, and we told them to go on home. We felt we would be fine.

In the hours that followed, as we sat on beach chairs, just in front of the trunk of the locked car, we made calls. We called the mission office. They could find a duplicate for every key in the mission, but not for this car. We called the Toyota dealer, since we had picked up this new car in December, to see if they still had the second key there. We called them again to see how long it would take to get new keys (one week) or a new fob (three to four weeks). We called Toyota Cares because they have a service to come and tow you if you have lost keys. Oh no, we were wrong. That service only works if your keys are locked in your car and they will only allow one person to ride with them. Even if we paid the hefty fee for towing, one of us would be left behind an hour from home.

We prayed as we called. We prayed over every detail. We prayed for ideas, for clear memory, for insight. The beach closed at 5:00 p.m. except for those who were camping, and we walked the distance to the gate to assure that it would still be open so we could leave when we were finally rescued.

The office staff of the mission were on high alert, looking through every corner of the office to find the duplicate key. Then someone said, Sister Pagan might know, but she was unavailable because she was working a shift at the temple. It was getting later and later, so we called the temple and asked if there were any possibility, we could speak with her. She got on the phone and said, she did know where our extra key was in the office. She said she would quickly change out of her whites, leave the temple and would go to the office as soon as possible to check for it. Time passed. She called from the office and she had found the duplicate key! We were thrilled.

Two missionaries were tasked with driving the more than an hour (from the office) to rescue us, but first they had to go to the airport and pick up a new missionary.

Such relief. This army of helpers had stepped in to help, but this wasn’t the miracle. It was still this opening of my whole soul to trusting God. We prayed for four hours sitting in that dark parking lot, and all the time I felt this undying light, that never flickered in the sea breeze.

Even, when the missionaries were on their way, I turned to Scot and said, “I still feel like our key is here and is coming back to us.” I felt it like a steadiness coming toward me.

Then, at 9:13 pm, in the silence and the darkness, we heard that familiar sound of the car beeping alive, and the back lights came on. Honestly, it seemed like it was catching some universal force that was awakening it, some heavenly mystery, because we could see no one. Scot and I leapt to our feet and scrambled to open the two front doors before it was locked again and then we hallooed into the darkness,

“Anybody there. Hello! Are you there? We’re over here.” We were both shouting. Only silence answered, and we couldn’t hear a stir in the parking lot. Two or three minutes passed, and then there was a click and our car locked again, but with our two open front doors we were fine. We shouted again, “We’re right here. Over here. Hello! Hello!”

No noise. No movement. Then a men emerged from the darkness alone, with our keys extended in his hand. He only spoke Spanish, so we just picked up a bit of what he said. He and his wife had been walking in the dark on the beach, and stumbled upon these keys.

What compelled us about this, is that most people, long after it was dark and the beach had closed might just leave these keys on a rock or find someone who worked there to give them to. Instead, he took the long walk back to the parking lot to try the keys, looking for those who might have lost them. We felt very few people would have done that in this exact situation.

Our hearts leapt again. The man disappeared as quickly as he came, back into the shadows. We didn’t get to see where he went. We took the keys and started the car and called the missionaries and told them we no longer needed their loving rescue. From some rocky crag or sandy tuft, our keys had emerged. They said, “Milagro!” “Miracle!”

I am warmed and filled again to write this, not only because I am remembering this moment with the return of the keys, but I am moved by the utter, heavenly knowledge I had from the moment we learned the keys were gone. I was in “the still point of the turning world.” I knew yet again how the Lord gives pure intelligence about things we cannot yet see, how we naturally have an affinity for the light which is always available to us if we open our spirit. I felt loved and attended to and cared for and seen.

Losing our keys on a sandy beach will be one of the many, many high points of serving a senior mission.