Saturday, October 12, 2013

Early Blessings

November 19, 2007 – November 24, 2007

Just a small fraction of the forty people that came to the lesson we gave in La Reserva in Xalapa. The entire home wasn’t much bigger than a suburban U.S. garage, but they all fit somehow.

Despite the struggles of missionary life, Elder Guerra and I had lots of reasons to be grateful during our first weeks together. Most of these blessings came in the form of the people who were receptive to our message and wanted to learn more.

One night we helped the ward organize an informal gospel lesson in a member’s home so that members could invite their friends and neighbors to hear us teach. When we arrived, we walked up to the small, one-room, cinderblock house to find about forty people crammed inside waiting for us. We gave a short lesson and then tried to get to know everyone new to see if they would let us come teach them in their home on a different day. I was blown away by how many people there were; some were members I knew from church, of course, but many there were less active (members that don’t go to church every week). I wondered if some of them would attend church more often if it weren’t so far away from their neighborhood.

By this time, we’d taught several lessons to the Guerrero family, and they had agreed to be baptized within a couple of weeks, which was really exciting for us. We stopped by several times a week to teach them new principles, invite them to make changes in their lives, and also check up on their progress. The Guerreros were progressing well, they had already come to church with us and were working on living the Word of Wisdom. The Word of Wisdom is a revelation given by God to Joseph Smith which teaches us about what substances we should and should not use. Faithful Mormons try to eat healthy foods and abstain from all alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and illegal drugs. For many of the people we taught, ditching coffee was the biggest adjustment. In Xalapa especially, where coffee grows abundantly and it gets cold enough to want a warm drink, most of the people we met were regular coffee drinkers. But in order to get baptized, investigators need to be following the commandments, including the Word of Wisdom. If they aren’t following the commandments, the baptism must be postponed until they make the necessary changes.

We were happy to see that while the Word of Wisdom had initially been difficult for the Guerreros, they were making good progress and were still planning on getting baptized. I enjoyed teaching them because we had already covered the basic doctrine with them, so I got to practice teaching other principles, like the various commandments, rather than the same first principles that we taught to people that were meeting with us for the first time.

One of our biggest blessings during this time was meeting the Cadena family. We started off teaching Ana, the mother, and her teenage daughter Karina. Later, we got to also teach Ana’s older son, Raúl. We tried a couple of times to teach the father, but he either didn’t understand or wasn’t genuinely interested. Ana and Karina were very interested, though. When we would visit them, they would listen very carefully and try to make sense of all these new things we were teaching them about. They had a quiet, polite demeanor that made it easier for me to connect with than some of the other people we taught. The two of them quickly accepted our invitations to attend church and plan a date for their baptisms. Teaching them was always a highlight of the day.

At this point Elder Guerra and I were preparing several people for baptisms, but none of the people we were teaching would be ready for baptism for another week or two still. That all changed when we got a call from Ray. Ray was a young adult that had been to church several times with his girlfriend, who was a member. He had already learned a lot about the church and its teachings, too. He called Elder Guerra one evening to tell him that he decided he wanted to be baptized as soon as possible. We met with him the next day to make sure that he knew the doctrine we would have taught him and to fill in any gaps in his understanding. We were happy to find out that he already knew basically everything, and he was already living all the commandments necessary for baptism.

When investigators are ready for baptism, they meet with another missionary that didn’t take part in teaching them who asks them about their understanding of certain doctrine and verifies that they’re living the commandments. This is the baptismal interview. Baptism isn’t just the way to join the church; it’s also a sacred ordinance that allows people to be forgiven of their sins. At baptism, people make a promise to God that they will obey His commandments. But this means that those being baptized should have repented of their previous sins before they’re baptized. The baptismal interview helps make sure that people have repented before being baptized and understand the promise that they’re making.

The missionary that gives the baptismal interview is usually the district leader over the missionaries that taught the investigator. In our case, though, Elder Guerra was the district leader, so Elder Breceda, one of our zone leaders (who oversee the district leaders) interviewed Ray instead. When they came back a few minutes later, Elder Breceda told us Ray was perfectly ready for baptism, which we had scheduled for the following Saturday. When Elder Breceda asked Ray who he wanted to perform the baptism, Ray pointed to me. I was surprised. Naturally, Elder Guerra had done the bulk of the teaching, and he knew Ray better than me, but I was still happy to get the chance to perform his baptism. It would be a new experience for me, as I’d never done it before.

Saturday morning we went to the church and filled the baptismal font. Ray, his girlfriend, and Isaac showed up a while later. Between the short notice and unusual time of day for the baptism, I don’t think anyone else was there. We held a short service with a prayer and a hymn and a quick spiritual thought, and then Ray and I went down into the font, and I baptized him. It was simple, but I felt good because I knew how important a step this was for Ray.

Myself, Elder Guerra, and Ray just before his baptism. We wear white during the ordinance to symbolize being clean from sin.

The only hiccup in the process was the fact that Ray lived on a different side of town from us. In fact, he lived far enough away that he actually should have attended a different ward than us. Mormon congregations are broken down into geographic regions, so depending on where you live, you’re supposed to attend one ward rather than another. Ray was out of our ward boundaries. Normally, missionaries aren’t supposed to teach investigators that live inside other missionaries’ boundaries (this is called “pirating” in mission slang), but since it was Ray that asked us to teach and baptize him, and he agreed to attend his own ward rather than ours, everything was okay.

Since he didn’t go to our ward, I only saw Ray a handful of times after that. I’ve since lost contact with him, but I hope he continues to participate in church back in Xalapa.

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