Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Miracles and messages: December 6, 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
Friday we have an activity, too! At our first missionary correlation meeting our Branch Mission Leader asked if we could plan an activity before Christmas. We said yes, and then he decided we were going to do "A Trip to Hawaii" - an interactive activity where the participants are passengers on a plane that goes down, then they are guided through life after death - essentially explaining the Plan of Salvation. No one in the whole meeting understood exactly what we were going to do, so I was nominated scriptwriter and I wrote out a script for the whole event. It began unfolding in my mind as I used scriptures and rhetorical questions to guide the people through Spirit Prison and Paradise, through the Judgment and on to Celestial Glory. It's set up very simply - it requires only 1 person who understands the entire script (as the Spiritual Guide) and then a few supporting roles (without scripted lines - flight attendants, missionaries in Prison, the plane captain). Missionaries are filling the roles, and then I asked a member if she could be our spiritual guide. She amazed me with her response - she offered to memorize the entire script - 4 pages long, single-spaced! Wow. We are inviting tons of people with a, "You've won a trip to Hawaii! Come and redeem your prize!" flyer - people seem to be interested. Our main goal will be to help the branch realize that missionary activities can be very successful even without huge planning and preparation. We are all excited.
Two days ago (Monday) we had a shaking experience. It was raining really hard as we went to District Meeting, and then we printed out the flyer for our activity, then made copies, delivered them to the other missionaries, and finally got home to eat lunch after 4. It was late, so we ate, studied the language a bit, then went out to knock doors near our home. We decided that we wanted to contact everyone in our little neighborhood, so we have been keeping track of the people we talk with with crazy little designs of the doorbells. We were filling in the blanks - where no one answered or they said to come back another day. Around 7:30 we were buzzing a citofono that liked to shock us (literally - there was live electic current in the metal doorbell frame) and my companion buzzed the last bell. We were let in to the ground-floor home, where a little man greeted us. We saw instantly that he was not entirely normal - he had an odd grin on his face and said things three or four times in an interesting voice, staring off into the distance. But I felt like we should teach him. We began singing and asked if he would turn off his television; he prayed with us, and then we began teaching. My companion thought I was crazy - I left spots for him to talk and he was totally silent. Then the door opened, and in walked his wife. They are both around 65. She was arriving home from work and didn't glance twice that there were strangers in her home with her husband. She went and changed shoes, then came back and began talking with her husband and with us about her day. We talked with them and realized that she was a bit odd as well, but truly a very nice person. She takes care of a 90-year-old woman all day. We moved the topic to the Gospel again, and she seemed interested. She hsa been in a coma and saw "true happiness" as she calls it. She explained that her husband was bipolar and that they never have guests, as he is either euphoric or depressed, even with medication. She had been very surprised to see us in her home. We gave her a pamphlet on the Prophet Joseph Smith and began explaining the Restoration of the Gospel, and then the phone rang. It was her son, and he was calling to tell her he had intentions to "Saltare nell'Arno" - to jump in the river. She came back and we continued talking... we hadn't realized what the phrase meant. Then, it suddenly hit us. He was going to commit suicide. We are in a total stranger's home, we have been talking long enough that we love them and care about them, and then her son calls and tells her he is going to commit suicide. She was no longer able to concentrate on the Gospel; she called her son and berated him for the "joke" he was playing on her. She told him that his actions would not gain the satisfaction he wanted from his love that had abandoned him (he had been living with a woman that left him for another man - he is 40). His words before hanging up were, "Prega per me, Mamma. Perdonami." ...Pray for me, Mom. Forgive me.... She was shaken... and we left her a Book of Mormon and left the appointment with the intentions to go talk reason into her son. My companion saw my intentions and protested, citing a training in the MTC specifically against talking with suicides. We called the mission president for advice, who told us to instruct her to call the police. We went back and did so, but she explained that Italian laws tied the hands of even parents in the cases of disappearances. She had no right to notify the authorities, and didn't believe there were anti-suicide agencies available. We left crying. What type of world is this? ...But I wasn't going to stop before I had done absolutely everything in my power. After looking through the telephone book for a half-hour, I remembered that our Branch President had worked for the Police. I called him, even though it was late, and he also told me that the Police could help. I called them and they told me the same, only that they needed the mother to call herself. We went back yet again and convinced her to call 113; the operators assured her that they could help her son, and we went home. We realized that there was no chance in the situation that we had been in - it was no chance that we had been let in to a home and that her son had called at that moment. She would have never called the police to report the situation and get help for him... he may have never had a chance. I don't know what happened to her son. I don't know if he is alive or... But I do know that the Lord put us in the place that He wanted us to be in. We had the chance to save someone's life. It has made me even more pensive about the real meaning of missionary work. There are so many people out there who are on the verge of committing spiritual suicide - making choices that will hinder their eternal progression... and are we ignoring the warning signs? We as missionaries are able to save their lives, but how many people jump off the bridge of their life to become bitter, unkind, or simply unbelieving? There are so many people who have killed their desire to learn about God - so many people who have lost their lives... and we can help them! That is what the Lord will do - He will place us in the spot we need to be to change their lives and redeem them from past actions. In the end, it is their choice... but we can do a whole lot. Alma's faith sent an angel to claim his wayward son; this woman's good nature and faith in God sent missionaries to her home who convinced her to send specialists to her son. We can do a whole lot before we need to give up.
...And we have another thought! (Changing modes... beep. click. bzzzz...) Many years ago a Senior Sister Missionary asked me to promise her that I would never play Basketball on my mission. I guess that our mission had had some problems, and she was sincere in her request. I had never been a huge fan of Basketball, and I felt the spirit of her request, so I said sure. I promptly forgot about it for at least 5 years.... until I was here in Italy and someone asked me if I wanted to play Basketball a Preparation Day. Suddenly, the image of this sister and her request came up from the depths of my mind and I had a choice to make. Should I disregard the promise I had made so many years ago and play? Or should I stay faithful to a promise I made who knows how long ago to a person whose name I don't remember? I realized the importance of integrity... if it had been a promise contrary to the teaching of the Gospel, I could have repented of it and hence released myself from its bond... but it had nothing to do with that. She had asked me and I had responded. I had no chance to clarify now - and no one would ever know. I realized that integrity is not an external factor - it is the internal understanding that we are truly faithful and honest in all our doing with our fellow men. I've missed a few basketball games during my mission (today, for example)... but I made a promise. To me it's that simple. Hence, the invite - when you say you will do something or that you won't, then do it. Be honest. Have integrity. Then people and God can trust you entirely. And you will find other people who have the same qualities. Many times here in Italy I have met people and known, in an instant, that I could trust every word they ever said. Time proved it true, and I hope to be able to be trusted by others in the future.
I know that this Church is true. I know that Jesus is the Christ and that He is here among us. Of this I am certain - that He restored the Gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that today there is a living prophet on the earth. I love you all - put on your (albeit internal) nametags and share the Gospel of Christ!
Anziano Peterson

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