Missionary Moment: “They Were Still My Brethren in the Lord”
Contributed By Noelle Baldwin, Church News contributor
- The Lord is mindful of every missionary and convert.
- The fruit of one’s labors aren’t always immediate.
“Missionaries might never know the influence that they had because they often do not see immediate results.” —Mark Coffey, former missionary in the El Salvador San Salvador Mission
When a senior missionary couple asked Mark Coffey to donate his mission journals to the Church History Library, he felt inspired to reread and type the entries from the four months he spent in Atiquizaya, El Salvador. While rereading his journals, Brother Coffey found many spiritual experiences that he had forgotten about. One especially powerful experience came when he met Oscar Fajardo, who was then an investigator.
Brother Coffey was called to the El Salvador San Salvador Mission in 1979 and arrived in the country on August 21. However, in the second week of December, missionaries were transferred out of the country because of civil war.
One week before the missionaries were transferred to other missions, Brother Fajardo, who had delayed his baptism because of lingering doubts, knocked on the elders’ door. “Oscar had a powerful answer to his long-standing prayers and showed up in tears on our doorstep,” said Brother Coffey. “Oscar told us of a powerful witness to the truth of the gospel and his certainty of the correctness for him to finally be baptized.”
Brother Fajardo was baptized on December 1, 1979. Brother Coffey wrote in his journal that he felt Oscar would be “a great asset to the Church someday.”
After rereading his experience, Brother Coffey said he could not stop thinking about Brother Fajardo, wondering if he had remained faithful in the Church and what the effect of all the missionaries leaving the area had had on the local members. Then last year Brother Coffey was eating breakfast when he had an impression to look in the Church News of May 9, 2015. The first page he opened to listed his friend and convert, Oscar Rolando Fajardo Solis, as the new president of the Atiquizaya El Salvador Stake.
With some help Brother Coffey was able to get in contact with President Fajardo. After many phone calls and a Skype call, President Fajardo invited Brother Coffey and his family to El Salvador. Brother Coffey traveled with his wife, Lisa, and youngest son, Seth, to El Salvador February 13–16 of this year. There President Fajardo and the Coffey family “[relived] all the amazing experiences about [President Fajardo’s] conversion, his callings as a bishop and stake president, the baptism of his sister, … and their temple sealing to their parents,” said Brother Coffey.
In 1979 the Atiquizaya group had fewer than 20 members. Today there is a full stake with 11 units, including 9 wards. While visiting El Salvador, Brother Coffey said he was able to attend church and was delighted to “meet and embrace many other pioneers of the Church there.”
On Sunday, February 14, Brother Coffey found more of his once investigators, including Alex Molina, who had only been eight years old in 1979 when his family was taking the missionary discussions. In his last journal entry before he left the country, Brother Coffey wrote that he “lamented the fact that we had not baptized this family and that there would be no missionaries to teach them.”
After 36 years, Brother Molina was able to share his gratitude with Brother Coffey and revealed that while the missionaries didn’t baptize the family in 1979, he and his mother joined the Church later. Even though Brother Coffey never saw the results of his labor, he said, “The seeds we [he and his companion] planted bore great fruit.” Brother Molina served as a bishop, and he and his family continue as active Church members.
Early on the last morning of Brother Coffey’s visit, Tonito Martines came to the Fajardo home. As a young missionary, Brother Coffey met Brother Martines on his first day in Atiquizaya. Even though as a new missionary, Brother Coffey didn’t understand most of what his companion taught, he understood when Brother Martines accepted the baptismal challenge that was extended to him. Now 36 years later when Brother Martines knocked on the door, he said, “Mark Alan Coffey, you baptized me on the 27th of September, 1979. I still have the baptismal certificate in my home.”
Brother Coffey said the feelings of love and joy were overwhelming. “I had no idea that anyone in the small town of Atiquizaya would remember me,” he said. Before visiting, he said, he “came to the conclusion … that it was unlikely that anyone that I knew would still live there or remember me.” Brother Coffey said he could not have been more wrong, as people he knew three decades ago “embraced me in such an emotion-filled and loving way.”
Brother Coffey said he learned that missionaries might never know the influence that they had because they often do not see immediate results. After 36 years apart, he said, he “felt like Alma when he met up with the sons of Mosiah after many years apart.” Like Alma, he “did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord” (Alma 17:2).
Mark Coffey and his wife, Lisa (center), pose with some of the Church's El Salvadorian pioneers. Photo courtesy of Mark Coffey.