A hundred memories raced through Karl Easton’s mind as his car topped the ridge. Sprawled below him was a wide valley where a narrow river meandered, and in the dim blue distance the mountain, at the foot of which the village lay.
“I’ll bet I crisscrossed every inch of that ground,” mused Karl.
As he drove down the winding road leading into the valley, Karl remembered how disappointed he had been when he first got his mission call and learned he would be laboring for two years in New Mexico, not too many miles from where he had spent the first nineteen years of his life.
He had been achingly disappointed. Waiting anxiously for that call, he had dreamed of beautiful distant lands below the equator; he had thought of many European countries where his ancestors had their origins; he had imagined himself journeying through exotic South American lands. But he was to go to a nearby state!
Karl tried to welcome the call with a glad heart, but not until he sat in testimony meeting with some three hundred other elders and sisters to sing a beloved hymn did his acceptance really come. Karl remembered how the words of the first two stanzas seemed directed personally to him.
“It may not be on the mountain height
Or over the stormy sea;
It may not be at the battle’s front
My Lord will have need of me;
But if, by a still, small voice he calls
To paths that I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine:
I’ll go where you want me to go.”
After that Karl had begun his missionary work with a more humble spirit. Almost immediately he found that, far from being the familiar land he had expected, all things but the bare features of the New Mexican land were alien, and the ways of many of the people were as strange as those in countries across the widest ocean could have been.
Further, these people seemed to find Karl and the message he carried not only strange but unwelcome. He and his companions met resentment and contempt. Doors were slammed against them or, even harder for the young men to take, they encountered a complete lack of interest in both themselves and their message.
Slowly the weeks and the months went by. Not once did Karl or one of his succession of companions find a soul ready to receive the gospel message they were so eager to give.
On an afternoon when Karl had less than two months left to serve, he drove into a service station. As a man cleaned the windshield with brisk swipes, almost wearily Karl asked, “Do you know anything about the Mormons?”
The fellow, a short, dark man with a wide smile, replied, “Only a little.”
Karl continued, “Would you like to know more?” and the man, nodding good-naturedly, said, “Sure. Why not?”
From the very first meeting, Elder Karl Easton loved the cheerful little man, whose name was Diego Sanchez. A bachelor, Diego lived alone in a house, monumentally untidy but clean, where he welcomed the elders and listened willingly to their message.
However, the little man laughed when he was told what the standards were for those who accepted the gospel. “I could not give up so much,” he would often say with a careless wave of his hand. “My pipe, a glass of wine, such things are my religion.”
Karl remembered again the hymn that had meant so much to him, and he thought of the stanza that said:
“Perhaps today there are loving words
Which Jesus would have me speak;
There may be now in the paths of sin
Some wand’rer whom I should seek.”
With infinite patience, Karl kept returning to the house of Diego Sanchez, refusing to give up even while Diego insisted he could not live the strict gospel standards.
Then one week before Karl’s mission ended he was able to take the man, whose way of life by that time was totally altered, into the waters of baptism. It was his one conversion in two years of labor.
Through the years Karl Easton often thought back in sorrow, and with a feeling of inadequacy, to his mission; it had seemed such a failure.
Now, nearly nine years later, his work required that he travel again through the area where he had spent those two years. He had written Diego Sanchez and received an immediate reply, full of loving anticipation. Diego was now branch president and had arranged for Karl to be the speaker at sacrament meeting on the day of his visit.
There had been no branch in the little town when Karl labored in that area. But he had no difficulty finding the address.
He drove down a narrow street lined with dusty cottonwood trees toward a rosy building of adobe where cars and a few battered pickups were parked.
He had barely closed the door of his own car when he heard a glad cry. “Elder! Elder Easton!” Diego Sanchez hurried toward him.
The years, Karl saw, had passed lightly over Diego. Except for a thinning of black hair and a slight heaviness at the waist, the little man was the same exuberant friend Karl remembered with such deep fondness.
He held out his hand, but Diego ignored it to encircle him with both arms, crying, “Ah, Elder Easton, my beloved friend!” while he patted the taller man’s shoulders. “It is so good to see you again.” Tears ran unashamedly down Diego’s brown cheeks. “But come. There are many people waiting to meet you.”
Holding Karl’s arm in a tight grip, almost bouncing with excitement, Diego led Karl toward a group of people who stood beside the steps of the building.
“Elder Easton,” Diego beamed, taking the hand of a slight, very pretty woman, “this is Juanita, my wife. She is president of the Relief Society. And these—” he tugged Karl forward—“are my parents, Brother and Sister Sanchez. And here are cousins, Pedro, Guy, Romero—all elders—and Edward, a deacon. This is my aunt, and my uncle, and …”
Overwhelmed by the affection in the greetings, Karl moved from one person to another while Diego, his own face so alive with joy that it seemed to give off light, presented them all as members of the Church. And each person, Karl gradually realized, was either Diego’s close personal friend or a relative.
Finally, after everyone had been introduced to him, Karl was able to ask, “Diego, these people—have they all come into the Church because of you?”
Diego shook his head emphatically.
“Ah, no, Elder Easton, not because of me—because of you. You were the one who brought the gospel message. And when I resisted, it was you who would not give up.” Diego squeezed Karl’s arm again. “I gave to these others the message you brought to me.”
Later, as he stood before the congregation and looked down at so many faces filled with gratitude and love, Karl felt tears come into his eyes. The mission he had served, and that he had thought resulted in one lone conversion, had, after all, nearly filled this little chapel.
Past the lump in his throat Karl began to speak to the people—his people, giving them the words to the last stanza of his favorite hymn:
“Oh Savior, if thou wilt be my guide,
Though dark and rugged the way,
My voice shall echo the message sweet;
I’ll say what you want me to say.”