Rain, a Bedspread, and a Birthday
It was raining a cold, miserable, rain. My 14-year-old daughter, Holly, had a dental appointment in a town eight miles away.
“Let’s get going, Holly,” I prodded, my voice edged with impatience. “I’ve got to get back home.” I had many things to do.
The wait at the dentist was longer than usual, and it was noon when Holly was through. We were both hungry, so we stopped for a quick lunch at a nearby restaurant. Then we were homeward bound.
Suddenly there loomed the figure of an elderly man standing forlornly at the side of the road. He wore an old watersoaked felt hat and was leaning on a stick with one hand, while in the crook of his left arm he carried a soggy bag of groceries, with loaves of bread poking limply out at the top. He was hunched forward, trying valiantly to protect the groceries and cross the wide highway, now filled with flooding water and heavy traffic.
At that moment the Holy Spirit seemed to fill my heart with warmth and tenderness, and it was as though the still small voice within said, pick up my son and take him home.
My first impulse was to argue and say, “I never pick up strangers, and I’m afraid.” But the impression came again, so I pulled over to the curb and stopped the car. I rolled down the window and felt the wind and rain on my face as I said, “Sir, do you have far to go?”
He replied, “I just need to get across this highway. I live only a few blocks down on the other side.”
I smiled and said, “Quick, get in,” and gratefully he did. By this time the traffic was backing up, and horns were honking. I sat there momentarily helpless, wondering how I would ever get over into the right lane of the highway to take him in the other direction. Miraculously, several cars stopped and motioned for me to cross in front of them. As we turned off the highway toward his home, he said, “Oh bless you, bless you. How kind! My wife broke her hip last year, and I was about to bring her home several weeks ago when she slipped and broke the other hip. Now we have just moved into this house out here, and I am the chief cook and bottle washer.”
As he was leaving the car he turned and said softly, almost bashfully, “We would love to have you come and see us. We enjoy company.”
I realized in a rush of compassion that they were lonely, and he wanted another human contact, someone to cheer his bedridden wife. Suddenly the warmth of the Holy Spirit returned, and I came in tune with a special force I had never known as I began to receive impressions about this couple. No words can describe the feelings I felt as the Holy Spirit filled me and prompted me with thoughts of what I must do. Silently we arrived in our town and I drove to the grocery store and purchased a few items. When we arrived home, I said, “Holly, would you kneel in prayer with me?” She nodded, and without hesitation we dropped to our knees and prayed to the Lord for guidance in this strange task, because I didn’t want to make a mistake. I have filled Christmas baskets and helped needy families before, but the items I selected for this couple were things you wouldn’t ordinarily take to people you didn’t know. For instance, there was a bedspread, a bouquet of flowers, a light bulb and a smaller night light, a chest cold remedy, cough medicine, a plastic wash basin, a water container, magazines, and one week’s groceries, very carefully selected—there were some meat items, but mostly the groceries were very specific items from my own cupboards.
When I came walking down the hall with a vivid, wine-colored bedspread Holly was incredulous. “A bedspread! Mother, you’ve got to be kidding.” But I felt impressed to get it, and we took it along. Satisfied that we had gathered everything we needed, we again knelt and asked the Lord to see us safely back to the right house and to guide us in this venture.
Outside the couple’s house, we hesitated for a moment, and I suggested to Holly that we leave the things in the car until we looked the situation over; I felt uncertain and scared. I knocked on the door, and the sweetest voice I have ever heard answered, “Who is there, please?”
I said, “Don’t be frightened. I am the woman who gave your husband a lift a while ago.”
She asked us to come in, and we walked through into her bedroom. There in bed lay a sweet lady, her face etched with lines of suffering, and I realized she was no stranger to pain. I smiled and explained our visit. “After we brought your husband home, I felt strongly impressed to shop for some things you must need,” I told her. She seemed to understand; so I continued, “I felt very specifically that you needed a bedspread; in fact, it was first on my list.” Holly brought in the things from the car, and when I took the bedspread to her, her eyes opened wide with joy and anticipation.
“Oh,” she exclaimed, “I am so tired of laying here without a bright bedspread, and I have prayed and prayed for one.” Holly brought in the flowers, and the dear soul covered her face with her hands, peeking out between her fingers as we presented each item. Her husband, who had been outside, came in, and the next half hour was like giving children a surprise Christmas. We watched with delight as he picked up the night light and said, “Oh, this is for me! Now I can see to get to the bathroom at night.”
“But, honey, I need a light, too,” she said. “I can’t even read.”
“Oh, yes, you can,” I nearly exploded. And I showed her the light bulb and the magazines.
Later they explained that in moving, their social security checks had been lost in the mail, and that they needed one week’s help until new ones arrived. The wife explained that she had felt a cold coming on, and her husband had forgotten to get her the medicine she needed. She also commented that the coughing hurt her hips. It seemed that every item on our shopping list was not only needed but was the perfect choice for them.
Finally they asked if we belonged to a church. Holly and I smiled, delighted to think that we had our first chance to ask the golden questions. “Do you know anything about the Mormon church?” They didn’t. We told them that we were brand new converts, and explained how the gospel was restored. I told them I had been looking for this true gospel for 48 years, and how we were learning more about it every day. We asked if we might send the missionaries out to give them the gospel and share the Lord’s plan of salvation with them, and they said they would like that.
Before we left, the lady turned to her husband and, chiding gently, said, “You told them!” He answered quickly, “I did not.” Again she insisted, “You told them.” And again he replied emphatically, “I did not.” Puzzled, I asked, “Told us what?”
Then the tears came, as she reached up behind the bed and brought forth a rain-spattered card. Handing it to me she said brokenly, “Today is my birthday!”
The Korean Sailors
As I watched the big ship moving majestically up the Willapa River past my home in Raymond, Washington, 12 years ago, I noted an unfamiliar flag and a strange name. Curiosity prompted me to find the flag in the dictionary. It was Korean.
It was the first, and as far as I know the only, Korean ship to dock in Willapa Harbor to load logs.
Later that day I noticed a Korean sailor seated on a culvert by our driveway. I felt strangely drawn to him, but I didn’t feel safe talking to sailors that I didn’t know. When I looked out later, he had gone.
That evening my husband and I were watching television while our children played on the lawn. Suddenly we looked up to see the children in the doorway. Our 13-year-old son had the Korean sailor by the hand and said, “Dad, Mom, I want you to meet Lee. He is a good man.”
Lee knew little English, but he managed to convey his thoughts to us. He was lonely for his family. His oldest daughter was about the age of our eight-year-old girl. Our son was right: Lee was a good man, and his goodness shone through.
We welcomed him and his shipmates into our family. Our yard became the scene of many happy games as the Korean sailors played with our children. But Lee was our special guest. He ate several meals with us and we took him clam digging. He took us aboard his ship. He went to Sunday School and sacrament meeting with us.
He wanted to learn about the gospel, so our married daughter, Betty, invited Lee to bring his friends to a meeting with the missionaries. About a dozen Koreans came. There seemed to be a bond between Lee and us; he could understand quite well, even though he spoke very broken English. He relayed his understanding to the others.
Betty and her husband had a small bus, so they invited the Koreans to go to the scheduled district conference. Six of them, including Lee, went.
When they returned, everyone was excited. Five of the Koreans had been baptized! It seems President Don C. Woods knew a little Korean, and he talked to the men between conference sessions. When the five expressed the desire to be baptized, he interviewed them; then, accompanied by many Saints, they went to the nearby river and were baptized. In the afternoon session the new converts were confirmed and given the Aaronic Priesthood.
We were astounded! Lee expressed his feelings to us. Touching his heart, he said he knew “in here” it was true. He felt the others did, too.
When the ship sailed, part of our hearts went with it. Lee had become part of our family. Since then we have only seen him twice, but we have exchanged many letters with him, his wife, and his daughters. Lee has remained faithful and his whole family has joined the Church.
Transfer to Carltonville
It was with shocked disbelief that I heard the mission president. “Elder, we are transferring you to Carltonville. You need to be there in the morning.”
My companion and I had labored long and hard in what seemed to be a fruitless search for those interested in the gospel; by the seventh month of my mission, my enthusiasm had greatly diminished. Then we had met Phyllis Johnson, a charming English woman in her late sixties, for whom the gospel discussions had been a joy. The more she learned, the more she wanted to learn. How right everything seemed! How I loved missionary work!
I was looking forward to her baptism—my first—the following Saturday, when my mission president toppled me from the heights. As I left his office, I wanted to cry—but I couldn’t.
Then, as I thought about the president’s often inspired words, something within me whispered quietly, “Mark, he hasn’t done this … the Lord has.”
My new companion in Carltonville had been in the area for only about a week, but he had prepared a list of the town’s people who had had some of the lessons, and he read it to me. As we knelt together in prayer, we both felt that a special spirit had accompanied our transfers. While he read the list of 12 names, one seemed to pierce my heart—Marshall!
The narrow road to the Marshall home was hard to follow due to dense brush and heavy rains, but when we arrived there was a light in the window. Surprised to see us traveling on such a cold, wet night, Brother Marshall warmly invited us in and asked us to sit on a worn couch in the living room. We discovered the Marshalls were from New Zealand, where his wife had visited the temple before it was dedicated, but they had since moved here to South Africa with their three small children. They believed all the missionaries had told them, with one exception—the law of tithing.
“I just can’t accept this,” he said. “And besides, elders,” his voice dropped, “we just can’t afford to pay it.” He sat on the only other chair in the house, and, gazing down at his worn and splitting shoes, he began to speak again. “You see,”—there was a long pause—“we just don’t have any more money.”
The long silence was broken by Sister Marshall’s sobbing. “For the last three days we have had nothing to eat but a few apricots from the tree in our backyard,” she said through her tears. “I just don’t know what to do. The apricots are almost gone and the children are already starting to ask for food. We don’t know where to go. We don’t know anyone around here. Oh, what should we do?”
I wondered how anyone could ask these people to give a tenth. Then I suddenly knew the answer to their problems. The greatest power I have ever felt came over me. I then remembered I had been taught to pay tithing as a boy and that it was a commandment of the Lord. I knew the Lord had promised to open the windows of heaven to those who do pay their tithing, and I knew that it was a commandment for rich and poor alike.
As I sat up on the edge of the couch, a burning filled my bosom and brought forth the words, “Brother and Sister Marshall, I promise you in the name of the Lord that if you will pay your tithing and join the Lord’s church, you will always have food to eat and a home to live in.”
They both sat motionless as they thought of the promise they had been given. Then Brother Marshall, with his wife close to him, said quietly, “Elders, all that we have heard is true. And now I know that I must do this also.”
We made arrangements for their baptism the following Saturday, and about noon that day we received a telephone call from the mission home. “Elder, you and your companion are to bring your belongings with you to the mission home today as you come to the baptism. Each of you will be transferred back to your former field of labor. Carltonville will be closed indefinitely.”
This time as I told the news to my companion I did cry—and I fell on my knees by the side of my bed to ask the Lord’s forgiveness. He had called me to reach out to a family of choice spirits who were ready for baptism, and he knew this was their last chance in months—perhaps in a lifetime. I realized how selfish I had been in wanting my own way, and I promised the Lord that in the future when he called, I would obey.
It was about a year and a half later—and almost 500 miles away—that I sat on the front row of a chapel in Rhodesia in the last testimony meeting I would attend on the African continent. I saw a middle-aged woman in a worn but freshly laundered dress stand to bear her testimony. With sweet conviction she thanked the Lord for her membership in the Church, for her testimony of the gospel, and for the two missionaries who had come to her home on a rainy Tuesday night. Sister Marshall said that since then she and her husband had had many difficulties, but because of their faithfulness in paying their tithing, they had “always had food to eat and a home to live in.”