Maria had been a member of the Church for only two years when we met in Panama, where our husbands were both stationed in the army. A dark-eyed and beautiful Mexican girl, Maria spoke English only haltingly. We long-time members tried to lend her a hand; we felt it was our duty to help her get settled into her new life.
The trouble with Maria was that she believed in following every commandment literally.
“Maria,” we explained, “the prophet did counsel us to be free of debt. But the sky won’t fall down on you if you have car payments.”
But Maria worked hard and prayed and budgeted. In a few months her family owned the station wagon they had needed—and they paid cash for it.
And that big quote from Church leaders: “Every member a missionary.” We tried to convince Maria that she needed to understand the quote in it’s proper context—that it referred to being an example to others, that we didn’t necessarily have to start conversations about the Church with our friends.
But that’s not the way Maria understood it. She introduced herself to new friends in the first sentence, stated her religion in the second, and asked, “Would you like to know more?” in the third. And she gave more referrals to the missionaries than anyone else in our branch.
Maria was a firm believer in personal revelation. She believed we could all be guided by the Spirit.
“Well … yes, Maria, that’s true,” we explained. “But that doesn’t always mean we’re going to have visions or anything like that. It’s more like having an untroubled conscience or a calm feeling,” we said.
But one day, Maria was blessed to see in her mind a picture of herself bearing her testimony, something she had never done before. The next morning our branch went to a popular beach for an outing. A short distance around the cove, another branch was having a baptismal service, and Maria felt prompted to join them. Upon seeing Maria join the group, the missionary in charge of the service announced that they would now be privileged to hear the testimony of Sister Maria. Maria wept, for the revelation she had experienced was fulfilled.
On another occasion, our branch was gathered at a lake for two baptisms. One of the converts and a missionary stood in the water about to proceed with the ordinance when a noisy family walked by, laughing and shouting.
None of us had as good a command of the Spanish language as Maria did, so we asked her to tell them to be quiet. “Maria,” we urged, “ask them to go somewhere else.”
But instead, Maria invited the noisemakers into our group. Quiet now, the family watched both baptisms while she explained the details and our beliefs. Afterward, they invited the missionaries to their home. They accepted the baptismal challenge a few weeks later.
“But Maria,” we said, “you hardly have enough money to feed your own family. You can’t invite others, too.”
But even as we scolded, a neighbor would drop by with ten dollars. Or Maria would find some money on the roadside.
That was Maria. She has moved from our branch now; and we who tried so hard to educate her have lost a great teacher.