Mormon Journal

By


Love Speaks Every Language

On Saturday, 8 September 1979, six Vietnamese refugees arrived at my home, hungry, homeless, and exhausted. After months of bare survival in a refugee camp in Bangkok, Thailand, they had traveled first to Japan, then to San Francisco, Albuquerque, and finally Farmington, New Mexico. Their one piece of luggage had been lost en route.

And so it was that I found myself sitting in my living room early the next morning wondering what to dress two little girls from Vietnam in. All I had for them was a couple of my husband’s T-shirts. At that point a knock sounded on my door, and a woman stood there with a large cardboard box in her arms.

“I read the article in the morning paper about the arrival of the refugees,” she said. “I gathered these clothes in hopes you could use them.”

When I opened the box, there were dresses, underclothes, sweaters, stockings—and everything sized to fit the girls. It was a proper extension of the miracles that had brought them alive to our home.

Weeks earlier, as I watched the “boat people” day after day on TV, I vowed to help a family. The words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty came to my mind with full force: “Give me your tired, your poor—your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Here were such a people. By thousands they had turned to the open sea in tiny fishing boats.

Two weeks after volunteering to sponsor a family, I was notified that a family was on its way. I spent a day cleaning the bedrooms they would occupy in my home. At the close of the day I knelt in the room I had finished cleaning and thanked my Heavenly Father for this great privilege. I prayed for the strength I needed, for patience, understanding, long-suffering, and above all else—charity. I received an immediate assurance that the Spirit was pleased.

I was told by the sponsoring organization that the Luu family was uneducated. I said, “That is okay, send them and we will teach them.” But when they arrived, I found they were a family of dentists. In Vietnam they had hidden their identity to escape death when the communists decided to purge the country of its educated population.

The family consisted of “Nite-Nite,” or grandmother, the young mother, My Linh (pronounced May Lynn), My Linh’s two little girls, and two boys ages nine and twelve, Nite-Nite’s grandsons from another daughter thought to be lost with her husband at sea.

What a pleasure it was to fill their bowls time after time as they hungrily held them up for more rice. The three-year-old girl, Than yen (her American name is Tanya), was the thinnest and weakest of the group. The skin seemed drawn tautly over her bones. Her mother told me only a short time ago how very ill she had been at the camp in Thailand, how she lay on the ground day after day with only a sheet of plastic held up by sticks to protect her from the sun and rain. She became weaker and weaker.

I learned also how Nite-Nite left Shanghai, China, forty-five years ago. As a young bride, she fled with her family to Vietnam when the communists took over Mainland China in 1936. Now she is happy to be where at last she can be “free.” But she didn’t escape entirely, and while in South Vietnam saw her husband brutally slain by the communists in their home in Saigon.

Many people have united to help. As a result the Luu family are living in a warm home, they have warm clothing to wear, and they are not hungry any more. The children attend school.

Since they arrived, we have tried to gather their huge family together again. We located two of Nite-Nite’s daughters in refugee camps in southeast Asia, and they will arrive soon with their families. The young boys recently received a short note from their parents. Last seen in March 1979 when their boat began sinking, they had survived and returned to Saigon.

People constantly ask, “How do you communicate?” My answer is simple: “Love speaks every language.”

Wanda Lee Burrell, mother of seven, works in the Spanish name extraction program in her Farmington, New Mexico, stake.

She Went to the Temple

Guillermina Juarez Martinez wanted to go to the temple for her own endowment. She was twenty-four years old, unmarried, and dying. She had a progressive disease of the blood, one so rare there is no name for it. The disease takes most people before the age of eighteen, but Guillermina had fought for her life six years beyond that.

“I don’t want to die and have a stranger do my temple work for me. I want to go and do my own,” she said. When her stake president, Guillermo Torres Villalobos, heard of her desire to go to the temple, he told her that he would give her a recommend.

Just the possibility of going brought improvement. The doctors watched her progress and shook their heads in disbelief. They could find no reason why she had improved, so they declined to grant permission for her to travel to the temple.

The Mexico City North Stake’s bus was leaving for the Arizona Temple the last week in July 1973. Guillermina continued praying and sent her relatives to prepare her papers to leave Mexico. On the day of departure, she was still in the hospital. Determined not to lose this only opportunity to do her own temple work, Guillermina placed even greater faith in the Lord and asked the doctors one more time for permission to go. They granted permission on condition that she release them from responsibility. She accepted, but refused their orders to go by plane. She wanted the companionship of the Saints.

She took a special bed that fit onto the back seat of the bus, a first-aid kit, an oxygen tank, and a mask. A doctor, a nurse, and her mother went with her.

On the way, she joined the others in singing, telling jokes, and watching the little children play. She felt their spirit and was happy to be there. Her seemingly impossible goal was only miles away from fulfillment.

Near the United States-Mexican border at Nogales, the bus’s air conditioner broke down. Soon afterward, Guillermina grew weaker, then stopped breathing. Women began weeping for her and praying that she would live to go through the temple. The doctor found a faint heartbeat. The three bishops on the bus anointed her and gave her a blessing for her life. Suddenly she revived.

When the bus arrived in Mesa, doctors checked her and recommended that she go to only one temple session. They did not expect her to live longer than that. But the impossible dream was close enough to be fulfilled the next morning.

As Guillermina, dressed all in white, her face glowing, entered the temple, a change came over her. She was alert and active as the session progressed. Conquering all obstacles, she was now able to do with her own spent, ill body what she did not want another person to do for her.

Everyone in the temple session watched her carefully. Though she was exhausted after the first session, she was so overjoyed that she begged to be allowed to go through another session. Doctors checked her and permitted her to participate again. This procedure was repeated after every session for the next three days. She never missed a session—nine sessions in all.

To the surprise of everyone, Guillermina’s health did not deteriorate. Instead of gradually dying, she was gaining renewed life.

Returning to Mexico City, Guillermina went immediately to the military hospital as she had promised. There the doctors shook their heads in disbelief. Her health had improved so much that after two days she was released to begin a relatively normal life at home.

Fortified by her covenants with the Lord, she found the strength to teach a Primary class and to participate with other young women in Church activities. The disease could take her life any day, but she feels prepared to die. And she steadfastly maintains her faith in the Lord’s great wisdom and his infinite concern for his children.

[illustration] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson

Mari Vawn Owen, a writer and mother of five, is a visiting teacher.