03192_000_021He wanted me to teach him about missionary work.
As sacrament meeting ended, people began pouring out of the little brick chapel into the hot, dusty Southern Utah afternoon. Just minutes before, the branch president had announced that Nick Mose had been called as a stake missionary from the tiny Mexican Hat Branch. Nick, a Navajo Indian, would be serving among his own people on the Navajo Reservation. An hour earlier Nick had been set apart by the Blanding stake presidency, and now he was my companion.
I was thrilled, for Nick and I had become good friends during the previous year. For the past several months I had been serving as a stake missionary with an Anglo companion, but we had had very limited success. One obstacle had been the 110-mile round-trip trek we made every Sunday from Blanding, where my previous companion and I lived. Another was that many Navajos spoke no English, and neither my partner nor I spoke Navajo. Having Nick as my new partner would solve at least the language problem, and I also anticipated the closeness that we would share as we worked together as missionary companions.
Following sacrament meeting, I offered to drive Nick’s family home so we could do a little missionary work. As we crossed the San Juan River that Sabbath afternoon in the summer of 1980, the conversation, in Navajo and foreign to me, became animated. In the back seat with Nick’s wife and children were Esta Cly and her nine-year-old stepdaughter Arlene. Our second stop would be their home in Monument Valley, twenty-five miles distant. Esta—a typically traditional Navajo woman—neither spoke nor understood English. It was delightful to listen to these people laughing quietly and conversing in Navajo as we covered the scenic miles.
Suddenly, Nick turned to me with a smile and broke into English. “Boy, I’ve never done anything like this before. You’ll have to teach me everything about missionary work, Steve.” I smiled back and said nothing. I knew that Nick’s best teacher was the Holy Ghost.
Once we had dropped off Susie and the children, we were on our way to Esta’s. During the previous year, little Arlene, who understood English well, had turned down several earnest invitations from other missionaries and branch leaders to be baptized, giving her fear of the water as the reason. She was a very spiritual girl, and her attendance record at Church was impeccable.
Since we were Esta and Arlene’s home teachers, I suggested to Nick that he ask Arlene when she’d like to be baptized. Nick’s dark eyes shone with excitement as he turned around to face our backseat passengers. The conversation went back to Navajo.
In the rearview mirror I saw Arlene shyly and politely decline, but Nick persisted. He assured her that he would be holding onto her the whole time and that she could hold her nose to keep out the water. A few moments later he turned to me beaming and translated, “Arlene wants me to baptize her next Sunday.” We had come barely ten miles from Nick’s home. And he wanted me to teach him about missionary work!
Yet this was only the beginning of Nick’s first day as a missionary. Almost all of the families we were assigned to home teach in the Monument Valley vicinity were inactive. After dropping off Esta and Arlene, our next stop was at the home of some of Nick’s relatives who had rejected all previously attempted visits. Nick simply knocked on the door and we entered their mud hogan—a first for stake missionaries with this family.
For the next twenty minutes Nick talked to them about the gospel in their own tongue. They explained that they had attended Church regularly until they discovered that coyotes would prey upon their sheep while they were away. They had decided that the Church was somehow responsible. Even so, they invited us to return as often as we wanted in order to teach them the gospel.
Next, we tried to find the home of the inactive young widow of a former counselor in the branch presidency. As we approached her hogan, she and her brother were just leaving in his pickup. They pulled over to let us pass and I told them we were their home teachers. Bessie, the widow, held a seriously ill baby strapped to a cradleboard in her lap. They were taking the infant to Monument Valley Clinic.
A thought struck me. “I’ve got Nick Mose with me,” I said. “Would you like him to give the child a blessing?” After some discussion between Bessie and her brother, they consented. “Nick,” I said, “You’ve got to give this little baby a blessing.”
“Right here? In the middle of the desert?”
He got out of the car and said that he had no consecrated oil. “Neither do I,” I responded. “But go ahead and bless her.”
So there in the heart of Monument Valley, we placed our hands on the child’s head. While the mother steadied the cradleboard, Nick administered a blessing. I felt power in his words, even though I didn’t understand them. Then they were on their way, and Nick and I got back in the car.
“You know,” he began, “that baby was so full of pain. Her eyes hurt, she was frothing at the mouth, and her limbs ached so that she couldn’t even move. But while I was giving her that blessing, I envisioned a hand piercing the veil and resting upon that baby’s head along with our hands.” It was a beautiful, sobering moment for us both.
When we visited Bessie’s home a week later, the infant seemed to recognize Nick, smiling, kicking, and waving her arms. Nick wasn’t surprised to find she was totally healed.
As we began our trek back to Mexican Hat, we decided to contact a Navajo family we both knew. We found their home and, although the husband was not there, the wife and children greeted us cordially. After a brief visit they invited us back, adding, “You’ll have to teach us how to be Mormons.” Our spirits were soaring.
Nearer to Mexican Hat we made a home teaching visit to a totally inactive family. The man had been a high school sidekick of Nick’s. Both he and his wife were very friendly and invited us to teach them more about the Church. As we left their home, they assured us that their door would always be open to Church members.
Our final stop was at a home of a traditional Navajo woman who spoke no English. We visited this widow for almost an hour. She explained to Nick that although she was not gaamalii (Mormon), she still sent her children to Primary and Sunday School and that two of her girls wanted to go on the Church Indian Placement Program. She used to attend Sunday School and sacrament meeting every week herself, but as three of her children died one after the other, she quit going to Church.
However, in her smiling way, she invited us back and told us we could teach her and the remaining members of her family the gospel. As we left her, Nick explained the whole conversation in English.
“This is why the Lord has called me to be a stake missionary,” he said, his black eyes shining. “For years the adversary has preyed upon these people. They blame it on the Lord and his Church when their sheep fall victim to predators or when their children pass away. I can explain to them that when they experience hardships, Satan tries to deceive them into thinking it is the Church’s fault. I can teach them the truth about the Lord and his love for the Lamanite people. I live with them as a neighbor and friend and they will understand me. I am so happy to serve my people as a missionary.”
In the weeks that followed Nick’s first Sunday as a stake missionary, our efforts intensified and our teaching opportunities multiplied. Nick and I were able to get into a lot of homes that had been closed to me and my previous companion. Within six months, nine people had been baptized. When Nick spoke of the gospel with his people, they listened and understood and their hearts were touched. They sensed and responded to his Christlike love and acceptance.
Not long after we began working together, Nick found a beautiful, secluded spot in the sandstone canyons near his home. In a box canyon virtually untouched by human influence, we knelt in supplication each Sunday as we began our missionary efforts. Here we expressed our gratitude for the opportunity to work among the Navajo people in the Mexican Hat-Monument Valley area. We implored the Lord’s aid that our meager, though determined, efforts would make a difference for the better.
There have been times Nick has wept for the plight of his people. Once as he was relating to me some of the problems and temptations necessary for the Lamanites to overcome, he cut his comment short, looked at me, and said, “You should be an Indian.”
I felt I could have received no finer compliment or expression of confidence. Or so I thought until the following week when Nick, speaking in Sunday School, said, “I love and appreciate my companion. I feel that he is truly my brother—a blood brother.”
Can there be a greater work on the face of the earth, when souls engaged in the cause of building the Lord’s kingdom are so beautifully intertwined?