Without Saying Good-bye

By Michael S. Nielsen

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    After the two lady missionaries died, many asked, “Why them?” “Why now?”

    The lifeless bodies of two sister missionaries from the Argentina Bahia Blanca Mission were found in their Comodoro Rivadavia apartment on 28 May 1989. Apparently, they had arrived home the night before after walking many hours through the winter winds of Comodoro. They had taught twenty families that week, and when they finally arrived at their apartment, they were cold and tired. They had apparently shut their bedroom door before going to sleep, hoping to contain the warmth from their natural gas heater. With the door closed, the circulation of fresh air had been shut off. Within a few hours, the gas heater had used up all of the oxygen inside their bedroom, leaving the two lady missionaries in a deathly sleep.

    On the day of the accident, I was in Trelew, a city about 250 miles from Comodoro. The mission president called me that night to tell me the shocking news. A numb, cold feeling passed through me. Only one month earlier, two missionaries had been killed in Bolivia. Words of disbelief left my lips: “It can’t be,” I said. “Why them? Why now?” Little did I know that I would spend the next month and a half answering these same questions for hundreds of others who loved these dear sisters.

    During the night, I felt an enormous weight on my shoulders. I felt something telling me that my companion and I would be returning to Comodoro. The next morning I decided to call the mission president, but before I could call, the phone rang. Sure enough, it was him telling us to pack our bags and go to Comodoro.

    Upon our arrival in the area, we were surprised as people stared at us from their windows and others stopped walking to look at us as we walked by. Even the little children stopped playing their games as we passed. In my twenty-two months as a missionary, I had never had an experience like this. Finally, we approached a group of little children who had stopped playing jump-rope as we neared them.

    “Hola,” I said with a friendly smile.

    “Hola,” they responded. “Are you friends of Sister Harris and Sister Nievas?” one of them asked.

    “Yes,” I said, “I knew them very well.”

    As we started talking, children from every possible house and apartment came and formed a huge circle around us. They asked us if we would sing them songs and teach them games as the sisters had always done. We could see the parents watching us from the windows with curiosity. We found that hundreds of people had known these two sisters by their smiling faces and the way they greeted every stranger and child. And yet few had understood the importance of their message.

    Now the questions about life and death started coming. People asked what the sisters had been teaching. Thankfully, the two sisters had been very efficient in their record-keeping, so we were able to get the names and addresses of the families they had been visiting. We went to work right away planning a meeting in memory of the lady missionaries. The meeting was held in a school in the area where the two sisters had once worked. One of the members of the Church explained the plan of salvation, and then everyone watched the video Our Heavenly Father’s Plan.

    All present were deeply touched. Many wounded hearts and bad feelings were healed, and a number of nonmembers were exposed to the gospel for the first time. The attendance in that little branch almost doubled that week, and the growth has continued ever since. At least three less-active families have returned to church.

    In the neighborhood, doors that had previously been closed opened to us. Little children followed us wherever we went. The baptisms in the area have tripled as people receive answers to their questions and gain an understanding of life through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Even in death, Sister Harris and Sister Nievas continue to bless the lives of the people in Comodoro.

    Illustrated by Larry Winborg

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    • Michael S. Nielsen serves as priests quorum adviser in the Ogden Sixtieth Ward, Ogden Utah Burch Creek Stake. As an assistant to mission president Agricol Lozano, he knew Sister Harris and Sister Nievas well.