I Spoke Out for Faith
At one time, I planned to attend an international conference of English teachers in Zvenigorod, near Moscow, Russia. I felt apprehensive about conversing in English with native-speaking professors. Although I had been an English teacher for years, this was my first international conference, and I feared that my English-speaking skills would not be adequate.
Toward the end of the conference, I attended a roundtable about Russian current events. Having thus far avoided speaking much English, I sat discreetly in a corner of the crowded room and listened to the discussion.
At one point, a gray-haired American professor stood up and asked, “What religious changes have occurred in Russia?”
Silence followed. Nobody wanted to answer because the sharing of religious feelings was still an unusual thing in our country. For me, however, the silence was difficult to bear because I had a response. I was feeling a prompting to speak out.
Despite my fears, I stood up and told the group in English that I had come from a religious family. Several of my father’s ancestors had been priests, and some of them had perished in Stalin’s camps.
Nevertheless, God and prayer had been part of my life for as long as I could remember, though I didn’t attend church except while on business trips to Moscow, where no one would recognize me. Starting in 1991, however, I no longer had to hide my Christian beliefs. Although I never forgot that my forefathers had lost their lives for believing in God, I felt that Russia’s new religious freedom was wonderful.
After I spoke, teachers from many different countries shared positive feelings with me about my response. The professor who had asked the question was from Brigham Young University, and we began a warm friendship. He taught me about the Latter-day Saints, the Book of Mormon, and the restored gospel.
Later, students from BYU came to my hometown of Voronezh to teach English. I invited them to my home for Russian cooking classes, and they invited me to their Sunday gathering. The meeting deeply impressed me with its simplicity, light, and spirit of mutual love, and I became a regular attender.
As I prayed and read the scriptures, I learned about repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was baptized in Moscow by a BYU student on 15 December 1992, and in January 1993 the missionaries opened up Voronezh to missionary work. In February my son was baptized in a local sauna room, and a year later my son baptized my husband. Because a gray-haired professor planted seeds of testimony, my family’s life is now full of purpose, joy, and the spreading of the gospel in Russia.
Why Did I Wait?
Kneeling by my bed one morning, I asked Heavenly Father to bless my little family. At seven months pregnant, I also asked that my actions during the day would bring no harm to me or my unborn child.
Later, driving to the store, I approached an intersection just as the light turned red. I pulled into the left-turn lane and waited with growing impatience for the light to change. Drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, I shifted my eyes momentarily to my expanding stomach. The baby was very active.
The light turned green. Normally I’m the first driver to pull into the intersection when a light changes, but this time I waited, even though traffic was heavy and I was impatient to go. Something was holding me back. None of the other cars moved either, which struck me as unusual. The moment stretched out. Time seemed to move in slow motion, but in reality only a few seconds had passed when finally a van in the far right lane moved forward. Just then, running a red light, a pickup truck sped across the intersection in front of me and collided with the van. The impact spun the van around and shattered windshields in both vehicles.
I sucked in my breath and dropped my hands onto my stomach in maternal reflex. At first none of the other drivers around me stirred; then cars slowly moved out of the way. I turned the corner and pulled into a parking lot, shaking. That could have been me!
Dazed, I realized that if I had pulled into the intersection, the pickup truck would have hit my small car on the driver’s side, seriously injuring or killing the baby and me and certainly demolishing the car. I could not stop trembling. My thoughts raced repeatedly over the accident, and I heard myself asking, Why didn’t I move?
The answer came silently but was unmistakably clear as I mumbled a prayer of thanks: You asked for protection this morning—that no harm come to you or your unborn child.
It was simple but profound. My morning prayer had been answered through a silent warning that kept me from entering into that intersection and into certain death. Now I use more care when I pray, because I know that our Heavenly Father really does listen.
Forty-four Friends in the Temple
When my friend Patricio Ávila went to the Santiago Chile Temple for the first time, he had an experience that changed his life and eventually blessed the lives of many members of the former Obrador Branch, Mendoza Argentina Stake. While sitting in the temple, he very distinctly visualized brothers and sisters from his branch sitting together in the Santiago temple, the closest temple to our stake.
When he returned to Mendoza, the picture of everyone together in the temple stayed with him. Exercising faith, he shared his dream with fellow branch members. Some of the members smiled indulgently or made indifferent comments. But some of us became serious about preparing to go to the temple.
Under the direction of our branch president, Brother Ávila went to work right away to help us. First he discussed with us our temple goals, and he started a fund to help members with travel costs. Then he arranged for temple preparation classes so that everyone would be spiritually prepared. Thanks to his attention and drive, our enthusiasm grew.
Several months passed, and Brother Ávila kept us going. At last the temple preparation classes entered their final phase, and those of us who were ready had temple recommend interviews. We organized a three-day trip and set a departure date.
We had one last obstacle: the cost of chartering a bus. To meet it, we needed to sell fifty-eight fares—and with only three weeks to go, we had sold only forty-four fares. Unless we sold the remaining fares, the individual cost of each ticket would increase, and some people wouldn’t be able to go.
But Brother Ávila’s faith didn’t waver. If he couldn’t fill the bus with branch members, he would invite Church members from other wards of the Mendoza stake to join us. Interested people quickly came forward, and the unsold seats were soon gone.
At the last minute we realized that three families had prepared for the trip but could not pay the full cost. Thankfully, the money we had donated at our early meetings settled the balance. All those prepared were finally able to go to the temple.
On the eve of our journey, the whole group met for a special family home evening at the meetinghouse. The next morning we left early. As we traveled, everyone was filled with the spirit of love and unity.
How our hearts leaped with joy when we saw the statue of the angel Moroni on the temple’s spire! Next came the sublime moment when we actually entered the house of the Lord. We had never experienced anything so deeply sacred. We made ready for the special temple session that had been prepared.
As we proceeded through the various ordinances, we finally understood what other endowed Church members at home had been telling us. And they were right when they said that once we were inside the temple, we would never want to leave.
The sessions were indeed occasions of great rejoicing and spirituality as our whole group met in the house of the Lord. We felt that Father in Heaven was pleased with our service as we performed the sacred ordinances first for ourselves, then for the dead.
On the way home, our bus reverberated with the hymns of Zion.
Would I Have the Faith to Sustain This Man?
We had saved enough money to sustain our family while my husband’s new construction contracting business was developing and growing. Those two years, however, were not as financially rewarding as we had hoped. The demand for new home construction in our area experienced a slump.
With four children, a home, and a new business, the bills were piling up. Our financial worries increased and took their toll on my health. I had trouble sleeping at night because of severe stomach pain. The doctor discovered that I had ulcers. I was released from my church callings and was told to avoid pressures of any kind. That time in my life was very frustrating. Even normal daily tasks became extreme challenges for me. I felt worthless and wondered if I would ever be able to deal with anything important again.
To make matters worse, one day when I was extremely stressed, a sister in the ward asked me to do a time-consuming and demanding task for her. I felt guilty telling her no, because I had always tried to be helpful in the past. I attempted to explain my reasons to her, but it was apparent that she was offended and did not understand. Then, a few days later in sacrament meeting, my feelings were hurt when I overheard her husband talking sarcastically about my refusal of his wife’s request.
Several months later, our bishopric was to be reorganized. Suspense filled the air. As I heard the name of the first counselor, I felt sick. The man who had hurt my feelings was to be a counselor in the bishopric. I swallowed hard and raised my hand to sustain him.
Not long after, that brother extended a calling to me. I accepted the call but wondered if I would be able to do what was required. When the time came for me to be set apart, I was stunned when I heard the bishop ask his first counselor to perform the ordinance. How can I accept this man who had hurt my feelings? I thought. How can I accept this calling? I began to shake with emotion.
He placed his hands on my head, and an immediate calm went through my body. I then received a blessing that changed the course of my life. He addressed my deepest concerns and told me that Heavenly Father was very mindful of me at that time. He blessed my family, and he blessed me with health to serve in the calling. Then he told me to have faith because all things are possible to those who believe and that the Lord would change things for me if I just had the faith. He also blessed me that my weaknesses would become strengths.
Tears rolled down my cheeks. The Spirit testified to me that what was being said was true and that if I had faith I could do whatever Heavenly Father wanted me to.
That brother has since moved away, but I still reflect on the lessons I learned about faith and how the Lord gives his servants the authority to speak for him, by virtue of their callings (see D&C 1:38), notwithstanding that they are mortal and may make mistakes as the rest of us do.
The Little Gray Envelope
My husband, Steve, and I were attending Brigham Young University. We each worked two or three jobs and applied for scholarships, grants, and loans to make ends meet. It was hard work, and after two years we decided to take a temporary job in Cincinnati, Ohio.
At the end of six months, Steve was offered a permanent job with the company at a different plant. We accepted the offer and made plans to finish our degrees through BYU’s Independent Study program.
Our new job came with a larger paycheck, which made us feel rich. We overextended ourselves very quickly buying furnishings for our new apartment. When payday came, we were unpleasantly surprised.
Steve and I sat down with our checkbook. We paid our tithing first and then paid the bills. When we finished, the bottom line was zero. There was no money left, not even for groceries. I couldn’t believe it.
Suddenly the thought of the little gray tithing envelope came to mind. “Shall we postpone paying our tithing until next month?” I asked.
“No,” Steve answered. “We’ll just pay it and do our best.”
At first I couldn’t believe that Steve would allow us to suffer when all he had to do was wait an extra month to pay tithing. Instead of arguing, I went to the bedroom and prayed. I didn’t receive any comfort, and all week I was upset and filled with anxiety. During the week I found myself glancing often at the little gray envelope.
On Sunday we turned in our tithing. With the temptation removed, I felt better and admitted to myself that we had done the right thing. I had been taught all my life to pay tithing and had never questioned the commandment. Until now.
Steve and I wondered why we struggled to pay tithing now that our income was higher than when we’d been students. What had happened to us?
After much thought and prayer, we realized that we needed to put our priorities in order. Our needs—food, shelter, clothing—had to come first. Like children in a candy store, we had reached out for things we wanted before taking care of necessities. The Lord had blessed us with the means, but we had to acquire our own wisdom. Tithing, we decided, would always be our first priority.
That night, for the first time since payday, I felt the warm, loving influence of the Spirit.
A week and a half after we paid our tithing, Steve’s secretary from his old job called. She had been cleaning out her desk and had found a check for him dated three months earlier. Would he like to come and get it?
That night we rejoiced. We thanked our Father in Heaven, grateful that he had provided for our temporal needs. As we headed for the grocery store with our new funds, I stopped suddenly and went back inside. I had to write out a check for our tithing. First.
One cold morning during a February snowstorm, I arose at 4:00 A.M. to tend to the stock before going to work. My father had recently passed away, and overnight the responsibility for the small farm fell to me. I was also completing my own education, serving in a bishopric, and commuting more than 120 miles a day to work. My days dragged on in a seemingly never-ending cycle of heavy responsibilities to be shouldered in the cold and wet weather.
The cattle to be fed were some distance from our home, but because of the excessive snowfall and poor visibility, I trudged through the snow in a drain ditch to avoid cars on the road. Sloshing through mud and broken ice, I stumbled several times, so that by the time I arrived at the feedlot I was soaked from head to toe, splattered with mud, my clothes frozen stiff. I was already late because of the walk, so I had to hurry or miss my ride to work.
I tugged on the gate of the feedlot, but it was frozen solid. I struggled for several minutes to free it. After beating, prying, pushing, and pulling at it, I knew I was defeated. I didn’t have time to walk back to the house, yet the cattle had to be fed. I can’t go on, I thought. I just can’t do it all any longer.
As I stood there looking at the cold, hungry animals, I thought of my father, who had struggled with these same problems for years without complaint. I felt inferior to him and wondered if he was disappointed in me. Other pioneer ancestors came to mind, with all the burdens they must have faced, and I wondered if I could ever be equal to my heritage. I fell to my knees, and there in the slush I tearfully asked to be forgiven for my weakness and pleaded for help from my Father in Heaven to continue doing what was necessary for my family.
As I prayed, a sweet, calming peace entered me. I knew I was loved and appreciated and that all I had to do was to endure.
I stood up quietly and walked to the frozen gate. With one small tug, it swung open. My prayer had been heard. I knew then that Father in Heaven loved me and that a way would be provided for me to carry on with all my responsibilities.
Years later I still reflect on those few moments at the old feedlot gate. It belongs to someone else now, but its lessons still endure.