Where Could We Baptize?

While serving in the Bolivia Cochabamba Mission, my companion and I were assigned to labor in Villamontes (now part of the Bolivia Santa Cruz Mission). This remote village lies in the southeastern corner of Bolivia. The closest town is 90 kilometers (56 miles) away. Because Villamontes did not have a baptismal font, we performed baptisms in the nearby Pilcomayo River.

Our labors were meeting with some success, and we were having quite a few baptisms in the river. It seemed a good location until we began to hear rumors about piranhas. Standing waist-deep in water infested with carnivorous fish did not sound like something we wanted to do, but we didn’t have another place to perform these important ordinances. We ignored the rumors until a Church member actually caught one of the fish and showed it to us. The piranha’s sharp teeth alarmed us. Still, the Lord’s work must go forward, and we trusted in Him to protect us.

We needed His protection at our next baptism because seasonal rains had caused the river to rise to treacherous levels, clogging it with logs, sticks, and other debris. We were convinced we had to find another place to baptize.

After days of looking, we finally decided to perform a baptism in a member’s cistern—a small water tank. The cistern was so small we wondered if two people would fit into it. But both the convert and the priesthood holder climbed in, and the convert was baptized by immersion.

We had another baptism the following week, and the cistern was no longer available. So we performed the baptism in a small concrete tub. Again both the convert and the priesthood holder stepped into the tiny makeshift font. The boy being baptized had to kneel down to be immersed.

After the baptism, we started thinking about where we could have future baptisms. The problem was urgent because three more people were scheduled for baptism the following Sunday. Fortunately, a district conference was going to be held in Yacuiba, and the meetinghouse there had a baptismal font. We traveled there for the baptismal service.

At the service, our mission president told us that because of the growth of the Church in Villamontes, that small village would receive a baptismal font. We were overjoyed.

Our experiences in Villamontes taught us that when we work hard, the Lord always provides a way for us to accomplish what He has asked. The Lord’s work will always move forward—with or without piranhas.

Ramiro Ruiz Ceja is a member of the BYU–Idaho 44th Ward, BYU–Idaho Third Stake.

Cookies for Buddy

Whenever I think of service, I remember the rewarding experience I had as a Laurel adviser in Arlington, Virginia.

Buddy was a kind elderly man who lived in a tiny apartment in the basement of our Arlington duplex. Actually his name was Howard Rose, but he insisted that we call him Buddy. I knew that Buddy’s vision was severely impaired, so before I went to the store or post office I would ask him if he needed anything. Still, most of the time he walked to the market himself to buy what he needed.

At this time, my husband was attending medical school, and during his third and fourth years he was on call or studying late many nights. If my husband was on call at the hospital on trash day, Buddy saw to it that our trash was taken out. I taught school during the day, and each afternoon when I came home I would find our mail neatly stacked in front of our door. I never felt frightened on those nights when my husband was at the hospital, because I figured I could just shout for Buddy.

In the spring Buddy would plant a glorious flower garden outside our duplex. He was quick to give compliments, and I never saw him unhappy.

I mentioned Buddy often in the lessons I gave to my Laurel class. He was someone I admired, someone I considered to be a good Samaritan.

One Friday night I attended a party the girls had planned. As part of the evening’s activities, they wanted to make cookies to take to a couple of Laurels who had become less active.

As the 14 Laurels and I cut and baked cookies, it became readily apparent that we would have an abundance left over. Then I heard the words, “Hey, let’s take some cookies to Buddy!” Who had said it? Ann? Heather? It didn’t matter, because all the girls gave instant approval to the idea. I was startled and pleased by their spontaneous decision.

As we traveled in our cars to make the deliveries, I wondered if the rain that was now pouring outside might deter the girls, but it did not. After visiting the two less-active girls, we headed for Buddy’s apartment. As we approached the door, someone said that we ought to sing something, and another suggested the song “I Am a Child of God.” We squeezed onto the stairs outside Buddy’s little apartment, and Cori, the class president, knocked on the door.

Buddy was more than a little surprised when he opened the door. The girls started singing, “I am a child of God, and he has sent me here …” When they were finished I could see tears in Buddy’s eyes.

Having spotted me as he peered at the group through thick glasses, he asked, “Who are all these pretty girls?”

I explained that these were some young women from our church.

Cori handed him a plate of cookies, and Buddy just beamed. Several days later he told me they were the best cookies he had ever eaten.

Some time after this, my husband and I moved away from Arlington. Later, a Christmas card I sent to Buddy came back to me with the word deceased stamped in big black letters across the front. My heart skipped a beat. It was hard to think of Buddy being gone. Yet to this day I remember the warm feeling we shared as a Laurel class when, through a small act of service, we thanked a noble man for his example of kindness and charity.

Tracine Hales Parkinson is a member of the Guantánamo Bay Branch, Jamaica Kingston Mission.

Why Was My Life Preserved?

As I looked back on my earliest experiences growing up in Cuba, one memory always stood out. I could vividly picture my beloved little brother Raúl being sick. I could see my mother caring for him, periodically crying desperately, and my grandmother frantically seeking help. I could see the whole family bending over his bed, weeping. I always seemed to witness my brother’s pain and my family’s tears from some high perch. For some reason, that scene remained in my memory, but I never talked about it.

When I was 10 years old, my mother died, leaving five children. I grieved over her death, but it was even more painful to watch as my brothers and sisters and I were split up. No one wanted to take all five of us, so each set of grandparents took two children, and my father’s sister took my youngest brother, Orlando. Because of my rebelliousness, I was eventually sent to a school for orphans, where I grew up sad, alone, and bitter.

When I turned 16 I began looking for my brothers and sisters. I found only three of them because Orlando had moved with my aunt to the United States. Then, not long after I had located Raúl, he was electrocuted while learning to work as an electrician.

Shaken by the loss, I confided to my grandmother my memory of Raúl’s sickness. My grandmother asked, “What are you talking about? Raúl was not ill. That was you. One night you became so sick the doctor gave you up for dead. We were in despair and wept over your bed. We have never known why your heart started beating again.”

I was so shocked I didn’t ask my grandmother for more information, but questions about the meaning of life began to torment me: Why had my life been preserved? What was I to do? What did it all mean?

Ten years later, I moved to the United States. There I found Orlando. But I had yet to find the answers to my questions. I began seeking answers in various churches. Though each contributed bits and pieces, none of them had all the answers I needed. I prayed that God would help me come to know the truth.

Then one day in the spring of 1986, Latter-day Saint missionaries came to my house. They answered every question I had. And when I studied the Book of Mormon, I was moved to tears by the testimony I gained of its truthfulness. I was baptized in July. A little more than a year later, I arranged for Raúl’s vicarious baptism in the temple. Then he and I were sealed to our parents forever.

Finding the gospel has changed my life. Surrounded by my brothers and sisters in the gospel, I have never felt lonely since. I understand that my life has a purpose and that, as long as we rely on the Lord, pain can teach and strengthen us.

I find joy in the expectation that members of my family are waiting for me beyond the veil of mortality. I know that someday my spirit will leave my body again. But I know that because of Jesus Christ my spirit and my body will one day be forever reunited, and I can live with Him and with my family eternally.

María MacPherson is a member of the Elkhorn Ward, Milwaukee Wisconsin Stake.

Prepared by Our Bus Friends

I was glad to be offered a job as a bus driver during my final quarter at the university I was attending before moving on to graduate school. My enthusiasm diminished, however, when I was told that the passengers with whom I would be spending three hours a day were mentally disabled. I had never spent much time with mentally disabled people, so even though I accepted the job, I felt anxious.

As it turned out, the job was truly delightful. My wife often rode with me, and we fell in love with our new bus friends. We gained a whole new appreciation for the mentally disabled. They were courteous, punctual, and responsible. Their days were filled with smiles, hugs, and pride for the work they were doing.

We also sensed a deep spiritual quality in their lives. It was easy to feel Christlike love among these people. Even when we did not feel good about ourselves, they accepted us in such a way that it lifted our spirits. They were very attuned to the needs and feelings of each other and of all those around them.

I recall the day when one of the passengers, Ranae, was particularly sad because of some events that had occurred at her school and work. She was the first to board the bus and, in a silent and somewhat disheartened mood, took her place near the rear. As each person got on the bus, they showed to Ranae their love and concern. By the time the bus was loaded, everyone had gathered around Ranae, and within minutes there was nothing but laughter, including from Ranae.

The night before my last day driving the bus, my wife and I had dinner with our close friends Steve and Myrna. Steve had driven the bus for me on occasion and was to take my place. Much of our dinner discussion centered on the people who rode the bus. We talked of their goodness and Christlike characteristics. We concluded that parents of the mentally disabled, though faced with many challenges, must often feel grateful for the unexpected blessings their children can bring to their lives.

The next morning I made my early-morning run on the bus and then returned home. As I entered our apartment my wife told me that it was time to go to the hospital for the birth of our second child. I was surprised because the baby wasn’t due for another month.

All went well with the delivery, but it soon became apparent that our doctor was concerned. Shortly thereafter we were told that our newborn son had Down syndrome. Rather than despair or grieve, we thought of our conversation the night before and took comfort in our own words.

Later our doctor told us that he felt we had not dealt with our son’s disability and were denying the problem. He told his staff that he expected us to be utterly overwhelmed at some point. He did not realize, until later, the preparation we had received through my bus-driving job. Eventually he had us visit parents of children with Down syndrome.

Some might call it chance that I spent the summer with a group of mentally disabled people who became my friends. My wife and I feel, however, that through this episode the Lord prepared our hearts so that we did not experience fear or sorrow when we had a special child of our own. We have maintained our relationship with these bus friends for more than 20 years through Special Olympics and other events. My wife and I are grateful for the preparation we were given to have this son. Ours has been a journey of appreciation and joy.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Brian Call

Dallin J. Phillips is a member of the North Logan Second Ward, North Logan Utah Green Canyon Stake.