My Child Is Drowning!
Our Sunday School teacher once asked if any of the returned missionaries in the class would like to share a story about hardships we experienced on our missions. I had not experienced any particular hardships on my mission, but I decided to share the following story about one of my senior companions, a hard-working zone leader.
My companion’s shoes had worn out, and as a result of our street contacting, his foot had developed many blisters. One day we had to return to the house early for lunch to change his shoes. When we left our house after lunch that day, I expected that we would walk to an area nearby because of his blistered foot. But instead my companion felt impressed to tract in a distant area.
As we were walking along a riverbank, a woman and several children ran toward us. The woman screamed, “Please help! My child is drowning!” He had fallen into the river, and they were not able to find him because the water was so muddy. We watched the river for a few minutes and finally saw something floating on the water. My companion dived into the dirty water and was able to catch the child and pull him out. The child’s lips had lost their color, he wasn’t breathing, and he appeared dead.
Our attempts to revive him had no effect. When at last the paramedics arrived and tried resuscitating him, the child finally threw up some water and started breathing again. By then many people surrounded us, and when they saw him breathing, they were moved to tears.
This experience was a great lesson for me. The Lord taught me that missionaries do for people’s spirits the same thing my companion had done for this boy physically. It was our calling to save people spiritually.
When I finished telling this story in the Sunday School class, a member who had recently returned from his mission asked me where I had served.
“In the Japan Sapporo Mission,” I answered.
“Was it in Asahikawa that you helped this child?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
Then he said, “The child in your story was baptized by my companion. One week after the baptism, I was transferred to Asahikawa and I met him. He mentioned that a missionary had saved him from drowning in a river.”
The Lord guides us in miraculous ways. It was not mere chance that my companion felt inspired to work in a distant area that afternoon despite his difficulty with walking or that we walked along the river at just the right moment.
Now the young man who was saved wants to be a missionary, just like the one who saved him. I thought I had completed my mission 14 years ago, but when this young man goes on a mission, in a sense my mission will continue.
Having fled Vietnam just three days before the takeover of Saigon in 1975, five members of my large family and I found ourselves living in a small trailer home in Provo, Utah. We had been allowed to bring only a small bag in our flight, and as refugees we were just learning English. Some of my sisters had joined the Church in Vietnam, and I was a recent convert. Now ward members saw to many of our needs, and a close-knit community pooled its resources to make life comfortable for us newcomers.
As a member of the priests quorum, I was assigned to home teach with Brother Johnson, who lived nearby with his large family. One day Brother Johnson noticed that our family had no kitchen table. He appeared the next day with an odd-looking but very functional table that fit nicely against the trailer wall across from the kitchen sink and counters. I say odd-looking because two of the table legs matched the tabletop and two did not. Also, several small wooden pegs stuck out along one edge of the worn surface.
Soon we used this unique table daily for food preparation and for eating some quick meals. We still ate our family meals while we sat on the floor—with food, bowls, and chopsticks spread on a cloth in true Vietnamese fashion.
One evening I stood inside Brother Johnson’s front door as I waited for him before a home teaching appointment. There in the nearby kitchen—I was surprised to see it—was a table practically identical to the one they had given to my family. The only difference was that where our table had pegs, the Johnsons’ table had holes! I then realized that, seeing our need, this charitable man had cut his kitchen table in half and had built two new legs for each half.
It was obvious that the Johnson family could not fit around this small piece of furniture—they probably didn’t fit comfortably around it when it was whole. I like to imagine that the Johnsons learned to eat their family meals on the floor, just as we did, in true Vietnamese fashion.
Throughout my life this kind act has been a powerful reminder of true giving.
She Was My Answer
It was on an overcast day years ago that my friend called and asked me to attend the Jordan River Utah Temple with her. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go out, as that day the things of the world were weighing heavily upon my soul. I felt I had little self-worth, and among other things, I didn’t feel needed in my ward.
But after some hesitation, I accepted my friend’s invitation with a prayer in my heart that if I would go and do the Lord’s work, He would help me find peace of mind and an answer to my prayers.
At the temple I enjoyed the session but felt no particular answer to my plea for help. After I had prepared to leave and was waiting for my friend, a woman in a wheelchair bumped into me. As I bent down to rub the pain in my leg, I heard her say in a sweet voice, “Oh, I am so sorry. Please forgive me.” She gently touched my head. “Are you OK, dear sister?”
I looked up into an angelic face of pure love. She then looked me in the eye and, with a squeeze of the hand, said, “This Church needs you, and there are so many that need your love. Reach out to others, and they will reach out to you. You are needed, wanted, and loved in the Lord’s kingdom.”
Tears filled my eyes, and I cried for a few minutes as she held my head against her. When I regained control, I wiped away tears of joy and replied, “You have answered my prayer.”
I realized I was speaking to Camilla Eyring Kimball, whose husband, President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985), had said: “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs” (“The Abundant Life,” Tambuli, June 1979, 3; Ensign, July 1978, 4).
I then found the strength to go home with joy and to give love from that day forward. I shall never forget how I was given peace and an answer to my prayer in an unexpected way on that glorious day in the house of the Lord.
As the prelude music began, I silently offered a prayer: “Heavenly Father, help me reach Spencer today. Help me be able to sign, and help him to understand.”
I had been called to sign in Primary for eight-year-old Spencer. He was deaf and confined to a wheelchair. A stomach tube provided all nourishment for his 35-pound body. A trachea tube pumped oxygen into his lungs.
Spencer was learning to sign, and it had been years since I’d taken sign language classes. For the last few months I had struggled as I tried to communicate with him. When he did understand, his face lit up in delight. Other times he clapped his hands in frustration as if to say, “What are you saying? Help me understand.”
The last few weeks had been especially frustrating. His bright, intelligent eyes had seemed to say, “Can’t you do better than this?” In turn I had studied harder, but the signs I tried to communicate with were signs he didn’t comprehend.
Today I hoped things would be better. As singing time began, the chorister told a story of a little boy who, lost for days in a cave, had sung the song we were about to sing and was comforted by it.
The room was quiet as she repeated the words of the Primary song. They had such a powerful message I caught my breath as I silently prayed for guidance to know how to convey that message to Spencer. Then I began to sign:
(“A Child’s Prayer,” Children’s Songbook, 12)
As we sang the first line, I held up a picture of the First Vision. Pointing to Heavenly Father I signed Heavenly Father. Suddenly Spencer’s eyes seemed to come alive. Understanding seemed to light his face.
Breathlessly we sang on. Spencer watched my every move. As we sang “Something that Jesus told disciples long ago: ‘Suffer the children to come to me,’” I held up a picture of Jesus blessing little children.
As we began to sing the first verse again, Spencer signed with me. Over and over again we sang. Joy shone from his eyes as his tiny hands signed in unison with mine. Tears filled my eyes as we started the second verse:
As we sang the last few words, we were no longer communicating by our hands through sign but by our spirits through the Holy Spirit.
As the last lilting notes of the piano faded, I glanced across the room. As evidenced by the tears coursing down her face, Spencer’s mother, a Primary teacher, had witnessed the answer to prayer. Spencer’s Heavenly Father loved him, and now Spencer knew.