I had just started a new job and was trying to save money to serve a mission. As time went on, new employees were hired, and I was assigned to train a young woman about my age.
Maria (name has been changed), my new co-worker, was obviously concerned with her appearance. She conformed to the popular trend of wearing short skirts, dark makeup, and bold hairstyles, and she also had developed some bad habits, such as smoking. Despite our differences, Maria and I worked well together. She was pleasant to talk with, and time passed quickly when we were together.
One day at work she asked, “Raquel, do you ever go dancing?” I told her I attended dances at my church. She asked which church it was, and I explained that it is called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that its members are often called Mormons. Maria told me she had heard of the Mormons, but she didn’t know any of our beliefs. I was excited to share more about the Church with her, and I offered her a copy of the Book of Mormon, which she was happy to accept.
In time I invited her to attend the branch closest to her home. I was quite surprised when she accepted my invitation. We decided to meet at the train station the following Sunday so we could go to the meetings together.
Sunday arrived, and as my train approached the station where we were to meet, I peered out the window, looking for the Maria I knew from work. To my surprise, I saw instead a young lady whose skirt was modest and whose hair and makeup were all that could be asked of a Latter-day Saint young woman. But it was Maria!
I confess that I had doubted she would be there waiting for me, and I also doubted that the gospel would produce any changes in her life—inside or out.
We greeted each other and walked the 15 minutes to church. We went to Relief Society first, where Maria wanted to answer the questions and participate in everything the teacher asked us to do. She also enjoyed Sunday School and sacrament meeting. I introduced her to the sister missionaries, who invited her to hear the lessons, and Maria readily agreed.
A short time later we lost contact because she didn’t continue with her job. But it wasn’t long before I received an invitation to her baptism. I was disappointed I couldn’t attend, and again we lost contact.
After serving for nine months in the Argentina Mendoza Mission, I read in the local pages of the Liahona that Maria was serving in the Argentina Resistencia Mission. I started jumping for joy and immediately wrote to her.
In her reply she told me about her mission preparation. Her parents had not supported her desire to join the Church. Yet she had attended church and institute classes and had sacrificed much in order to serve a mission.
Many years have now passed, and Maria and I have seen each other again. She is a temple worker in the Buenos Aires Argentina Temple and is enjoying the love of her husband and children. She lives the gospel and radiates its light. Today her appearance reflects all that is in her heart, and although she does not know it, she has not only given me a special memory but has taught me a great principle—the gospel is for everyone. As members of the Church, we should not refrain from sharing our testimonies just because, in our judgment, a person’s appearance indicates he or she might reject our message.
Now, whenever I think about Maria, 1 Samuel 16:7 comes to mind: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; … for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” Heavenly Father knows the hearts of His children, and to Him the heart is what matters.
I sat at my desk one Monday morning looking at all the e-mails that had piled up over the weekend. Always suspicious of a computer virus, I was almost ready to delete an e-mail and its attachment that were from an unknown sender. But as my finger paused on the mouse button, ready to click, the Spirit prompted me to open the message.
“Hello, Elder Rian Jones,” it began. “You are now around 50 years old, and I am 37. I have only a vague remembrance of your person, and I am not sure if the man I remember is the one I am writing to.” Actually, I was 45 years old, and who was this person who would address me as “Elder”? I hadn’t been called that since my mission. The writer then asked if I was still active in the Church and had kept the spirit of my mission. My curiosity was really piqued now.
“I was only 12 years old when you and your companion taught me the gospel in Taranto, Italy. The year was 1975.” My mind raced as I tried to recall the writer. “You are probably asking yourself if you baptized me. No, you didn’t, because my mother and father refused permission.” The writer went on to explain how painful and embarrassing it was for him and his brother to stop the missionaries on the steps of their apartment building as we were going to ask his parents for permission to baptize him. He recounted how he kept coming to church for a while but eventually stopped because he could not be baptized. “But I kept the teachings in my heart and never betrayed the principles I was taught,” he wrote.
I served in the Italy Rome Mission from 1975 to 1977, and Taranto was my first city. But I could not recall the story that was unfolding in this e-mail. The writer explained that when he was 22 years old he was called into compulsory military service in northern Italy. There he suffered a spiritual crisis that caused him to pray for the first time as an adult. He received an answer to his prayers, and because of this, he sought out the missionaries in that area. He found them at a fast-food restaurant and told them he wanted to be baptized. “Nothing like that ever happened to me on my mission,” I thought. Those elders must have been shocked.
He was baptized and later married in the temple at Friedrichsdorf, Germany. He now had three children, had moved to Canada several years ago, and was an active member of the Church.
“I don’t know if you will ever answer this e-mail. If you do, I will tell you many other things about my life and how I have been blessed by your mission. Elder, you never know where a small, good action can lead.” He signed his e-mail “Cesare Quarinto.” Later he told me he had found my e-mail address on the Italy Rome Mission Web site.
Try as I might, I could not recall the experience of teaching a 12-year-old boy in Taranto. But the attachment to the e-mail was a page he had scanned from an old copy of the Book of Mormon. It was a dedication, written in my handwriting in Italian, dated September 14, 1975. It read:
“I am giving you this gift so that you can read it to find the beautiful truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t ever forget prayer, because it is only through prayer that you can find the truth. … I know this is the true Church, and I hope to share this truth with you.
“Elder Rian Jones”
Suddenly I had a perfect recollection. Seeing the words I had written caused the memory to return. I recalled vividly the rented space we used for a chapel in Taranto. We taught young Cesare the gospel in that building. I had given him his own copy of the Book of Mormon shortly before I was transferred to another city. Recalling the circumstances and reading Cesare’s e-mail, I was overcome with joy.
I did have some success on my mission, but unfortunately most of the people I baptized had fallen away from the Church over the years. Now a scripture came to mind: “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:15).
A Unique Combination
It was 5:30 p.m. on a Friday in June 2001, and I was working in my home office when the phone rang. It was my wife calling in a bit of a panic. She and our three daughters had been on a bike ride and had stopped at the supermarket for a cold drink and some ice cream. When they came out of the store, the combination lock securing the bicycles wouldn’t work. The combination was 3690, but it didn’t open the lock, which was firmly holding the bicycles against a metal fence just outside the store.
I jumped in our minivan and drove to the supermarket, but I had no more luck than they had had. I drove my wife and daughters home and began to think of what I could do. The first counselor in the branch presidency repairs saws, so I called and explained my predicament to him. He told me that most bicycle locks of this kind are made from toughened steel that is impervious to saws and bolt cutters. But he said I could at least try to cut the lock.
I found the box containing my electric saw and an extension cable. I called the store to ask if I could use their power for my saw. They kindly said I could. By the time I arrived, it was 7:45, and the store would close at 8:00. I was under pressure and started to panic too.
If the bicycles were there overnight, they would surely be a target for vandalism, and besides, my wife, who couldn’t drive at that time, used them every day to get the children to and from school.
When I got to the store I grabbed my electric saw’s hard plastic case, opened it, and found I had brought my cordless drill by mistake. They both have the same black plastic casing. It was now 7:55 and too late to get home and back before the store closed.
I tried the lock again, tugging as hard as I could to separate the two pieces, but nothing moved. A couple of people were staring at me, and employees were starting to close the store.
I sat in the minivan and thumped the steering wheel, feeling utterly frustrated. Then in my “mind’s ear” I heard my daughter singing the hymn “Did You Think to Pray?” (Hymns, no. 140).
In my panic I had failed to do the simplest thing. I had forgotten to pray. So I bowed my head and explained my situation to Heavenly Father. I left nothing out. I even told Him how silly I felt about the drill/saw mistake. In an instant I felt prompted to try the lock again. I got out of the car, and as I started to tumble the combination to read 3690 again, I heard a number whispered in my ear: 2591. I looked around, but no one was standing there. I tried 2591, and the lock fell open in my hands.
Never before or since have I had an answer to my prayers given so clearly or so quickly. Tears rolled down my face as I loaded the bicycles into the back of our minivan. I hurried home and related the story to my wife and children.
Later when I turned the numbers to 3690, just as I expected, the gaps in the teeth inside the cylinder didn’t line up so that I could put the two pieces of the lock back together. I then tried 2591, and it didn’t work either. Inspecting more closely, I realized that the tumblers had broken. Every time I turned them, a different number would open the lock. So, considering the thousands of possible combinations I could have tried that Friday evening, only heaven could help me find the one unique combination. And all I had to do was ask in faith.