How Important Could This Be?

Kelly Laing, Washington, USA

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    During my tour aboard the USS West Virginia, a call came for an officer who spoke Portuguese to go on a three-week exchange with the Brazilian Navy. I was the only one in the submarine force who spoke Portuguese.

    My initial feeling was not to go. I had just finished a three-month patrol and was looking forward to seeing my family, but the exchange would not leave my mind. I turned to Heavenly Father in prayer, received a strong answer that I should go, and accepted the assignment.

    The arrangements proved fraught with hurdles. At one point I felt like giving up. I thought, “How important could this be?” The Holy Ghost, however, prompted me to push ahead.

    man pointing finger at other man

    Illustration by Allen Garns

    Finally, after several delays, I arrived on a Brazilian ship. When I was escorted to the officers’ dining room, the ship’s captain was yelling and pointing his finger at a young officer. The captain saw me, stopped, and said in broken English, “Ah, my American friend has arrived. Welcome. May I offer you something to drink?”

    I responded in Portuguese that I would love a popular Brazilian soft drink I hadn’t tasted since my mission. He told me the ship had all kinds of liquor on board, but I stated I did not drink alcohol.

    Later a knock came at my cabin. When I opened the door, there stood the young officer from the dining room.

    “You are an American,” he said. “You do not drink alcohol. You speak Portuguese. Could it be that you are a Mormon?”

    “Yes, I am,” I responded.

    He threw his arms around me and broke down sobbing.

    This officer, Lt. Mendes, was a fairly new convert and a recent graduate of the Brazilian Naval Academy. On board the ship, he quickly learned that the captain expected him to share in the wild lifestyle of the officers when visiting ports. Instead, Lt. Mendes constantly volunteered for “in-port duty” and otherwise skipped port-of-call activities. The captain grew weary of this. When I entered the dining hall, he was yelling at Lt. Mendes for not joining in.

    “You will go out with the officers during our next port of call,” he had ordered the lieutenant. “You will show the visiting American officer what it is like to have a good time. He will expect that of us.”

    For months, Lt. Mendes had been praying that his captain would understand and accept his principles. With my arrival, discussion of the gospel became the center of most conversations in the dining room. We talked with the other officers about Joseph Smith, the Restoration, the Word of Wisdom, and the law of chastity. Feelings toward Lt. Mendes soon changed. The officers removed the openly displayed pornography, and at the next port we all enjoyed a meal together at a restaurant instead of going to a club.

    Near the end of my three weeks on board, and after many discussions with the captain and officers about our beliefs, the men softened their hearts. “Now I understand,” the captain told Lt. Mendes before I left, adding that he would no longer ask him to go against his principles.

    I will never forget this experience. Lt. Mendes and I learned that our Father in Heaven knows us individually, loves us, and is concerned with our personal lives.