03839_000_006My students and I had neither language nor faith in common.
Why would the Lord have confounded the languages—dotting the earth with so many different cultures, traditions, and philosophies? I have often thought how much easier it would be to carry the gospel to all nations were it not for this diversity in languages and histories. But a mission in Taiwan and in two refugee camps in Southeast Asia helped me see wisdom in the seeming confusion.
When I had been in Taiwan a little over two months, I was assigned to be the companion of a Chinese sister. As we were introduced, Sister Chen said, “I know you will teach me many gospel principles I can apply and learn.” I remember feeling overwhelmed by her expectation of me.
At first, the language and cultural barriers separating us seemed formidable. But with time, Sister Chen and I developed a communion of hearts far greater than my elementary Mandarin and her almost nonexistent English could express. Finally one day Sister Chen said, “You are no longer an American, Sister Myres, and I am not Chinese. We are sisters.”
I was at her side when she received her endowment in the Tokyo Temple. Sister Chen had thought that I would be her teacher. But she is the one who taught me the meaning of oneness, as explained by Paul: “God that made the world and all things therein … and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” (Acts 17:24, 26.)
Later in my mission, I served with an agency that provided cultural orientation and English classes for Asian refugees who were planning to settle in the United States. This experience expanded my perspective to include many people who were not of my faith.
After one lesson on how to use and clean household appliances, we had some extra time. I began to drill the students, asking questions through their translator. I would ask, “What is your address?” and they would answer. At one point, the young translator became impatient and began speaking harshly to an old Cambodian woman who could not remember the answer. The woman’s lips began to quiver, her eyes twitched a few times, and then she began to cry. Though I did not know what the translator had said, I could feel the woman’s dejection.
At that moment, I thought of what the Savior would have done if he had been there. I picked up her worn hand. As I held it, she began to tell me through the translator about some of her experiences in Cambodia. Then three other women who were sitting nearby began to cry. Together they told about their children and grandchildren who had starved, and about others who had been taken into the jungle to be killed.
Suffering was all these women had ever known. With little opportunity for education, a Cambodian woman’s sole duty is to manage the home and family. These women had seen their most precious gifts—their families—slaughtered and tortured before their very eyes.
I cried with them, and then I tried to tell them through the translator: “I want you to know how much I love you. I know I can never completely understand how much you have suffered. But with all my heart I know that someday you will have peace, and all the things you never have possessed will be given to you.”
After class, I couldn’t wait to get home to ask the Lord: “When will all the peoples of the world be able to be fully of one mind and one heart, with no poor among us?” I picked up my scriptures and found the word poor in the concordance. Two scriptures I had always loved now comforted me: “Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.” (D&C 101:16.) And the more well-known scripture, “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18.)
The Spirit poured into my soul. My students and I had neither language nor faith in common. But my whole desire was to be one with those women and all the others who are poor in worldly possessions, yet so rich in purity and meekness.
I will never forget that day. It taught me what serving the Master really means—a reciprocal exchange in loving and learning from those we serve.
I do not wonder any more about how the gospel will be carried to the countless groups of people who walk this earth. When the Spirit touches us, it transcends the boundaries of language, race, and culture. With it, we can learn to serve one another in oneness, however great our differences may be.