With All Thy Heart

By Mike Austin

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    “Now let’s get started,” I said, a little bit worried at the thought of performing my first baptismal interview. Nevertheless, I was doing my best to feel confident so everyone would feel comfortable.

    “Okay, teacher,” replied the middle-aged Cambodian woman seated across from me. The elders in my district had been holding a successful school to teach English to the Southeast Asian refugees who had settled in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Because of this school we were able to make a great deal of contacts, all of whom continued to address them and all other missionaries as “teacher.”

    For the last several days I had been studying and practicing the questions, and I was confident that there would be no problem at all with the interview. The elders that had been teaching her assured me that she spoke English well enough so she would not need a translator. I said the prayer and began asking the questions.

    “Have you prayed about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and have your prayers been answered?”

    The smile on her face widened and she began to laugh. Her head shook back and forth and she said, “I don’t know, teacher.”

    Remembering that English could be a difficult language, I asked the question in a simpler way: “Do you know that the Church is true?”

    Once again, she looked at me as if she did not understand a thing I had said, began to laugh, and said “I … I don’t know.”

    I was puzzled. As far as I knew, she had expressed the desire to be baptized, and she was attending the branch in the area that held services in Cambodian. What could I do? There was no way that I could allow her to be baptized without an interview, but she wasn’t understanding any of the questions, no matter how simple I tried to make them.

    Not knowing what else to do, I reached for a missionary flip-chart that the elders had given me in case I ran into difficulty. I flipped through the gospel principles that were written out in four or five of the languages used by the Asian people who had come into the valley. Somewhere near what appeared to be the first discussion I found a picture of the Savior. In desperation, I showed her the picture and asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?”

    All of a sudden her face brightened and she began to nod her head back and forth excitedly. “Yes, teacher, yes, yes. I love Jesus Christ,” she cried in obvious recognition of the picture in front of her.

    Finally we found something we both could understand. Not being very familiar with the English language, she had summed up all of the words and emotions that give a positive message into one word: love. Through the same process I was able to determine that she loved Joseph Smith, President Benson, the Ten Commandments, and the law of tithing.

    In asking her about the Word of Wisdom, I was able to find in the flip-chart a picture of some bottles of beer, cigarette packages, and cups of coffee. When I showed her these things that violated the laws of Jesus Christ, she reacted violently, shaking her head and declaring, “No, no teacher, no.”

    When the interview was over, she had satisfactorily answered all of the questions, usually by doing no more than sharing with me her love for a particular person or concept. That afternoon I received a witness of the Spirit stronger than I have ever had that told me that she was prepared in every way for baptism. I congratulated her and told her that she could be baptized, and her face brightened again as she said, “Thank you, teacher, I love you.”

    When she said this, I thought of the answer that Jesus Christ gave when he was asked which was the greatest of all the laws: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

    “This is the first and great commandment.

    “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:37–39).

    Although this woman humbly addressed me as “teacher,” her responses during the interview had taught me a wonderful lesson. She had learned the essence of the gospel: she loved Jesus Christ unconditionally, and she loved everyone around her. Nobody had to convince her to keep the commandments of the Savior; it came naturally for her. She loved Jesus Christ and wouldn’t think of knowingly breaking any of his laws.

    Since that interview I have heard many powerful testimonies of the gospel. I have listened to people relate fantastic spiritual experiences and the Spirit has borne witness to each one. I have never, however, been affected by a testimony in quite the same way as I was during that interview in a humble apartment when a simple refugee housewife said to me, “Yes, teacher, I love Jesus Christ.”

    Photograph by Steve Bunderson