Latter-day Saint Voices: A Labor of Love

By Marco Antonio Panés Spano

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    President Gordon B. Hinckley has often spoken of the happiness that comes to families because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That happiness is not just for families here on earth. “What a marvelous revelation it is,” President Hinckley said, “that we should have the opportunity of going into the house of the Lord to be baptized for those who had not this saving ordinance during their lifetime” (“Words of the Living Prophet,” Liahona, June 2000, 16).

    In the following accounts, we catch a glimpse of the joy that comes to those who, having received the ordinances of the gospel, are now extending gospel blessings to their ancestors. Their efforts are truly labors of love.

    The Spirit of Elijah

    Something that happened during a Book of Mormon class years ago has had a great impact on my life. Our teacher, Brother Fernando Aguilar, told us an experience that had happened to his father, Santiago Aguilar II, who had been working hard to find genealogical information about his ancestors. He had been successful in submitting many family names for temple ordinances. Nevertheless, on one of his family lines, the information he could find stopped with his grandmother. Despite many trips and continual research, he had not been able to find the necessary information about her. But the Spirit gave him a sense of urgency to keep looking.

    Brother Fernando Aguilar, currently a part-time coordinator for the Church Educational System in Chile, recalled: “One day my father had an impression that he should return to a small village 90 kilometers east of the city of Osorno—some 500 kilometers from his home in Talcahuano—even though he had recently visited our relatives there and had received genealogical information. He knew of no reason to return, but the impression would not leave. So with a prayer for guidance, he returned to the village. When our relatives saw him, they were surprised he had returned so soon, and they assured him they had given him all the genealogical information they had. He simply explained that he felt an urgency to return, even though he didn’t know why.

    “My father spent the following day seeking—but not finding—additional information. After a tiring day, as he was walking to an uncle’s home, he felt impressed to change his route. My father followed the impression, even though he didn’t know where he was going or why. His new route led him to a large vacant lot filled with trash, and he felt a strong impulse to take the path through the lot.

    “After entering the lot, he stopped suddenly and began to look around, seeking the reason for being in that spot so far from home. Looking down at his feet, he saw a yellowed, dirty piece of paper and picked it up. After shaking the dirt off, he recognized it as his grandparents’ marriage certificate, which included the names and other family information he was missing. This certificate was the key he needed to bring to pass the temple work for our ancestors.”

    When Brother Aguilar finished his story, he took from his pocket the marriage certificate, which he had covered with plastic. He passed it around the room so each of us could read it. None of us could speak, for our emotions were great.

    Then he bore his testimony and told us that the Spirit of Elijah had continued to encourage his family’s efforts. He said the Spirit of Elijah is given to those who pray for it and we should earnestly seek to obtain it.

    Since that day, I have done research on my ancestors and have completed some generations of my family history. Many times I have felt the Holy Ghost prompting me in my research. My experiences may not be as dramatic as the one Brother Aguilar shared, but I have learned that each of us can receive the Spirit’s guidance as we seek for our ancestors.

    Finding Joy in Life

    In June 1991, my wife, Alla; our son, Alex; and I moved from Belarus in the former Soviet Union to Denmark. My work as an anesthesiologist made me particularly eager to improve my English, so I enrolled in an English class taught by two sister missionaries serving in the Denmark Copenhagen Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    I found myself wanting to learn more than English. I had learned about Jesus Christ only after the Soviet government lifted the ban against religion during that remarkable period of Soviet history called glasnost. I was uncomfortable, however, with the rites of the predominant church and so had not pursued the matter further.

    The missionaries were different. Their friendliness seemed to warm my heart, and when they taught us that “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25), I was thrilled to the marrow of my bones. I could remember only two times in my life when I had felt joy—the day I married Alla and the day Alex was born. Now I could actually see joy radiating from the faces of the missionaries as they taught the gospel.

    The other missionaries and the members Alla and I met reinforced our first impressions. “If such wonderful people are members of this church,” I told Alla, “then this is the true Church!”

    Alla and I were baptized in August 1991. We felt that warm feeling in our hearts that accompanies receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. It had a cleansing effect upon our bodies and our souls, and we thought we couldn’t be happier. But we were wrong. It was only the beginning. At every Church meeting, the feelings we had at our baptism returned. We have become more calm, patient, and kind. We are trying to follow the perfect example of Jesus Christ, even though it is sometimes quite difficult.

    In July 1993, Alla, Alex, and I were sealed as a family in the Stockholm Sweden Temple. As we knelt at the temple altar, surrounded by friends, including Reid and Donna Johnson, the temple president and matron, the warmth of our initial conversion came to us again. We had been like cold, wet, miserable, lost kittens; but in the Church we had found shelter, warmth, and nourishment. The gospel had helped us open our frozen hearts and closed eyes and begin to see truth and to love.

    We spent a week at the temple doing proxy work, including the work for Alla’s deceased grandparents, and we discovered we have a lot of work yet to do in the temple. The happiness we feel as members of Christ’s Church has not peaked. The longer we serve in the Church, the more happiness we seem to experience. It has been an unexpected and wonderful surprise to know true joy.

    Quite a bit of time has now passed since our conversion, and we have experienced many difficulties. Much of the power that has lifted us over these difficulties has come from the examples of members of the Church—members striving to follow the example of Jesus Christ.

    When the Lord Opened My Eyes

    What a wonderful story, I thought as I paused and looked up from my scriptures. I had been reading in 2 Kings chapter 6 about the prophet Elisha.

    Israel was at war with Syria, and the king of Syria sent an army to the city of Dothan to capture Elisha. When Elisha’s servant saw that Dothan was surrounded by Syrian troops, he cried, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?” (2 Kgs. 6:15).

    “Fear not,” Elisha reassured him, “for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (verse 16). Elisha asked the Lord to open the eyes of his fearful servant. In a very dramatic scene, the servant’s spiritual eyes were opened, and he saw that the mountain on which they stood “was full of horses and chariots of fire” (2 Kgs. 6:17).

    I quickly marked the verses. I loved this story and continued to think about it. As a matter of fact, I hoped for a similar manifestation myself. I was doing family history research and had experienced many difficulties gathering information. Most of my relatives did not remember much about our ancestors, and many of the records documenting baptisms, marriages, and deaths had been destroyed during bombings of the Philippines in World War II.

    I persevered, expecting some kind of great and dramatic event. I had heard many accounts of people doing family history and temple work receiving divine assistance through dreams or other sacred experiences and finding the information they sought.

    But as I continued to search old records and visit graveyards, I had no dramatic experiences. No dreams came. I had no visits from the spirit world. And yet the way opened before me. One time at the local Family History Center, another patron left some microfilm out. When I examined it, I discovered it contained the 19th-century census records of my hometown. I was thrilled to discover that the records included lists of entire families, their birth and death dates, and their occupations.

    Using the microfilm, I spent weeks reconstructing family relationships. Eventually I identified six generations on my father’s side. I was jubilant and showed my work to one of my relatives. “You are half my age,” she cried in astonishment, “and you know more about my grandfather than I do!”

    But another challenge remained, for I had little information on my mother’s lineage. Her parents live on an island far to the south of us, many kilometers away, and I didn’t have the money to go there.

    Then one day my mother surprised me by announcing, “Your grandfather wants all of us to come home for a reunion.”

    “When?” I asked happily.

    “As soon as possible.”

    Fortunately, we were able to get the money to pay for our plane tickets. At the reunion I was able to obtain a great deal of information from my mother’s relatives, and I promptly submitted the names of 86 ancestors to the Manila Philippines Temple. My collection of names was modest compared to some, but I was very happy about it.

    One radiant February morning I went to the Manila temple and was baptized for one ancestor after another. As I stood in the baptismal font, I kept hoping to see my ancestors or hear their voices. I returned to the temple on succeeding days to complete the work, still expecting to have some kind of spectacular experience. I also thought I might have a dream about my ancestors. Or perhaps the hearts of my nonmember relatives would be softened and they would want to know more about my research. Perhaps they would even be converted.

    But none of these things happened. The days continued to go by in an ordinary fashion. I was disturbed and asked myself, Where are the blessings of the Lord? Where are the blessings He has promised those who help redeem the dead?

    I went to the temple again a few nights later to attend an endowment session. While there, I gazed into the calm waters of the baptismal font. All of a sudden I realized something I had overlooked: Wasn’t the privilege of being baptized for my ancestors a wonderful blessing in itself? I thought of all the valuable records I had discovered during my research. Hadn’t the Lord prepared my way? Hadn’t I been able to accomplish more than I thought I could?

    Then the scripture from the Old Testament flashed into my mind. The eyes of Elisha’s servant were opened, and he saw the army of the Lord. The Lord opened my eyes and gave me an understanding of the blessings I had received. As I left the temple that night, I felt nothing but gratitude.

    I have learned that when we open our spiritual eyes, we see that blessings need not be dramatic; we see and are grateful for the simple manifestations of the Lord’s love in our lives. At times I still tend to forget this, but then I, too, offer the prayer of Elisha, “Lord, open my eyes that I may see.”

    [illustrations] Illustrated by Brian Call