Lying flat on my back, staring at the mechanical paraphernalia of an X-ray machine, was not what I had expected as part of my experience in the Language Training Mission. But there I was, my right ankle all puffed and swollen; another casualty of physical activity time.
Fifteen minutes before, I had been in the middle of a close soccer game. My district was ahead with only one minute left. Suddenly, our defense weakened and the ball shot toward the goal. I ran forward as Elder Duran, my best friend on the other team, fell to the ground to block my kick. Snup! A sound like the cracking of a branch wrapped in a towel made everyone cringe. I crumpled to the ground, holding my right leg, and screamed for a doctor. Someone in the background had the nerve to say, “Viva su lengua” (live your language).
I tried to get up, but the pain in my leg convinced me to just lie there and grit my teeth. The ambulance came, and soon I was lying on the X-ray table, hoping my injury would turn out to be a mere sprain or dislocation. However, my hope for a miracle was squashed when, through the partially closed door, I overheard a nurse say, “That’s the worst break I’ve ever seen.”
No one would touch me for 45 minutes. Then a specialist arrived and confirmed the nurse’s comment about my ankle. By 11:00 P.M. I was semi-conscious in a hospital bed, still groggy from an operation to insert a screw into my ankle. My only thought at the time was that I would be left behind when the 21 elders in my group left for the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission two weeks later.
After four days in the hospital, I hobbled back to the LTM on crutches. I don’t know if words can describe what it was like to be in the LTM for five weeks after I had learned all the lessons. I could say them backwards and forwards, in my sleep, in the shower, upside down, and in-between.
A group of missionaries was scheduled to leave for Guatemala four days after my cast was removed, but I still had two weeks of therapy ahead of me. By the power of fervent persuasion that only a missionary has, however, my doctor was convinced I could go as long as I didn’t do any excessive walking for the first few weeks. Finally!
The excitement in my body must have been the healing factor in my bones. By the time I got to the airport, I was hyperactive. To prove my ankle was as good as new, I did the Mexican hat dance, a tap routine, hopped on one foot, and showed everybody the eight-inch scar on my right ankle. I can’t remember all I did, but my antics were enough to bring gasps and concerned looks from my mother and comments like, “He hasn’t changed a bit,” from my friends.
During the tears and other hubbub of leaving from the airport, I paid little attention to all the words of advice and caution everyone was giving me. All I could see was the jet pulling up to the gate and visions of converting the entire countries of Guatemala and El Salvador. Finally, we were told to board. There was a rush of last minute hugs, kisses (from my parents and sisters), and, of course, that special handshake from a smiling beauty with a quivering chin.
When I reached the door leading to the boarding area, my father said, “Son, obey all the rules, and you’ll be happy in life.” I nodded a hurried “Sure, Dad” and was off. As I walked to the plane, I laughed to myself. “Dad, you got your ‘mords wixed’ again. You meant to say, ‘Obey all the rules, and you’ll be happy on your mission.’” With that, I tossed his advice into the oblivion of my memory, filed under “Parental Counsel.”
Seven months later, my father was dead.
In those first wavering hours after my mission president told me of the tragic plane accident, I found myself much like the cartoon character who has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil said: “What are you doing here? All that life after death bit is a bunch of bunk. You go on a mission and what happens? You break your foot; go to the hospital; come to a strange land, with strange people and strange customs; and your father gets killed. Sure it’s the happiest two years of your life. Two thousand miles away from home, and you’re all alone.”
Such thoughts were foreign to me. I had been a faithful member of the Church all my life; yet, the thoughts were there.
The angel on my other shoulder said: “Stand tall, Elder. You had a great father you can be proud of, a mighty patriarch who taught you the gospel in all things. You know eternal life is a true principle of the gospel, and you know your father will be waiting for you. You’ve had a testimony of the gospel since you were old enough to cry. This is no time to start doubting.”
In the midst of this struggle between doubt and reality, my father’s last words at the airport came echoing into my mind: “Son, obey all the rules, and you’ll be happy in life.” Dad hadn’t mixed his words up at all. Those final words to me were inspired counsel that would guide me for the rest of my life. My father lived as he taught, and a few weeks following his passing, the full testimony of his life was made manifest to me.
Finances became a major concern. I had enough money in the bank to cover 11 of the remaining 15 months of my mission and hoped Mom could get enough together for the remaining four. My plans for college were now pushed back into the realm of hopes and dreams. However, the Lord takes care of his missionaries.
I received a letter from my mother telling me that I needn’t worry about finances anymore. A man had contacted my bishop and asked if he could support me for the rest of my mission. This is not too unusual, since there are many good-hearted men in the Church, but the twist in this instance was in what the man told my bishop: “I’m not a member of your church, but out of the love and respect I have for Horace Rappleye, I’d like to support his son for the rest of his mission.” And he did. For 15 months the money was placed regularly in my bank account by the anonymous benefactor.
He remains anonymous to this day.
My father’s life of obedience brought blessings to him even after he died. His death became the highlight of my mission. That may be a strange thing to say, and I wish my father were still alive, but my mission thereafter became a living testimony to my father’s life. I soon found how precious it is to live “all the rules.” No matter how small or insignificant the rule seemed, if I obeyed, I was happy.
We are told by the Lord, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
“And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20–21.)
This scripture is true. Whenever I find myself slipping into depression or unhappiness, I usually find it is because I am not being obedient in all things as I should. At these times a comforting echo reverberates in my head: “Son, obey all the rules, and you’ll be happy in life.”