While serving as a missionary in Quito, the beautiful capital city of Equador, I met a young member of the Church who exemplified what it means to give of oneself completely in the work of converting our fellowmen. Her home was among the shabbiest of Quito—her heart, among the greatest.
I’ll never forget the first time I met her. She was very short, at most five feet tall, and her light brown hair hung to the base of her neck with a slight upward curl. But what set her apart from the rest of the girls her age was that she had no teeth. This wouldn’t have seemed so unusual if she had been quite elderly, but Mirian was barely 19.
“What happened to Mirian’s teeth?” I questioned my companion as we left her home a short while later.
“I’ve wondered about that, too,” he replied, “but no one has ever said anything about it.”
The mystery was forgotten for the time being as we busied ourselves in the missionary work. But a week after our first visit, we returned again to Mirian’s home. Her father, Brother Sanchez, had died about a year earlier, and this had created many difficulties for his family. Sister Sanchez now had to work long hours for only a dollar a day as a washerwoman across the city. And consequently Mirian had been forced to drop out of school to take care of the family while her mother was at work. They also had had to move from their old neighborhood into this one-room house so small the kitchen consisted of a mere kerosene burner on a night stand. We couldn’t help feeling concerned about their well-being and promised to stop in periodically to see them.
On this particular day, Rosa, a non-Mormon friend of Mirian’s, also stopped by, and Mirian suggested we teach her a little bit about the gospel. We gave her a portion of a discussion, but it soon became apparent that she was not interested. Nevertheless, we asked her if we could come and share our message with the other members of her family, and she agreed.
The next day we went by the Sanchez home and asked Mirian to go with us to see Rosa’s family. To our surprise she turned us down, offering a number of lame excuses for not being able to go. We could tell she was keeping something from us and asked her to tell us what was really wrong. She then proceeded to explain.
Rosa lived in the neighborhood where Mirian had lived before her father died, she told us. After his death, the people of the area began to spread rumors about Mirian’s mother.
“One night I had had enough so I went out to defend my mother and what I knew was right. Several of those in the neighborhood decided to gang up on me and teach me a lesson, one I would never forget. They started to beat me, hitting me mostly in the face. This is how I lost all my teeth,” she said, pointing to her mouth.
After she had told us what happened, she seemed relieved and said she would go with us if we really wanted her to. We were impressed by her courage and agreed that she should come.
The evening of the discussion arrived, and my companion and I made our way up the dirt pathway leading to the Sanchez home. Sister Sanchez met us at the doorway, disapproval lining her face. “I do not want my daughter returning to that horrible place,” she told us emphatically. We didn’t know what to say, but Mirian did. We listened in silence as she bore testimony to her mother that she knew there was a special reason she must go with us. Reluctantly, Sister Sanchez consented, but only with our solemn promise that we would return immediately if there were any problems.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Rosa’s family was not interested in hearing about the Church. As we turned away, Mirian began to tell us about the other families in the neighborhood, including a man she had dated for a while. Although she hadn’t realized it when she started dating him, he was a very worldly person with some bad habits. The Spirit touched me, and I insisted that Mirian take us to see him. Even though she was extremely hesitant, she guided us down a path to the home where Luiz lived with his parents and son. Upon answering the door he seemed quite surprised to see us, but invited us in and listened intently to the message we gave him. After we completed the formal discussion, he told us of his recent desire to join the true church of God, but he did not know which one it was or how to find it. He had already been going through the preliminary steps of repentance but felt the need of something more. He declared to us that his heart was telling him we were indeed representatives of the Lord’s true church. He was baptized a week later.
With the continued help of Mirian, coupled with Luiz’s assistance, we baptized nearly 25 people in this neighborhood in a period of six weeks. I’ll always remember the time we decided to talk with those who had harassed Mirian so badly before. As if nothing had happened between them, Mirian helped teach these families, several of whom became converted to the gospel.
I was transferred not long after this and shortly thereafter was shocked to learn that Mirian had died of complications following a ruptured appendix. Yet as sad as that was, she had accomplished a great mission. Because of her deep faith in the Lord and his powers to protect, Mirian had overcome her fear of her fellowmen and had helped to teach the gospel to those who had physically scarred her for life. Many of them now revere her name for forgiving them and bringing them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Looking back now, I realize that one of my great missionary experiences in Equador was to see the true spirit of member-missionary work in action.