03427_000_005High adventure in a land of ancient legends.
The wind had been blowing all afternoon. Red sands of the Arizona desert had filtered in through my closed car windows and settled thickly on the dashboard and cushions.
As I bumped along the final mile toward my destination over washboard and pitted roads, the sun was sinking quickly in the west. In a last burst of brilliance it highlighted nearby mesas from behind billowing, churning clouds.
In breathtaking splendor the sky reflected pastel shades of amber, pink, and orange. Slivers of silver light pushed earthward through gaps in the clouds forming exquisite conduits from the sky.
I never ceased to marvel at the beauty of the desert that presented itself in so many contrasting displays. Now, looking down the winding dirt road past a small hogan by the roadside, I could see the LDS chapel ahead of me. What an unlikely place for a chapel, but there it was; and beside it a small distance away was “the elders’ trailer.” What was even more important, I could see the elders’ “Chidi” (truck) parked beside it, and the lights were on in the trailer. This meant the elders were home.
I pulled up and stopped beside their pink (ugh) house trailer, and as I stepped from my car, a half-starved dog came barking from under the house, mixing his signals by growling at me first through yellow teeth and then wagging his tail.
I smiled and said to myself, “Well, it isn’t unusual to receive the mission president with mixed emotions. Elders aren’t always glad to see me if their trailer isn’t clean or if their work isn’t done.”
In this instance Elder Naylor and Elder Jensen greeted me warmly and immediately began sharing with me how the work was going. Early in our conversation Elder Naylor said, “President, the thing I really want to tell you about is this old man named Amos Singer. He has two very bright grandchildren who live with him. He asked us to teach them so they can join the Church and enjoy the blessings of Church membership.
“We were teaching them for the first time last Saturday, and the grandfather came in to listen to our lesson. We were talking about God, Jesus, the Holy Ghost, and prayer. After we were through he started telling us a few things that really amazed us. It was like all those stories I’ve heard about but never thought would happen to me. He told us he is 79 years old and had been trained to be a medicine man when he was very young (about 15). He was taught by his great-grandfather and has an incredible memory of very, very old Navajo beliefs. Most people don’t know the real old traditions.
“He talked to us about how he has studied the organization of many different religions. He says they are all different except the ‘Mormon Way.’ He told us the things we teach are the same things taught by the old Navajos, although the Navajo religion has changed lately. He talked about ‘eternal life’ and how the earth would be destroyed in the near future by fire and then be made new and would be a place of happiness and no troubles for the righteous. He said that when Christ comes again it will be in glory with angels singing all around him. His great-grandfather taught him the song the angels would be singing, and he even sang part of it for us. He said that as far as he knows there are only two people alive today that know that song. He told us of the legends of ‘ahix kee naa’aashii,’ the ‘two who walk together’ and how they would bring the gospel back to his people. He pointed at us and said, ‘You are what this is talking about! The two who walk together.’”
As Elder Naylor concluded telling me his story he was trying to blink back the tears.
“As you know,” I told them, “these things were all predicted in Book of Mormon prophecies. How does it feel to be out here fulfilling scripture?”
“Just think,” Elder Jensen responded, “what we would have missed if we hadn’t come on our missions.”
“Yes,” I replied, “and think about all the other elders who have walked down these dusty roads two by two. It is because of them that this chapel is standing here. And it’s because of you and others like you that they’re talking about making this branch into a ward and soon forming a Lamanite stake.
“Let me tell you about two of your fellow elders I was with last week who walked together up by Lukachukai.
“I learned about them when I attended a stake conference. Among the speakers that morning was a handsome Navajo boy. He was frightened by this first experience at public speaking, but he was sustained by faith and by a deep, sincere testimony.
Only a few short months before, the Church was unknown to him.
“Two of our young elders drove their truck as far up a muddy, rutted road as they could go and then ‘two walked together’ the remaining eight miles through mud and snow to teach a man and his grandson. Because of their dedication and determination, this young man, now a baptized member filled with the spirit of love and testimony, was speaking to the congregation. He, too, will soon be on a mission, walking with a companion down some distant country road or city street. He will walk his way into the homes and hearts of those who are seeking the Lord. Oh, the high adventure of missionary work!”
“President, I remember when I thought jumping off the haystack was high adventure. Just finding your way around the reservation was adventure to us when we first arrived. We were kind of scared learning a new language and about a new land, a new people, and their ways. Now we’ve learned to love them and wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.”
“You both know Elder Kempter, don’t you?” I asked. “I received a letter from him awhile back, and among other things he said, ‘Boy, have I got a story for you.’ It went something like this:
“‘Last night after holding a family home evening, we were getting ready to leave when this one girl came out to the truck and asked me if I wanted a goat. I told her it was probably too small to eat and I didn’t have any place to keep it. Now, I don’t know if you are aware of what that means, but afterwards I found out. It is a way of proposing marriage! I about fell over when I found that out—but not to worry, President, there is no attraction on this end!’
“Do you see what I mean about high adventure? Be careful about accepting goats!
“On the other hand, think of some of our elders coming from the country or the reservation to a larger city for the first time. These new experiences are fun and challenging. Do you remember Elder Descheenie?”
“Sure, I remember him. He was a Navajo elder, dark eyes, black curly hair, and a wide smile that made you wonder what he had been up to. He was a good elder.”
“That’s him all right, and he was a good elder. Let me share this story from a letter I received from him: ‘Did I ever tell you about my first and second day at the MTC? Well, I was the only Navajo speaker that went to the MTC that first day. On my first day there I did all right in finding my apartment and classes, but my second day I got up late and came to find out that everybody had gone to their classes already that morning, so I took a shower and decided to go to class, too, but couldn’t find my class. I walked in every hall and every building but still couldn’t find my classroom, so I just gave up and decided to go back to my apartment and stay there until my companion came back.
“‘So I was headed to my apartment, but I couldn’t even find my own apartment either, so I decided to try the building that was next to me there. I still couldn’t find my own room, so I started toward the rest room when I saw many girls headed into the building that I was in, and I thought to myself, I couldn’t be in the girls building could I? The girls were still headed this way, and I thought to myself again, I must be! I ran out of there flying, and I was so lost I didn’t know what to do so I walked over to the bookstore and there I found my companion. Was I ever glad to see him again!
“‘I told him what had happened to me, and he was about to die laughing at me. Anyway those were the good old days. We had some baptisms last Saturday, and we’ve got some more coming up too. I was going to write you a long letter, but I’m running out of news so I’m going to close here and do some more work. Have a nice day, and thanks for everything, and we’ll see you soon. …
“I shared this story with some of our new elders just last week when I was driving them in our van out to their first assignment. I turned to Elder Bobby Yazzie in the seat next to mine and asked, ‘Did you ever happen to meet Elder Descheenie?’ A smile came on his face, and his eyes filled with tears. ‘President,’ he said, ‘He is the one that found me, taught me, and baptized me. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here today. I’m the only one in my entire family who is a member of the Church.’
“It’s hard to explain the thrill I felt when he told me this. Only a short two years before, Bobby had never heard of the Church, and here he was riding beside me: sharp, handsome, clear-eyed, and anxious to go forth and share his testimony among his people. Bobby had only been out for a short time when he had his first baptisms, his own grandfather and grandmother, and since then many more.”
While I finished telling my story I began putting things in my briefcase in preparation to leave. The elders had a teaching appointment, and I needed to get on down the road.
Darkness had already fallen for several hours when I pulled into the town where Sisters Hucks and Matson were serving. The hour was late, but I thought I should drop by to say hi since I had to leave early the next morning. The lights in their apartment were on so I guessed correctly that they were there. I was greeted with enthusiasm, and they started an immediate chatter, “Guess what happened with us tonight, president.”
“Tell me, what happened?”
“Well, the ward mission leader has been acting kind of strange all week. He never asked us—he told us to be at a meeting down to the church tonight. We were almost angry at him, and we wondered what was going on. When we got to the church there were a few cars parked but no one in sight.
“We went into the church and could see lights on and hear voices in one of the rooms down the hall. We walked down there and knocked on the door.
“Everything went quiet, and then the doors opened wide.
“To our surprise the room was filled with people, and on the front row looking right at us with radiant smiles was the family we had been teaching. They were all dressed in white baptismal clothes.” Unable to speak further, the sisters smiled at me through their tears.
It was Jesus who many years ago “sent them two and two … into every city. …
“Therefore he said unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest” (Luke 10:1–2).
I wonder if any young man or woman would refuse a mission call if they knew the joy of “two walking together” and the “high adventure” of missionary service.