With All Thy Heart

by Mike Austin

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    We were speaking two different languages and not communicating at all. In desperation I showed her a picture of the Savior, and asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” All of a sudden her face lit up, she began motioning and said, “Yes teacher, yes, yes. I Love Jesus Christ.”

    “Now let’s get started,” I said, a little bit nervous as a new district leader at the thought of performing my first baptismal interview. Nevertheless, I was doing my best to maintain an air of confidence that would put everyone at ease.

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

    For the last several days I had been studying , and rehearsing the questions, and I was confident that there would be no problem at all with the interview. The elders who had been teaching her assured me that she was fluent enough in English that she would not require a translator. I offered the prayer and began with 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 complicated language, I restated the question in simpler terms: “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 stumped. 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 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 transplanted Asian people of the valley. Somewhere near what appeared to be the first discussion I came across 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 lit up and she began to nod her head frantically. “Yes, teacher, yes, yes. I love Jesus Christ,” she cried in obvious recognition of the picture in front of her.

    Finally we had struck common ground. Not knowing the ins and outs of the English language, she had summed up all of the words and emotions that convey 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 locate in the flip-chart a picture of some beer cans, cigarette packages, and coffee cups. When I showed her this conglomeration of substances 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 indicating 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 lit up 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 neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:37–39).

    Although this woman humbly addressed me as “teacher,” her responses during the interview had taught me a great 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; this was a natural reaction 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 that I was during that interview in a humble apartment when a simple, refugee housewife said to me, “Yes, teacher, I love Jesus Christ.”

    Photography by Jed Clark