23945_000_009The best surprise of my European trip happened after I came back home.
I had planned to go to Europe since I was old enough to find it on a map. I had expectations: taste apple strudel, see the Mona Lisa, ride in a Venetian gondola. I certainly wasn’t planning on sharing the gospel, so I’m not sure why I decided at the last minute to throw an extra Book of Mormon into my bulging suitcase.
I had listened to talks on missionary work since I was a little girl, lining my dolls on the couch in their Sunday best so they could watch general conference with me. The thing is, I was born and raised in Utah where the greatest missionary opportunity I’d ever taken advantage of was bringing International Barbie to my conference couch party. In my world surrounded by Church members, it was easy to label everyone else as “non-Mormon.”
In the few weeks before my trip, my life had turned into a hurricane. The most difficult finals week I’d ever faced in school seemed to rip up an entire semester of hard work. I was swept into a whirlwind relationship with a guy I didn’t know how I felt about, and I watched my older brother get married and move away. I’d been so busy, my spiritual health was battered. I fooled myself into thinking somehow my trip to Europe would dissolve all my problems and snap my life back into perspective.
Instead, I found myself on a tour surrounded by 50 people who came to Europe to have a nonstop drinking and drug party. Luckily they all seemed to realize I preferred strudel to beer and left me alone.
When I met Jason, he had those “I am a Canadian” patches attached prominently to all his clothing and luggage. He was nice but seemed to want to party like everyone else. I listened to The Sound of Music soundtrack on my headphones, wrote postcards to my boyfriend, and ignored everyone around me.
It didn’t take long for me to realize Jason was not quite what I had expected. He wasn’t drinking with the others and even seemed interested in religion. He was curious about my beliefs and discussed his Catholic upbringing with me.
By the end of the tour, my view of Jason was altered enough for me to dare to give him that Book of Mormon I’d packed. On our last night in London I scribbled my testimony inside the book. I wasn’t sure Jason would read the book, but I was so wrapped up in myself, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. His road to salvation led back to Canada, 2,000 miles (3,200 km) away.
When I returned home, my anxious boyfriend was waiting at the airport with an armful of flowers. I had to fight the urge to turn and run back on the plane. None of my difficult choices had gone away. I felt I was drowning.
Then I got an e-mail from Jason. Much to my surprise, he was reading the Book of Mormon, attending church, and taking the missionary discussions—despite his family’s hostility toward his efforts.
Jason and I began to e-mail every day. As we became closer friends, we talked more and more about the gospel. Seeing Jason’s faith grow gave my testimony fresh perspective. Jason’s e-mails helped pull me out of my despair and gave me courage to fix what was wrong in my life. As I reached out to help him learn about the gospel, I was really helping myself. I broke up with my boyfriend, began earnestly studying my scriptures, and prayed with more sincerity than I ever had before.
Jason came to visit several times, once over general conference weekend. We watched all the sessions together. I liked watching how attentively he soaked in every talk. Sitting next to someone I would have labeled a “non-Mormon” made me realize how inappropriate it is to define someone by something they’re not. I wasn’t a non-Catholic or a non-Canadian to Jason. I was his friend.
Over the Thanksgiving break I watched Jason’s determined face enter the waters of baptism and come up smiling. I felt peace and knew that he and I didn’t end up on the same European tour by chance. We were meant to be friends.
I offered Jason a Book of Mormon, yes, but he is more than a gold star on my chart of successful missionary experiences. He is an example to me of how the gospel should be the shining star in my life no matter what obstacles I face.
Jason told me, “I didn’t ask the Lord to send me help, but He knew in my heart I wasn’t happy. He decided to help me by crossing my path with yours.”
Heavenly Father knew I needed help just as much as Jason did. We had something valuable to offer each other. I’m grateful Heavenly Father crossed Jason’s and my paths because we formed a friendship that will help us both make it to our heavenly home.