Saturday, February 19, 2011

Three Hours

Missionary work in Europe is like plowing a drought-ridden field with a plastic fork. Some missionaries serve their entire missions without any baptisms. Ours was no exception. During a particularly parching absence of baptisms, our mission president challenged us to fast and pray to find those prepared to hear the sweet but life-altering message of the gospel. Our whole mission, comprised of over 200 missionaries, was going to fast for 24 dedicated hours. Following that simple sacrifice, we all, including our president, were going to tract for the same three, consecrated hours.

About this time, I received a letter from a dear friend. She sent me a powerful article by Elder Alvin R. Dyer, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1930s. It was so inspiring that I made a copy for everyone in my district, which included 6 Elders, my companion and me. I shared it with them at a meeting we had to kick-start our momentous mission-wide fast. (It is a lengthy article, but I need to share a taste of it to depict its flavor).

The Challenging and Testifying Missionary” by Alvin R. Dyer

“We think we learn the language and a few lessons and this prepares us to teach the gospel. This is a serious mistake. Were I a young missionary again I would challenge almost everyone I met and I would do it almost every hour of the day. I wouldn't care how many would turn me down.

“You actually do not know when you go to a door whom the Lord has prepared for the gospel. You must approach each door with the idea that here is where people who are prepared for the gospel live. You must do it without fail at every home because you do not know if these people have been chosen by the Lord.

“I remember as a young missionary we left the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to go northward. The sky was blue, it was a beautiful day. It was so still it was almost dull. We had gone about one-half mile on a dirt road when a tremendous whirlwind came up and almost turned us off our feet. I said, "Brother John Clark; we must be going the wrong way." We turned and went the other way and had gone almost a half day into the country when we turned down a farm lane. I can still hear the dogs barking as we opened the outer gate and approached the house. The man said, "I have been expecting you young men." He had a neighbor who had dropped by and left him a copy of the Book of Mormon. Some missionaries had given it to the neighbor and he was not interested in it and had left it with him. "I have been praying every day that someone would come to tell me about this." Would you go into a lengthy series of lessons with that man? We did not. We went out and dammed the creek in back of his place and baptized him before we left.

“I can tell by the look on some of your faces that this goes against the grain. You still like it nice and easy, where you go in and teach the lessons. Teach by the spirit when you go into the home, and have the spirit so strong it comes out of your fingers and they feel it so strong they say, "I know what you say is true." I think the day will come when we will go to the doors of people and testify that we are the servants of God sent to them, call them to repent and be baptized, and I don't believe that day is too far away. We must be more courageous, more definite. We must be the "Challenging and Testifying” missionary. We know it is true. We know that the Lord knows that we know that it is true.

It was such a powerful article and it just added fuel to the fire of our fasting. The excitement of knowing that everyone, everyone was going to be out tracting at the same time was palpable.

We prayed intensely. We read the article. We fasted. We read the article again. We prayed more. We pondered and deliberated about where we should spend our precious three hours. We wanted to be ‘led by the spirit, not knowing beforehand the things {we} should do’ (1Ne. 4:6).

The awaited day arrived. We arrived at the buildings we had spirit-picked. The first building was open. It was a sign. We pushed the button for the elevator and waited like kids on Christmas morning while it leisurely descended to our level. We opened up the outer door, then the inner door and got in. Would it be the very first door? Who would we meet today? Who’s life was about to change? We rode the elevator all the way to the top. No door would go unknocked today.

We said another prayer after exiting the elevator. After our ‘amens’, we looked up and smiled, scanning our cement surroundings. This was going to be an incredible, fireside-worthy experience. We had done everything we needed to do to have the Spirit as our constant companion. We were out here, as two soldiers in a literal army of God throughout Slovenia, Austria, Croatia, and Serbia. Over 200 of us were knocking on doors at the same moment. It was exhilarating.

We knocked on the first door. No one home. No matter, there were still 2 hours and 59 minutes of invaluable finding time left. We approached the next door. Joy! We could hear someone! Would this be it? No. She wasn’t interested. We took the cement stairs down as fast as we could, wasting no time on in between. We had floors and floors to go. On each floor, at each door, we’d get the same reverie of anticipation. We were lost in the Spirit. Miracles were going to happen today -- to us!

However, nothing happened in that first building. We knocked on every door, on every floor of the building. No one wanted to let us in and share our message. But, the one good thing about being rejected fast is that we had a lot of time left to seek out those who were primed. Onward to the next building we went like the Christian soldiers we were. We had prayed about the entire street; possibilities ad infinitum.

We knocked on door after door, in building after building. Nothing. We still had over an hour left. We would not loose faith. We were Challenging and Testifying Missionaries. We rejected failure.

We ran out of buildings before we ran out of time. We had knocked on every door in 7 huge apartment buildings. With about 15 minutes left of our three hour slot, we had a decision to make. Should we give up? Or, should we go to another area and start anew? Despair and disappointment awakened inside us, but I knew we would forever regret it if we went home now, without anything to report at our upcoming district meeting.

We pulled out our map and quickly relocated to another area that we had felt good about when we were initially praying. There were three smaller buildings in this area. We committed to knocking on all the doors, even if we went over our time. Each building was only three stories high, which meant no elevator. We raced up the stairs, caught our breath, and knocked. No one was home. Door after door never opened. If there was someone home, we would get one of the usual rejections through the slit of opened door restricted by chains.

We had only one door remaining...

The following day at our district meeting, I was a music box cranked to capacity. Our district leader could tell I was about to explode with enthusiasm, so he let me share our experience first. I regurgitated our regrettably typical afternoon of rejection to them and waited until they were all listening before I moved on to the final door.

“Our three hours was long gone,” I spoke in an undertone as if our lives depended on their strict attention, “but we still had one more door. The final door in the final building. We approached it. Plastered right below the peep hole was a familiar sign, “Pozor, hud pes” (Danger, Evil Dog -- Beware of Dog). We did not falter a single step. No evil dog was going to stop us. We were missionaries on a very specific and important mission. We knocked. We waited. We heard the dog barking....

“Then, the dog seemed to quiet down as we heard a young female voice approaching. She opened the door just a crack and asked ‘Who is it?’

“It was my turn to give the door approach. For what must have been the hundredth time that afternoon, I smiled and said, ‘We are missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We have an important message for you. Could we come in and share it?’

“ ‘Who?’ she repeated.

“ ‘Have you ever heard of the Mormons?’ I asked.

“‘Yes! I have!’ Her eyes lit up immediately. ‘Just a second. I have something.’

“She closed the door again. But, we were not going anywhere. We stood in silence, each with a prayer raging in our hearts. This was it!

“When she returned two minutes later, she held an English Book of Mormon in her hands. She had put the dog in another room and removed the chain on her door. She opened the door wide and stood in the doorway.

“ ‘Is this book from your church?’ she inquired.

“ ‘Yes! Yes it is!’ we both responded a little too enthusiastically.

“ ‘Oh! This is wonderful. I’m so happy to find you!’ She was hugging the book to her chest, like she somehow understood how precious it was.

“ ‘I went on vacation to California last year to see Disneyland and visit some friends that had moved there,’ she looked lost in her memories as she spoke. ‘While I was there, my friends gave me this book. I think they are part of your church now. I speak English pretty well, and so I started to read it on my plane ride home. I have now read it all the way through two times. I love this book! I have been wondering how to find out more about this church and if there was even one in Slovenia, and here you are knocking on my door!”

“We were stunned. Was this really happening?

I looked around the small room at our district of Elders. Everyone was on the edge of their seats. No one was looking anywhere but at my face. Some of their jaws were slightly open. Nothing like this ever happened to any of us. Ever.

“So,” I said to the room full of awaiting missionaries, “Do you think we wasted any time teaching her all the discussions? We did not! We went out back, dammed up the creek behind her place, and baptized her before we left!”

Silence. I struggled to hold in my laughter at the confusion that was slowly working its way over their excited faces. Our stalwart zone leader had jumped up off his chair.

“Sister Groberg! You are not supposed to baptize....”

That was when my companion and I lost it. Our laughter was enough to jolt him back to reality.

“I didn’t baptize anyone!” I explained between breaks of laughter. Everyone was either mad or laughing by this time. “No one was home at that last door. The dog barked and barked. End of story. We didn’t find anyone. But, I just couldn’t come here today and say that. I just couldn’t.”

I’m not sure if my zone leader ever looked at me the same way again. I’ve often wondered what lesson I was supposed to learn from this whole experience. We had followed every step of the law, done everything right, and yet no blessings came. It is one of those incidents that I will ask about in the hereafter. But, for now, it sure makes a good story.


Diana Waite said...

LOVED the story! had me sitting on the edge of my chair too! Wasn't it fun to pull the elder's legs... :) TOO funny!

sanders six said...

ah, but the blessings did come....i am sure of it :)

Wendy said...

This is awesome! You had me going there for a minute.

VikiViki said...

I think Elders need their legs pulled once in a while...maybe the blessing was learning to infuse your monotony with hilarity! (SO not sure if that's a word). Nice one jennie!

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