Ok. I admit it. I was having doubts. We’d thought the Spirit had said to knock this street–you know, that subtle whisper we non-apostles so easily misinterpret–but after the third house I doubted we were receiving any real inspiration.
“Hello, Mam. How are you tonight? My name is Elder Durant, and this is my companion, Elder Ketchum. Might we please speak with the head of the household?”
“Oh, it’s you guys again. Listen, we’re eating dinner right now, ok?”
“Ok. Have an enjoyable evening.”
The two of us marched automatically to the next door. We’d been rejected so many times that day it’d become funny, like being slapped silly. After the hurting, the only thing left is the silly.
“Well hello there, little girl. You sure are a cute one! My name’s Elder Ketchum. Who’s that person whispering to you from behind the door? Is it your mommy? Would you get her for us?”
“She’s not home right now.”
“And your daddy?”
“He’s at…What did you say, mommy? Oh…work, right?”
“Are you home alone? It’s just like that movie with Macaulay Culkin!”
She’d never seen the movie.
“Well, will you do me a favor, little girl?”
“I don’t know. I guess so.”
“Go ask your mommy when she’ll get home.”
Relieved that’s all we wanted, the little creature darted into the house.
“She said she’ll be home late–around 11:30.”
“Wow! She’s working hard, isn’t she? Thanks for asking. Bye bye!”
“Hello,” I said to our next candidate for salvation. “How are you tonight?”
“I’m fine. Listen, I’m really busy right now. What do you want?”
“Oh, not much, sir. We’re visiting this street sharing messages about Jesus Christ. Do you have some time to talk with us?”
Elder Ketchum noticed a skinny young lady dash into her room, hunting for some nicer clothes. Curious, but he decided to ignore her.
“Well, I recently had tooth surgery, and like I said I’m really busy, so…I don’t think now is the best time.”
“Ok. Maybe another opportunity, sir.”
What happened next startled me more than headlights startle the deer that gets caught in them. A young woman ran toward us as fast as lightening, pigtails flying. ‘Twas a scene that would terrify any missionary. My instincts demanded I flee, but my more spiritual inclinations said I’d come out better than the deer in the end.
“Wait!” she called, a jet-fighter closing in on its target. “Wait!”
“Elder Ketchum, this could be the end. You’ve been a wonderful companion. I’m sorry if I hogged the fan at night, ok? Also, I stole some of your milk the other day. That was wrong of me, and I repent. It was really great knowing you. Think of it this way, now we’ll get to do missionary work on the other side of the veil! I hope you get Joseph Smith as your companion, because I’ve heard he’s a good one. He’ll probably never steal your milk, and I bet he even does his own dishes. He’s probably really good at telling the story of the first vision, too. Do you think this is how all those Japanese people felt when Godzilla was closing in on their city?”
She screeched to a stop before us.
“Hello! Um…is there…uh…something we can do for you?”
I moved myself behind Elder Ketchum, wiping my sweaty palms on my yellowed white shirt. One advantage of being senior companion is that you can use your junior as a human shield.
“I heard you guys believe in prophets in the Americas. Is that true?”
“Elder Ketchum, I think this is one of the examples in the Missionary Guide! Page one hundred and twenty-three! I don’t believe it!”
“You know, prophets in the Americas? You guys are the mozmuns, right?”
“Actually it’s Mormons, and we do believe in prophets in the Americas. Sorry my companion is so…excited. I don’t think he’s been sleeping very well.”
“Wow! And I thought you were Godzilla! We gotta bapt–I mean–teach you! Is your dad home?”
“Yeah, but he just had tooth surgery, so I don’t think it would work out. Hey, are you going to be alright?”
“Well, let me think here…The Sousa family isn’t home right now, so we can’t teach you there. The Barbosas are out of town, and the Santos family’s all at work…”
“Hey, maybe you two could set up an appointment to come back. You do do that kind of thing, don’t you?”
“That’s a great idea! We’ll ask the Silva family on Bebedouro street if we can teach you there. Does Tuesday at three o’clock work for you?”
“Sounds great. I’ll be there.”
“Durant,” Elder Ketchum whispered as she left, “the name.”
“Oh! Wait just a second! There isn’t enough room here on my planner for ‘Godzilla.’ You don’t have a nickname, do you?”
“Ok. See you Tuesday.”
Tuesday was hot as always, one-hundred degrees and a humidity of a hundred and ten percent. At exactly three o’clock Elder Ketchum and I stood at Taciana’s front door covered in sweat and dying for water. Well, okay, it was 3:10, but ten minutes make little real difference, right? People arrive late for everything: births, weddings, total eclipses, etc.
“Hello, Mam! How are you this morning?”
“Just fine. What can I do for you two?”
“We are here to speak with Godzi…oh man…what was her name?…”
“Taciana,” Elder Ketchum prompted.
“Oh, yeah. Taciana. Is she home right now? It’s about prophets in the Americas.”
“She left five minutes ago. Said she was going to look for Mozmons.”
“Mormons,” Elder Ketchum corrected.
“Do you by chance know where she went? It wasn’t Tokyo, was it?”
“All she told me was that she was going to look for someone who belonged to the mozmun church. She headed off in the direction of Bebedouro street.”
“Thanks a lot for your help,” Elder Ketchum called back after we’d already embarked, two hunters in pursuit of their prey, two missionaries trailing the elect.
“Look! There she is!”
Elder Ketchum pointed as if she were some African jaguar we’d cornered. I felt compelled to crouch behind a bush and speak with an Australian accent. Taciana was knocking doors looking for us!
“Crikey, Elder Ketchum! For over a year and a half now I’ve been tracting, scrutinizing the streets of Maceió for people to teach, but this is the first time
I’ve ever seen an investigator tracting to find us!”
“Should we go home and wait for her to find us, Elder Durant? When she gets there I could tell her I just had a tooth surgery! Boy would that ever be gratifying!”
I stood staring, mouth open in wonder. After knocking a few doors she noticed our impolite gaze and approached us with an amused accusation.
“You guys could have told me you were standing there. I thought you’d forgot my appointment so I decided to track down that member you mentioned–you know–the one on Bebedouro street.”
I felt like Alma when he spoke with the angel. So surprised was he at the celestial being’s reprimand that he “fell to the earth.” My suit insisted I remain standing. My knees nearly disobeyed.
“Elder Durant and I are really sorry, Taciana. You know, you’re very punctual.”
The Sousa home was simple but beautiful, immaculate despite the dirt road on which it was found. A picture of Christ hung on the wall above the couch, and Ms. Sousa prepared delicious sandwiches in the kitchen for the three of us. She even sent her out-of-control six-year-old Roberto to the back yard so we’d have peace. Elder Ketchum took out his flip chart and scriptures. I retrieved my Bible.
“Taciana, before we get started, you don’t have any questions, do you?”
She pulled an essay out of her pocket, flattening the paper on her lap as if it were fragile. Both sides were full of sentences ending in question marks.
“To start, do you guys believe in transubstantiation? What’s the deal with that, anyway?”
Each of Taciana’s discussions–and I will call them her discussions and not our own, for she did most the teaching–was an experience. She paid close attention to all we said, staring at our flip chart as if at a Monet and at our faces as if we were Paul and Peter. More than understand our words, she felt them. Once she almost surprised a random young man in the street; having learned about the restoration, she just wanted to hug someone. We explained that that feeling was the Spirit testifying of the truth. She agreed.
Elder Ketchum and I sat on the curb, our Doc Martins resting idly in the gutter and our elbows resting idly on our knees.
“Elder Durant, what about a service project? I heard the Barbosa family needs their septic tank cleaned out.”
“You’re a bit too charitable, Elder Ketchum. I never liked cleaning our bathroom at home, and I’m not going to volunteer to clean the world’s biggest toilet bowl now!”
We sat silently for a few minutes, lost in our thoughts. A slight wind kicked dust into our faces, but we didn’t blink. Another breeze whipped around the corner, this time carrying Taciana.
“Hi guys! Windy, isn’t it? Hey, I was just thinking about this whole church thing, and, well, don’t ya’ll think I ought to be baptized?”
“I don’t know, Taciana. We’re awfully busy, and Elder Ketchum was thinking about a tooth surgery. What do you think, Elder?”
“Aside from the surgery, there is that septic tank to clean. But what the heck, maybe we could find some time for a baptism on Saturday, don’t you think Elder Durant?”
The three of us smiled like children on Christmas day.
I’ll never forget a certain sacred night some weeks later. Taciana had asked us to visit her, and
we saw it as a great opportunity to work on her retention. Besides, it’s always fantastic to chat with one of your pre-earth-life friends!
“Hey, Elders. How ya’ll doing?”
“Great, and you?”
“I’m wonderful! I went to choir today and it was awesome. We’re singing ‘sim, Eu Te Seguirei,’ the song you guys sang at my baptism. Hey, sorry we can’t go in, but, as you know, my father is still recovering from his ‘tooth surgery.'”
“Man, Taciana! That was quite a surgery!”
The three of us laughed. Elder Ketchum and I had heard so many phoney excuses that they were more entertaining than bothersome. Once an honest-looking woman rejected us because her husband was drunk from Pepsi!
“Anyway, the reason I asked you to come by is because I’ve been thinking about all you’ve done for me. I’d like to say a prayer for you guys. Would that be ok?”
“That’d be great, Taciana. That’d be really great.”
We stood in front of her little house in the nine o’clock darkness, heads bowed. The street, normally boisterous with passers-by, was abandoned–a miracle, I suppose. Even the crickets became reverent, anticipating her prayer. This young lady’s spiritual maturity and sweet sincerity never ceased to amaze me. The shadowy night was chilly, but no one noticed, for as she began her simple prayer the Spirit surrounded us, a thick, comforting blanket.
“Heavenly Father. Thanks so much for sending these two Elders to baptize me. I’d been looking for the truth for so very long, but I just didn’t know where to find it. I know You sent them, because I felt a good feeling whisper to me that they spoke the truth. Please, Father, help them with everything they do. Help them to find more of Your children so Your great work can go ever forward. In my eyes, they are the best
Elders in the whole world. In the name of Jesus. Amen.”
As missionaries we couldn’t hug Taciana, but just then our three spirits came together in an enormous spiritual embrace.