The Lord always keeps His promises. We’ve been taught that we can have faith in this. The problem that we have sometimes, though, is that we tend to limit the Lord, and we have the tendency to have more faith in our own perspective than in the idea that He’s in control in ways that maybe we can’t even understand.
One of my biggest weaknesses is my nearsightedness. And this isn’t the type that can be remedied with a cute pair of tortoiseshell frames. This is my tendency to think that everything that exists is within my field of vision and that if it’s not there, spelled out in clear black and white before me, it must be missing and the Lord must have forgotten about it. Luckily, I have had experiences that keep reminding me that sometimes results come out looking a lot different than what we were expecting. Different, but no less breathtakingly beautiful.
The last transfer of my mission I had a new companion fresh off the plane, Sister Handley. We were in “my area” – Yamate Ward in downtown Yokohama, Japan. I had served in Yamate twice and had ended up spending about half my mission in the beautiful, geographically tiny area and I knew every street and alley in and out. We had some recent converts, wonderful women that I knew and loved, that we were working with, but we hadn’t had any new investigators in a long time and a lot of our promising leads turned out being dead ends, as far as we could tell. Sister Handley was homesick and having a hard time transitioning, but she wasn’t afraid to work hard and be strong. At the beginning of our transfer together we attended a zone conference in which President Tucker urged us all to make concrete, numerical goals for what we wanted to see that transfer and then prayerfully pursue them. I had always had an aversion to numbers because I didn’t want to become the kind of missionary who pressured people in pursuit of statistics. I wanted to work with real people and do what was best for them, not try to manipulate them into things that I could check off on a worksheet but really had no personal meaning. So it was a little bit doubtfully that I talked to President Tucker during that interview – I told him that I didn’t know if I had enough faith in numbers to make a goal like that. But he wisely told me that being prayerful was part of making goals, not just the pursuit of them, and that the Spirit could inspire my companion and I to write down numbers that we would pursue faithfully and then be led to people who had been prepared. He promised me that the Lord asked me to do things to increase my own faith, not just to serve my investigators and encouraged me to talk with my companion, exercise a little faith, and write down some numerical goals for the transfer.
So Sister Handley and I sat down together and talked about it. “We don’t have any investigators, we don’t have any potential investigators, and the contacting we do in this area tends to be with commuters and tourists that live elsewhere that we can then refer out at best. But what do you think about goals for a baptism in the next six weeks? Do you think it’s a good idea to set a goal for one baptism even though we have no idea how it would come about?” Sister Handley said she was as hesitant about it as me, but willing to but her faith to the test. So we wrote a numeral 1 in that little box, and we made it a matter of daily prayer. I think our prayers sounded something like “Heavenly Father, I have no idea how we’re going to get a baptism in six weeks, but we believe you can do it if you want to.”
Meanwhile, we worked hard. We tried to be innovative in our contacting. We tried to make sure we went to areas that we didn’t go to often. We tried to do more contacting on our bikes on our way to other places. And we kept up a previous goal that we had had to call one inactive member every night.
It had been a whim of a goal a few weeks earlier, and it didn’t seem to be the most promising exercise. But we had a relatively small ward and we thought it would be possible to call every sister on the ward list, even those who had been inactive for years. Where we couldn’t make contact by phone we would try to visit addresses – and we got a lot of unhappy people who weren’t interested in talking to us. We also got a lot of people running away from us. There were even the occasional doors we knocked on to be answered by a pleasant voice inside saying “nobody’s home!”
So it was with a little surprise and a little incredulity that I talked to Sister Aleta one night. Sister Aleta was from the Philippines, had married a Japanese man and hadn’t been to church since she’d first moved in, as was too often the story with sisters in similar situations. When she answered the phone I introduced myself and started my standard set of questions, asking whether she would mind us coming by and sharing a message sometime. She cut me short, though, before I could even ask – “OK, I’ll come,” she said.
“Oh. Come where?” I asked, baffled.
“To church this Sunday. Thank you Sister,” she replied and then hung up.
The reply had seemed enough like a brush-off that I really didn’t expect to see her walk into church on Sunday with her three children and her cousin Imelda. Imelda was Catholic, and was staying with them for a few months, but wanted to come to church because she hadn’t been in such a long time. She was so friendly and cute and I sat next to her in Relief Society to translate into English for her and she held my hand.
And Imelda, who watched Aleta’s kids during the weekdays, had all sorts of spare time and would love it if we would come by and teach her about the Gospel a couple times a week. I was so overjoyed to finally have someone who wanted to talk to us. On top of that, Aleta came up to me after church and said “I’m so glad you invited me back. I’ve been thinking about coming back to church for a long time but I just never get brave enough to come. But I want my children to learn about it. My little boy is going to be 8 this month but he’s never even been to church. I want him to study with the missionaries.”
My heart leapt. “Do you think he can study with the elders?” she asked. My heart settled back down a little, but I gladly called the elders over and they made an appointment right then and there.
So we began teaching Imelda and she was so sweet and welcoming. She had amazing faith in the Lord and surprisingly little resistance to ideas like a need for a restoration and the possibility that prophets could be called today. With a few weeks left in the transfer, it looked like she could be the answer to our prayers.
The week before I was supposed to leave Japan, we showed up at Imelda’s house for an appointment only to see her wheeling a big suitcase into the living room. “Oh sisters! I’m glad I could see you today. I didn’t get my visa approved so I have to go back to the Philippines tomorrow,” she said. Our hearts sank. We of course promised her that we’d get her in touch with the missionaries in her hometown and make sure she had someone to take her to church there, but her address was a little unstable – in a not-very-developed part of town that she said “sometimes could get mail but sometimes couldn’t.” We wrote the most detailed, excruciating referral that’s probably ever been written that night and I still pray that the missionaries in the Philippines were able to find and continue teaching her, but she had to change her cell phone number once she moved and I lost contact with her right after that.
So it was with a bit of a heavy heart that I put my white planner into my suitcase to go home along with its lonely number 1 written on that page for transfer goals. We’d been praying sincerely every day, really putting our faith to the test and I felt like somehow I must have done it wrong. I had really thought that there would be a miracle somehow, that I’d meet someone new and get to see them baptized before I left. But I guess we don’t always know the will of the Lord? It seemed like a really unsatisfying answer.
It wasn’t until a year later, almost to the day, that I realized a big part of the story I’d been entirely blind to. I was chatting with one of the elders I had worked with; he had just gotten home and we were reminiscing about all our friends in Yamate. He mentioned something about Daisuke, and I’d forgotten the name. “Who is Daisuke?” I asked.
“Daisuke Takahashi, you know,” he said, “Aleta’s son.”
I hadn’t remembered until then that Daisuke, who’d taken all the missionary lessons with the elders as well as turning eight, had been baptized on the very day I left the mission. I had been a little sad that there was one last baptismal service being planned in the ward and I would be staying in the mission home in Tokyo that night waiting for my plane home and wouldn’t be able to attend it.
But even though I wasn’t the one who taught Daisuke his lessons or got to see him baptized, I realized with a little kick of clarity that it had been because of the seemingly silly goal that my companion and I had made to call an inactive member each night that Daisuke’s Mom had come back to church and decided that she wanted him to study with the elders so he would be ready to be baptized by the time he was eight. It seemed like just another random occurrence but in reality, his baptism had been on the very last day of that transfer, that transfer with the lonely number 1 written in that little box in my planner. The Lord had let me put my faith to the test and, even when I thought I had been defeated or mistaken, had followed through. He had made me a promise, a subtle promise through the inspired counsel of my mission president, that He had followed through on.
I have to remind myself of this story frustratingly often – it’s amazing how prone I can be to forgetting the miracles I’ve seen and getting bogged down again in my little pool of worry and resignation. But my Father knows what’s going on in my life – He guides my actions and brings things together for my good when I’m living worthily and seeking His Spirit through diligence and prayer. And even though I’m too nearsighted to see the grand, beautiful masterpieces He is painting all around me, they are very real, and some day I will be able to stand back and see with enough clarity what He had been encouraging me about all along.