Sunday, February 12, 2006

His Image In [Their] Countenance

Perdon? That's how I responded to Sonya's tortured admission of guilt; roughly translated: I'm sorry, what was that?

Sonya lived with her husband Pedro and their three children in a small but tidy apartment in Tulancingo, a far-off suberb of the never-ending Mexico City. We first met her son as we knocked other doors in his apartment building. He ran up and down the stairs, back and forth, passing us four times. Finally, I stopped him:

Hey, go ask your mom if she wants to hear a religious discussion. He nodded and scampered back up the stairs.

My companion elbowed me: Nice technique, Elder--contacting eight year olds.

We kept knocking.

A couple minutes later, here came Carlos: Mom says come up.

I elbowed my companion back and we ascended the stairs again. It was Christmas time so we sang Silent Night and talked about Christ's birth. Sonya cradled her son in her arms and looked sadly into the distance as we sang. She wanted us to come back and meet her husband that night.

We did. He was cordial but cool. Over the next few weeks we taught their little family the Gospel. When we learned about repentance, Sonya's eyes lit up. As she read the Book of Mormon a change came over her countenance. Each day when we arrived she grabbed the book, clutched it to her chest, and referred to it--with carino--as mi librito (my little book).

Pedro didn't change. He was known, at work and at home, as a rough character. A ward member told us how harsh he could be as a supervisor and his wife told stories of his expectations of perfection--especially when they first married. Back then, if she made a mistake he would clam up for days, the silence was to teach her not to make mistakes in the future. He became a bit more kind as we taught him, but his demeanor retained a stony sheen.

Still, he and his family decided to be baptized. My companion and I were so excited. We had been making special sacrifices that month, hoping for miracles, and this was one. An entire family baptized--we could so easily imagine returning to Mexico for the sealing.

By a strange trick of transfers, I ended up being assigned to interview Sonya and Pedro for their baptism. That morning, we walked with high steps and beaming smiles to their apartment. I would interview Sonya that morning and Pedro in the evening. I sat down with Sonya and we began the interview:

Do you believe in God the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost?

Si, si creo (yes, yes I believe).

Do you believe

and so the interview continued without a hitch. As we neared the end of the interview, we both found ourselves smiling and weeping--we knew we were witnessing a miracle.

Despite her joy, however, Sonya fidgeted with the edge of the bedspread as we worked our way through the interview. Finally, as I asked the penultimate question, her gaze dropped to the floor:

Is there are serious transgression in your past about which you feel we should speak before I recommend you for baptism? Specifically, have you ever...

she began, with obvious pain and embarrasment, there is something I need to tell you. Well, about ten years ago, let's see, when we were first married, well, Pedro was very mean to me. I often couldn't feel love in our home. And so, well, I wasn't faithful.

What do you mean, Sonya?

I those years.

I stared, mouth agape, and felt the wind rush from my stomach. I stammered: what? how? you did?

Elder, do I need to tell my husband? I know I can't start this new life if I am lying to my husband. But if I tell him, he'll want a divorce and then everything will be ruined. What can I do? Elder, I want to start a new life, but I can't, not with these sins hidden from my husband? What should I do?

All my wisdom, let alone the words to articulate it, immediately fled. I just looked at her. I fingered the scriptures absently and kept looking at Sonya, whose eyes were rimmed with tears.

Finally, I said, Sonya, I just don't know. I need to talk to my President. I'll call him tonight. Don't do anything until I come and talk to you tomorrow. Just wait. Please.

I felt sick. My companion and I quickly said goodbye and I explained the siuation to him as we walked down the stairs. We spent the rest of the say wandering about like zombies--our dreams for this family scattering like ashes in the breeze.

That night I called the President. I explained the circumstances: President, what should I do?

He sighed his contemplative sigh and was silent for a long while. Then: Elder, I don't know, I'll call the area president and call you back.

Thirty minutes later, the President called. I was not one to question my president, and he was not one to question the area President, but neither of us felt very confident about the conversation which ended: So I tell her she doesn't need to tell him?

Yes, Elder, the President says the Atonement will wash away her sins--they will no longer exist. It was appropriate that she confess this to her Priesthood leader, but as the sins will no longer exist, there is no need to tell her husband.

Ok, President.
But it didn't really feel ok. No one believes more strongly in the power of the Atonement than I do, but I could not reconcile the idea of making Sonya take those sins to the grave with her. What would happen in Pedro found out later? If she felt she needed to tell him, who was I to tell her not to?

I slept little that night; the hours passed slowly but 10:00 AM came quickly.

My companion and I sat down with Sonya. Even then, pulling our chairs under us to sit down, I didn't know what I would say. I prayed desperately within: please tell me what to do. No insipiration seemed to come.

With anxious eyes, Sonya blurted out: Elders, I told him.

For the second time in as many days, I felt the wind rush out of my lungs.

You what? I knew I might have told her to do the same, but I couldn't believe she had already gathered the courage. We stared at her for what seemed like five minutes. Finally, she went on: He said we are beginning new lives in Christ Jesus, and the things we did before do not matter. He said those things will be washed away, we will be clean. We are starting over.

Again, I sat gaping, but this time I felt joy welling up inside me like rushing water. I looked at my companion, looked at Sonya, jumped out of my chair, ran around the table, and grabbed her in a bear hug.

We wept.

Days later, we met with her family and much of the ward at the baptismal font. Pedro asked that I baptize him. I will never forget the light that shone from his face, as if his countenance reflected the glow from an unseen and gentle sun. He smiled as I raised him from the water.

A mighty change, indeed.

Perhaps, in the end, I did not understand the Atonement so well as I had thought; Christ's power was much greater than I had ever supposed.


Anonymous manaen said...

I wept at Pedro's response. Thank you.

8:26 AM  
Blogger RoAnn said...

Thank you for this wonderful story about Pedro and Sonya. Because you took the time to tell it, the ripples of its influence for good will continue, strengthening the testimonies of those who read it, though they be years or miles away from the miracle that happened in that far-off suburb of Mexico City.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Wilfried said...

These are the kind of experiences that make both converts and missionaries stronger and are at the core of the Gospel. Thank you for sharing it here.

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2 Nephi 3:1

6:22 PM  

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