I have a wonderful story for you this week. A straight-up, missionary-classic, outright miracle experience. Are you ready?
It starts on June 28th, 2011. I woke up and thought, "hey, its my birthday, I think I will ask Heavenly Father for a birthday wish." I knelt down to pray and asked Him for a birthday present, a "miracle". I thought it was kind of funny, asking God for a birthday present, haha. That day came and passed as a normal day, I didn't at first recognize my "birthday present" from Heavenly Father. We talked to lots of people on the street and got a few phone numbers like usual. One was a woman named Angela. We were walking to an appointment and we passed her on the street, close to where our church in Ostia is. We said simply, "buongiorno" as we do to many people we pass, but Anglela stopped immediately in her tracks. Not quite sure what to do next, we awkwardly introduced ourselves as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the first thing she said was "Amo Gesu!" (I love Jesus!) She was in a hurry and we were in a hurry, but she left us with her address and phone number and told us to come over anytime to her house. For the next week we referred to her as the "Amo Gesu" woman!
A few days later we stopped by her house and talked with her a little bit about our message, leaving her a Book of Mormon and inviting her to read from it. Angela is Ukranian, she has lived in Italy for 11 years, married an Italian, and has a 3 year old daughter named Sofia. She has these intense blue eyes and kind of wacky, short blond hair and is always dressed in a nightgown when we go over. She is also very religious, and she told us all about how 15 years ago she came to know Jesus when she first went to the Evangelical Church. I remember we read from the introduction of the Book of Mormon with her and there is a part that talks about how if you gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon, you will also know by the same power that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on the earth. She After reading the introduction, we asked her what she thought about it and she told us that she really liked the last paragraph because she "had never thought of her Evangelical church as the kingdom of God on the earth" and "how true and neat that is!". Sorella Olsen and I laughed, she missed the whole point! Well, we invited her to read and to pray about the Book of Mormon and set up a return appointment.
We went back a few days later and she hadn't read anything yet, but we taught her the Restoration. We really liked her because she immediately had a lot of love and respect for us as missionaries of Jesus Christ, and with tears in her eyes told us about how she has been praying for us because she knows how hard it must be to walk around with a nametag and have people mock and persecute us. How sweet of her! At the end, something strange happened. Sorella Olsen and I hadn't talked about it together before and it hadn't even crossed my mind; but at the very end of the lesson I thought suddenly, "baptismal invite!" and before I could think about if it was the right thing to do, it seemed to just spill out of my mouth. I asked, "When you receive an answer to your prayers and you feel that these things are true, will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized?" She stared at me, probably a little shocked, and responded, "But I have already been baptized." We reiterated the idea of the Restoration that we had just taught and the restoration of the proper Priesthood authority to do baptisms and asked her again. Her response? "vediamo"- "we'll see"
We called her on Wednesday for an appointment the next day and the first thing she said to us on the phone was "Ho letto il libro. Vengo in chiesa" (I read the book, I am coming to church.) We thought to ourselves, that's nice, she started reading and wants to come to church, and then promptly forgot about it.
The next time we saw her was on Thursday, July 7. We met up with her outside her house so that we could walk together to a fireside with a few members. We asked her how she was doing and what she did that day. She responded,
"I read all day long"
"Really, what did you read?"
"The Book of Mormon and the pamphlets you gave me"
At this point, Sorella Olsen and I already started glancing at each other, thinking "all day long? wow, that's wonderful!"
"Great, Angela! What did you think?"
In a very matter of fact way, Angela responded,
"I decided to be baptized,"
and literally turned on her heel and started talking to a friend on the street, leaving us staring behind her with our mouths open.
Was she serious? We had no idea how to respond, and I guess we started giggling nervously/excitedly because when Angela turned back towards us, she said "Ridete", like "go ahead and laugh".
As we came to our senses a little bit, we started asking her questions. But how? Why? What did you learn? How did you reach this decision?
She explained to us how she started reading the Book of Mormon a few days before and she said she felt the Spirit with that Book in a way that she had never felt it before. Never in all her years going to the evangelical church (and she was a pretty hard core evangelical church). She couldn't put the Book down, it was so fascinating and she was so intrigued by it. She told us that she read all about the Restoration in the pamphlet we left and it just felt so right and made so much sense. She explained how she knew something was missing from her church, and now she finally understood what it was. She remembered that we had talked about how she needed to be baptized and she told us that she realized her baptism before wasn't valid and that she needed to baptized by someone with the authority. Still shell-shocked and fumbling on our words (we were never taught how to respond to this, haha), we asked,
"So, you believe the Book of Mormon is true?"
She answered, once again very matter-of-factly, "Of course I do"
Then she continued to tell us about how she was telling all of her friends about the Book of Mormon and it was a shame that we gave her one in Ukrainian because she wanted copies in Italian that she could give away to everyone. Ahhh!! That is an absolute dream for any missionary!
At the fireside, she told the other members about how she met us and how at first she thought we were a little strange, preaching to her and leaving her books to read. It was hilarious the way that she described it to them "And then they told me, 'you need to be baptized' and I said 'no, i am already baptized' and they told me again 'no, you need to be baptized!'" Haha, we weren't quite that abrupt! But then she told them about how she read the Book and she understand why.
As we walked back with her, we asked, "How does August 6 sound for your baptism?" and she said "perfect." August 6th it is!
The following days have been a dream. Every time we see Angela, we realize that it is all real, she really did gain a powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon immediately and she really is willing to do whatever she needs to to be baptized.
She is already talking with all her friends and giving away Books of Mormon and every time we see her, she tells us about how she is inviting EVERYONE she knows to her baptism. She told us that we need to come with her to her old church and talk to her pastor and the congregation and tell them about the things we teach. She prays fervently every day that she may find other people who will be baptized with her on August 6th. In talking about converting others, she said, "first, my congregation at the evangelical church. next, the world". Haha, WOW! She brought us to her neighbor a few days ago and with us described the Book of Mormon and the joy it brings.
She told us that she felt such joy when she first learned about the Savior 15 years ago and now she feels that same joy but more profoundly. She accepts everything we teach her and is trying to memorize everything. We taught the plan of salvation and she had studied the pamphlet before. We asked her,
"Where did we live before this life?"
She immediately blurted out, "Vita Preterrena" Perfect! NO ONE we teach remembers what it is called, not even the members remember, and we hadn't even taught it to her yet!
She is bright, smart, committed and extremely enthusiastic. It is absolutely incredible, a complete miracle. She couldn't come to church last week because she already had another commitment and was devastated. She cant wait to come this Sunday and come to know the other members of the church. She told someone, "all these years I have lived right around the corner from your church and I never even knew it"
The work is going so well right now, we have three baptismal dates, and another investigator who surely will be baptized although wants to take his time. We had an incredible lesson with Adriano on the Atonement. This guy, who is brilliant and very well educated, learned about the infiniteness of the Atonement and how completely it applied to his life. It was fascinating watching him talk with a member about it,
"So you are telling me that the Atonement covers even our sicknesses and pains that don't come from sin?"
"And it applies to everyone who ever lived and who ever will live?"
"That is just fascinating!" Haha, nice response, Adriano. We are trying to help him make this "fascinating" knowledge more personal to him.
The things we take for granted, the knowledge that we have, truly is incredible.
It has been a wonderful week. My testimony of prayer and of being led by the Spirit is increasing tremendously. I don't know how else to describe it. Just like Angela, I too know that the Book of Mormon is true, it changes lives, and that this is the one true Church of Jesus Christ, with the restored priesthood authority on the earth. There is great joy that comes in this knowledge and I know that with our faith and ONLY with our faith, miracles happen.