To all the parents who sent family members into the MTC this past week, we met many of them here at Temple Square--you can rest assured that the Lord knows what He is doing in sending them where they are going. They are exemplary people who know how to do right by their Father in Heaven. They love the Lord, they love the work, and they love each of you who they left at home. Know you are in their prayers and that they love and adore you. Pray for each other, let your Father in Heaven be a part of your family here no matter the distance.
Prayer really can overcome and transform any distance and any barrier. A couple weeks ago I wrote home about a man named Anderson in Nigeria. Anderson is someone we have been teaching over the phone, and what a blessing it has been. Where he is there are no local missionaries, instead his bishop and the ward members teaching him after church and give him the materials he needs to prayerfully study. He is such a powerful example of the Lord really overcoming barriers.
This past week when we called Anderson, he excitedly told us that he had saved up all his money to take the long and exhausting trip to attend Stake Conference. He recited to us all that took place on his bus trip to the conference, the way he tried to get there early so he could sit in the front row, and the people he shared the gospel with who he met on the way. He was so wonderful and gave us a very full and detailed report of all he had learned and the spirit that he felt.
"The first talk was about honesty, and I really liked that," he said. "But I have to be honest, when they talked about marriage, I didn't listen because that does not have any value to me right now."
Sister Opeda and I laughed and just smiled as we spoke over the phone in our little cubicle in Salt Lake City, picturing this man in Nigeria on the other line. Then our laughter turned into surprised stares.
"I do not have time to think about marriage right now," he continued. "I promise the Lord I will serve a mission. I will be a missionary."
Okay, remember we have never met Anderson, and over the phone he sounds like he's in about his early thirties. He has talked to us about his business and many things that led us to believe he was much older.
"Wait, Anderson, how old are you?" we asked.
"17. I am 17, my sisters, and I want to serve a mission and bring the light like you have brought it to me," he said.
Sister Opeda and I just started to cry. Little did we know that we had been teaching this young man the whole time. The spirit that came over us was unlike anything I had before experienced. He shared that he will save up all he has to serve a mission, and that he has started his missionary work already. He gave a copy of The Book of Mormon to his brother, and is saving up all his money to travel to see his family and to take them to church with him and to his baptism next week.
"Through me, they will know the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will know the real meaning of the love of Him," he testified.
As we sat there and cried with him over the phone and shared our testimonies, I thought back to our very first conversation with him when he called into the Mormon.org phone number. In our first contact and interaction with him, we closed with a prayer and he said, "Please, please teach me how to pray." We taught him how to pray and then he repeated.
"Close your eyes, bow your head," he said, and he has said it in every single one of our lessons since. Each time he says these few simple words, there is an inexpressible joy that comes through the phone that so deeply penetrates our hearts.
Although we have not seen him in person, our love for him is real. Although we have not seen him physically close his eyes and bow his head, this last week we were able to envision him doing so, as we saw Jerrell be baptized and follow this very same pattern in the waters of baptism.
Jerrell was someone Sister Gearheart and I met last transfer up at the Christus here on Temple Square. This past weekend, he followed his Savior and was baptized by the Priesthood authority of God and received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. What a miracle it was to see his joy increase and deepen over these past few weeks. He is now preparing to receive the Priesthood to baptize his two children Oscar and Madison later this month.
Everything from Salt Lake with Jerrell to Nigeria with Anderson all connected as I watched Jerrell go into the waters of baptism. When attending a baptism for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is always an opportunity for everyone to be able to see regardless of where they are sitting. There is always a mirror above the baptismal font and angled so that everyone can see. However, the children are always invited to come up and to peer through the glass to get a closer look.
As Jerrell was walking back to the font to be baptized, the children were invited to come forth. As I was reaching into my bag I then heard, "Sister Briggs! Sister Briggs!" You need to be up here too." It was Madison, his 7 year old daughter.
As I walked forward, Madison and Oscar (Jerrell's son) put out their arms and had me sit right in between them. As Jerrell was baptized, the strongest spirit came over each and every one of us, especially Jerrell.
I thought of the very same words from our Savior's baptism,
"And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:16-17)
As Jerrell came up out of the water, you could see relief in his very countenance. You could see years of pent up questions and remorse taken away. You could see the joy he felt in knowing that he was loved by his Father, as he was someone who hadn't seen his birth father since he was three.
The member who baptized him left the water and there was Jerrell. He closed his eyes and brought his hands up to his eyes, bowed his head and took a deep breath.
There came Anderson's words to my head again, "Close your eyes, bow your head."
I testify that Jerrell that day was able to feel the very reality of our living Father in Heaven and our living Savior Jesus Christ. I testify that in such humble and joyous moments, they can be remembered and imprinted on our very souls as we "close our eyes and bow our heads."
As Jerrell's hands came down, and his head back up, he looked at us and smiled, and looked up as if he could hear his Father in Heaven's voice too.
May we each take the time to "close our eyes and bow our heads" and then to look up in gratitude for the peace we feel in doing so, for the light in brings, and for the way it enables us to follow our Savior in His directed way.
I love you all so very much. This gospel is true, it is perfect, it is His! :)
SHOUTOUTS: Barbara Keil, Mom & Dad Briggs, Bry & Case (feel better boo boy!), Jessica Helm, Momma Pickerell, President Hermansen and the Reno Nevada Mission office, Sister Green, Brother & Sister Donakey, Mary, Becca, Sara, Barry, Robert, Grandma Jeanie and Grandfather...and you :)