Here’s a tidbit from the next book due out end of May
“You’ve got to meet Jose Romero,” said Elder John, smiling in anticipation of our pleasure.
“He’s crazy!” said Elder John.
“You want us to meet a crazy person?” we said.
“He talks fast, moves fast, and has all kinds of projects going at once.”
“He’s crazy but great. You have to meet him.”
Elder Cook nodded his head in agreement.
Every time we were with Elders John and Cook, they took us to meet Jose Romero. Or tried to. We stopped by in the afternoon after taking them grocery shopping, during the morning on our way back from giving them a ride to a planning meeting, and in the evenings after a shared appointment with Sancho, but Jose was never home.
We met with the bishop to find out which of the hundred or so people who weren’t coming to church he wanted us to work with. His eyes ticked off the list of names, then he looked up at us.
“Jose Romero,” he said.
We kept trying. For seven months the same scene played out.
“I don’t think he’s home,” I said to Parker as he knocked softly on the worn, intricately carved, heavy wooden door set into what looked to be a 100-year-old adobe house. I reached past him and gave three hard, sharp raps. All we heard was silence from the house and loud ferocious barking from the pit bull trying to get our attention from behind the high chain link fence next door. I glanced at the dog, then nodded at Parker who pulled a dog treat from his pocket and tossed it to him. The dog backed off and settled down for the snack he’d come to expect as we left, having failed again.
“We finally caught him home,” said Elder Cook. “His wife and children left him. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do.”
“It’s a crisis,” I said to the bishop the next Sunday. At 11 p.m. that night, after visiting and blessing hospital patients including Sister Beatriz’s husband Rafael, we stood once again knocking on Jose’s worn, intricately carved door. The same silence. The same dog wanting treats, which Parker readily supplied. The neighbor poked his head out his door to see what was going on.
“Jose? He moved. I don’t know where,” said the dark-eyed, dark-haired neighbor. Our sadness and anxiety increased. A family in crisis and no way to find Jose.
Last month our Spanish-speaking Elders John and Cook were replaced with young Spanish-speaking Sister missionaries. We told them about Jose Romero.
“Oh! We’ve met him,” one said. “We were knocking on doors and ran into him. He’s taken us to lunch twice. He’s really a good guy. Very sad. He really misses his children. We’re going again on Thursday.”
“Really?” I asked. I looked quickly at our planner. We couldn’t arrange to meet him. We were once again disappointed that we couldn’t arrange to meet the great, crazy, sad Jose. We told the bishop that the Sister missionaries were meeting with him. I guess God didn’t need us working with him.
In the meantime we had other people we successfully helped. For example, Enrique and Rosa. That was another family in crisis when we first met them. Enrique’s double addictions to alcohol and work put a lot of stress on the family. Since we had been visiting, Enrique stayed firmly on the path of soberness except for one episode with one of his brothers who, according to Rosa, was a bad influence.
Each time we went, the little digs, the bitter glances were less and less. They seemed to be calmer and happier as a couple, the teenage children more open and friendly.
Tonight they were actually sitting next to each other on the brocade couch instead of sitting in the wing chairs in a combatant position. Parker and I each took a newly upholstered wing chair and drew up close to the couch. Before we started our lesson for the night, they explained why they hadn’t come to church again. Each week an excuse.
This week they had car problems.
“When I turn right, it only goes halfway and when I turn left it overturns,” says Enrique. While Parker and Enrique discussed possible causes, Rosa and I tried to look interested. The root cause had something to do with tie rods and um . . . I forget. Something else.
“I have to get it running,” said Enrique. “I couldn’t come to church.
I thought, This is the third week he didn’t come and as long as he keeps “not coming” because of problems, he will keep having problems like this. This is a faith test. Perhaps if he’d gone to church, done what he was supposed to do when he was supposed to for the Lord, and trusted, his problem would have been solved because of his obedience. I thought that but I didn’t say it.
While we talked, I saw Tim, another church member, pass the picture window on his way to the door. I glanced questioningly at Rosa who said, “Oh. I forgot. Tim called last week and asked to come by to see how we’re doing. He’ll only stay a minute.”
Tim, a twenty-three-year-old recent college graduate and young father, chatted a bit and then got down to the point of his visit. “Can I help with anything?”
They mentioned car problems.
His smile disappeared. “I don’t know much about cars. I can change the oil and a spark plug but that’s about it. Well,” he added, “I also know something about suspension and steering systems. I had this problem once when my jeep was only turning partway to the right and overturning to the left. It took me about two weeks to figure out how to fix it.”
Oh my goodness! That’s the Lord for you. Tim, the twenty-three-year-old who arranged his visit a week ago, knew how to solve the problem Enrique spent a whole day working on with no success. God arranged a solution for Enrique’s problem before Enrique even had the problem. Enrique could have gone to church and his problem still would have been solved, while staying home accomplished nothing. God has perfect timing.
As Tim left, he arranged to come back the next day to help Enrique.
Then we began our family relations lesson for the night. It was a perfect one for Rosa and Enrique because the topic was parenting, and this was where they shone. We were getting close to the end of the lesson, when we saw a dark-haired Hispanic man walk past the picture window to the door.
“It’s my brother,” said Enrique. As he went to let him in, I felt a tiny bit of anxiety.
I said to Rosa, “Is this the one with the drinking problem?”
“No. This is his half-brother. He’s a good guy.”
We stood to go as he came in. He noticed our name tags and told us he was a member of the church but didn’t attend.
“Oh? What’s your name?” asked Parker.
Brother Garcia’s Bird
Sister Carla made another one of her offhand comments as we left her house last week.
“Brother Garcia’s bird has been here since Brother Garcia died,” said Sister Carla.
I just looked at her. I could kind of hear a chirping sound, but I didn’t see any bird. Anyway, why would she have Brother Garcia’s bird? He had a family—a wife and children. Wouldn’t they have his bird? Also I’d never seen a bird at Brother Garcia’s house. So I ignored her. Brother Garcia’s bird? What’s that about?
Yesterday, as we moved furniture so her new flooring could be installed, she mentioned it again. This time I said, “Where’s the bird? I don’t see it.”
“It’s in the attic,” she said. “I don’t know how it stays alive. There’s no food or water up there.”
Brother Garcia’s bird is in her attic? Ohhhkaay. I changed the subject and decided I’d push her doctor a little harder on that pre-dementia testing.
This morning Parker said to me, “Did you hear Sister Carla telling me about Brother Garcia’s bird?”
“No,” I said. “Did she tell you about it too?”
“Yes,” he said. “I had to point out to her that it isn’t a bird in her attic. It’s her smoke detector chirping because her battery is going dead.”
It’s a good thing Sister Carla and I have Parker. We’re taking batteries over today.
Crista and the Abalone Shell
When I was seven, Sister Buckley gave me an abalone shell. I have no idea what prompted her to bring the shell and give it to me. But I do know how it affected me. Every time I looked at it, I remembered a feeling I had.
The feeling I had the first time I went to the church. The feeling I had the day I was baptized at the age of eight. The feeling I had the first time I received a blessing because I was terribly ill.
I remembered those feelings, which were all related, because she gave me the shell the night she and her husband, a senior missionary couple, came to our home to help my father give me a blessing when I was ill. (I think it might have been a high fever and measles.) It might have been the first time my father gave a blessing. I don’t know the details for sure, except that I was ill, and I was given a blessing and an abalone shell.
And I remembered the feeling. The feeling that I was in the presence of God and felt both His love for me and His power to heal me. Now I’ve grown a bit spiritually, and I know the feeling of the Holy Spirit.
I felt the same feeling the first time I entered the church I attend now. I was six. Up to that time I had gone to different churches, sometimes with my parents, sometimes not. I went to the Presbyterian church with my neighbor who was also my first grade teacher, to the Episcopal church with my grandmother, to the Catholic church with other relatives and to vacation Bible school where I was taught about Jesus. I loved thinking about Him.
Then one day my parents took me to a different church. Even though I was only six, I had an overpowering feeling. How to describe the indescribable? Here’s the best I can do.
Up until then, I had learned a lot about Jesus, but that day I felt I met Him. I felt deep in my soul His love for me and His power as I walked into that church.
Whenever I looked at that abalone shell, I remembered that feeling of being in His presence, being surrounded with His love.
Which brings us to Crista.
Crista wanted to be spiritually fed. Her parents . . . I’m not sure what to say about her parents.
Her parents sat with us one day and said sincerely, “We don’t want to force religion on our children. They can make their own decisions about this. We don’t want to force our beliefs on them.”
True to that belief, the parents gave Crista and Gabe, her brother, no religious training at all, no spiritual food. Lots of organized sports, organized education, and organized parties but no organized spiritual training.
The mother said to us one day, “Everyone at church is a hypocrite. They all say they believe it but they don’t do it.”
I followed this thought through. If that was the criteria, no one should play sports since the coaches and team members say they know how to play a sport, but over and over they fail at it. No one should go to school because the teachers say they are there to teach and the children to learn, but look at how many kids score less than 100% on every test. It isn’t about perfection, it’s about trying and associating with other people who are trying for the same goals. But I’m not there to argue; I’m there to teach and bear testimony.
We believed the parents meant it when they said Crista and Gabe could make up their own minds. Crista and Gabe wanted us to come, especially Crista. She longed for the spiritual food we brought.
So we taught them. Crista and Gabe listened, read the scriptures, and prayed. We talked a lot about how to recognize when the Holy Ghost speaks—the still small voice and the feelings of quiet, peace, and comfort.
They each said, “I feel that. I feel that when I read the scriptures. I feel that when I pray. I want to be baptized.”
The parents said, “Well you can’t because you’re not really old enough yet, and you don’t go to church.”
“Are you sure you want us to teach them?” we asked.
“Oh yes,” said the parents. “Keep coming, keep teaching them.”
But after that the parents had reasons to cancel every appointment they made. We stopped trying.
One day Crista called. “Aren’t you going to come over anymore?” she asked.
“Does your mother want us to?” I asked, thinking the mother was probably glad we’d stopped coming. Her doubts about our visits and where religion fit into her children’s lives showed up in appointments made, then cancelled.
“Yes,” said Crista, and I could hear her mother saying “Yes” in the background.
So we went. We tried to involve the mother for a while. We asked her questions, too, and talked about how God helps parents, knowing that spiritual training is really a parent’s responsibility. We wanted her to know that she could turn to God for help to raise these children. We hoped against hope that she would open her heart so her children could get the spiritual food they wanted.
But that upset her. “This is for them, not me,” she said.
We turned our focus back to Crista and Gabe.
A few Sundays ago, Crista called again. “What time does church start?”
I told her the times. “Are you coming?” we asked, hoping the tide had turned for the whole family.
“Yes,” she said. “My auntie is bringing me.”
Sure enough, there they were—Crista, Gabe, the auntie, and the auntie’s little daughter.
At the end of the church service, I said, “Are you going to be able to stay for Sunday School?”
They looked a little uncomfortable. “No. We can only go to church.”
I thought perhaps the auntie needed to leave right after.
“We can bring you home,” I said.
They shifted a little and then said, “We can only stay for the church service.”
I remember how I felt about the church service as a child. The long, boring thing I had to sit through until I could get to Sunday School. I feared this would be the one and only time they came.
I reminded myself that God was in charge, and I was merely an instrument. Gabe never did return.
Crista kept coming to church with the auntie. I called her to cancel an appointment once and asked, still worried, “How do you feel about church? Maybe if you can only attend one meeting, you could go to Sunday School?”
“Oh no!” she said. “I like it. I have a good feeling when I’m there.”
Last week, I gave her an abalone shell.
Do you like it? Would you like to be an early reader? Let me know in a comment below or send me an email at margaret at inhisfootsteps.com