Dear Family and Friends!
Let's talk about Joe.
My most tender moment of the week was watching Joe on his baptism day. He is my testimony of why we go out walking the streets talking to everyone. We ran into him by a means of "chance" one day at the local park, the day before "Children's Day" (yes, it's an actual national holiday, recognized and celebrated by the general peeps of everyone here, which involves a large carnival for kids... pretty much in every city, for free.)
So the day before Kid's Day, we had 30 minutes before we had to be elsewhere. We decided to talk to everyone we could, including a group of over 25 or so students in a group. At first, english is an easier message, right? We teach english! .... But we feel like it's time to be brave. We now have the attention of all 25 of them, looking on the spectacle of 2 white girls standing before them speaking their language.
"Yeah, and this is baptism!"
We stood there and taught all of them about starting over and washing away all their sins. Eyes and ears intent. And as people are in what would become a LINE to tell me their names and phone numbers, an unassuming boy tugs on Sister Embley's arm. He asks her a lot of questions. I hear him, but I'm busy. He keeps asking, as if it could be his last chance he sounds so intent on the answers. He asks about the bible, whether we believe it, where's the church, this and a number of other questions. I finally turn to him, Sister Embley looking pale in the face as she catches her breath from trying to answer all his life-searching questions.
He tells me his name is Joe and that his grandmother was christian. He tells me she meant everything to him, and she has since passed. I tell him we won't forget him and that he should come on Tuesday for english and we'd make an appointment with him then.
He doesn't disappoint. He rides his bike, (which he later proudly explained that is self-paid for as he saved all the money her could to purchase said old bike) to the church-- what would prove to be a ONE HOUR RIDE. He arrives huffing and puffing.
He attends church in his brown pants and grey sweater. He stays for choir to watch. He eventually gets the lyrics and is singing along quietly in the back of the chapel, and before I know it he's up with the men in the choir in their row, singing with them. He later tells me it was the moment he felt the spirit the most significantly in his beginning seeds of conversion-- singing in a tone-deaf choir in the chapel.
He learns with us, and in our appointments, we find out about his hard life. Through his humble and meek words, we hear of the circumstances of his life-- and how all who he has loved and cherished have either passed away or abandoned him, and now he was living with someone who doesn't even really supply lunch money let alone love. But he said confidently with a smile, "But it's okay. Because the Lord has never left me. He's never left my side. Sometimes, when I don't have food or money, I'll pray and a miracle happens and I get to eat!"
..... I was humbled to the very core. His smile showed he was serious. He was grateful for every morsel and every blessing that ever landed in his path. He has never ending thanks for the Savior's never-ending care.
He believed in the Bible from the start. Then he finally began reading the Book of Mormon, and I asked him if he had received an answer. He said he did. But then carefully added that he wouldn't be telling me what it was just then, with a smile. It was enough for me to know that it was sacred to him and to reveal how he felt wasn't necessary.
So yesterday I saw him all in white. As we walked down the hall together I asked, "Are you nervous?" to white he looked me squarely in the eye and answered, "Only happy. I've waited a long time for this day."
I watched him be baptized, walk up the stairs with a smile on his face, and then we handed him his Spiderman towel. (Naturally.)
He sat on the stand, dressed again in his suit. He had saved such dress clothes for important situations, and his style is always remarkably hipster wonderful. White pants, white shirt, black and white necktie and a black suit coat. Classy. I see him carefully considering what he will share with the congregation for his testimony after the ceremony. As he went up and spoke, he vocally thanked the Lord over 15 times in the spanse of 15 minutes, for Christ's tender preparations and care for him in his life, a grandmother who had told him "Don't forget the Lord" as her dying words, and of course, for the sacred experience he had in asking "Is the Book of Mormon the word of God?"
He told the congregation with certainty that he had received a witness for himself. It wasn't God's voice right in his ear, but it was an overwhelming feeling that was beyond description.
He sat down, and what would be one of my most cherished and heart-moving moments of my mission, Joe turned his head back towards me, and sent me a glowing, radiant smile of perfectly clean innocence. In his most sincere and warm way he asked with two raised eyebrows, in all perfect meekness, "Did I do good?"
I could only hold back my emotion through a sincere nod of approval. "Yes, Joe."
So to quote Oliver Cowdery, I repeat: "I shall not attempt to paint to you the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion."
And so the work moves forward to seek out the elect.