One of the gifts my mother gave to me once was a binder where she had carefully preserved each of my letters home during the mission. Over the last few weeks, I’ve committed to reading those letters for a couple reasons:
- It’s a good trip down memory lane.
- It reminds me of where I’ve been and who I’ve become.
- It helps refresh some of those stories that, sadly, fade over the years.
I wanted to share one of those stories about two people.
The first person was a man I met around the six-month mark of my mission. Six months was still early enough that I was both confident and nervous. My zone had decided to do a street presentation, and we chose a small park off Ave. Francisco Morato, one of the one thoroughfares in Sao Paulo. As the zone scattered around the park to talk to the heavy foot traffic, I put myself in a protected area in the middle where I would have help if I needed it.
After a few hours, a young man came through the park and passed close by me. As he did, I felt strongly that I should talk to him, which I did, and that I should give him a copy of the Book of Mormon, which I also did. He quickly went his way, and I just assumed nothing would come of it.
A few weeks later on a Sunday, my companion and I were standing in the foyer waiting for church to start when in comes that same guy. His first words to me were, “I’ve read half of the Book of Mormon, half of the Doctrine and Covenants, and I know President Hinckley is a prophet. When can I be baptized?” I recorded in my letter home that my response to him was, “It takes about 15 minutes to fill up the font….”
Naturally I was joking, but it wasn’t far off.
Before his baptism, this young man, named Alex, joined my companion on I regularly on teaching appointments, bore incredible testimony to everyone we met, and was an inspiration. I can honestly say his baptism was one of the highlights of my mission.
Not long after, I was transferred from the area, but I left knowing that Alex was going places, doing the things he should, and becoming very strong in the gospel. He was even preparing to serve a mission and enter the temple. I couldn’t have been prouder.
Now let’s compare that with another young man….
Towards the end of my mission, I was talking with my old MTC companion, and he started telling me about a recent convert he had worked with previously in another area. My friend told me that this convert had been baptized and started off on the right track, but by the time my friend was transferred to that area, he was bitter towards the church, and very angry and hostile.
My friend worked with this young man for many months to try to help him turn around, but he had abandoned his testimony, turned against the scriptures, and was very abusive towards God and the church. A few weeks before my friend was transferred out of that area, that young man got very sick and died. It was a horrible experience.
As you might have guessed by now, his name was Alex, and he was the same person I had baptized not nine months prior.
I remember the day my friend told me about Alex. When I found out that my friend had served in that same area, Jd. Maria do Carmo, I eagerly asked him for news on Alex. I was so excited to hear his progression and, hopefully, even have some news about a potential pending mission call. When I mentioned Alex’s name, my friend gave me a confused look and said he wasn’t sure who I was talking about. After some prodding, he did mention that there was a really hostile guy named Alex, and as we talked more, I realized it was indeed the same Alex. My Alex.
And he was already gone.
That day was a sad day.
So why bring it up now? Why write it out in detail now? Why does it matter now? Because we are all Alex in some way or another. We are all Alex in times of great faith, and we are all Alex in times of great trouble. I remind myself of Alex to help me remember that I can never be so strong as to be perfectly safe from the temptations that beset us.
Perhaps unsurprising, but it’s almost exactly twelve years to the day from the day when I first met Alex, taught with him on the streets of Sao Paulo, and saw him baptized. I have to wonder what would have become of him had he made different choices. I have to wonder what would have become of me had I made different choices.
Sigh…. It’s good to remember Alex, and I like to remember him how I last saw him: full of faith, full of joy, eager to serve the Lord.