Teaching children how to pray was one of my favorite parts of my mission. The innocence of little voices as they pray to their Heavenly Father is unmatched. (I’m grateful for my current calling in Primary so I’m able to get extra doses each Sunday.) That being said, one of my favorite experiences with prayer during my mission occurred with Tiberio, who went by the nickname “El Flaco”.
An Unlikely Contact
The first time we met Tiberio, he was, (how should I put this), “less-than-sober”. My companion and I were out knocking doors in his apartment complex and he called us over. Frequently, talking to less-than-sober guys while tracting led to things like googly eyes and marriage proposals once they realized we were American and spoke Spanish. Tiberio, on the other hand, was quite respectful. We spoke to him briefly about the church and invited him to our English classes that we were teaching. (We later learned that he never had another drink after he met us that day because of how he felt when we taught him.)
He was a star-student in English class. He already knew a bit of English, albeit most of it was lyrics of songs by the Rolling Stones and Led Zepplin. We also started to visit him, along with his roommates, to teach them the gospel. We often brought a ward member with us who was known as “La Abuelita” (Little Grandma) of the ward. The guys were sad if we ended up bringing someone else because they just loved this little old lady. It was really interesting for this rough group of 20-something guys to not only treat us with the utmost respect but also to have such an affinity for La Abuelita.
Worthiness to Pray
We taught them for a couple of months but Tiberio never was willing to pray. When we first met, he had long hair and a very long beard. He would jokingly say that he looked a lot like “that guy”, (referring to Osama Bin Laden). He would explain that he hadn’t done anything as bad as that but that he had done some things that made him unworthy to pray. I felt we were constantly reading 2 Nephi 32:8 with him, which states, “And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.”
It was heart-wrenching watching him be filled with a guilt that was keeping him from freely feeling the love of the Lord for him. I remember crying and pleading with the Lord to know the ways in which we could help him realize his worthiness to pray was determined by the fact that he was a child of God.
An Answer to a Prayer
One night we arrived at our apartment after a very long day. We had a couple of messages on our machine. I will never forget how I felt as Tiberio’s voice came over the machine and said (in Spanish), “Hermanas, I prayed. I prayed and I felt joy. I felt peace. I felt love. It was awesome.”
There is a song called, “A Call I Hear” by Peter Breinholt that includes a story of teaching a man to pray. To this day, every time I hear that song, I think of Tiberio…and then tears well-up in my eyes. Like the majority of people I met on my mission, Tiberio was pretty transient in regards to his living situation. When he came to say goodbye at the end of my mission, he only could give me a friend’s phone number as a way to contact him. I still have that number in my phone as “Tiberio’s Friend” even though it will not connect me with my friend. Even the all-powerful Facebook has not been able to connect us. I hope and pray that Tiberio is safe and sound and still feels he is worthy to pray.