I got a text from a mission companion, Sister Bennion, the other day. She referenced a memory that instantly made me smile.
My response to her text was, “Awesome! That made my day after a crazy day in jr primary, (mainly due to my own kid not staying in his seat). It kindof resembled lessons at Maria Escalante’s house.”
Maria had been a member referral to us. She had 5 kids, ages 8, 6, 4, 2 and a couple of months. Her husband had just been put in jail and once he had served his time he would be deported. She was in a very rough spot and I had no idea what we could really do to help. We talked to our Branch President and Relief Society President and, even though the ward was quite poor, they provided an abundance of clothes and food for her and her family. I was overwhelmed with the sacrifice and generosity of all of these members that were living with their own problems.
Due to all of the temporal help she had received, I was hesitant to push too hard for setting a baptism date. I didn’t want her to say yes just because of all the temporal help she had received from church members. Besides, with all that her kids were going through, they were a bit unruly at the time. Having spirit-filled lessons was difficult. Sister Bennion would attempt to keep the kids controlled while I tried to talk to Maria a bit. It was a good thing that Sister Bennion was 6 ft tall and had been a water polo player. Her excellent reach helped keep the kids at least in the house. (There was one that would bolt out the door and run into the very busy street.)
Frequently, Maria and I would just read a chapter or two in the Book of Mormon. One day, while the kids were rubbing ketchup into the carpet, she calmly looked at me and asked what she needed to do in order to join our church. She knew that the book we were reading was true and had noticed a change come upon her house since we had been visiting. I felt like a bit of a horrible missionary for not having helped her progress until she asked me but told her the process and she was baptized shortly thereafter.
Maria was one of those stories where I didn’t recognize the magnitude of the impression we had on each other. I didn’t realize all that I had learned from her and her simple faith. I left the area where she lived shortly after her baptism. Having been in that area for 9 months, my memories of that time were occupied with many stories and Maria’s, sadly, was pushed to the back of my mind. I remember seeing Sister Bennion at a Spanish Conference later and she talked a bit about Maria. I don’t remember exactly what she said but it also made me realize that I hadn’t known the impact I had on Maria. I wish I had taken the time to have better closure in my time with her. However, I will always remember her faith and how just reading the Book of Mormon – no fancy discussions with flashy object lessons but just simple reading – converted her to the gospel, changed her eternity, and the eternities of her children.
This story teaches that maybe, just maybe, sometimes something sinks in during those chaotic lessons at home for FHE or in Primary. Sometimes it just takes a simple lesson and no flashing lights or 3 hour preparation.