Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Shepherds of the Far Realm

Besides sounding like an obscure Swedish progressive metal group, (Which I totally dibs the name by the way) there's a story behind the title of this week's post after my yuletide hiatus. You see, last Sunday, we get a call from the mission office that a certain Richard Alvarez is in need of a blessing and besides his address, we weren't given any more information. Later that day, my companion and I drove to the address which was in a neighboring town to see what was the matter.

We cautiously approached the house which only had a dirt driveway and and old ford truck in it. Through the pouring rain, we could see a doorway with a bunch of older gentlemen standing behind it in mid conversation. We walked up and gently knocked on the glass and immediately the fellow next to the door opens it up and asks, "Are y'all the Mormons?" 

As if the white shirt, tie, and black plaque that reads 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' wasn't enough of a giveaway, I replied, "yes we are, we're here to give brother Alvarez a blessing." 

Immediately a fellow wearing an old army hat, horn rim glasses, and a white mustache peered from behind the door.

"That's me." 

He kept his long, snow colored, hair in a ponytail and sat confined in his wheelchair. A tube hanged under his nose and connected to an apparatus that pumped pure oxygen into his lungs. The machine hissed like a cold snake every few moments

The other fellow let us into the cramped room that had apparently been serving as Richard's bedroom for who knows how long. None of the men in room, including Alvarez, were members of the church. Apparently it was the family of Richard's brother that had suggested that they call the missionaries and ask for a blessing. Richard then proceeded to tell us about how he was diagnosed with some malignant cancer due to being exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam war. He had gotten MRI's back a couple day prior to calling us and he was told that he only had a couple weeks left to live.  

Agent Orange or Herbicide Orange (HO) is one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971.

He then proceeded to tell us that he is at peace with himself and just wants a blessing of peace and comfort during his final weeks of mortality. I'm the senior companion so I was the lucky duck that got to be the voice in the blessing. The room was dead silent as I offered a blessing of peace upon this dear man's head. Every few sentences punctuated by the hissing of that machine that made me think death itself was standing in the room with us. Waiting. In the end, it was a good blessing and the spirit filled the room after we finished, chasing away the gloom of death. We talked for a bit afterwards about what be believe as mormons and we gave him a Book of Mormon to read. He was excited to start on the new literature. 

We stepped out of the cramped bedroom and Richard's brother comes out with us into the rain. He's teary eyed and tells us that he knows what he needs to do. He had contact with the missionaries before and had even taken the discussions, but he tells us that he is going to get baptized after he got back home to Texas. He thanks us repeatedly for our service and we bear testimony that the gospel is true and can help him in his own life just as he witnessed the gospel work in the life of his brother. It was a somber conversation, but spiritual as well. 

I've had unique opportunity to come into acquaintance with Death a couple of times on my mission, likewise, I've been able to recognize the unique effects that she tends to have on people. Death is a profound, unforgiving, teacher. By which I mean that she reminds us of what's important in life and what we can do to improve in a rather forceful nature. She takes us by the neck with her frozen grasp and forces us to look into the casket, graveley whispering in our ears, "You see that? That'll be you in a few decades. Are you ready?" 

It's a stark reminder of what's important in life.

What puzzled me was that Richard Alvarez was completely ok with the fact that he was going to die. It didn't seem to faze him in the least, in fact he told us that he was ready to die. That he had lived his life and was ready for the next step. At the time, it seemed impossible for anyone to be ready to face the great beyond with such peace and without being properly baptized. (We as missionaries tend to get in this tunnel vision where no one can possibly be happy without the restored gospel of Jesus Christ) 

But I made a realization later on. That each one of us is placed in a life that God knows we can handle. Just as we have differing abilities and talents in this life, so too we had them in the life before this one. In the premortal life, we had identities and the ability to choose for ourselves. That's one of the reasons that you're reading this, you chose to come to earth and receive a body. You chose to come to earth and experience mortality. However, it's a fundamental fact that human beings don't all perform at the exact same level. There are some that can handle more than others. God took this into consideration when we were given our assignments for mortality. 

I wanna go here

Some of us wouldn't be able to handle very much. Just the commandments would be hard for us to follow, and so God assigned those people who could handle the bear minimum to places where the Gospel was an unknown thing. Third world countries where we would only be judged by our ability to survive and do good to others in the process. There were others of God's children that could handle more. Maybe being in a first world country where they could learn about his gospel and strive to live according to all the commandments of God. There's a lot more to be lost because of the temptations of Satan, but so much more can be gained if they are faithful. Again it's all based on what we can handle. 

We all are given a place in this world. The trials that we pass through are meant to test and to try us, but never overwhelm us. God gives no commandment to his children save he prepares a way for them to keep it. I know that he loves each of us and has put us in our lives to test us, but never make us fail.