This week was by far the hardest, most painful, emotionally draining week of my entire life. I have probably never hurt more in my entire life, but I would say that I have at the same time never felt closer to our Heavenly Father. He is with us through all of our trials. Every hard thing that we are put through is for our benefit. Just a fair warning, this email is going to be pretty long, so I am going to just say that I am sorry ahead of time. Brace yourselves.
So it all started on Tuesday. We went out to work like normal. Our first time was not until 4:30 so we had a few solid hours to tract. We did good and found about 4 new families, and the day was off to a great start. At about 4:15 we headed out to John and Mamitiana. I don't know if you remember them, John was the drunk guy that took us home with him and has been progressing ever since. He has been off of alcohol for about a month and he and his family have been coming to church for even longer than that. Well on Saturday we got there in the middle of the huge rainstorm and their four-year-old little boy was sick. He had fallen in a hole and they weren't sure what was wrong with him, so we were pretty worried. Then they didn't come to church on Sunday for the first time in a long time. So we finally got out to their house on Tuesday to see what was wrong and there was definitely something wrong. John came out of the house and stumbled up to us and we could tell right away that he was drunk. Very, very drunk. We walked him back inside and sat him and his wife down to talk. It turns out that their little boy had gotten even worse. He had lost a lot of weight and he didn't have much to lose in the first place. The doctors didn't know what to do about it and they had all but lost hope. All of this had been too much for poor John, and he had gone out drinking that morning. As we sat there talking, he broke down and cried and just poured out his heart to us. I picked him up and gave him a hug and we shared D&C 121:7-10 and I didn't think that I could understand that scripture any better than I did at that moment. Well I was wrong. We left their home feeling a little down that he had stumbled a little, but we all do sometimes and we were optimistic that he would bounce back.
Straight from John we went to see a family. Their names are Dina, Tsito, and their daughters Priscilla and Simila. Just a little background before the story. When I got here Dina was about 9 months pregnant with Simila. A couple of weeks after I got here she gave birth. Now Malagasy culture states that when you have a baby you and the baby are not allowed to leave the house for 2 months, which means that Dina could not come to church at the time. Tsito was very, very much an alcoholic and really wasn't going anywhere, but we kept visiting because Dina was such a sweet lady. About a month ago something clicked with Tsito. He started reading the Book of Mormon, stopped drinking and was doing great. This week little Simila finally turned 2 months old, and they were finally going to be able to come to church, so we were very, very excited for them, and so were they. On Tuesday we walked up to find a bunch of people sitting around outside the house, which is never a good sign here in Madagascar. We were then informed that only 30 minutes earlier, Simila had passed away. We walked in to the dark little 10x8 candle lit hut to find the two of them sitting on the bed, Dina clinging to Tsito as he slowly rocked their lifeless little baby, and I physically felt my heart snap in two. We sat down and talked for a moment about all that had happened. The baby had woken up sick that morning, so at about noon Dina took her in to town to see the doctor. I'm not sure exactly why, but she couldn't find one that was in, so she just brought little Simila home. She put her on the bed for a moment and looked to the Book of Mormon to calm her worries. After just a few minutes she looked up to see Simila's eyes close and just like that she was gone. My whole soul ached for them as I listened to this story. Then they pulled out a little dress to put on her and explained that it was for her baptism the next month, but now she would never be baptized. I could hear this mother's anguish as she thought that her child was lost. I quickly grabbed the Book of Mormon and flipped to the book of Moroni, chapter 8 verses 9-12 which explains how little children need no baptism, for they are alive in Christ. I had to pause about halfway through the verse because I could no longer see the page through my tears. I finally finished and looked up, and in her eyes I could see just a glimmer of hope for the first time since we had entered the house. She looked at me and asked if that was really true, and my voice cracked as I told her that I knew it was. I think that in that moment, for the first time in my life I knew beyond even a shadow of a doubt that it was. I know that our Heavenly Father was there with us in that dark little hut. He is always with us when we need him the most. Sometimes we don't see him, but he is there.
By the time that we got out of Dina and Tsito's home it was late but we had one more time with some members nearby who have become very good friends of mine over the last couple of months. We walked in to their home to see a couple of new faces! It was their daughter Karaza and her husband, who had just driven up from Toliear. Toliear is in the very deep south of Madagascar, about an 18 hour drive from Tana, sometimes even more. They had rushed up because Karaza had been experiencing major stomach pains. After a morning in the hospital they had learned that she had contracted appendicitis, which would require surgery the following day. She had never had surgery before and was super scared but also very much in pain. Her father was still at work, but they had already talked to him and he thought it best that we give her a blessing. I've done this plenty of times since being here but it still makes me a little nervous every time. It's hard to try to step out of yourself and just let the spirit take control. I know that's probably me and my little faith talking, but that's always how I feel. I went through in my head the standard stuff that you would say. Read your scriptures, go to church, be a good girl, that kind of stuff. We laid our hands on her head and I started the blessing and before I knew it I blessed her that because of her faith in a gospel that she still didn't know (she's not a member) and because of her parents faith, she would be fully healed. I think I even shocked myself at the boldness of the statement. I finished out the blessing with the standard stuff and that was that. We didn't see them again until Sunday.
Now Sunday is always the best day of the week by far, and this week was a little bit sweeter. Karaza came with her family and told us that they had done another scan at the hospital and it wasn't appendicitis, just something minor, and they had her on medicine and she was feeling much better at that point. Then came John and Mamitiana, sober and holding their little boy who is doing much, much better now. We waited and waited until the last second before the sacrament for Dina and Tsito, but finally had to go inside as the doors shut for the sacrament. We sat there more than a little disappointed that they hadn't come, but still very happy with John and Karaza. Then, as the sacrament ended and the doors opened and I saw the most beautiful sight that I have seen in my entire young life. Dina and Tsito came marching right in and sat down next to us. Later that day, after church, I sat down with John and we just talked. He wanted me to explain what the Temple was. I told him that it was the House of God, the most beautiful place on earth. He asked if I thought he would ever get there, and I told him that I knew he would. The smile on that man's face made everything worth it. The Lord is completely and totally aware of us at all times. He has been where we've been, faced what we've faced, and stayed true through it all. He could take away the hard times if he wanted, but that would eliminate the point. Yes, bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to make better good people. And the good news is, we never have to face the bad things alone. I know that Christ lives, and loves each and every one of us. I love you all so much,
Scripture of the week: D&C 121: 7-10, D&C 122:8