LDS MISSIONARY CONVERT STORY
An Inspiring Mormon LDS Missionary Convert Story that took place in Barranquilla Colombia back in 1978.
Bob Vance gave this talk July 28, 2013 in a Mapleton 7th Ward Sacrament Meeting.
Relevant to my topic I will mention the 24th of July. It is Utah’s Pioneer day. The dictionary defines a pioneer as “one who goes before to prepare or open up the way for others to follow”. I believe the pioneers are good examples of people who lived to bless generations of people.
My assigned topic is “When You Save a Girl, You Save Generations” Saving a girl that God created to be a mother is very important, her divine calling is to nurture and influence behavior while the father presides and provides for the family.
Sister Mary N Cook gave her talk at a General Young Women’s Conference March 2013. The essence of her message was for the girls to live virtuous lives, a life that will bless our ancestors, our families now, and family members yet to come. For as President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “When you save a girl, you save generations” to eliminate the conception one is better than the other I will include everybody.
She said “We have a natural yearning to connect with our ancestors.” “As you participate in family history and temple work, you weave your life with the lives of your ancestor’s by providing saving ordinances for them.”
Surely we agree none of this can be accomplished unless we have committed members to spread the gospel and fellowship one another. As Disciples of Jesus Christ it is our responsibility to be fishers of men, to catch’em and teach’em so the Lord can inspire’em and clean’em up.”
My parents have 10 kids, 71 grand kids, and 37 great grand kids and more on the way. Seven of those grand kids are serving missions at this time. The weaving of their ancestry began early on with consistent gospel emphasis and steady church attendance. Their end game was to get all the boys on missions and every child married in the temple. It worked because they did not waiver or seek after the thrills of the moment to sacrifice the joys of eternity.
May I read a quote by President Monson? “The World Needs Pioneers Today”
“In the decades since the end of World War II, standards of morality have lowered again and again. Crime spirals upward; decency careens downward. Many are on a giant roller coaster of disaster, seeking the thrills of the moment while sacrificing the joys of eternity. Thus we forfeit peace.”
I thought of how hard it would be for someone inexperienced to accurately reconnect all the vacuum lines to a carburetor after removing an engine from its chassis the first time. It used to be very difficult for a mechanic to reconnect everything and have it back where it was. I found it very challenging to read a schematic upside down, underneath a hood. Before the accessibility of electronics, I was tempted to take the hood off to coordinate my view. I found it to be a lot easier for someone with experience to show me how to do it. Now what does this have to do with saving a child? There are some people out there who are having trouble reading the good word, seeing the signs and they don’t have clear directions. They need our help.
An event in life encouraged me to think of Aaron and his rebuke to Ammon when he said “now don’t get carried away thinking you’re anything special”. Aaron seemed to think Ammon was taking too much credit for his success when he said, “If we had not come up out of the land of Zarahemla our brethren would still be racked in hatred and they would not know their God.”
It’s true had they not gone to Zarahemla the people wouldn’t have known their God. It’s also accurate to say a servant of the Lord never takes credit for what the Lord has done, to do so would demonstrate pride and disrespect. Alma 26:11-12
Ammon admitted he was nothing and his strength was weak and it was through the strength of God he was able to accomplish all things.
So we might ask who the Lord calls to rescue and save his children. It is evident today the Lord expects a lot more from the younger generation and the same for all of us. I often teased my wife how I married four years younger than me so I could train her to be what I want. But today, she tells me it didn’t work. Now, really the Lord prefers humility over qualification. He calls the weak and foolish things of the world that are unlearned and unrefined so he can qualify them to thrash the nations by the power of his Spirit. (D&C 35:13)
Before disclosing what challenged me as a missionary I will take you to the country and tell a story about a farmer and his donkey. Actually he had a different name. Nonetheless, the farmers’ donkey fell deep into a large empty well. This animal cried piteously for hours while the farmer lobbied for help. They all agreed the animal was too old to save so the farmer decided to bury him alive.
Instead of a front end loader he invited his neighbor’s to shovel dirt. In the beginning the donkey was horrified to see how he was being treated. He bellowed for sympathy until finally he discovered what was going on. Every time a shovel of dirt landed on his back he realized he could shake it off and step up a little higher until finally he was able to walk out of the well.
This is what I learned to do as the curriculum was heaped upon me in the MTC. I was put into a classroom with a group of intellectual Elders who had prior language experience. We were hard-pressed to memorize eight lengthy discussions in just two months and methodically convinced we could speak Spanish after two weeks. A month into it I was so overwhelmed with memorization and relentless expectations I thought they would bury me in my tracks or send me home.
Before I got too overwhelmed and discouraged, the missionaries and leaders in my district fasted and prayed for me. My MTC companion gave me a blessing. And 34 years later my Mom reminded me she was the one to initiate a Mapleton ward fast to “save her missionary”. I convey my past so no one will ever think I’m boosting in my own strength but instead I am giving credit to God and all those who fasted and prayed for my success.
About two thirds into my mission serving as a district leader I went on splits with a Zone Leader who came with me on a single visit to the Rodriguez family. It was after this visit the ZL had the bravado to spring upon me it was ok to give the discussions in my own words. It seemed a little crazy to give up pages of memory after struggling to learn those inspired words.
Elder L Aldin Porter of the Seventy once said: “We must understand that there is a supreme power by which missionary work is done. Effective missionaries work hard, very hard. They focus virtually every waking hour on proclaiming the message. But after all the days, hours, and minutes of their labor, they must recognize that it is the testimony of the truth borne on the wings of the Spirit that is the key to bringing conviction and conversion into the souls of men and women. This marvelous power can be obtained only from the Lord, and it is his to give to those he has called.”
As I think of the spirit and how it coverts people, I am reminded of a couple Elder Yarbrough and I baptized. They are the epitome of good pioneers who prepared and opened up the way for others to follow. It reminds me of the scripture that says “How great shall be your joy in heaven “save it be – just one soul” you bring to his kingdom!! (D&C 18:10, D&C 18:15–16).
On November 19, 2011 I received a surprise phone call from the Bogota Colombia temple president, President Garth Wakefield of Salt Lake City. He said he got a thrill out of reuniting missionaries with their convert families. He announced that he had two of my converts at his side and they were anxiously waiting to speak to me on the phone. I was very surprised and thrilled to get a chance to speak to Brother Justino Alberto Rodriguez and his lovely wife Josefina, the day of our conversation they were serving as full time missionaries working as temple coordinators. On April 9, 2013 they began their 3rd mission, serving 18 months in Medellin Colombia to retrieve ancestral files.
As of November 2011 it was thirty-four plus years ago when we set up a display board to give a gospel presentation utilizing visual aids and religious pictures. We positioned our display near the road close to the Andes Hospital in Barranquilla, Colombia. Justino was employed as a nurse at this hospital. He was one of dozens of people who stopped, curious to see the display. As he walked up, he was surprised to see a picture of Christ coming to the America’s. He thought it looked like the white God, Bochica, he was taught about in school. Immediately the Spirit prompted him to learn more so he asked for an appointment to meet with his family.
That evening he informed his wife we were going to come over to talk about that God, Bochica, they learned about in school. At first his wife did not want us to come over. After some serious thought she reluctantly agreed to meet us. The next day she spent the whole day preparing her home, her two small children and herself for our visit. She says, “I don’t know why but for some reason I was impressed to wear a skirt with a nice white blouse.”
I remember that first day how I told her at the door, “You look like a Relief Society President.” Imagine my delight in discovering she has now served in a stake and three different wards in that very calling. Seven other women from her side of the family have also served in that same position. Of those first visits she said, “Over and over again the Holy Spirit would whisper declaring undeniable truths to my soul and I learned more about that White God who visited the Americas, even the Savior, Jesus Christ.”
In the beginning they had some doubts, but they followed Moroni’s promise (Moroni 10:3-5) and addressed their concerns in prayer. As they did, the Spirit bore witness that we were telling the truth. It was only a day or two into the discussions when they accepted the challenge to be baptized. It had only been nine days since we had started to teach them so we postponed their baptisms a day so they could have an opportunity to attend church. I then had the honor to baptize and confirm this beautiful couple; my companion was a greenie at the time with a minor illness. The very next Sunday I was asked to confer the Priesthood of Aaron and ordain him to the office of a Priest.
Sister Rodriguez wept as she thanked me for setting up the street display which baited her husband’s curiosity. She said “It is because of the seed you planted we are now full time missionaries in the temple. “ I found out then that Brother Rodriguez had been a branch president, a bishop, a high councilor and many other positions in between. All three of the family’s boys have been on missions and they were married in the temple. On September 20th year 2015 Elder Jeffery R. Holland ordained him to be a Patriarch where his Stake President son Justino Rodriguez presides.
Their oldest boy (Jose) served as a bishop. On Oct 9th 2012 he was called to serve as the first branch president in Bonaventura, Colombia. He and his family were the first ones to introduce the church to this city, within a period of three months; they had 110 people attending church. A year later he was called to serve in a mission presidency. Their second son (Justino) is now a Stake President in Barranquilla Colombia (age 34). Their third son has been a Young Men’s President. There are now over 83 family members who have served or are about to be leaders in the Church as a result of this couple’s baptism. 3 family members have been in stake presidencies and 5 have served as bishops. As of Sept 20th year 2015 fifteen family members have served full time missions. Generations of people are being saved because they sacrificed the thrills of the moment to have joy in the eternities.
In a letter I wrote home a day after their baptisms it said. “This is a really sharp family and they will be a big help to the church in Barranquilla.” I also quoted this from my patriarchal blessing. “Many will rejoice at your name, at your testimony, and your interest in their behalf. Your message will be felt long after your mission is completed and they will bless your name throughout the eternities” (Patriarch Ferron Frazier).
Now that so much time has lapsed I can’t help but think of how wonderful it was to have stood in that baptismal font with my arm fixed to the square, to repeat twice, “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.” I testify to you, it was the commission of that day, a culmination of multiple prayers and now a fulfillment of my patriarchal blessing which so profoundly changed my life and the lives of Brother and Sister Rodriguez, their children, their relatives and countless other people forever.
The above picture is a ground breaking ceremony February 20, 2015 at the site of future temple in Barranquilla, Colombia. Sister Rodriguez, Patriarch Rodriquez, their two oldest sons and spouses.
My heart rejoices as I realize that this is an experience that is repeated over and over with missionaries and their converts throughout the world. Missionary work is soul satisfying. It is so precious and enjoyable to bring souls unto Christ. What a privilege it was to be instrumental in this process and have the joy of seeing people that we love come unto Christ.
And this I say in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
LDS Missionary Convert Story
Written by Bob Vance – Mission Served (Bogota Columbia) – Years Served (1977 – 1979)