Friday, October 30, 2015

Even Angels Drive Taxis in Ecuador

Even Angels Drive Taxis in Ecuador
by Sister Susan Richardson - September 2015

Could angels be all around us and especially around those involved in missionary work?  That was what I read in scripture after scripture.  Trusting this to be the case, I decided to ask our missionaries in the Ecuador Quito North Mission if they had had angel sightings or experiences, in order to discover for myself how angels worked with them.  The subsequent stories I heard have confirmed that without a doubt, missionaries are accompanied by angels and are never alone.

One of the first stories I heard early in our mission was from Elder Cedeño. He shared that when he was opening a sector in Cotacachi, an area in the countryside, they knocked on the door of a woman who had recently listened to three tall “gringos.”  She said that they had left pamphlets and the Book of Mormon, marking 3 Nephi 11. She was desirous to have them return, thus readily welcomed him and his companion when they showed up at her door. The amazing part of this story is that they were opening an area where there had been no missionaries, much less three tall gringos. Not surprisingly, she was baptized soon after.

This story took me on a quest to ask and listen to missionary accounts of angel encounters throughout the mission.  As I heard their stories, I became convinced that missionaries are only the mortal part of the labor force and that they are working hand-in-hand with angels. Their stories have taught me that angels help in many ways. Our missionaries have experienced angelic protection, help out of a bind, strength and comfort, confirmations to investigators, service, and sightings.

According to Alma 13:24 “…angels are declaring …unto many at this time in our land… for the purpose of preparing the hearts of the children of men to receive his word at the time of his coming in glory.”  Angels are preparing people ahead of time so that when the missionaries show up, they are ready.  This was certainly the case in the previous story.  D&C 20:10 states that, “truths are confirmed to others by the ministering angels,” in other words, missionaries teach, but angels confirm the truths they teach, especially of the restoration and the Book of Mormon.  In this sense, Missionary work is a co-effort between missionaries and angels.

Having 200+ missionaries to care for and watch over at any given time, it is comforting to know that there are Heavenly beings watching out for them.   Elder Neeley shared an interesting account of that Heavenly protection.  One night in May 2015 he and Elder Flores walked home through a dangerous sector in Cangahua and had to pass some scary looking people.  After walking by them without incident, they were relieved to lock their apartment door behind them, knowing that they had avoided danger. The next morning, to their surprise, a member of the Church told them that she had seen three of them walking toward their apartment. Notwithstanding Elder Neeley’s insistence that he and his companion were walking alone, she was adamant that she had seen a third person walking with them. 

Fausto Aguilera shared a similar experience of when he was a missionary in the early 1990’s in Colombia.  He said that he and his companion defied the directives of gang members who told them to never enter and teach in their sector in Cucuta, a city close to the border of Venezuela.  Because of dangerous circumstances, the paramilitary had a 10:00 p.m. curfew and threatened to kill - no questions asked - anyone out after that hour.  Thus when he and his companion discovered their Family Home Evening had ended after 10:00 p.m., they found themselves in a terrifying dilemma.  They considered calling their mission president, but opted to take their chances.  They said goodbye and ran to a corner where they prayed for protection.  Fausto shared that he felt an immediate calm, and like his running speed increased dramatically, but it wasn’t until later that they realized the significance of that calm.   At a later date, the woman of the family expressed great relief to see them again because she was sure they had been killed.  As it turned out, on that very corner where they felt calmed and boosted, she had seen two big burly men show up on either side of them. 

Sister Espinoza experienced a different kind of protection.  She was about to cross a busy highway in Otavalo when she felt a tug on the back of her sweater. She turned to see who touched her when an unforeseen car sped by. Had she walked into the street as she had intended, she would most likely have been hit.  Sister Black likewise was blessed with protection. On a preparation day, she and her district went to a place that had a large vine swing. She was swinging on the vine when either the vine broke or she otherwise fell and would have been seriously injured, except that she felt someone catch her, and she suffered no injuries.

Wild dogs that wander the streets and sometimes act like they own them are a problem in Ecuador.  Sister Hemsley, who had been promised the protection of angels in a priesthood blessing by her father before leaving for her mission, had an absolute miracle when she and her companion found themselves in such dangerous dog territory.  She writes, “Once, in my first area in Riobamba, I was tracting with my companion, Hermana Lopez. We had gone all the way to the end of this path in a very rural area, knocking doors without a lot of success. We finally got to the last house at the end of this dirt path, and we were rejected again, so we turned around and started heading back the way we came. We hadn't gone too far when we were attacked by a group of dogs that came from nowhere.

There were five of them, all a decent size, running and barking with their teeth born. We both screamed and had just enough time to lower our backpacks to defend our legs. Hermana Lopez and I stood back to back with the dogs at our legs when I screamed "Father, Help Us!" Immediately, out of nowhere, two teenagers came running up from behind a hill with rocks of glory. They threw the rocks at the dogs and they immediately dispersed. Trying to catch our breaths, we said thank you, and being kind of shaken, we hurried away from that area. It wasn't till later that I realized that those children really did seem like they appeared out of the blue. Whether from above, or from the earth, that boy and girl were a fulfillment of my father's blessing that day.”

Angels aren’t unique to the Ecuador Quito North Mission, and Elder Castillo shared a story of when he was a new missionary on a Chilean street at 10:00 PM.   He said that a scary drunk man pulled a gun on him. All of a sudden, however, the drunken man was scared by something or someone, put his gun away, and took off running. The surprising part of the story is that they were, as far as they could see, completely alone in the street. To this day, they don't know what this man saw, but believe it might have been an angel.

I love the scripture in Hebrews 13:2 “be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” because this scripture helps us see that angels can be disguised as mortals. We have seen that especially with taxi drivers showing up at a critical moment.  For example, one evening Elders Smith and Chávez were walking up a street when they saw an ominous group of people at the top of a hill who the elders had no desire to pass. As they were contemplating their dilemma, a taxi pulled up next to them and the driver asked through his window if they needed a ride. They were surprised he had showed up at that moment, but what made this story even more unusual is that when they told him they had no money, he offered to drive them without pay. After passing the danger, the elders offered to get out and walk the rest of the way home. The taxi driver refused, however, surprising them even more by pointing in the direction of their apartment, and saying, “But you live over there.”  They had never met this driver and when he dropped them off at their apartment, he flatly refused the money they wanted to go get from their apartment to pay him.

Another companionship had a similar experience.  Elder Luque said that one night they finished a lesson at 9:30 PM in an area where no buses passed at that hour and they didn't have money for a taxi. They were scared, thus greatly relieved when a car pulled up in front of the home and told them that he was a Christian and that the Lord had told him to stop because he needed “to take them home.” 

Another taxi driver showed up right at what could have been a horrific assault on a companionship of sisters.  Sister Sanchez and her companion were walking on a street when a man with a knife began to follow them. She heard a voice in her mind say, "Walk faster," and then “Run!” They were running from this guy when a taxi driver drove up from nowhere. They jumped in and got away from danger.

Angels have not only helped our missionaries out of danger but they have also helped them out of a bind. Elder Galiego and Saravia had an interesting experience in a bakery in the Sagrario sector of Ibarra. They wanted to buy a birthday cake for an investigator, but were short three dollars. To their surprise, a complete stranger came up to them and offered them the three dollars. What was most perplexing to them was that the man wasn't even near them as they were discussing their options, yet he was insistent they accept the money. After receiving it, however, they felt uncomfortable and wanted to return it, but to their surprise when they turned to look for him, he had totally disappeared from view even out on the street. 

We have had our own personal experience in which angels have strengthened and comforted our family. One night well after we had gone to sleep, our 15-year-old daughter came to my bedside whispering with a tremor in her voice, “Mom, will you please come to my room.”  I groggily followed her, and she began to cry that she had felt a very evil spirit in her room. I comforted her by telling her that “God's power was greater than evil.”  I lay down next to her on her bed and prayed aloud that any “evil spirits would be dismissed and that angels of light would come” into her room and comfort her. She said that in that moment, she “saw a flash of light” and was immediately comforted. She began to spurt out between sobs, “Thank you so much Mom. I know the Gospel is true and I want to be a better person.”  She was able to drift into a peaceful sleep.

Sister Henderson also had an experience where she felt accompanied by angels. She was in Peguche, a native Lamanite sector.  On one particular night, she and her companion were visiting investigators in the same building as a man who “was drunk, angry and pure evil.” He followed them, but Sister Henderson felt accompanied and uncharacteristically calm for the situation. When she shared this with her companion as they were briskly walking, she felt an affirming hand on her back and was sure it was her own grandfather. That would make sense when reading D&C 130:5 because it states that “there are no angels who minister to this earth, but those who do belong or have belonged to it."  In other words, all angels that minister on this earth have either lived or will live here and are most likely our own relatives.

Sister North shared with me that, “when our Stake President was setting us apart, he told us very specifically that we were each assigned two special and extra Guardian Angels.  He said it was his experience that each and every one of the missionaries he had set apart, and there were over 150 at the time of our callings, was given special guardian angels for their mission.”  He shared that “in our case, these angels were people we knew, loved and missed.  The angels were thrilled with their new assignments of accompanying us and protecting us.  They had also already been at work with and preparing the people we were being sent to teach.  

This Stake President only knew us in passing and very little about us actually.   He told Elder North that one of his guardian angels was the grandfather whose name he bears.  Only after the blessing did he ask if Elder North knew who that was.  Elder North told the President that in fact, yes, he carries the name of one of his grandfathers as his middle name.”  Sister North shared that she had some experiences while walking in Tulcan where she saw people with very evil countenances, but felt completely calm.

Our missionaries have also shared beautiful stories where angels have confirmed truths. Elder Del Aguila, for example, said that he had an investigator come to a baptism and while listening to the new member’s testimony, claimed she saw an angel dressed in white on either side of the new member. She was baptized thereafter and is very active in the Church.

Elder Suarez himself actually saw an angel during one of their lessons while working in the Centenario Ward in Otavalo. While they were teaching a family, Elder Suarez lowered his head to take a drink from a glass when he saw a little child sitting on the dining room table looking intently at his companion, Elder Carcamo, while he was talking.  The child was smiling and was very sweet with a happy face and he remained there during his companion’s teaching.  It was at a later appointment that the family shared with them that they had a son who had died earlier, who, according to his mother, comforted her from time to time and encouraged her to keep learning more about the Gospel and to endure to the end.

The scriptures say that the Lord imparts his word by angels which is evident from the story of the child encouraging his mother, but also true in the case of an investigator who was later baptized by Elder Burleson. He shared that one day when he was walking with his companion, he saw a ragged homeless man.  Elder Burleson and his companion were surprised to hear this vagabond call out to them, especially when he called them by name. When they asked him how he knew their names, he responded that “Angels in white had spoken with him and told him to listen to Elder Burleson and his companion and that they would teach him what he needed to do to be baptized like Jesus Christ.” He did in fact listen to them, was baptized, no longer lives on the streets, and is active in Church.

I am fascinated with the idea of angels, especially with those who look like mortals. I believe they are all around us, especially since we are living in an area which is populated with the actual descendants of prophets of the Book of Mormon. In Joshua 5:13 it states, “and it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold there was a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went unto him, and said to him, art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” The scriptures recount that the man with the sword was actually an angel and yet Joshua didn’t initially know.

This was the case in an experience Elder Kerby shared with us.  He and Elder Pinta taught an unmarried woman in Esmeraldas who was living with her boyfriend. The elders decided to wait until a later lesson to let her know that in order to be baptized she would need to be married. Between lessons, however, she went to visit her mother who lived in an area quite far away from their sector. After her return, she shared with the elders that she had met sister missionaries at her mother’s home, and that they had told her that she would “need to be married before being baptized.” The elders looked at each other and then questioned whether these missionaries were Mormon missionaries, but she pointed to her upper chest where a plaque would be and confirmed that they were wearing missionary plaques that said the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”

Very often, the work of angels goes unnoticed. In one case however, two sister missionaries believe that they were helped by angels in a service so small that it could easily have been overlooked or dismissed. They were working in the countryside in Centenario in Otavalo where their shoes were muddied on a daily basis. Sister Relmuan made a mental note that she would need to clean her shoes, but didn’t.  A day or so later while they were working, she looked down at her shoes and was surprised to see how clean they were. She turned to her companion Sister Tonge and asked with a knowing smile, fully expecting an affirmative response, “Did you clean my shoes?"  Sister Tonge, however, emphatically denied having done so, but looked down at her own shoes and quickly repeated the same question when she saw how clean her shoes were. They had been praying to be able to witness the help of angels, and believed that they were recipients of angelic help in something as small as having their shoes cleaned. 

I love the quote from Elder Jeffery R. Holland, “In the gospel of Jesus Christ you have help from both sides of the veil.  When disappointment and discouragement strike” (I would add danger),”- and they will – you must remember and never forget that if our eyes could be opened we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see riding at reckless speed to come to our protection.”

This was exactly the case for two of our missionaries in Otavalo in one of the most powerful examples of how good and evil spirits are involved in missionary work.  In February of 2015 as they were entering Espejo in Otavalo and walking up the main road after 6:00 p.m., Elder Leifer was singing various hymns, but when he got to the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers,” he saw what looked like a contingent of angels dressed in white preceding him into the sector.  He mentioned that he thought that singing hymns, and especially that hymn, played a big part in the vision he would soon have. He said that he was lifted up and was able to see his sector from an elevated vantage point. He also saw wisps of cloud like figures which he was able to swipe away with the movement of his arm. These he understood to be evil spirits and he was able to see for himself the power he had in brushing them away.   It was an amazing vision of light and power which he would soon need as he and his companion would face a darkness he had never before experienced.

We received a call later that his companion was nearly paralyzed with fear and was trembling uncontrollably. We thought that he was having a seizure and encouraged them to go to the hospital. It turned out to be sheer terror, however, as he had seen the spirit of a black man with a hat who had attempted to kill him. Both missionaries saw this man and it required special priesthood blessings to cast the evil spirit out of their apartment and we believe that the contingent of Angels of light which Elder Leifer had seen preceding and following them was to protect them from the evil they would soon see.  He shared that what President Richardson told him, “You have the Melchesidek Priesthood, the same power that was used to create this earth” hit him with great force.  “You are more powerful than any spirit.”  Following this experience, Elder Leifer said that he knew “that the Priesthood is real, and that if we are worthy and do the will of God, we can do anything; no spirit or evil influence can stop us.”

These are just a sampling of the angel stories we have heard from our missionaries. Knowing that the Book of Mormon was written especially for the posterity of prophets living on this continent, and knowing that we have pure Lamanites in our mission, we believe they are walking amongst the people. We have seen firsthand how angels are protecting the missionaries, helping them out of binds, strengthening and comforting them, confirming truths, and providing service. Not only this, but we know that good and evil is real and that there are Angels of light and darkness working overtime in the salvation or destruction of mankind. It is an honor and a privilege to be working hand in hand with these angels in the work of salvation, and a great comfort to know there are many eyes watching out for our wonderful young missionaries who often find themselves in dangerous circumstances.

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