Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Arnoldo



The longer I live, the more a sense of mortality presses down upon me, sometimes crushing my breath and shaking me to the core. Once again, I received news that a dear friend from many years ago passed away. An unknown "friend of a friend" sent me a message via Facebook (of all places) and informed me that Arnoldo Castillo died last Saturday, and now my mind is a flood of confusing emotions.

Arnoldo entered the stage of my life through an unusual series of events. It's a rather long, circuitous story, but I'm feeling especially sentimental today so you'll have to just indulge me or stop reading.

During my mission in Guatemala, I served about six months in the small town of Colomba Costa Cuca, located on the green, jungle slopes halfway between the mountains and the sea. That place represents a conflicting, difficult, and occasionally wonderful time in my life.

Let's start with the difficult times.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I had actually argued with the mission president before going to Colomba. I loved my previous area and didn't want to leave.

My first month in Colomba was miserable. I felt homesick for my previous companions and friends, all the while we had no success finding potential converts. During that same time, torrential rains beat down as I trudged through miles and miles of mud and rejection. Then the president sent me a "green" missionary, Elder Wardle. I felt pressure to be a good example or a positive role model, but I could hardly see through my depression.

One week was especially difficult. Every day the rain and mud drenched through my clothes, my socks, and my shoes. We hung them out to dry at night, but the humidity was so thick that nothing ever dried. I got up every morning and put on my cold, mud-soaked socks and clothes. Just as the cold settled into my bones, we faced a level of rejection uncommon in those parts of the country. Most Guatemalans in the coastal region receive missionaries with a warm and open heart, even if they never join the church. That week almost every door slammed in our faces.

I felt dejected and alone, even though my young greeny followed me everywhere.

Finally we literally reached the last house in the town and the end of my wits. We arrived at a small yellow plank house at the end of the street, the last building before the cobblestones ended, leaving a dirt trail that continued into a banana field. A detached kitchen structure stood a few feet away from the main house where I saw a woman making tortillas through an open window. Without invitation, I opened the kitchen door and sat down at the table. My feelings of darkness abolished any sense of courtesy or social protocol.

"What's for lunch?" I blurted. "I'm hungry."

The woman smiled and answered my question as though I were not a stranger or an intruder into her kitchen, "We're having chicken and rice. I would love for you to have lunch with me." With all the grace of a saint, she served us both with the proverbial hot meal and a warm heart. She spoke kindly and laughed easily.

After my second or third helping, she finally asked, "What are you doing here today?" I explained that we were missionaries, but we were not having much success.

"No one wants to hear our message," I moaned.

"What is your message?" she asked through earnest eyes. I gave her the usual speech about Jesus and Joseph Smith, but without any pretense or pressure to believe. I finally remembered my manners and told her our names. I then handed her a hand written invitation to a video night we planned to host at the church later that week. As we left, I asked her name.

"I am Yanet de Castillo," she said and smiled.

Somehow I just forgot my missionary training and walked away without any commitment to return. In fact, I really didn't think of her until she arrived at our video night with her husband Arnoldo Castillo and their three children. That evening we began a friendship that would change everyone.

In the weeks that followed, Arnoldo and Yanet invited us into their home and offered us the abundance of their warmth and hospitality. We enjoyed many meals in that same little kitchen, but this time with their blessing and invitation. In return, we taught them all about faith in God and forgiveness for sins.

In that time, Elder Wardle received a transfer and Elder Matthew Cudney joined me in his place. The Castillo family treated us like sons.

After every lesson, we invited Arnoldo and his family to receive baptism into the church. He always accepted our invitation, but then he would refuse to set a firm date. "Not yet," he always said. We didn't understand how anyone could believe our message with such brilliant faith and attend church every Sunday and still reject baptism. For months we labored to convince him to set a date, but to no avail.

After four months of teaching, he invited us to his home and finally said the words we had hoped to hear, "I'm ready to set a date."

Within a week, or maybe two, we traveled by bus to the stake center in Coatepeque for the baptismal ceremony. I had the honor of performing the ordinance. The water was so cold that day, but the family stood there beaming like angels. Arnoldo was baptized first, followed by Yanet, and then the two older children. The smallest son was too young to receive baptism.

In Mormonism, most people experience the Holy Ghost in a solemn, reverent manner, but something happened that was completely out of character. After the last child emerged from the water, we all stood there shivering and drenched. For a moment we just looked at each other and then the Holy Spirit fell all at once and we burst into laughter. It felt like a joyful, exploding laughter from the deepest part of my heart. It was holy laughter, if such a thing exists.

At the close of sacrament meeting the Sunday after their baptism, Arnoldo and Yanet spoke with us outside. Yanet looked up at Elder Cudney and I with tears streaming down her face. She said, "Thank you, THANK you for giving me my husband back." By then Arnoldo was also sobbing. He proceeded to tell us all the sins that held him back. He said he could not accept baptism until he had ended his previous life of infidelity and sin. He held nothing back. He confessed everything.

I was stunned. We held each other and cried.

A week later his 13 year old daughter corned me behind the church and demanded to know what I had done to her father. "What do you mean?" I stammered, afraid I may have done something wrong.

"I want to know what you did to my father, she demanded again. "The other day I got into my dad's favorite orange tree and broke all the branches. Before you found him, he would have gotten furious. I was afraid and ran away, but he found me. Then he threw his arms around me and told me how much loved me. We cried together. He changed, and I want to know what you did to him." Once again, I just stood there and cried.

Arnoldo and Yanet are THE reason I went to Guatemala. For some reason known only to God, I became an unwilling instrument in the hands of the Divine Purpose to bring this family to restoration and healing. In their turn, they became witnesses of a Higher Power that guided me through even the darkest times. Even as I changed my religion, I never lost my reverence for this sacred event. Their story transcends denominational boundaries.

On the last day of my mission, Arnoldo and Yanet drove to Guatemala City to bid me and Elder Cudney goodbye. Something broke inside my heart; I gripped them in my arms and wept. Even as my father drove us away, I looked back and watched their crying faces disappear into the crowded city landscape. That was the last time I ever saw Arnoldo or Yanet.

Tonight I weep again for my old friend. I hope now he is safely arrived in Heaven with all his loved ones who went before. I also wish many sweet blessings on Yanet and her beautiful children.

6 comments:

Oklahoma Farmgirl said...

That is the most beautiful testimony!! I could see it all unfolding before my eyes. Thank you for reminding me today how mysteriously the Great Mystery can work. You found your purpose in that moment.


Blessed be...

Barry Moses (Sulustu) said...

Thank you Oklahoma... the Great Mystery is indeed mindful of us in many ways unseen. Blessings to you!

Chelle said...

Sorry to hear about your friend. It is great to hear that you were able to make a differnce in Arnoldo and his faimly's life.

Barry Moses (Sulustu) said...

Thanks 'Chelle. Actually, I feel like they made more of an impact on me. I'm lucky to know them.

jenX67 said...

Sulustu - this is so heart breaking. I really felt and understood your pain. Like finding out your best high school friend died, even if you hadn't talked to her in 15 years. I often reflect on our proximity to people, places and things and how it does or does not impact us when change occurs.

I thought you were still a Latter Day Saint. When did you change? And, where do you attend these days? I assume you are still in the Christian faith?

Barry Moses (Sulustu) said...

Hi Jen... I changed in 2002, but my wife and children are still LDS. I attend Native ceremonies on a weekly basis and I still believe in Jesus.

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