The movie The Best Two Years was better than I expected. It was also hard to watch. My own mission was a lot like the movie. It was the best and worst two years of my life.
The bleak border town of La Linea was the best and worst part of those two years. We did not teach a single discussion, meet a single interested person, or do any person any good. I and my companion literally fought with our fists. My district hated me. I hated them. They played loud music and cursed just to make me miserable and in return I poured the salt of contempt in every wound of their weaknesses.
La Linea was then Spain’s major entrepot for drugs. We skirted drug dealers parked in the middle of intersections. We daily struggled in the spirit–there is such a thing, I discovered– to make some impression on people whose souls and desires were almost completely drowned in drugs. We daily failed. Perhaps because drugs had broken many, black magic and satanism were popular and spreading. Most of the few local members came from that background and bore spiritual scars from it. Some had slipped back. A palpable presence of the devil seemed to infect everything. The sewers overflowed every day. I experienced darkness and misery. At times I would have been willing to do terrible things in return for oblivion.
But in La Linea I sensed another power in the world more palpably than I have before or since. Every day at mediodia I took shelter in my room and read the Ensign. This was the sesquicentennial spring and summer of 1997 so every issue had an article about the pioneers. I read those articles over and over again. As I did a presence would fill the room and I would sense eternal light and sweetness everywhere around me. A voice in my mind would say ‘the name of this is Christ,’ and it would be confirmed to me that I was at that moment in communion with Him and with his pioneers. These were probably the happiest times of my life.
Here is what I read the most. Its from William W. Slaughter, The Strength of Sacrifice, Ensign, Apr. 1997, 32. Its the story of a family called on a mission to man a ferry over the Colorado. I have mentioned it before:
A family residing in Tuba City, came here from Richfield, Utah where they spent the winter visiting friends. At Panguitch, they buried a child, and without disinfecting the wagon or themselves, not even stopping to wash the dead child’s clothes, they came to our house, and remained overnight, mingling with my little children, and the consequence was [diphtheria], in four days my oldest boy was taken violently ill with fever and sore throat.
We knew nothing of the nature of the disease, but had faith in God, as we are here on a very hard mission, and had tried as hard as we knew how to obey the [commandments]. ? But alas in 4 1/2 days he choked to death in my arms. Two more were taken down with the disease. We fasted sometimes 24 hours and once I fasted 40 hours, but both my little girls died also. About a week after their death my fifteen year old daughter Melinda was stricken down and we did all we could for her, but she followed the others and the end is not yet. My oldest girl 19 years old is now prostrate with the disease and we are fasting and praying in her behalf today.
There are unseen influences around us that are trying to cause me to lose faith in God and to make me feel that there is no use to continue to pray. You can imagine how I feel, as you know how I have tried to live, and the implicit faith I had in the gospel and the promises of God.
However there are other spirits or influences around us that say to me, that God is the Father of the spirits of my children, and that He loves them as well as I do, and that he knows definitely better than I do what is best for them and us. God has said that He would have a tried people in the last days, and those who desire to do right will have to pass through greater trials than those who are not trying to reach the highest glory. I feel well when I look at it in the above light and especially when I think of the influences we have felt when my children died. It did not seem like death, and even when they were breathing their last, we could not feel bad, there was such a heavenly influence in the room. And also the looks of the children after death, almost a smile on their lips. I know they are happy now, and I hope I shall not give way to the spirits of evil, but that I might live so that bye and bye I can go and dwell with [my children]. I can assure you, however, that it is the hardest trial of my life, but I set out for salvation and am determined that it is through the help of my Heavenly Father that I hold fast to the iron rod, no matter what troubles come upon me I have not yet slackened in the performance of any of my duties.
That man and his family suffered and died for me, as Christ did also, and I know it and they know it. They aren’t my literal ancestors but I claim them as my fathers and mothers. I will carry the cross. Happy Pioneer Day.