It was the heaviest rain I had ever seen, worse than anything I had experienced even back in the south during the summers when the clouds would open up and you couldn’t see more than fifteen feet in any direction.
I was huddled under a overhang from a metal roof of the house next to the bus stop. My companion and I were waiting for the bus that would take us back to our part of town and the sudden approach of the storm didn’t allow us time to find more substantial shelter. He now stood next to me pressed up against the cement wall trying to avoid the waterfall pouring off the tin. He was a Brazilian from the northeast and constantly talked about the beautiful beaches near his home. The thought of his northeastern beaches annoyed me because the rain was cold and my wet clothes clung to me like an icy second skin . I hugged my knees to keep as much body heat as I could.
I was miserable. I was a couple of months from the end of my mission and I had been transferred to a “problem area” by my mission president. When I arrived I found a ward plagued by recent excommunications of prominent members, internal fighting, and an apathetic leadership. After a month of work fueled by missionary optimism, the realization set in that this ward had been this way for long before I was there and would remain the same for long afterwards. We, the missionaries, were powerless to change it. Nothing was too hard for the Lord, but it was obvious we weren’t going to be His instruments for change in this situation.
Our own efforts to find people to teach was proving less than fruitful. We had traveled to a distant part of our area to deliver a Book of Mormon to someone who had ordered it from a pass-a-long card. Media referrals had just recently arrived in Brazil and we were still learning the best way to approach them. When we clapped at the door of the address, we were greeted by an exuberant “Elders!”. This may have been our first media referral, but we were pretty sure that this wasn’t normal. We were invited inside and were asked, “so, are you two going to teach my new member discussions?” As it turns out, the woman had already been baptized by the missionaries in the neighboring area. It was technically our area, but there were only a couple of streets that were ours and required a long bus ride to get to our meetinghouse. According to the rules, she should have been turned over to us, but she had friends in her ward and it was nearby, so we simply gave her the Book of Mormon, ate a slice of cake (there was always cake), and walked back to the bus station.
I wondered how much more rain could fall from the sky. All the books in my bag had been double wrapped in plastic bags, but everything else was ruined. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t the first time I had gotten trapped in the rain and even with only two months left, it wasn’t going to be the last time. I sank into a depressed frustration. What was the point in this? If the Lord knew that we weren’t going to have any success in this area, why were we here? Why was I here? My last three months were to be spent constantly trying to motivate a ward that much bigger issues than a sluggish missionary program. If the Lord knew I wasn’t going to make any real difference, why even send me here in the first place? Sure, there was the whole “planting seeds” standby that missionaries used but while I believed that missionaries often made impressions that didn’t translate into immediate results, many times missionaries made no impressions at all. There were areas that I had served on my mission where I knew I had already been forgotten by the majority of the people in the ward. So why had I been there? What good had I done?
I was shivering heavily. Maybe the Lord hadn’t expected me to succeed. Maybe His goal was for me to fail…miserably. Surely not, I thought. God wants His children to do well and be happy, right? But then again, we can’t always win all the time. Sometimes we have to lose and we have to lose big. Sometimes we need to be knocked down so are forced to pick ourselves back up. It isn’t God that does the knocking, but life. If I hadn’t been sent to this ward, some other Elder would have. Maybe he would have done better, maybe not, but it was my turn here.
Sometimes the bishop doesn’t care. Sometimes the media referral is taught by someone else. Sometimes the rain is very heavy and very cold. Sometimes your mission/job/marriage/life just plain sucks. It isn’t fair, but we never had that guarantee. The only guarantee we were given was that if we got back up every time we fell down, that it would be worth it in the end.