29 April 2014
This has been a crazy weekend. We have been witness to miracles. God cares for his missionaries. Here is the story.
Pres Smartt was planning on going to the small islands over the weekend. He has not been able to get out there as often as he would like, but he tries to keep up on his schedule. He did not make the trip, however.
On Sunday afternoon two of our missionaries, one AP and one quite new to the mission, were walking from the church back to their apartment in Guaynabo, when a car pulled up beside them. One of the elders looked in the window as the guy drove slowly past. He said the man was really angry looking. Then his companion looked in the window and the guy opened fire with a pistol from 10 feet. One shot grazed the second elder’s elbow, but it was later treated at the hospital with a bandaid. The second shot ricocheted and hit him directly in the thigh. The bullet bounced off his leg, leaving a hefty bruise but no penetration. The two young men took off running as more shots were fired.
It turns out that the gunman was after a guy on a bike who was hiding behind the elders. That man was killed by gunshot wounds. The elders ran to the mission president’s home, not far away, and police were called. The elders were taken to the hospital where they were treated and released.
So on Monday morning President was still in Puerto Rico. He greeted us when we got to the office, told us briefly that an elder had been shot twice but that both elders were fine, and he informed us that he would be gone most of the day to the police station to help the elders deal with the situation. President Smartt is an attorney by profession, so his presence was extremely helpful to the young elders.
Our friends and co-workers the Peterson’s were out of the office Monday and Tuesday with visiting family members. We were sitting at our desks doing what we usually do when a kindly voice asked me for a sister’s phone number. I looked up into the smiling, kindly face of Elder Cornish of our Area Presidency. There were several of the young sister missionaries about the office, waiting to be interviewed by Elder Cornish and Elder Anderson, the Area President. Meanwhile, young elders were coming in and out of the office, all dressed in their P-day clothes. They had been instructed to wear casual clothes and no name tags for a few days. Everything is on hold in the mission. But there is more.
This morning, Tuesday, Gaye and I were up at 0500 to take one of our senior missionary couples to the airport. They have finished their mission service and are on their way home. We then left directly from the airport to drive to Arroyo on the south coast of Puerto Rico, where we were going to pick up a signed housing contract to return it to President for his signature so it could be returned to the dueno (that means landlord) so the elders could move into better housing that is much closer to their church house. We drove directly down, picked up the contract, and drove directly back to the office. We were planning on helping train some young missionaries who had been designated to our replacements in the various office functions. President’s office door was open so I stuck my head in to tell him that we were back. Imagine my surprise to see four young elders seated there in front of Elder Cornish, listening intently to what he was telling them. He said he would visit with Elder and Sister Patterson shortly, so we sat down to answer the phone and do some other chores.
We received a call from one of the remaining senior elders, serving on Tortola, who was asking for help getting a flight booked. When Gaye asked him how he was doing he said he was in shock. Word travels fast. Gaye asked him if he had heard about the shooting. He replied that he had, but that he was even more shocked at the news of President Smartt. Gaye could not hide her astonishment and her curiosity. What is going on!
So Elder Cornish called us shortly into the office to fill us in. About two weeks ago our mission mom experienced some very disturbing numbness and lack of feeling in her legs. (The Smartt’s are both in their very early 40‘s.) Diagnostics were done and it was concluded locally that there was a tumor about ping-pong ball sized in her brain, and the local doctor wanted to admit her and plan the surgery. President said that would not happen. She was flown home for more tests at the University of Alabama, where they know some of the doctors and have many friends. President even received permission from a senior authority in the Church to go be with his wife as more tests were done. He would be gone for one or two days, then he would be going to Area Offices for some training meetings with the authorities there. The next time we saw President he said that the tests led to a diagnosis of MS, not a tumor. I guess that was bad news and good news. Sister Smartt has returned to Puerto Rico.
Back to the story. Elder Cornish said that after some discussion among some very senior Brethren it was decided that President would be released so he and Sister Smartt could go back to get the very best medical help available. So he was released and Elder Cornish is serving as a “temporary” president, for about a week, until another longer term temporary president can be called from the Seventy and make arrangements to come down here. He will be here until a new president is called and trained to take over on July 1. So in a little more than 2 months we will have four mission presidents of the PRSJM. These elders and sisters can do it. We will not be a part of what is coming in the future, but we have had a wonderful opportunity to work with them, train them, and also learn from them, becoming younger as we have felt their enthusiasm.
As part of the Church policy on dealing with this sort of event, the young people involved are immediately sent out of the area where it happened. One of these young men is from a neighboring island, so he has been sent there to finish his mission. The other is actually from Mexico and he has only one more transfer (6 weeks) until he goes home. The Area authorities want him to go to one of our small islands. However, his visa that allows him to enter the US is for one entry only. If he goes out of the US territory he cannot return. He has clearance from our security people to stay here for the duration of his mission, but he cannot leave and return. The outlying islands are little countries of their own, and they don’t have much extra money for social support programs, so they require that the missionaries have a ticket out of the country before they are allowed to come into the country. Since this elder cannot return to the US, he is not being allowed to go to that little island nation. I booked his ticket yesterday with the understanding that we have 24 hours to cancel the reservation. By the time we found out all this stuff it was past 24 hours, so they said they would not cancel the ticket and give a refund. They talked about it, however, and decided they would really like our business, so they made an exception. It is just awesome how the Lord blesses us as we do our best to do his work. Even for an old skeptic like me, this is solid evidence of God blessing our lives. Only God is smart enough to know how to do it in a way that does not interfere with our ability or responsibility to make decisions and live with the consequences.
There are actually more things that have happened in the past three days that I can’t even write about, mainly because I am too tired or the details have begun to slip from my memory. Suffice it to say, however, that these events have strengthened my faith in marvelous ways. As Elder Cornish said, “If you have been looking for a miracle to write about, this is surely one.”
So we are preparing to go home in a week. Stay tuned.