“Delayed Harvest,” Liahona, Sept. 2006, 45–46
I sat at my desk one Monday morning looking at all the e-mails that had piled up over the weekend. Always suspicious of a computer virus, I was almost ready to delete an e-mail and its attachment that were from an unknown sender. But as my finger paused on the mouse button, ready to click, the Spirit prompted me to open the message.
“Hello, Elder Rian Jones,” it began. “You are now around 50 years old, and I am 37. I have only a vague remembrance of your person, and I am not sure if the man I remember is the one I am writing to.” Actually, I was 45 years old, and who was this person who would address me as “Elder”? I hadn’t been called that since my mission. The writer then asked if I was still active in the Church and had kept the spirit of my mission. My curiosity was really piqued now.
“I was only 12 years old when you and your companion taught me the gospel in Taranto, Italy. The year was 1975.” My mind raced as I tried to recall the writer. “You are probably asking yourself if you baptized me. No, you didn’t, because my mother and father refused permission.” The writer went on to explain how painful and embarrassing it was for him and his brother to stop the missionaries on the steps of their apartment building as we were going to ask his parents for permission to baptize him. He recounted how he kept coming to church for a while but eventually stopped because he could not be baptized. “But I kept the teachings in my heart and never betrayed the principles I was taught,” he wrote.
I served in the Italy Rome Mission from 1975 to 1977, and Taranto was my first city. But I could not recall the story that was unfolding in this e-mail. The writer explained that when he was 22 years old he was called into compulsory military service in northern Italy. There he suffered a spiritual crisis that caused him to pray for the first time as an adult. He received an answer to his prayers, and because of this, he sought out the missionaries in that area. He found them at a fast-food restaurant and told them he wanted to be baptized. “Nothing like that ever happened to me on my mission,” I thought. Those elders must have been shocked.
He was baptized and later married in the temple at Friedrichsdorf, Germany. He now had three children, had moved to Canada several years ago, and was an active member of the Church.
“I don’t know if you will ever answer this e-mail. If you do, I will tell you many other things about my life and how I have been blessed by your mission. Elder, you never know where a small, good action can lead.” He signed his e-mail “Cesare Quarinto.” Later he told me he had found my e-mail address on the Italy Rome Mission Web site.
Try as I might, I could not recall the experience of teaching a 12-year-old boy in Taranto. But the attachment to the e-mail was a page he had scanned from an old copy of the Book of Mormon. It was a dedication, written in my handwriting in Italian, dated September 14, 1975. It read:
“I am giving you this gift so that you can read it to find the beautiful truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t ever forget prayer, because it is only through prayer that you can find the truth. … I know this is the true Church, and I hope to share this truth with you.
“Elder Rian Jones”
Suddenly I had a perfect recollection. Seeing the words I had written caused the memory to return. I recalled vividly the rented space we used for a chapel in Taranto. We taught young Cesare the gospel in that building. I had given him his own copy of the Book of Mormon shortly before I was transferred to another city. Recalling the circumstances and reading Cesare’s e-mail, I was overcome with joy.
I did have some success on my mission, but unfortunately most of the people I baptized had fallen away from the Church over the years. Now a scripture came to mind: “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:15).