My heart is so full right now; I wanted to catch and record these feelings while they were still tender, and fresh in my mind. This is truly one of those events that deserves a post all of its own!
Today I watched as Elder Buckner performed the baptism of Lee Lara, from the Philippines.
Lee has only been in Australia for about ten weeks. His wife, Richie, left Lee and their son behind in the Philippines over 2 1/2 years ago to study accounting here in Darwin. She was supported in that effort by her auntie, Sister Fong, who attends the Darwin branch. While staying with the Fong family, Richie investigated the church and put what she had learned to the test by praying about it to her Heavenly Father. She received an unmistakable answer to her prayers, and was baptized in 2014. She has had a difficult time attending church very often because of her work schedule, but has kept her testimony burning bright.
Richie worked very hard in school and saved everything she could from her part time job at McDonald’s. It helped, living with her Auntie’s family. Tuition was very expensive. Taking tests in a foreign language was scary! But after over two years away from them, she finally saved up enough to go back to the Philippines earlier this year for a visit, where she told Lee that she loved him, but that to continue their relationship, they would have to be married. He agreed & they were married in April.
She then returned to Australia and worked longer until she could bring Lee and their son here, which she accomplished two and a half months ago. Finally their family was reunited! They rented a little flat, made do with donated furniture, and Lee studied English while Richie attended classes and worked. Lee eventually got a part-time job (he is only allowed 20 hours a week) working at the new Gomez Y Gonzales restaurant near their home. Things are tight, but they are making it. They try to work at different times of the day so one of them can always be with their young son, Alex, even though it limits their time together.
Lee started taking the missionary discussions as soon as he arrived, ten weeks ago. Three of the elders who taught him (Elder Gaastra, Elder Hobby and Elder Dahle) are now serving elsewhere in Australia; the two who finished teaching him were not the ones he started with. Elder Seeling came to Darwin about a month ago, and guess where he is from – The Philippines! This has been a great help to Lee when challenging subjects or questions have come up. Elder Seeling has been able to explain things in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines – a country where over a hundred and twenty different dialects are spoken.
Elder Buckner and I have been blessed to help teach Lee a number of the lessons with the missionaries, including Elder Raiqisa and Elder Seeling. From the very beginning, we were impressed with the Lara family. Lee and Richie are both intelligent and sensitive people. And like his wife, Lee received a personal and unmistakable witness from the Holy Ghost that the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, the Book of Mormon is true, and that this is indeed the Lord’s restored church. And today he was baptized by immersion by my sweet companion, Elder Buckner!
I won’t go into detail about the baptismal service, but it was well attended by Darwin Branch members. The Filipino contingent of our branch gave great support, even serving dozens of unexpected attendees a wonderful meal, which made my small contribution of store-bought chocolate cookies from the bakery pale in comparison. 🙂
The one thing I will say, is that towards the end of the service, after Elder Raiqisa and Elder Seeling both bore their testimonies, so did Lee Lara. This is the first time Lee has ever done anything like that. He took some hand written notes with him, went up to the podium, and bore a wonderful testimony of the truths he had received. I have never heard a new convert speak like he did, besides the fact that it was in a tongue he was not yet comfortable with.
He was confident, yet humble, and without question felt the Spirit as he addressed this fairly large group of listeners; you could both see it, and feel it. In his remarks he stated that he is already looking forward to the opportunity to take his family to the temple to be sealed. And with the kind of determination and commitment this young family has already demonstrated, I have no doubt that will happen.
I feel humbled, blessed, and am still rejoicing to have participated in a small part of their wonderful story!