I had three months left before I finished my mission. A transfer with my new companion in a new area called Santa Barbara left me nervous, excited and above all else prayerful. My companion Elder Shettell and I prayed for miracles every day. We didn't know where to go. We didn't know what to do. We didn't know what miracle God was preparing.
There was a lot of walking in the hot sun. And a lot of talking. And teaching. There was a day Elder Shettell and I had temporary companions. Elder Shettell and his companion went left, my companion and I went right. We planned to meet after two hours at the place we started.
Elder Shettell and his companion returned a few minutes early. Dripping in sweat, like most days in the Philippines, they sat in the shade by the road for what seemed like a well-deserved rest. But as they sat, Elder Shettell got the feeling that they can't sit. What if there is someone that is waiting for them at that very moment? So they stood up, walked across the street, down the slope to a little bright orange home. A call of 'tao po' and a knock later, a woman welcomed them in. With only a few minutes to teach, they taught a lesson about God and family and the Restoration. She was just visiting that home that day but she gave her address and agreed we could visit her family on Wednesday.
Wednesday came. We set out to find her house. We asked. And asked. And got some directions. And some different directions. Then we found out a car couldn't make it out there. So we took a tricycle. But then Mary Ann rang and said she has no electricity. It was already dark. So we reluctantly gave up for the day. She sounded disappointed.
The next day, we tried again. We found a track where the car could go. And we drove through fields, and by rice plantations and across bridges and between trees and cows and kids and houses. And then we went off on another track, up the hill. There wasn't many houses or people in sight by then. But we kept on going. At the top of the hill, we saw a compound of small homes to the right. And then off in the distance we saw a tiny bamboo hut sitting under an old mango tree. Elder Shettell and I both looked at each other and said, 'surely it's not that one.”
We went to the concrete homes nearby and asked. The children told us 'it's over there!' We couldn’t believe it. They were pointing at the mango tree.
Mary Ann’s home really did have no electricity. Or water. Or anything else. They had a dog and some cows. And that big old mango tree.
We sat with a torch on because it was so dark. The kids came out of their hiding places one by one. Apparently, foreigners didn't get out that far very often. In fact we were the first ones. Especially the first ones in white shirts and ties. Mary Ann said she had prayed that she would find the truth. And then, that very day she met us. Coincidence? I think not.
From that day in November, everything changed. Mary Ann believed in miracles. She wanted to find the truth for her family.
The whole time we taught her, I wondered how on earth would they ever get to church. They have almost no money, no car or motorbike, and lived in the middle of nowhere.
Three weeks later, we siting in church and turned to see Mary Ann and her children dressed in their Sunday best. They nervously smiled at us. The long four-kilometre walk to the highway and then riding a jeep 25 minutes to church was no obstacle for them. They loved church. They felt something they had never felt before. And they could not wait to come back.
Mary Ann became patient and sweet and slow to anger, something she didn't think she could do. Her children became kind and God-loving. They were ready. And on a beautiful day in January, Mary Ann and her four children were baptized. It was a day I will never forget.
We must have talked to hundreds of people on the day we met Mary Ann. The Spirit told us that day to go where we don't usually go. And the Spirit must have told Mary Ann the same thing.
That was just the beginning. I learnt that miracles happen- but just not how we think. An almost daily visit to their home. A lesson underneath the mango tree each afternoon. Or a torch lit lesson at night. Those moments became a ritual for us and for them. The children would wait up, excited to see us. And to hear the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Miracles usually happen so gradually that we don't often see them.
Mary Ann was a miracle. The big miracle I was looking for was just made up of a thousand little miracles. And I couldn't see it unless I stepped back, looked up to Him, and really saw as He does.
Samuel Fairbank is from Adelaide, Australia and is currently in the Buderim Ward in Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
He served in the Urdaneta, Philippines mission from January 2015 to January 2017.