He had questions, and, because we knew about the plan of salvation, we had answers.
Occasionally, we are given a reminder of how precious a gift it is to understand the plan of salvation. While serving as missionaries in the Philippines, my companion and I were given a referral for a man named Johnny Sajonas. He was about 75 years old and had become frustrated with religion. The investigator who gave us the referral said he was afraid Johnny was almost ready to completely abandon his belief in God.
After we knocked on the fence just outside his door, a partially bearded old man with a cane in his hand and a frown on his face appeared and asked what we wanted. We told him we were missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that we wanted to share a message with him about the gospel.
He stood silent, examining us from head to toe for a moment and then observed, “You’re very young. I doubt you can teach me anything.”
Smiling, I responded, “Oh, sir, we have great confidence in our message. Please let us share it with you.”
He took a minute to think about it and finally mumbled, “You come back tomorrow at ten o’clock.” Then he turned and walked in the house.
At ten o’clock sharp we arrived at Brother Sajonas’s house. He invited us inside and seated us in front of a small table. We began, as was customary at that time, with a discussion about the Restoration. As we began to teach, we noticed that our investigator was rather anxious and fidgety. He’d look at the floor, then at the ceiling, then off to the side. We tried desperately to follow his eyes with our flip-charts to keep his attention. To make things even more challenging, he didn’t seem to be listening to what we were saying. After a few moments, he interrupted us in midsentence, looked straight at me, and asked almost angrily, “Who created evil?”
We sat for a moment in shock. I cleared my throat and responded like any good senior companion, “Well … uh … you see, it’s uh … uh … Elder Warren, you want to take that one?” After a few seconds, I finally began to understand Brother Sajonas’s real question: Did God create evil?
I picked up my Bible, and we began to tell Brother Sajonas about the premortal existence. I doubt he’d ever heard anything like this before, since the belief in a pre-earth life is unique to our faith. We referred to Isaiah and told him about Lucifer, who, by his own choice, rebelled against God and fell from heaven, becoming the father of evil.
He paused, then nodded slowly as if to say, “Okay, I’ll buy that for now.”
Hoping we had answered him adequately, we tried to continue where we had left off in the discussion. But again our investigator was off in another world.
Again he stopped us, loudly demanding, “Why are there so many wars?”
“Uh … well, you see, it’s uh … Elder Warren, you want to … uh.” Then the answer came to me again. “You see, sir, it has to do with something we received in the premortal existence. It’s called moral agency.” We explained how people seem to have a hard time getting along. Often they are selfish. Occasionally, a leader will send his country to war for selfish reasons, and the countries attacked must defend themselves. We said that God helps us a lot, but He wants us to learn to solve our own problems so we can learn and grow, which is what life is for. Our response seemed to start him thinking, and we continued with the discussion. After another minute, he stopped us a third time and asked, “Why do so many children starve?” What a good question. I had asked myself similar questions on many occasions.
In silent prayer, I begged the Spirit to teach us what to say. “Heavenly Father has a different perspective than we do,” I began. “When we see a child die, that’s how we see it—a child dying. I believe that Heavenly Father, on the other hand, sees one of His own spirit children being set free and coming home to Him. Of course, we need to do all we can to prevent suffering. God expects us to. But when death comes, we return to the peace and love we knew in God’s presence before this life.”
It was at this point we realized we were teaching the wrong lesson. Every question he asked was answered in the Purpose of Life discussion. The introductory visual aid for this discussion listed three questions. I opened my flip-chart and began to explain. A change of expression came over Brother Sajonas’s face, and we watched him in silence as he read and reread each question on the flip-chart:
Where did I come from?
Why am I here?
Where will I go when I die?
His eyes moistened, and tears fell from his face. I had never had this reaction with this picture or any other in our flip-chart, and I wasn’t sure what was happening. I looked at Elder Warren, looked back at Brother Sajonas, and then the Spirit spoke to my mind: “Elder, testify.”
Sitting up on the edge of my chair, I testified that we knew where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going.
He sat sobbing for a moment, then he stood up and walked slowly to the back of the room. Picking a little red book from the shelf, he returned to where we were sitting. He opened the book to the back inside cover, held it up in front of our faces, and said tearfully, “You are so young!” Written in old man’s shaky handwriting, I read:
My Eternal Questions
1.Where did I come from?
2.Why am I here?
3.What do I need to accomplish?
4.Where will I go when I die?
After we read the words, I looked back into Brother Sajonas’s teary eyes as he marveled, “You are so young, and you’ve come from so far to teach me these things.”
The next day we explained the entire plan of salvation to him with little cardboard visual aids. In the middle of the lesson, Brother Sajonas bowed his head, covered his face with his hands, and cried: “I have been looking for this for 40 years.” Who would have guessed that three little questions on a flip-chart could bring a 75-year-old man to tears? He was an educated man who only wanted answers to three simple questions: who was he, where was he from, and what did God expect him to do? And one day a couple of 19-year-old elders walked in and taught him simple gospel truths.
Elder Warren and I walked back to our apartment in silence that day, struck with the power of the tremendous knowledge we possessed and had possessed since we were in Primary. I had taken that knowledge for granted. I felt the joy of sharing the plan of salvation and a profound awareness that in every country we have brothers and sisters who are “only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12).
Where did I come from?
Thanks to the restored gospel we know our spirits lived before we were born into this mortal existence.
Why am I here?
We are here to grow and learn by obtaining a mortal body and by demonstrating our faith and obedience.
Where will I go when I die?
When we die, our spirits go to the spirit world, and our bodies return to the elements of the earth until the resurrection.
Michelle Joy F. Baisa says
Ohh what a wonderful message and experience of your brother John Bytheway especially those powerful question of the soul. As I read your story I remember my experience in my mission back in Naga Phillipines mission 4 years ago a mother whom we teach about the restored gospel she ask us who we are? And she waited for so long to answer the same question whom your former investigator ask. I know that the Lord is really watching his children He know when is the right time for them to hear the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that He love all of us as hischildren and He want us to go back home to him someday and that is my testimony.