I'm old enough and I've had enough experiences in my life to lead me to believe less and less in coincidences. My conviction that this is so was reinforced this week. And as I contemplated what appeared to be happenstance â€” but wasn't â€” I began to reflect on the many experiences I've had in my life that need to be moved into the "not-a-coincidence-after-all" category.
Let me share one experience with you that occurred a number of years ago. I was traveling with my sister and mother in Germany, Austria and the recently liberated Czech Republic. It was a few years after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the USSR had been broken up, and many oppressed people had been freed.
One of my practices then was to pack Books of Mormon in my suitcase in appropriate languages. As I traveled I would pray to find a person, or persons, to whom I could give a copy. (Today with stricter weight limits, I take pass along cards).
I cannot remember all the particulars that trip, but I do remember it was the last day that we were in Prague, and I still hadn't placed my Czech Book of Mormon. I was growing increasingly angst-ridden. For some people this simple task would not be a difficult thing.
Take my sister Stacie, for instance. We are best friends, but our personalities are nothing alike. I explain to others that the difference between Stacie and me is best illustrated when we go poolside. I find a chair in the shade, put on my iPod, hunker down with a book and read voraciously. Stacie finds a chair in the sun, next to as many people as possible and strikes up conversations. By the time we leave the pool, Â I've got a lot of reading under my belt. Stacie is not only best friends with everyone at the pool, but most of them have divulged their entire life histories to her. She is what I would describe as a natural candidate for dispensing Books of Mormon. Not me. I hate rejection; it's personal â€” whether it really is personal or not. For me, giving away a Book of Mormon requires mustering up an enormous amount of courage.
Back to Prague. My time was slipping away in this exquisite, charming, picturesque and enchanting city. People so long religiously and socially oppressed deserved to learn of Christ and his gospel. However, I had not yet summoned the courage to act.
Â As the time wound down and we would be departing in the next couple of hours, we made our way from the Prague Castle, crossed Charles Bridge, and were shopping in all the little medieval lanes and shops just before you get into Old Town Square. I chose a jewelry store â€” eenie meenie miney mo â€” took a deep breath and entered. Working the counter was a young woman probably in her early 20s. I was looking for a garnet ring and necklace, and there were plenty of choices. We started to chat. Her English was very good. I was impressed and said so. She explained that she had spent time in the United States. Where, I asked? Idaho, she said, with visits to surrounding states. Yes, she had been to Utah. She was impressed. Further, she worked at a summer camp with a number of LDS youths, and they stood out to her. The conversation took off from there, Â and it was fairly painless for me to dig into my backpack, produce the Book of Mormon and invite her to take it and read it. She graciously accepted the book, I made my purchase and was on my way.
You can think what you like but I clearly realize now, only vaguely pondering the possibility at the time, that it was no coincidence that I chose that store and happened upon that young woman. Did she read the Book of Mormon? Did she join the church? I haven't the faintest idea. But I do believe that she was the person to whom I was to give that book.
Earlier this week when I ran into my friend while walking from the parking lot to the temple it was, again, no coincidence. I had forgotten a simple task and had to backtrack. It delayed my attendance and I was miffed. Then Karen pulled up beside, and I waited to walk with her into the temple. We sat and talked for over an hour. Our conversation proved to be much-needed and a great blessing to both of us.
We get these opportunities as disciples of Christ. We should not be surprised. Not only should we understand that "when (we) are in the service of (our) fellow beings (we) are in the service of (our) God" (see Mosiah 2:17). We should also recognize that "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man," God provides us opportunity and puts individuals and events in our path that we might assist his cause.