At the beginning of my mission, I heard President Thomas S. Monson speak at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. He told us that if we served faithfully, we would return home "with a garden full of memories." Sure enough, I enjoyed many wonderful memories from my own mission garden.
I had been in the city of Tela, Honduras, for only a few days. I was still a new missionary, and I could barely speak a word of Spanish. At the time, my companion was extremely ill and had to stay with members while I went on exchanges with the sisters from the Relief Society to keep the missionary work afloat. Unfortunately, I wasn't the sharpest missionary tool yet; I only knew how to say a few key phrases like, "Would you like you come to the church on Sunday?" and "Would you like to be baptized?"
These are not the most subtle or elegant conversation starters.
One afternoon, I saw a man in his front yard, resting after a long day of work. His house was very small, made out of cinder block. It had no running water and only a single light bulb in the middle of the house. He looked tired, and I almost walked past him, but instead, I stopped and fearfully repeated one of my few memorized phrases: "Would you like to come to church on Sunday?"
He responded "Si, balkjslkjdflkaj."
The only word I understood was "Si." He and the Relief Society sister at my side had a short conversation in which I have to assume she told him where the church was because the next Sunday he and his family showed up. It seemed like a miracle! I didn't even know his name.
That Sunday evening, with another Relief Society sister, I went back to the man's house to see how he liked church. "Did you like church?" I asked him.
"Si, asdkfjsdlkj," he said.
Again, I could only understand the first word of his response. There was a long pause in the conversation. I had to say something, so I said the only other thing I knew how to say, "Would you like to be baptized?"
"Si, pero aslkdfjalkdjfaldskj."
The two words that I understood told me that he wanted to be baptized, but he had a question. Unfortunately, I had no idea what the question was. Luckily, the Relief Society sister came to my rescue again and resolved his concerns.
This man's name was Francisco, and his wife's name was Maria. They were very poor, but they loved God and wanted to do what was right. Over the next few weeks, the members of our little branch taught their family about the gospel and encouraged and loved them. Each time they came to church or read the Book of Mormon or gave up drinking coffee or any of the many things that this family did to be able to embrace the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, the members of our branch rejoiced with them.
I couldn't understand a word they said, and I'm sure that whenever I tried to speak to them, they thought I was crazy. But I loved them. I loved watching how the gospel changed their lives.
I will forever remember Francisco and Maria and their children dressed in white for their baptisms. It is one of my favorite memories. Ever. And imagine, I hadn't even ever had a real conversation with these people — because I couldn't. But I still loved them.
In Honduras, there is fruit everywhere. Oranges, bananas, pineapples, mangos, papayas. You can pick them off trees or buy them for almost nothing at a roadside stand. But there is one fruit that is very hard to find in Honduras: apples. They are not a tropical fruit, so when you find them at a grocery store in Honduras they are quite a bit more expensive than other fruit.
One day my companion and I stopped by to see Francisco and Maria's family. Maria greeted us at the door and said "Come in, come in! Wait right here."
My companion and I walked in and waited, wondering what Maria wanted to tell us. She walked to the only table in their house, which had a pile of dirty, torn clothing on top of it, and she started to sift through these dirty clothes until finally, eyes sparkling, she pulled out a shiny, red apple.
She explained, "Someone told me that today was your birthday. I had to hide this apple all day so that my children wouldn't find it and eat it, but here it is for you." She gave me a single, red apple for my birthday.
This apple was probably the best present I have ever received. Not just because apples were expensive and hard to find, and not just because she had to carefully plan all day how to save it for me, but because I know that Francisco and Maria gave me an apple for my birthday because they loved me.
You might say they didn't even know me; I couldn't even speak their language. Well, they didn't love me because I was charming and funny and eloquent. They loved me because I was the missionary who invited them to accept the gospel. They changed their lives with the help of the Spirit, the Book of Mormon, and the members of the branch. I wasn't really much help, but they loved me because I was the missionary who first invited them.
Whenever I see a red apple, I think of my friend Maria, who is now the Relief Society president, and her husband, Francisco, who is the first counselor in the branch presidency. And I love them.
When I think of their story, my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its power to change our lives is strengthened. I'm grateful the Lord allowed me to go on my mission and come home with a wonderful garden full of memories.
Amanda Francis is the Young Women president in the Winchester Ward in the Winchester Virginia Stake.