When I left Canada to serve a mission in Milan, Italy in 1980, I had been a member of the Church for less than two years. At only age 20, I had my faith challenged because I thought that it was up to us as missionaries to 'convert' people to the gospel. An experience I had in Piacenza, an ancient, walled city in northern Italy, taught me otherwise.
At that time, there was one small branch in the town. The members were wonderful, and I learned to love the Italian people. When one sister in the branch had some gospel-related discussions with an acquaintance, she suggested to her friend that she speak with missionaries. The friend consented and we agreed to visit her. There was one caveat, however; the member told us, “Go by and see what happens.” So our expectations were fairly restrained.
In our novice Italian, we began to tell her about the apostasy and the restoration of the gospel. The spirit was very strong as we spoke. Not far into our discussions, she began to cry.
After apologizing for losing her composure, she explained that she had always been a serious student of the Bible. She described her search for the true church -- by studying and attending every church and belief she could find. She never felt that she had found the restored gospel though she looked for it all her life. When she heard our message, she identified it immediately.
Renata was brilliant in her knowledge of the scriptures. She said that she had always believed that there had been a 'falling-away' from the truth and that the full gospel must exist somewhere. Needless to say, we were overjoyed.
Over the next ten days as we taught her the remainder of the discussions, we learned almost as much as she did due to her considerable research and knowledge. Her gospel understanding was accelerated by beliefs that she already held. Her experiences echoed in my heart as I reflected on my own recent conversion.
Ten days after our meeting Renata, she was prepared for baptism. We felt less prepared due to the facilities provided for baptisms at that time. A metal pipe frame held up a large plasticized canvas bladder which was then filled with water. Baptism candidates entered the makeshift assembly by placing a chairs on the inside and outside of the font to serve as stairs. The baptismal candidates were required to climb up on the chair and swing their legs over into the font. I remember, while lifting this little lady into the font that she was as fragile as a china doll.
The baptism proceeded perfectly. Renata accepted the event without reservation; in fact, she was the least nervous person in the chapel that night.
I realized then that there are people in this world whom the Lord has prepared to hear the message of the restored gospel. We need only to be sensitive enough to find them and to be a worthy instrument to help them remember the truths they already know in their hearts.