Merritt, British Columbia is a small city of 10,000, midway between Vancouver and the Okanagan. The Merritt Branch of the Church has traditionally had about 25 participating members, but all that began to change when Garry and Denise Rayner of nearby Kelowna were called to serve as senior missionaries in 2012. Elder Rayner also became the branch president.
With a strong First Nations community in Merritt, the Rayners encouraged newly assigned missionaries to search out ‘the one,’ in the city and on the nearby reserves. Only one year later, three families have been converted to the Gospel and baptized. Seven members of those families have attended the Vancouver Temple to do proxy baptisms and three men have received the Melchizedek Priesthood. President Rayner credits the success of hastening the work of salvation to very hard working missionaries, strong member support and the blessings of the Spirit on the people in the area.
Among those coverts are Red Cloud Adams, a member of the Thompson First Nations and his partner Tiffany Pop of the Shuswap First Nations. They were struggling to raise their three young children, Sunset, Shael and Blue Sky, to save their relationship when they first met the missionaries. Both Red Cloud and Tiffany speaking in testimony meetings since that first encounter have said that their lives were on the verge of collapse when Tiffany opened the door to two well-dressed young men. Tiffany said, “At the time, I felt like I had no one else to talk to and then they were there.” The missionaries asked if they could come back when the whole family was at home and she said, “Okay.” Then they asked when Red Cloud would be home and she said that she wasn’t sure. The first visit with the missionaries, accompanied by President Rayner, began the upward climb to a new life. Soon after that meeting, the missionaries and President Rayner asked again when Red Cloud would be home. Again,Tiffany said that she didn’t know because he wasn’t living with the family at the time. Later that day when Red Cloud came over to visit, Tiffany told him about the missionaries and he said he was willing to meet with them. During that meeting, Red Cloud and Tiffany immediately recognized that the principles being taught to them were from heaven and very soon they began to feel as though they could change the direction of their lives.
President Rayner recalls, “Red Cloud bore a sincere and humble testimony the first time he attended church. Red Cloud’s Grandfather, Bert Seymour, had come to church with them. Grandpa Bert asked Tiffany if she was going to speak and when she said no, he gave her a look that made her feel it would be disrespectful not to oblige him as he was a senior member of their community. She then shared her feelings about being in the meeting and said that this was the first place she had felt at home with strangers. She became emotional and could not speak. Red Cloud came to the pulpit again and put his arms around her until she gained her composure and she finished her testimony after he sat down.”
The couple received all the missionary discussions and expressed their desire to prepare for baptism. They were willing, indeed eager, to do all that would be required of them. They set a date, but it was a period fraught with difficulty for the young couple. They had to travel 250 km to the Dog Creek Indian Band Reserve in Clinton to attend the funeral of Tiffany’s beloved uncle Roland Billy. No sooner had they dealt with that upsetting event, when her family was devastated by the news that her brother, Edward Billy, had been murdered. Tiffany remained firm in her conviction that she and Red Cloud should go ahead with their baptismal plans. They could attend both funerals and still be home in time for the baptism. It was a test of their faith.
On the day of the baptism, the Merritt members and missionaries were prepared and waiting for the family at the chapel at the time scheduled when news came that after having left Clinton the previous day, the family’s car had not one but two flat tires on a remote, mountainous road halfway home. When they did not arrive by noon, a member of the Branch drove out to find them. He found the tired family waiting by their car; an uncle who had come to help from the other direction had just finished fixing their tires. The family finally arrived back in Merritt at 10 pm. Branch members had waited and the baptism took place at 10:30. Testimonies and well wishes kept the tired group at the church until midnight. To see the joy on their exhausted faces and the peaceful expressions of their sleeping children was a delight worth the wait.
The couple continued to live apart, but started making plans for their wedding. Branch members and the couple’s First Nations communities worked together to prepare a wedding celebration. The service was held in the Merritt chapel with approximately 80 First Nations friends and family in attendance – the biggest group ever assembled in the chapel. A First Nations feast followed at the assembly hall on the reserve and was a celebration enjoyed by members and non-members alike.
Red Cloud and Tiffany have truly transformed themselves in the months since that day. Tiffany has a calling in Primary and enrolled in the local college to earn a degree in social work. Red Cloud was ordained an Elder at the recent Vernon Stake Conference where he spoke on the theme, “Hastening the Work of Salvation”. The congregation was amazed and inspired by his insights into the topic. Red Cloud has recently found new employment and now also serves as a branch Elders Quorum President.
The influence this happy young family and other First Nations members and converts has had on the native community, drawing them toward the Church, is setting the Merritt Branch on a firm path of membership growth.