I felt ashamed to admit that I didn’t know if I would even recognize him when I saw him. He looked so ordinary but something in my heart leapt when he came towards me with a smile and his hands outstretched and I could feel that he was not ordinary at all. This was an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, a specially chosen witness of our Savior and I was shaking his hand and kissing his wife. There were a thousand wonderful, brilliant things that I wanted to say but overwhelmed with the beauty of it my mind went blank.
“Hi” was all I got out. That was lame….The fact that I was here at all was a miracle and I felt so blessed to even have this chance. We found out last week that Elder Stevenson would be coming to visit Vanuatu.
Just like in ancient times when Jesus Christ had 12 apostles on the earth, Elder Stevenson is one of 12 specially chosen apostles of Jesus Christ on the earth today.
It’s been 8 years since an apostle of the church had come to Vanuatu so this was really special that we were getting this chance. It was planned that everyone would get to see him and listen to him speak during two planned meetings. One meeting for youth on Tuesday and one meeting for youth on Wednesday. None of us knew that he was going to be here today. The only reason I was even at the airport was because it was the day that my niece and nephew were leaving. They had flown in last month from Canada to visit us and now we had to say goodbye.
Ethan is 18 and just received his mission call which is waiting in an envelope at home for him unopened. Both my niece and nephew were devastated when they found out that they had to leave 1 day before an apostle arrived.
Because flights out of Vanuatu are all considered international you have to arrive at the airport 3 hours prior to departure. We didn’t really think this was a set in stone rule but learned the hard way a couple weeks ago when we dropped off a family member just 1 hour prior to departure and their plane had left them! This time we knew we had to come exactly on time. Our strategy was to check them in early and then spend time together walking around, taking pictures and hanging out until they really had to leave. Everything was going smoothly after the check in, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more going on. We noticed lots of shiny white cars, large men in suits and groups of dancers gathering around a particular area. It wasn’t too hard to guess that this must all be in preparation of Elder Stevensons arrival. He must be flying in on the flight that Ethan and Talia were flying out on. Suddenly we were feeling very excited.
There was a small group of specially invited church leaders and their spouses behind the ‘Do Not Enter, VIP Exit Only’ sign. They were all dressed in their brightly coloured island dresses with fresh flower leis lined up nicely ready to greet the apostle. The men wore their best white shirts and ties some of them even had on suits despite the hot weather. We were on the outside looking in through the glass. Trying to stay back far enough that nobody noticed us but still hoping to catch a glimpse of the apostle. There were 9 of all together. My four daughters, four nephews and one niece. Unfortunately they were not dressed in anything other than what we wore everyday. Island t-shirts, cut off jean shorts and bare feet, of course they had bare feet. I at least had shoes on but was still wearing the grubby clothes that I had worked in all day. Gross, this was awkward. We briefly considered that we shouldn’t be standing around waiting to see an apostle in these clothes, but figuring that the kids flight would arrive before we actually got to see Elder Stevenson and knowing that we would probably have to leave anyways, we thought it couldn’t hurt.
We waited and waited and waited and still no sign of anybody. We weren’t worried about the flight yet because we were just around the corner for where they would have to leave and we kept checking in to make sure they hadn’t begun boarding. Because the airport is so small there isn’t anything fancy like boarding announcements or computer screens displaying flights. The airport only fits one airplane anyways so you know that everyone there is for your flight. . We even took pictures with the dancers to pass time.
The kids and I were hopeful that eventually if we waited long enough we’d get to see Elder Stevenson. Feeling so self conscious about our presence there in the first place I lined up the kids a dozen times telling them if they stood just right or looked nice enough maybe Elder Stevenson would notice them and at the very least look at them and smile. But after an hour of waiting it was seeming less and less likely that we would even get to see him.
Just as we starting to feel discouraged and preparing to leave, people started to gather around a little closer and excited chatter spread throughout the group. Naturally we also leaned forward taking a few steps closer. We were nearly up to the outside of the glass now with a great view of the door that the apostle was supposed to be coming out of.
We must have looked eager, or desperate or something because totally unexpectedly one of the sharp men in suits approached us and asked “would you like to see Elder Stevenson”, He gestured behind the glass that separated us from everybody else as though he was inviting us to come in. I was sure I must not have understood him correctly and shook my head ‘no’. He asked again and I quietly explained how kind it was of him to offer but we weren’t invited, and even if we had been we certainly weren’t dressed appropriately to join the beautifully groomed, specially chosen group waiting to welcome a representative of Jesus Christ.
The friendly man who I assumed was a body guard was gentle and kind as he insisted that ‘just this once’ it would be okay to not be dressed properly or have an invitation. I refused again, with a little less resolve and then finally the third time not wanting to be rude I thanked him and timidly entered through the glass gateway with my entourage of 8 very excited youth.
Together we stood in the growing circle of welcomers. I looked around at the adult women in their island dresses, smiling and giggling like little girls as they waited. I saw full grown men with their arms folded reverently in front of them and husbands and wives standing next to each other holding hands, waiting together in happy anticipation. The feeling was electric, the spirit was so present and I was so happy that I had been at just the right place and time to be allowed to be here. Maybe Ethan and Talia really would get this chance, something that happens once in a lifetime to shake the hand of an Apostle of God. I felt peace. I knew this wasn’t what we had planned, the situation wasn’t ideal, but I knew it was meant to be an it was okay. Nearly out of nowhere the feeling of peace left me and another feeling replaced it. This thought was louder, stronger, more persistent.
I looked down at my blue knockoff Adidas sport shorts that were splitting apart at the seems. Honestly and truly splitting apart. My shoes were too big for me, my hair was messy and my old t-shirt was a dirty. What was I thinking? I was suddenly humiliated, I knew I didn’t belong here. I needed to get out and quick. I tried to tell all the kids that we all should leave, and we weren’t dressed properly but they wouldn’t listen to me as they stayed firmly planted in their spots. I quietly edged my way towards the door and snuck back outside.
Phewph…Feeling much more comfortable, I relaxed as I looked onward from the outside hoping to go unnoticed. Only a few minutes had passed when a nice looking, well dressed gentleman with a camera came and stood beside me. He didn’t say anything for a few minutes but then softly asked why I wasn’t standing with my kids and the others inside. I was embarrassed as I explained that I was not prepared to meet an apostle in the clothes I was wearing and felt quite out of place. He turned to me with a knowing smile and said “ You go back there” he gestured to an empty spot in the line up, “you can’t miss this chance to shake his hand, and if I know anything about the brethren of the Church it’s that they certainly don’t care what clothes people are wearing, they’d much rather be in jeans and t-shirts themselves”. He was right. I did not want to miss this chance to shake his hand, in fact with all my heart I wanted it. Since the moment I found out that Elder Stevenson was coming to visit I had hoped that we might get a chance to meet him. I thanked my new photographer friend for his encouragement and took my place again amongst the other excited Saints inside. The knowledge that Satan wants us alone in the dark and Jesus wants us together in light struck my heart. I was meant to be in the light with all these God fearing, beautiful people around me. It isn’t my shoes, or my clothes or even my sins for that matter that define who I am it is my heart. And with all my heart wanted to be in the light.Ethan, my nephew came to stand beside me, he whispered “Aunty, is it time yet, when do we have to leave for our flight” oh ya, their flight. I had forgotten about that. I knew we were already cutting it close.
“Boarding closes at 4:05”, I told him as I looked down at my phone, it was 4:03. My heart fell, it was too late for him, he needed to leave.
“Ethan, you’re going to have to go without meeting him,” I whispered urgently.
“Are you kidding me? No way, I’d rather miss my flight than miss meeting the apostle”. Why was I not surprised. Since his birth Ethan has been incorrigible, impossible, and terrible at taking no for an answer. I turned to argue with him, but just at that moment the doors opened and there was a hushed silence that fell over the crowd. There he was. Elder Stevenson came out the doors. (I was happy to know that I did recognize him) And at first he looked so ordinary but the closer he came the more I felt a spirit of absolute truth whisper to me that he was not ordinary. He was showered in leis and kisses and with a warm smile and enthusiastic energy he went around the whole group shaking each persons hand, asking them their names, who they were and what they did.
I had just overheard Ethan whisper to his cousin that he was excited but scared to go on a mission. Elder Stevenson grabbed Ethan’s hand in a firm handshake and said “Ahh, Ethan, I hear you’re going on a mission, is that right?”
Ethan’s surprise at being called by name registered on his face immediately as he turned to answer Elder Stevenson. Turns out one of the reporters that had been taking pictures and visiting with Ethan beforehand had told Elder Stevenson that there was a young man just flying home to open his mission call with his family. The contagious smile that gets Ethan out of all kinds of trouble spread across his face as he responded enthusiastically “yes I am!”. Elder Stevenson asked all kinds of questions as he visited with the kids as though there was nothing better to be doing in the world. I couldn’t stop the tears. A feeling of love and peace was just all around this man.
After Elder Stevenson and his wife moved on I looked down at my phone. 4:20- shoot, I had to get those kids out of there. Their plane would be leaving in minutes and if they weren’t on the flight I knew my sister would hate me forever. I grabbed the kids, and their bags and raced passed the crowds. There was literally nobody there, it was completely empty. We flew down the sidewalk and through the airport, there was literally nobody there. The lobby was completely devoid of people. Oops. We gave our last kisses and hugs and shoved our niece and nephew through the security gate.
As we were walking away thinking about everything I suddenly heard a pounding on the security glass beside me. I was already outside the airport, but apparently I was actually on the other side of the security gate. I looked through the darkly tinted glass and saw Ethan. “Aunty Becky” he was mouthing the words “ They won’t let me on the plane, I didn’t wear shoes.” SERIOUSLY??? That was just like my nephew… I ran back down the sidewalk and through the tiny airport as quickly as I could, I took off my shoes and threw them as hard as I could through the security door. Ethan caught them with a silly grin, slipped them on his feet and disappeared around the corner.
After a 30 hour trip home, and surrounded by his 10 siblings, mom and dad and a couple of friends, Ethan got everyone on a Facebook live video where he opened his mission call and read aloud to us:
“Dear Elder Pedersen,
You are nearby called to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the California Rancho Cucamonga Mission…”
What a beautiful beginning to two years of service 🙂