The view from the stand was different then any I'd ever encountered. An 80-year-old man dressed in white sat quietly on the front row. The bracelet-like tattoos that encircled his wrists were a reminder of years past. Seated next to him, was another gentleman. The white of his hair matched the white he was wearing. For a moment I stared in confusion, I could not imagine how a gentleman sitting in an automated wheelchair would be able to baptize someone. However my questioning was soon interrupted by the thought that I'd seen enough missionary's ingenuity to know that it would all work out.
Lar___ had a stroke 6 1/2 years ago which left him with a very impaired memory, and unable to walk without great difficulty. Regardless of his immobility, he often offered to drive the missionaries to their appointments because in his own words "while driving them my memory returns. " As I watched I wondered if Sil____ had asked Larry to baptize him because he admired His determination to continue living well - regardless of the struggle, or was it an outward manifestation of how Silas viewed himself now - able to do all things because of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Others in the room also caught my attention. Three gentlemen to my right sat side by side. One wore a blue sweater with a medical necklace hanging down. As he told me of the struggle he's had the last six months over coming open heart surgery, I couldn't help but wonder if the necklace was a badge symbolic of the struggle he was over coming. The next gentlemen's eyes sparkled. His fixed grin revealed missing teeth. The white tennis shoes he wore were in stark contrast to the dress shoes others were wearing. He did not seem conscious of the difference. I imagined the timeless love he felt from fellow worshipers, had left him secure. The third of the trio sat with trimmed beard, glasses, and tweed suit jacket - my stereotypical professor. Their camaraderie assured me they were friends. To the naked eye, the only commonality was their difficulty hearing and their absence of a spouse. but that is the way wards are. Our love for the Savior and our fellowman bind us together.
On the stand, to my right, was a teenage girl sitting at the organ. In other congregations, she would have been busily playing while we sang. Not so here! Her sole job was to push the button that started the pre-recorded music allowing the congregation to sing with accompaniment.
There were others in attendance, like the couple who had moved from Arizona to be closer to their daughter and her children. But two in particular caught my eye. One was the ward mission leader. His pressed Gray suit seemed out of place among the slacks and Levi's worn by the other branch members. Later I would find out that he was not a native. The stake president had asked him and his family to attend the branch for a year. They drove 45 miles or so from Greenwood every time they came to church.
The last person was the Branch President. His conversation was so complementary of the missionaries. Repeatedly he asked that we would be sure to leave them in the Branch. His anxiousness left me wanting to tell him, "Don't worry they're staying", but that was President's job and he would tell him soon enough. As the Branch President stood he made a comment " Sil__, the person who baptized you also baptized me 10 years ago." Of course he had! This is the mission field! Most of the ward or branch are converts to The Church. Most of them had driven 20 to 30 minutes to come, but distance doesn't seem to matter out here. The Church is their life. The time and distance it takes is just an outward indication of their inward commitment.
As I left Poteau, my heart was warm. I had seen covenant keeping at it’s best. A man who wanted to be in Christ’s Church; a man who exercised his Priesthood regardless of his difficulties; and many others who’s daily lives were an outward indication of an inward commitment.