An open door to a friend's heart

Hymns help missionaries commune with a woman burdened by sorrows

I sighed with relief as I saw that the front door at Adan's and Guadalupe's small blue apartment was open. It had been three months since I had arrived in the Oakland California Mission, Spanish-speaking, and this was the place where my companion, Sister Nativa Cazeau, and I had found an entire family who would listen to our message.

We did not have an appointment with them that afternoon, but since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to stop and visit. We knocked softly on the screen door and peeked in to see if Guadalupe was in the front room. Instead, we saw a middle-aged Vietnamese woman sitting on the couch.

"Hello. Is Guadalupe here?" I called out in my amateurish Spanish. Guadalupe came out from the kitchen removing her apron and opened the door, welcoming us in with a smile. We stepped into the faintly lit room and greeted Guadalupe and her friend, who made room on the couch next to her for us to sit down. She glanced at us briefly but didn't say a word as she returned her gaze to the patterns of the black and gold rug on the floor. She wore a thin cotton dress, appropriate for the blazing heat, but seemed to be embracing herself slightly, as if to keep warm.

"This woman lives in the apartment above us," Guadalupe explained. She always spoke slowly for us so that we had time to interpret what she was saying. "She doesn't speak Spanish or English," she continued as she returned to the kitchen. "My daughter learned about her from our neighbor, where she's staying, who happens to speak a little bit of English. They and the woman are from Vietnam."

"Is she all right?"Sister Cazeau asked.

"She was in Vietnam not long ago with her family on vacation," Guadalupe told us as "While they were traveling in a bus, there was an accident and her husband was killed and her son badly injured."

She looked over at the woman with sympathy and her voice grew quieter as if her friend could understand what she was saying.

"Her son is in the hospital in Vietnam and she is here staying with her husband's sister, our neighbor, for a little while. Nowhere else to go, I guess."

"Why is she here with you if she can't speak Spanish?" my companion asked.

"She's been coming down here to our place for the past couple of days and although we don't understand one another, I think she just enjoys the company." Guadalupe smiled and shrugged her shoulders, glancing again at the woman.

All of us sat in silence for a moment. I looked over at the woman who sat isolated from our conversation because of her inability to speak our language, and our powerlessness to understand hers. And yet she was there. Something kept prompting her to come to Guadalupe's home despite the fact that no one could communicate with her.

As if struggling with the same burden of thought, my companion reached into her bag and pulled out a pad of paper and drew a stick figure of a girl. She showed the drawing to the woman, pointing directly at her. She drew two more girls onto the paper next to the first and pointed at the two of us. Between the three, she then drew a big heart and looked up with a smile. The countenance of this woman lifted and she nodded her head, understanding our simple message.

I asked Guadalupe if we could sing a hymn before we left. She consented and we began to sing a few of our favorite hymns. As we sang, tears formed in the woman's eyes and she looked away as she began to cry. Our own words could not reach her, but the universal message of peace emanating from these hymns found its way to her heart. When we finished singing, she stood up and, smiling at us, quietly left the apartment.

Her face remained in my mind as we walked home that night. The words of a hymn resonated in my mind, "In the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can't see" ("Lord, I Would Follow Thee," Hymns, 220).

This woman had started out as a stranger to us but as we heard her story, she had transformed into a delicate victim of great suffering; she had become our friend. I learned that afternoon that sometimes not even the gift of tongues is necessary to break through the barriers of language. That is not why this woman came to Guadalupe's house that day. She had come in search of a friend, someone with an open door.

Janelle Rose Phipps, a senior at BYU, has lived in Sacramento, Calif., and Dawsonville, Ga. A counselor in the Young Women program in the Sugar House Ward, Salt Lake Sugar House Stake, she is married to David Phipps.

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