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'Chance' meeting with future apostle blossoms into longtime friendship

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” — Hebrews 13:2

Jon Lanenga’s family prayers on Sunday mornings never include the plea: “Bless us today that we might befriend a future apostle.”

They simply follow a long-held family commitment to remember to “entertain strangers” on the Sabbath Day. “We always prepare enough food on Sundays to invite guests that we meet at Church to our house afterwards for dinner,” Lanenga said.

His hometown of Orlando, Florida, is a global tourist destination. Over the years, the family has hosted dinner guests from as far away as England, South Africa and Australia.

Their reward? Plenty of memorable Sunday dinners and scores of new friends.

But as the scripture foretells, strangers can sometimes be “angels unawares.”

On a Sunday morning in the late 1990s, Lanenga and his wife, Teri, arrived for their Church meetings. As always, they kept their eyes out for would-be dinner guests. Waiting in the foyer was a couple visiting with their family from Brazil.

Teri first smiled and extended her hand of fellowship to the visitors, and her husband introduced himself to them shortly thereafter. The guests introduced themselves as Ulisses and Rosana Soares.

Lanenga insists he felt no premonition at that moment that the young father would one day serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They just looked like nice folks.

“I went to Brazil on my mission, [so] I get particularly excited to have Brazilians come to dinner,” wrote Lanenga in an email. “We extended the invitation and they accepted.”

Unbeknownst to the Lanengas, the Soares’ had begun that Sunday morning with a prayer of their own to know where to worship.

“Wherever we are, we always attend Church to try and keep the Sabbath Day holy,” Elder Soares said a few days after being called to the Twelve. “We felt inclined that morning in Orlando to go the 11 a.m. meeting.”

They sat with their new friends during church before joining them around the Lanenga dining room table for dinner. “We spent a beautiful afternoon talking about the gospel,” recalled Elder Soares, “it was like an informal family home evening.”

As they were leaving, Lanenga pressed his business card into his new friend’s palm.

“Jon told me, ‘If you need anything during your stay, we are here for you,’ ” said Elder Soares. “This man and his family were like angels to us.”

Several hours later, a phone call awakened the Lanengas.

Sister Soares had become seriously ill. They were in a foreign city, far from home and her husband didn’t know where to go. He didn’t know what to do.

“Then, in our hotel room, my eyes fell upon the business card of this good brother,” he said. “I called him and Jon said, ‘We will be right there — we’ll take care of your wife.’ ”

Dr. Allen Pratt, a local physician and the bishop of the Orlando ward the family had attended the day earlier, was soon caring for Sister Soares.

“It was not by coincidence that we were guided to that ward to meet those people,” said Elder Soares. “The Lord was providing for our needs because we decided to attend church on the Sabbath Day.”

In the decades since that meaningful Sunday in central Florida, both Elder Soares and Jon Lanenga have shared the details of their unexpected friendship with many groups and congregations. Both men say they were visited that day by “angels unawares.” They traced the Lord’s hand working in their lives.

But true friendships, they agree, are eternal.

Years after the Lanengas stepped forward to help a family in need, Elder Soares helped shepherd Lanenga in his own life. Lanenga said he found himself on the business end of his own caring angel. The roles had reversed.

Meanwhile, Elder Soares had always hoped he would one day be able to thank Dr. Pratt for overseeing his wife’s successful treatment. Again, he credits God for their eventual reunion.

While serving in the Presidency of the Seventy a few years ago, he was assigned to reorganize a stake in central Florida. He shared with his hosts the details of his life-altering weekend in Orlando from years ago. Presiding over that stake was President Allen Pratt, who remembered caring for a young Brazilian family in need.

“Both of us cried, and I was able to finally express my thanks to this wonderful man,” said Elder Soares.

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