Against the odds, mother able to prevail

Family of 11 makes international move; despite father’s death, all gain education

In many parts of the world, the second Sunday in May is designated as a day to honor mothers. This week, the Church News recognizes Mother's Day by featuring a Latter-day Saint mother who saw her family through an international move and the loss of their father while setting an example of faith and determination against the odds.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Faith and family sustain Anita Reyes. From moving a family of 11 halfway across the world, to facing life as a widow, Sister Reyes has relied on her faith and her large, loving family.

Living in the Philippines during a time of political strife in 1979, Sister Reyes and her husband, Edward, who had joined the Church in 1976, felt that they had to leave to provide a better life for their nine children. "We began to wonder what would happen to us and what kind of future our children would have," she said. "So we packed up nine children, left our home, left our business and came to the United States. It was hard, but I was determined."

Though the family sometimes struggled, Brother and Sister Reyes saw opportunity in their new country and their new home in Arlington, Texas. "We were always hopeful and we were never discouraged," she said. "Our faith sustained us."

Again and again they emphasized the importance of education to their children.

"The opportunities here abound," she said, "and it's just up to you to take advantage of them. You always have encouragement for education in the Church, and of course in our culture, education is the top priority. You can lose all your wealth, but you can't lose your education."

At age 45, Sister Reyes took her own educational advice, returning to school at the University of Texas at Arlington to complete her nursing degree. Though money was tight, she promised her husband that the family budget would have to cover only one semester. "I told him after that I would get scholarships. And I did."

At the time, they also had four children in college, plus a son on a mission.

Five weeks before her graduation, Brother Reyes suffered a fatal heart attack. "I don't know how I did it," she said. "I had to take finals. I had to write three papers and then a month later I had to take the state boards. I prayed and just gave it to the Lord. He did what was best for us.

"When I lost Edward, I learned for certain that this life is just temporary and there will be a reunion," Sister Reyes, today a member of the Arlington (Texas) 2nd Ward, said. "And what a wonderful, wonderful ward we had. Food arrived non-stop. Knowing that we would have a house full of relatives, one brother came over and fixed the leak in our bathroom. Others offered their homes as places for our relatives to stay. They brought pillows and blankets.

"Our non-member relatives were very impressed. One even ended up joining the Church. They were amazed that we didn't have to pay the bishop to perform the service or pay for the grave to be blessed."

Brother and Sister Reyes' children — Sandy, Ron, Jonathan, Emmanuel, Carina, Art, Paul, Kim and Kurt — learned from their parents' examples in education and faith. Today, all nine have college degrees. Sandy went to Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz. Ron, Emmanuel and Art followed their mother to the University of Texas at Arlington. Jonathan and Carina graduated from Brigham Young University, and Paul is now a resident at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

The two youngest, twins Kim Thomas and Kurt, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the centennial class of 2002. Five, including the twins, have also served full-time missions. Art served in the Philippines; Jonathan in California; Emmanuel in New York and New Jersey; Kim was in Taiwan, while Kurt served in Honduras.

At the conclusion of their sophomore year at the academy, Kim and Kurt each had a big decision to make — should he serve a mission? "Probably the greatest example I ever received from my mom was at that time, right before my mission," Kim said. "I had decided that leaving West Point, leaving my friends, was not something that I was prepared to do. She asked me very simply if I had prayed about it. We talked and I agreed to pray for three weeks. I prayed and got the kind of answer that made me jump out of bed. I thank her every day for getting me to pray, for encouraging me to use all the resources to make the proper decision."

During Kurt's mission in Honduras, Hurricane Mitch devastated the area. "As a missionary in Honduras at that time, those West Point organizational skills really came into play," he said.

He recalled how the local members were a bit puzzled by him at first, though. "They said, 'Your surname is Spanish, you look Chinese, and you speak Spanish like a gringo. Who are you?' "

When the pair returned in 2000, they had to reapply for admittance to West Point. And though everyone else from their entering class graduated the year they returned, both Kim and Kurt soon settled back into the routine.

After graduating in June 2002, Kurt enrolled in medical school at the University of Texas-San Antonio Health Science Center, where he is training to be an Army surgeon. Kim is serving with the Army's 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

For this pair, named after the missionaries who converted their family, such service is just one more legacy of a devoted mother.

"My mom is probably the epitome of selfless service," Kurt said. "She would do anything for her kids — sometimes I have to tell her it's too much."