Sarah Jane Weaver: What 2021, a new temple and two missionaries taught me about faith

As a missionary who had been serving on a reassignment in the Ohio Cincinnati Mission, my daughter, Sister Kathryn Weaver, arrived in São Paulo, Brazil, on the morning of May 1, 2021.

She called me while waiting to clear customs. She was seemingly alone in one of the busiest airports in South America.  

She asked what to do if she could not find her luggage.

I listened as she spoke to an airline employee. She had learned Portuguese in home MTC and then served nine months in Ohio and Kentucky on a reassignment. I could tell the airline employee did not understand her question.

I prayed with my daughter and then, as she hung up the phone, fell to my knees and prayed again. She needed to find her luggage, get through customs, navigate the airport, change airlines and fly to Fortaleza, Brazil, where she would complete her missionary service in the Brazil Fortaleza East Mission.

The entire list felt overwhelming.

It wasn’t long, however, before I received a second, very short phone call.

“It is going to be OK,” my daughter reported.

She had cleared customs and had just entered the public area of the São Paulo airport when a woman addressed her in English. “Sister, where is your companion?”

The woman was an employee from the Church’s area office in Brazil and was at the airport for area business. For me their connecting was a miracle; my daughter was no longer alone. The woman helped her with everything that needed to be done and walked with her to the security line in the terminal, telling her exactly where to go next.

Our daughter’s travel to Brazil epitomizes everything my family learned in 2021 — the Lord is with us and directs our paths, even when we don’t see the path. The year can be described in one word: faith.

The Old Testament records that the children of Israel, bearing the ark of the covenant, crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. The Lord did not send His miracle and the waters did not part, however, until their feet were wet.

Likewise, our daughter did not experience her miracle until she walked into the public area of the airport.

It is the story of missionary service in all times.

It is also the story of her MTC companion. Like our daughter, Sister Hanid Valdez was originally called to serve in Brazil. Because of the pandemic, she was reassigned to the New Mexico Farmington Mission.

Not too long after our daughter traveled to Brazil, however, Sister Valdez received word from her mission president that her reassignment would be permanent.

In preparing this article, I received permission from her mission president to call Sister Valdez.

She said adjusting to new things and getting to know new people had always been challenging for her. The first day of her reassignment was difficult. Adjusting to missionary work was difficult. Getting new companions was difficult. “I prayed to have Heavenly Father help me through adjustments in the beginning,” she said.

Each early transfer of her mission required the faith to step into the river, believing the waters would part.

Sister Valdez entered missionary service speaking fluent Spanish and English. Learning Portuguese was much easier for her than for my daughter and she was much better at it. I wondered how she felt about learning a language she would not use in Brazil.

But when I asked about her language skills, she talked only about joy. The joy that came as she helped my daughter learn Portuguese, as well as the joy she felt while using all her language skills as a missionary.

She spoke specifically about being the only sister in the New Mexico Farmington Mission who could teach a woman the gospel in the woman’s native tongue — and her sure belief that the Lord had orchestrated that opportunity for both of them.

Our daughter has experienced similar moments of surety in Brazil. In a recent letter she wrote about a faith that moves mountains — that converts the skeptical, heals the sick and helped her learn Portuguese.

My daughter and her MTC companion are two missionaries with similar calls and different outcomes — sharing one defining faith. 

The year can be described in one word: faith.

Sister Valdez said it is not hard to explain. “Sister Weaver needed to be in Brazil and I needed to be in the New Mexico Farmington Mission,” she said.

When I questioned further, she spoke of faith as an action. “The thing that is so amazing about missions is everything I teach I get to study first,” she said.

What a beautiful lesson from a missionary guided by faith — serving during a year defined by a pandemic, political tensions and uncertainty.

The same day my daughter traveled to Brazil, I drove to Manti, Utah, for a press conference.  

During April 2019 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced the renovation of several pioneer-era temples — including the 74,792-square-foot Manti temple, which requires mechanical upgrades and technology and accessibility for people with disabilities. The process would require structural changes and the removal of some historic artwork from the temple.

However, as Church leaders sought the direction of the Lord on renovation plans, President Nelson said they were impressed to preserve the pioneer craftsmanship and artwork. To accommodate those with disabilities, future growth in the area and students at the nearby Snow College, President Nelson announced plans to build a second temple just seven miles away in Ephraim, Utah.

The Manti Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is pictured in Manti on Saturday, May 1, 2021.
The Manti Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is pictured in Manti on Saturday, May 1, 2021. Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

As with all things that are a matter of faith — and echoing the biblical work of the children of Israel who carried the ark of the covenant — Church leaders had waded into the water knowing the Lord would reveal His will for the construction of His temples.

And He did.

The Ephraim temple is one of 34 announced in 2021. Like missionaries who entered missionary service not knowing exactly how their missions would unfold, each temple is a powerful symbol of faith announced during a time when temples worldwide are operating with limitations brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the new temple for Ephraim was announced, I thought about my daughter, who was safely en route to Fortaleza, and of the next generation of missionaries in that college town who would secure their faith in the new temple by their campus.

“The gospel is what brings me joy,” said Sister Valdez. Faith, she added, is a “simple thing.”

“Whether someone has great faith or small faith, miracles can happen.”