Serving in Colorado, I was blessed to be well taken care of by the people in my mission. We were fed nearly everyday, sometimes multiple times a day, and even had members who would, on occasion, get into disagreements about who was able to have us in their home on a particular evening.
One night, we had a dinner appointment with a family that we weren't too thrilled to visit with. We were ironing out our plans for the evening when the phone rang. It was a family in the ward that we had a good relationship with who offered to take us out to WingStop. That was definitely more appealing than eating whatever casserole this other family was preparing. But how could we turn down a family who was willing to have us in their home and prepare a meal for us? I felt awful about it but really wanted to go out to eat instead.
Thankfully, I was the junior companion (I was still being trained), so my trainer made the 'hard' decision for us. We were going to WingStop! But I had to call the first family and tell them the news. As far as they were to know, we had a ton of work that evening and we wouldn't have time to join them for dinner. They, in turn, offered to drop off the food at our home while we were out 'working' so we could get some dinner when we returned later that evening. That made me feel even worse but how could I turn them down?
What I didn't realize was that I really wasn't telling a lie. This little dinner detour would place my companion and I right where we were supposed to be that evening without us even realizing it. With a guilty conscience, we headed for the wing joint for dinner.
As we sat at the table waiting for our order, I still felt uncomfortable with what we had done and wanted to continue 'working' so that I could appease my guilty conscience for lying to some sweet little family who was probably en-route to our home right at that moment to drop off a casserole that we had no intention of eating.
I got up from the table where we had situated ourselves and scanned the room. There, over by the counter, apparently waiting for his food as well, was a skinny, bald, gruff looking Hispanic guy who had tattoos on what little skin wasn't covered by his greased-stained coveralls and well-worn work boots. I walked over and took a seat near him not knowing what to do next. As I sat there awkwardly trying to figure out what to say (if I should say anything at all), he noticed me behind him and, to my great relief, broke the silence first.
He knew who I was--a missionary. It turned out he had been taught by several sets of missionaries when he lived in California but was never baptized despite going through the lessons some eight or ten times. He asked about my mission and shared about his life and previous experiences with the missionaries. We'll call him Chet.
I found out that Chet hadn't been in the area long and asked if we could meet with his family. We swapped contact info and I returned to my table to enjoy some wings and to try to wrap my head around what had just happened.
Had that really just happened? Had I really just been in the right place at the right time to meet a guy who was prepared to receive the gospel after having lied to get out of a dinner appointment so that we could go out to eat instead? Really?
On our first visit to his family, his wife kept headphones in and worked in the kitchen, making a point to ignore us if at all possible. She made it perfectly clear that she didn't want anything to do with us as we sat and conversed with her husband and children just feet from her at the kitchen table.
As we talked with Chet and asked how we could best help his family, he told us that there was a darkness in his home that was tearing his family apart and he didn't know what to do. His family was constantly fighting and he wanted our help to bring peace to his home. What a perfect segue into how the gospel blesses families in lesson one!
I didn't know it at the time, but this would be the last time I'd see Chet in this life. I was transferred soon thereafter, but the family that had taken us to dinner at WingStop fellowshipped him and his family as Chet continued to meet with the missionaries. Eventually he was baptized, but his wife and children were not. Even after Chet and his family moved out of the ward, our friends continued to maintain contact with him.
After I got home from my mission, I tried to reconnect with him. I was shocked to learn that just a few weeks prior to my reaching out, he had been killed in a hit and run accident.
I've often wondered what would have happened to this good brother's life had my companion and I not changed our plans that evening. I like to think that the Lord would have crossed his path with other missionaries who were in the right place at the right time. But regardless, I had the blessing of being in a WingStop that night when we really didn't have any business being there, so that we could meet a man whose life would forever be changed for the better.
Who knew that this gruff-looking guy in dirty, grease-stained coveralls was a brother who was ready to be reminded of what he knew before he came into this world--of his Father's plan for him and his family through the Atoning gift of his Savior, Jesus Christ.
Since Chet's death, my friends have tried to keep in touch with his wife and children. I don't know if they have or ever will receive the gospel in this life, but I trust that someday they will be sealed together for time and all eternity as a family.
Elder Flemming served in the Colorado, Denver North Mission.