We have had the pleasure of working with Elder and Sister Sanders, a senior missionary couple who accepted a humanitarian assignment here in Tonga. Last March, we were a bit amazed (but not really surprised) when these two volunteered to take on a second assignment, that of inspecting, supplying and maintaining the 50+ little buildings called missionary quarters, where the young missionaries live here.
|Elder Sanders always wanted to get up-close and personal. |
Here he is inspecting a village water tank.
|Sister Sanders knew better than to try to climb the |
water tank ladder in a long skirt!
Well, the bad news is that Elder Sanders has developed some serious medical issues, and they have been sent home to Washington State. There is a hole in our hearts, but we know that because of the events that have happened in the last week, the Lord has more in mind for this fine man and his wonderful wife.
Because of the limited medical care here in Tonga, the area supervisors flew Elder and Sister Sanders to New Zealand for a hospital stay and screening, to diagnose his trouble. Our mission nurse, Sister Johnston, had been trying to get Elder Sanders to New Zealand for weeks, but he kept postponing the trip because of this project or that. But when Elder Johnston got an abscess that would not respond to antibiotics, he was put on an urgent evacuation to New Zealand, and the mission president told Elder Sanders (and his wife) to go, too. Tickets were purchased Friday evening for the flight to Auckland Saturday morning.
|One of their few days off, at the beach.|
While waiting in the airport in Tonga, the four missionaries met an LDS American couple who explained they had brought their adopted child, Tongan by birth, to meet his birth mother and experience some of the culture that was his heritage. A pleasant conversation ensued, then everyone got on the plane and thought nothing more of the encounter. They should have.
Arriving late in the evening, the missionaries decided to wait until morning to arrange treatment. The next morning they found themselves at a nearby hospital emergency room, and the admitting doctor tried to explain that patients were not admitted on Sundays. Then the supervising doctor came in to see what was going on. The supervisor was, of course, the man the missionaries had met in the airport. Turns out he works at three different hospitals, and “just happened” to be on duty at this particular hospital that morning. Both men were quickly screened, and Elder Sanders was admitted as an inpatient. Miracle #1: check.
That evening, Elder Johnston found his abscess had begun draining. This abscess, which had been in danger of going systemic and causing serious bodily harm within hours, simply began draining, once Elder Sanders was admitted. Miracle #2: check.
Elder Sanders’ prognosis is good. The specialist in New Zealand has a brother who is exactly the kind of doctor Elder Sanders needs; and he just “happens” to practice in Elder Sanders’ hometown. The Sanders, who started their journey home on Monday, had two appointments with doctors before they even got on the plane, and medical coverage assured from the Church. Miracle #3: check.
The Sanders live in a rural area, and with the coming recovery period, Sister Sanders worried that because of the needs of their home, Elder Sanders would ignore doctors’ counsel to limit his activities. Elder Sanders is a worker; he cannot sit for any length of time – he needs to be up and doing. But Sister Sanders is very aware that in order for her husband to heal completely, he has to follow medical advice and avoid strenuous activity for three months. Not easy for a man who has worked his own land and been a plumber for 40 years.
Besides, before coming out on their mission, the Sanders rented out their house, and the contract is not up for another nine months. Where would they live?
A couple of friends emailed the Sanders telling them they were going to travel to their daughter’s home, that they would be gone up to a year. The Sanders looked at each other, smiled, and emailed a message: do you want renters while you’re gone? The return message began: “The key is in the garage, the truck is ready to go, the cupboards are pretty empty – do you want our son to shop before you get here?” And because these friends understand the power of pets during recuperation, they left their border collie behind, to stay with the Sanders. Miracle #4: check.
Those are not all the miracles, but you get the idea. The Lord takes care of His missionaries. I believed that before, but now, with this experience, I have first-hand knowledge. And Elder Sanders is not surprised. He told us: “Why shouldn’t we expect miracles? We’re out here doing what the Lord wants us to do. We’re out here obeying our leaders, doing our best, and serving the people the way the Lord would serve them, if He were here. So why should we be surprised when miracles happen?”
I am grateful for the faith and the faithfulness of those beside whom I serve. It is hard on us to see the Sanders leave, but we trust that the Lord will continue to be mindful of this senior missionary, that his recovery may be complete, that he will be able to serve in other ways during the rest of his time here on earth. And our friendship, our fellowship together, will continue to grow and develop. Our paths may divide, but our hearts will remain entwined. And we will continue to expect miracles.
|The Sanders and our mission president and his wife.|