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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series

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"...Choose only entertainment and media that uplift you. Good entertainment will help you to have good thoughts and make righteous choices...Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable."
For The Strength of Youth

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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Steven ODell on 12 January 2009 - 3:39pm.

The Visitor
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

He only stayed one summer--the year that I was twelve--but he changed our lives more than any other person I have ever met.

My Father farmed sixty-five acres planted in grapes of several varieties. The work kept him busy from sun-up to sundown and then he only seemed to keep even with the work. Each night he would come home to dinner long after my Mother, brother and I had eaten. And when he sat down to the table, I had the distinct impression it was only with supreme effort that he was able to remain awake long enough to eat. My heart went out to him nightly, but there was little I could do, except to help mother around the house. As for my mother, she kept wishing for a way to help my father.

About mid-day early in June, there was a knock at the door and I ran to answer it. Before me stood a tall man of large stature. He turned his gaze downward, having obviously expected someone taller to answer the door. There was something disarming in his smile and there was a rugged handsomeness that even a twelve year old girl could recognize.

"Hello, young lady. I wonder if might speak to the man or woman of the house--are you the woman of the house, perhaps?" His wide grin made me smile, too.

"No. Just a minute. I'll get my mother." And that is just what I did, yelling as I ran toward the kitchen. "Mother! There's a man at the door and he wants to talk to you."

"I wonder who that could be?" She crinkled her nose as she approached, the way she always did when she was puzzling over something. "Hello. May I help you?", she asked as she arrived at the door, drying her hands from the work she had been doing at the kitchen sink.

"Yes, ma'am. My name is Mathoni and I am looking for some work and a meal for the day. Is it possible that you have a task or two that I might do to earn a meal? I'm afraid I haven't eaten in two days."

I recall that mother just stood there for a moment, staring deeply into the man's eyes before she answered. I know now that she was in some way taken off guard. At the time, I didn't know the reason.

"Mathoni, is it? What an unusual name."

"Well, I'm an unusual man." There was that infectious smile again, and mother couldn't help but chuckle in response.

"Well, Mr. Mathoni...."

"Just Mathoni."

Mother had a sense of humor, too. "Okay, 'Just Mathoni', come on in and we'll take care of the food issue right away. Then we'll talk about where you might sleep."

"Where I'll sleep?" His amused surprise was apparent. "I'm a bit shocked that you'd be so trusting so quickly."

"Is there any reason I shouldn't trust you?"

He laughed out loud. I still remember how musical it sounded. It was absolutely infectious and we all laughed with him.

Our visitor slept on a couch on the back porch that night and was asleep long before my father got home. Mother explained to father that he would have help with his work the next day. He looked hopeful for the first time in as long as I could recall.

--/--/--

Mathoni was up before dawn and had breakfast with my father, giving them a chance to get to know one another a bit before starting their work, although my father was never much the talkative type.

"Mathoni, where you from?", father asked simply, between bites.

"Oh, a bit of everywhere. I go where I'm needed." And he kept on eating. Father quietly contemplated this, but said nothing more about it, mentioning only that there would be plenty of work to do if Mathoni proved to be a good hand.

I still recall the look on my father's face as he came home an hour early that first night. He seemed more pleased and at peace than he had been in quite some time. He was still tired, but he was satisfied. And he ate with a vigor that night that had been uncommon for him.

After the learning curve, it seemed that Father and Mathoni were home earlier each night. We would sit on the front porch and take in the scenery together. The mountains were lovely from our home and the rolling foothills seemed to draw you in and keep you there. There was a different character to them at any given time of day. I always loved them.

While we sat there, a few comments were here and there made about the next day's work plans, but the pattern was broken when Mathoni asked Father a surprising question.

"So..., do you still feel your prayers go unanswered?" He looked at Father with a subtle, but pleasant smile, which we had by now learned was characteristic of him.

Father looked as if he had been struck and stared back open-mouthed for the longest time before answering. "No. I guess not." Nothing more was said--Father looked at the planks on the porch, in deep thought, and Mathoni turned back to the mountains and took them in again for a few moments. Then he turned to me.

"And what about you, young lady? What do you pray for?"

"Me? I don't know how to pray yet." Mother and Father looked instantly surprised and embarrassed. In retrospect, I know they were ashamed. Then Mathoni turned to Father and asked simply, "May I?"

Father nodded his assent and the lesson began. Upon completion, I was instructed to pray at every opportunity and about all things in my life, whether good or bad, pleasant or sorrowful.

"I promise you, if you will do this, you will learn things you never would have known any other way. The same goes for you, too, young man." He addressed my brother with a smile. "Will you both do that?"

We promised we would and I began that very day. He seemed satisfied with our answers and looked back in reverie toward the mountains, his mind traveling to who knows where.

--/--/--

Over the next few weeks, Mathoni asked me some very unusual questions and taught me some quite though-provoking things. I know he was doing the same with my brother and with Mother and Father, too. Every opportunity seemed to be a teaching experience for Mathoni, but my young and eager spirit took in every word like a thirsty body desires water.

He taught me that seeds from grapes would produce any number of types of grapes in the next generation, but that if you wanted the same result every time, you must start your plants from the true vine each time. He told me that our lives are a lot like that--we need to apply principles that have proven to be true and beneficial in the past. Some things are tradition because they work, he taught me. Conversely, trying everything willy-nilly would lead only to all manner of results in our lives, some good and some bad. And this approach would also affect others, as would a choice to do that which was right.

One day Mathoni asked me some questions that shook my twelve year old mind to the core. "Have you ever wondered who you are, where you came from, why you are here and where you are going?" Then he left me to think about it for a few days, reminding me to ask for the answers in prayer. A day or two later, when I would give him the answers I had received to my prayers, he would smile widely and congratulate me for what I had learned, correct me gently if I had misinterpreted and would enlighten me by answering any further questions I might have. These were things I might never have thought of had he not come to our home, but the answers were completely logical and truly satisfying to the soul. They made sense and they felt true.

I think the most powerful thing Mathoni taught me was that I have a Father in Heaven who wants me to succeed in coming back to Him--that His goals for me are only good and are motivated only by love.

One night, on the porch, Mathoni asked my Father, "Why do you suppose there are so many different churches when Jesus taught only one doctrine?" By now, Father had become used to these talks and no longer hid in his quietness.

"What a powerful question. He paused, brow wrinkled in thought. "I think it's just that men seem to change things and add to them. I suspect it was a lot simpler and easier to understand before they started to fiddle around with it."

Mathoni nodded and smiled. "And I suspect you are right."

That's when I had to ask, "Why do people change things like that?"

"Another powerful question. Maybe it's for a lot of reasons, young lady. Some people are afraid of truth, because it convicts them of their sins. Others complicate things so they can have power over their neighbors and pretend to be smarter than they really are." He grinned as I responded.

"I know someone at school like that."

"I'll bet you do." Laughing, he patted me on the head and hugged me for a moment. It was a wonderful feeling, like when Mother and Father hugged me. "And some just teach their own brand of misunderstanding, never knowing they can pray for clarity, like you do."

I couldn't help but beam, knowing that I knew how to do something that even many adults didn't know how to do. It had already made a difference in my life and I felt confident that even the toughest questions had answers that were accessible to me--to everyone who asked and expected an answer.

After several other things were discussed, Mathoni suddenly asked my Father, "What do you say, we do a test?"

What kind of test, I wondered. Mother asked my question aloud.

"Well, I think you could use some more help if you are going to get this work done by the end of the season, don't you?" He turned to Father and waited.

"I'm not expecting to get all of the work done. I'm just thankful that you've been here to help me accomplish all that we have. You already work like three men. You've helped me a lot. And you've allowed me to spend some productive time with my family--for the first time in ages. That means everything to me."

"Fair enough--and spoken like the great man that you are...but what if you could get three more men who will do the same?"

"Mathoni, much as I would love to say 'yes', I haven't the means to pay for them. I've only been able to give you room and board for what you are doing for me, if you can call that a room. I feel I owe you much more than that, but I can't pay you more until the crop is in and sold."

Mathoni grinned at Father and asked, "What's the matter, your faith not strong enough?" He turned and winked at me and my brother and we just grinned and turned to look at Father. Three smiles like that made him want to say 'yes', I am certain.

"Alright, what do we do?" He looked unsure, but willing.

With that, Mathoni closed his eyes and bowed his head and uttered one of the most powerful and poetic things I have heard, even to this day. There was an overwhelming feeling of love and peace that was somehow tangible, it seemed. We all started to cry openly and stared in disbelief at one another. Mathoni asked blessings of health and strength and extended faith upon us all. After this and many other things he had given thanks for, he asked for three more good men and hard workers to help with the morrow's tasks. There were tears in his own eyes when he finished his prayer in the name of Christ Jesus. I couldn't help but hug him tightly after he told us how much Heavenly Father loved us all. I didn't let go until my brother asked, "What is sin?"

"Good question, young man. Sin is anything that stands in the way of God's plan for your happiness. It is just that simple. Can you remember that?" My brother smiled and nodded enthusiastically.

Mathoni then stood and asked to be excused, saying that he had some important study to do. My brother asked, "What kind of study?"

"A very special book. I'll share it with you sometime soon, okay?" Again my brother nodded happily.

After he left, Mother broke the silence. "There's something very unusual about that man. We all felt it. I don't know why I'm not scared, but I feel I could trust him with my life...with my children."

Father just nodded and wiped away another tear, staring at the floor. We all pondered deeply before bed and my young prayer jumped to a whole new level that night.

--/--/--

Father and Mathoni were in the vineyards the next day, when suddenly Mathoni began running down one of the rows at top speed and without warning. Father strained to see what he could possible be chasing, but saw nothing until three heads started to bob over a rise at the end of the vineyard and in the same row. How had Mathoni known? They were only now coming into view. This man was indeed becoming more unusual by the day.

As they approached, they too began to run, all four meeting in a huge embrace and much laughter. There was the sense that these men had a great deal of respect for one another--no, it was more than that--it was a genuine love for one another that Father sensed. The huddle broke when Mathoni pointed toward Father and they all hurried to meet him.

"I'd like you to meet my brothers. This is John, that's Timothy and that's Kumen. They work as hard as I do, but they aren't near as good looking." He grinned as they slapped at him in good-natured response.

"You all have the same Father?" He quietly noted that they looked so different, except for a similarity in ethnicity, although he couldn't place it.

"In a manner of speaking. We all share the same beliefs, too--we are very much brothers."
"Well, pardon me for questioning, but you gentlemen will have to do miracles to keep up with Mathoni. I have never seen a man work like he does."

Kumen spoke. "We can do it...except maybe Timothy...he's just dead right now." He ribbed Timothy with his elbow and the others laughed, John adding, "You ought to know, right? I can sympathize, though, to some degree." He, too, smiled...as if at some insider joke that Father couldn't interpret.

"Well, let's get you some water and some sandwiches. You happen to be in luck--for some reason, my wife made a lot more lunch today than usual."

"Luck? You forget so soon." Mathoni still smiled at Father, but there was a sense of mild reproval in it that he couldn't miss.

"Perhaps so. Forgive me."

"Done!" And he placed a powerful arm around Father's shoulder and they trotted off to the waiting lunches.

These men learned as quickly as had Mathoni and Father suspected that they had done this type of work many times before--the techniques they used seemed so natural and intuitive that Father wondered why he had never thought of some of them. And they worked as if they were one man--certainly a team with one purpose.

--/--/--

Our evening discussions became, if possible, even more interesting thereafter. And other things happened, with no reasonable answer that Father could think of--except perhaps divine purpose, which he by now did not rule out. Repairs were made miraculously and problems of serious nature were discovered before they could cause any harm. Father was in awe of these men, as were we all. Each day he seemed to come more and more out of his shell. I noted, too, that he chose to return home a bit early each day in order to have time for our nightly talks, although he might have chosen to work longer hours and get more done. At times it seemed he would rather talk than eat dinner, but then, we all were eager to learn more from these men.

Timothy mentioned one night, to no one in particular, "God says He spread Israel to all corners of the earth. That would mean they were here, too."

This brought on a lively discussion of things archaeological in North America--paleo-Hebrew writings in at Bat Creek, Tennessee; the Los Lunas Stone in New Mexico, with the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, the oral traditions of the Cherokee regarding their ancestors having escaped a place overseas called Masada,and several other evidences of Israel in America.

Mother and Father were absolutely enthralled by all this information. I understood most of it and prayed that night to know if it were true. By this time, we had all been taught how to recognize answer to prayer through witness of the Holy Ghost. I knew that sweet peace I felt in my heart was confirmation of the truth of it. I told Mathoni the next night that I had gotten my answer. He smiled and told me I had learned a most valuable lesson and that it would never fail me if if I turned to it instead of human logic, philosophies and emotional responses. By now the change in our family was irreversible and even my parents were nodding softly in agreement.

Succeeding evenings were equally powerful. 'Why had revelation ceased? What was the structure of the ancient church? Was there a true church on the earth today and, if so, how could one recognize it?' And perhaps the most important question of the evening--'if it is on the earth in our day, how vital would it be to bind ourselves to it?'

Our minds were growing by leaps and bounds; it was almost overwhelming and yet so exhilarating in a manner that we craved the growth and knowledge. Our discussions could almost have replaced evening meals for all of us, we were so eager.

One evening John asked a bombshell of a question that brought my parents up short. "If the true church were presented to you, what would it mean to your family?"

Mother immediately began to tear up and sob softly. Father followed suit and wiped away a tear also, 'manning up' quickly. He swallowed hard before answering.

"My wife and I have been praying over these issues ever since you taught our children to pray. And we have been discussing the Bible--wondering why there are so many churches that can't agree and whether there is any hope of finding one that is even close to what the original church was. This is all new to us, but suddenly it has become very important to us. Can you tell us why it's so hard to find the the truth?" His voice cracked as he asked the question.

"Brother, it isn't. You're well ahead of the majority of the world already. I'm proud of you and I'm excited about the progress you're making toward the truth." Mathoni beamed as he said this. Timothy now spoke. "I want to share a story with you that I think will inspire you and give you courage to continue your search for truth. This happened in the year 1820 on a small farm in New York state. A young boy of fourteen, named Joseph Smith, was wondering, just as you are, about the same questions."

Timothy and John took turns telling the rest of the story. Father and Mother sat completely riveted. There was a feeling to this whole experience that I could never put into words and adequately describe.

When they were done telling the story, we were asked to pray and ask if it were true and we would continue discussion the next evening. I didn't want to stop. My mind was racing. This young boy, Joseph Smith, was only a few years older than me. He had found his answer in such an amazing way. Was it possible that I, a twelve year old girl, could have the same experience? Not that it mattered. Everything they said rang true to me and my head and heart told me it was what had really happened.

--/--/--

The next night we learned about living Apostles and Prophets. The true church had, in fact, been restored to the earth and was here, in our day. Several more days and and nights went by and Mathoni announced to us one evening, "The work you've had for us is nearly completed. I want to thank you for the hospitality you've shown us and I have something for you and your family that is more valuable than almost anything else in this world."

He reached down beside his chair and pulled up a simply-wrapped package. "Go ahead--open it."

Father peeled back the wrapping to expose a copy of The Book of Mormon. "This is the book you told us of...the people who came from the Holy Land to America?"

"Yes, the very one. And the record of the Savior's visit to the House of Israel , here in the Americas. I want you to know the record is true. You can know that for yourself, by the means of prayer, just as I have taught you. I have marked a special promise for you near the end of the record." He turned to it and read the promise of Moroni. I thought how similar his name was with that of Mathoni. As he read, the spirit was so strong that I began to cry again, for this was the very description of the experience I had personally had with answer to prayer. Moroni's words were so strong that I could not disbelieve.

Kumen pointed out that there was a special number and some important names that he had inserted into the book for us. Father looked and found the paper with the name of a Bishop and the nearest missionaries. We were encouraged to contact them the next day and make arrangements for a meeting. Father agreed he would.

John now bore testimony of the reality of the Savior. When he spoke, it was as if he knew the Lord personally. You couldn't help but believe his words. Timothy added that he had written his own testimony in the front of the book and that all of them had signed with him in agreement. That was a special thing to me--these men had changed our lives and our very goals in life...and in eternity.

--/--/--
I slept so well that night. We all did. But I awoke to such commotion in the front room.

"I don't know where they have gone. They just left in the night, I guess. All of them! Why would they do that?" Father was quite disturbed by this development.

"Wouldn't you think they would say 'goodbye' to us first? Or help finish the work so they could arrange to get paid?" Mother was perplexed also.

I came out rubbing my eyes. "What happened? Why all the fuss?"

"They're gone, Honey. They left in the night. We aren't sure why."

I was stunned by this news, but there was nothing to be done about it. We silently went on about our daily preparations for breakfast and the work of the day that was demanded. Father left quietly for the vineyards--alone and looking depressed and troubled.

Only forty-five minutes later, Father excitedly ran into the house, shouting, "Where is everyone? Come here! Hurry!"

"Are you alright?"

"What's wrong? Are you hurt?"

"I am fine! Look what I found on a post in the vineyard!" He handed over a paper that had been tacked up where he could easily find it, on an end post in a row of the vineyard where he went to work that morning. "And listen to this--the work is all done! They were there last night and must have worked all through the night to get it done for us. That's the only way it could have been done."

Mother read the paper aloud. "Now you have all week to study The Book of Mormon and pray about it. There will be many exciting discoveries in it, but there is one that is special in a different way. You will recognize it when you find it. We look forward to meeting you again in the Lord's kingdom. God bless you and our love goes with you throughout your life. Many thanks for the privilege of teaching your family. And remember that you are all children of God--act accordingly. 'til we meet again, in Jesus' name.... They had all signed it--'Your brother Mathoni, your brother Timothy, your brother John, your brother Kumen.'

--/--/--

I am an old woman now. I married in the temple and my children were born under the covenant. My parents were sealed to their children for all eternity. I am an educated woman, teaching in the Institute classes and going on archaeological digs in the summers.

Just a few weeks after these men had left our farm, we found the answer to the riddle they had hinted at. As we read the account in 3 Nephi of the Savior choosing his disciples on this continent, we were stunned into silence to find the names of Mathoni, Timothy and Kumen. The silence became reverence and greater faith as we learned that these three of the twelve were granted extended lives to remain and do the work of the Lord until His return to the earth. We later found that the Apostle John had been granted the same privilege. They had certainly fulfilled their duties with our family, for which we would ever be grateful.

Yes, it is all an astounding story, but it doesn't end there. Last week, as I was in the city and entering the subway platform, I saw a familiar face through the window of a departing train. I locked eyes with Mathoni and he smiled that same unmistakable smile that had disarmed our family so long ago. I know it was him, because it was Kumen that stood beside him...and neither had aged a day--not a single day.

--/--/--

He only stayed one summer, the year that I was twelve, but he changed our lives more than any other person I have ever met. And I thank God for him daily.

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