Several years ago, my wife and I were called to serve a Member and Leader Support mission in the Northeast. Once we got settled, we looked forward to our assignment from the mission president. After consideration and prayer, he sent us to a small town quite a few miles south of the mission home.
This little town had a small branch with a beautiful new chapel. After we got settled in and toured our new home, we found the members to be very friendly and helpful. They accepted us eagerly. It felt as comfortable to us as if were back home! The only problem was the geographic size of the branch. Its boundaries were over 400 square miles. This meant we did a lot of traveling to visit members and prospective converts across many miles and in many small towns and villages. We were not alone, though; there were many young elders and sisters on missions there to assist us. We loved working with them.
One hot summer day, two of our young sister missionaries were tracting on a street not far from their apartment. It got to be close to lunch time and they decided to stop and go home to eat and rest. They turned to leave, but then one of the sisters turned back again and said, “Let’s do one more home. We must go visit that house.” She pointed to a gray stucco home down the block. “But why?” asked her companion. “I don’t know why. I feel we just have to do it.”
They obeyed the prompting and proceeded to knock on the door of this home.
As they did, a gentle older man answered the door. One sister started to explain who they were when the gentleman stopped her and said kindly, “Oh, I know who you are. I’ve been waiting for you. Please come in.”
This stunned the sisters. They had never been so eagerly invited into a home before. The older gentleman, James, then went on to explain that a long time ago he had been baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since then, he had fallen away and done some things since that had caused him to jeopardize his membership in the Church. He was getting older now and knew he had to amend his errors before he died. He had been trying to repent and get back into the Church but didn’t know how. The sisters said they would gladly assist him in doing so. After a while, they left and promised to return. This they did a few days later, only to be met by his wife at the door. She was not friendly at all and blocked them from entering the home.
After a few more unsuccessful attempts to meet the gentleman again, they called on my wife and me to see if we could help them with this situation. We were glad to do so.
On our first call, we were able to meet with James. He invited us in but it was an extremely uncomfortable visit. All the while we talked, someone was in the kitchen making as much noise as they could, trying to disturb us. James apologized and said it was his wife, who did not want us there. After a brief message, we left without accomplishing much.
We returned a few days later when an event happened that we shall never forget. As we knocked on the door, Mary, James’s wife, greeted us with, “We are not interested in talking to you at all, so please go away.” The more we tried to reason with her, the more belligerent she became. She finally pushed open the screen door and forced us off the porch. She didn’t stop there. She continued pushing us out and onto the sidewalk while raising her voice louder and louder so everyone on the block could hear her. It was quite embarrassing to us. But we just stood quietly there, saying nothing. Her tyrant lasted at least 10 minutes. I’m not sure if those young missionary sisters would have been able to withstand this assault.
Trying to find some way to stop her and allow us to get a word or two in, I looked around her front lawn and saw a pretty rose bush in bloom. When she finished a sentence, I took the opportunity to compliment her on her roses. At first, she said nothing and continued on. I complimented her on a few other things that were growing there. Little by little, she relaxed and finally agreed to show us her backyard. She was very proud of her garden there, where she had other flowers in bloom.
The ice was broken. Slowly we started to talk more socially with one another. After a few minutes it became apparent that Mary was afraid of us. She was worried we were there to take her husband away from her with our strange doctrine. We learned later that Mary was a very insecure person who came from a background of abuse. This marriage to James was the most secure and precious relationship she had ever had, and she was not going let us take it away.
When our discussion was over, we left each other on talking terms and said we would return in a day or two if that was agreeable to her. She said yes, we could, but not to expect much from her.
Driving to and from our area every day took us through a lovely small town with a huge roadside nursery. A few days earlier we had stopped to look around. As we did, we saw a beautiful hibiscus floral plant in full bloom. It had the largest pink flowers I had ever seen on a bush before. Each was the size of a pie plate. I remarked then, “I wish we had room for this at our place.”
That evening as we reviewed our day, a thought came to us. It must have been the Holy Ghost speaking. We thought, What would happen if we bought that hibiscus and gave it to Mary? Would she accept it? Would that help us reach her as friends? We decided to do so and bought the flower the next time we drove past the nursery.
With the lovely hibiscus flower in the back seat of our car, we went to see James and Mary again. As we marched up to the house holding that beautiful plant in full bloom, Mary came to the door. We held it out to her and said this flower was for her to plant somewhere in her yard. She looked at us, completely bewildered, and said nothing for a long time. She simply looked in disbelief at it and us. Then great tears welled up in her eyes. She was overcome with emotion to the point of being almost speechless. After a while she confessed, “I am 76 years old. I have had a rough life and this is the first time ever that anyone has given me a flower. Thank you so much.”
I have had many emotional encounters in my life, but never one as deeply touching or life-changing as that moment. This poor soul had never even been given a simple thing like a flower before. No wonder she didn’t trust strangers.
The next day we returned in our casual clothes. Mary, James, and my wife and I found a nice spot of ground in their front yard. We all four got down on our hands and knees and happily dug a hole and planted that very special hibiscus. That flower still blooms to this day.
Mary took the missionary lessons from us and our dear sister missionaries. Her husband met with the branch president and found his long-awaited road back to full fellowship.
Our mission was coming quickly to an end. It was nearly time for us to return home to Utah. As it worked out, we were able to baptize Mary into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the last day of our mission. What a wonderful way to say goodbye to our dear new friends.
We still communicate with Mary. She is a changed person. She now serves in the Relief Society presidency of that small branch and writes or emails us almost daily.
I don’t know how we could have ever reach her if it were not for “Flower Power.”
George Domm was born and raised in upstate New York around historical LDS sites such as the Hill Cumorah and Palmyra. He was very familiar with the Church long before he was baptized in 1959. Soon after joining, he found himself serving a full-time mission for the Church in Berlin, Germany. That was his first of four missions! George currently lives in American Fork, UT with his wife, Margaret, and busies himself trying to keep up with their 11 children and 42 grandchildren. He loves to do family history and play golf with "all the old men in our neighborhood." His goal is to one day shoot his age, 74.