by Mark Swint
Speaking of Miracles
If you will allow me a brief indulgence I’d like to depart from the norm just this once and relate a very personal experience from my past. I normally wouldn’t do this as the experience is very sacred to me, and not the type of thing that should be cast about indiscriminately. However, now that this blog is somewhat established, I want to record this experience for future generations – my future generations. I have tried to relate this story to my kids and my wife and they might remember having heard this before but I want it written down so that someday, when I am gone and they really read the things I have written, they will come across this account once more and perhaps get a sense of how important and special it is to me.
Many years ago I served as an LDS missionary in Argentina. In the spring of 1971 I was assigned to work in a very small town in the Argentine campo. The town was called Tandil and its claim to fame was a huge balancing rock that had fallen down in 1913 but which still graced the face of postcards and other ‘Requerdos’. It was a pleasant little town and we were the only LDS missionaries in the area. I loved my time in Tandil and made many good friends there.
LDS missionaries always work in pairs so I always had a companion, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for two years. We were never alone. My first companion in Tandil was a big tall Elder named Grant Hansen. Elder Hansen was from somewhere in Southern Idaho – maybe Burley, although it seems to me he was from a smaller farming community outside of Burley. Anyway, Elder Hansen was a short timer. He only had two months to go before returning home after serving faithfully for two years. I, on the other hand was very new. After three months in Buenos Aires I was thrilled to be sent out into the Gaucho land of the Pampas.
Elder Hansen was a wonderful guy and an excellent missionary. One of the things that made him so special was his health – it was terrible! I don’t mean to tell tales out of school here and if Elder Hansen is still around somewhere reading this (I would love to hear from you if you are out there) I wish him well and ask his forgiveness. But, the fact is that in 1971, in Argentina, there was not much that could be done to ease his suffering or his discomfort. You see, Elder Hansen suffered very badly from Rheumatoid Arthritis. It affected him in various ways, all of which were exacerbated by the cold damp weather of the Argentine wet season. He hurt most of the time. It hurt him to get up so early every day. It hurt him to ride bikes all the time on the cobblestone roads. It hurt all day walking from house to house and being rejected by almost all we encountered.
Another very serious problem, related to the R.A. was that Elder Hansen could hardly see. His vision had been so affected by the R.A. that he had to wear contact lenses – the hard ones – and augment those with coke bottle lens glasses. At that, he still couldn’t see very well, and yet, day after day, week after week he endured and persevered. He was faithful and obedient to his calling, and set a very good example for a young ‘greenie’ like me. I wish I had been a better companion for him but I still had a lot to learn and a lot of humbling to do.
The persecution we endured from many of the towns people was tough on both of us and I used to wonder how it must feel for a guy like Grant Hansen to suffer so much to do a task for people who took so much pleasure making our lives so difficult.
One day Elder Hansen and I had an appointment to teach a lesson to a family who lived on the edge of town, up a big hill at the top of a development. It was a miserable day. It was raining – hard – and it had rained all day. We were soaked and cold and miserable, but we pushed on, driven by our calling and the thrill we felt each time we were invited into a family’s home.
This day started hard. It was cold and as we left our small pension and made our way out to the area, I remember that Elder Hansen was driven off the road by a truck that took great pains to make an extra wide turn just to hassle us. He nearly drove Elder Hansen off the road. After a moment to collect ourselves we got back on the bikes and started up the long steep hill, grinding out each pedal turn with difficulty, in the pouring rain. We eventually reached our destination, met with the family, and taught the lesson. I don’t remember the details of that lesson at all. I do remember what happened afterwards.
We finished the lesson, shared a treat or some sort as was the custom of the people and then made our exit. We climbed back on our bikes for the return back to our pension. It was still raining hard and all we wanted to do was get back home. I remember it was a wide boulevard, well paved – it was actually one of the few roads that was paved with asphalt rather than cobblestone, which was a treat for us. It was a steep hill but we were grateful to be able to coast down rather than climb up it as we had an hour or so earlier. Traffic was light and the road was smooth. Normally we would have coasted down at a reasonable speed but the pounding rain and our general state of discomfort inspired us to pump up the speed a bit, maybe a bit too much. We didn’t care. We were wet and cold and we just wanted to get home. I don’t know how fast we were going but it was fast, probably 35 or 40 mph, or better.
About half way down the hill, raincoats and wheel spray flying, something happened. I say something because I don’t really know what happened. Even at the time I thought it was a very strange thing. It felt to me as though someone grabbed my handle bars and shook them violently. I was young and agile and had very good balance – I had been a gymnast in high school and college – and I was able to fight my way through it and stay on my bike. I was so busy that I only glimpsed Elder Hansen. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that he went down, but being fully occupied with my own struggle, it took me a minute to regain control, get stopped and get back up the hill. When I got back to him I expected to see a bloody mess of torn pants and ripped skin. Instead, what I encountered was him, sitting quietly, wiping the rain from his glasses. His pants were not torn nor was there evidence that he had slid or otherwise traveled along the ground in an out of control fashion. His shoes were not scuffed and he had not a single scrape or bruise. There was not a single drop of blood anywhere.
I quickly dismounted and went to him. “Elder Hansen” I said, out of breath and concerned, “are you all right?” He spoke softly and I didn’t hear his first reply. “What” I asked? He responded again, “I floated to the ground!” “What do you mean?” I asked. He replied, “I floated to the ground! I fell and felt a pair of hands catch me, and set me gently on the ground!” There were tears mixed with the rain drops in his eyes and his humble demeanor told me instantly he was not kidding. I took a quick inventory and could see that, indeed, other than being a little muddy where he sat, he was not injured in any way. We quietly got back on our bikes and silently rode home in the rain. When we returned to our pension we cleaned up, changed into dry clothes and got on our knees to thank our Heavenly Father for the special help we had received.
Nearly 38 years have passed but I will never forget that day or that experience. Do miracles exist? Does divine intervention occur? Are there guardian angels? Yes!
Can I explain it scientifically? No. Can I explain it philosophically? No, I can’t. Lucky for me, I don’t have to! It happened, I was blessed. Elder Hansen was greatly blessed. Somehow, that’s all that matters.