Tuesday, February 4

The Saratov Approach

I finally saw the Saratov Approach last night with a friend. (I say finally because my cousins were executive producers of the film and one was in it)

There were a lot of things that brought back memories. 

The moment when they ask about the Russian mafia: memories of teaching leaders of the Italian mob.

The breakthrough when they learn to love their captors: the same breakthrough I had while teaching a professional assassin... who exuded evil... and sadness... more than I've ever felt. And that same feeling when I learned that some of the highest bosses in the mob had originally been tricked/forced into being there to keep their families alive.

But the memory that hit me most was one that took me back to a moment I still remember... and, in a strange way, treasure. 

It was my fifth day in the mission field, and my companion and I had earlier that day finished with my appointment at the immigration office. We were on our way to teach a poor, faithful member in Napoli. We got off the subway Metro at Materdei, and I still remember seeing the sculptures outside the stop sparkling in the sunset. 

Earlier that day, my companion had warned me that the Sanitá - the zone where our appointment was held - was a "pretty dangerous place," and we had joked about what we'd do to take out would-be criminals: him with his Abercrombie body (he told me once he had modeled for them, and he played for the BYU volleyball team... neither of which impressed me as much as they were supposed to) and me with years of dance.

We turned the corner from the station, and walked down the wide street sided with luxury apartment buildings on the left, the stairs to the Sanitá half a mile ahead of us to the right. It was just after dusk now, dark because of the Napoli smog, but too early for the street lights to turn on.

Only us and two men were on the street, and as we walked they began walking toward us.

Instants later, we were pushed up against the wall surrounding the apartment complex, and I had gun pushed against my stomach. "Soldi! Soldi! Dacci soldi!" We tried to tell them we had nothing worth stealing, but they took our backpacks and found my companion's wallet in the outside pocket of his overcoat. They tried to take his watch, but the thief's fingers were shaking so badly that he couldn't undo the clasp.

As they took our stuff, I remember looking out along the street and thinking, almost detached, about how odd it was that there was no one else around. And in the same moment, I realized that the only feeling I felt was peace.

The moment in the movie, when the Elders are in danger, and turn to each other and say, "What do you feel?" "Peace." ... I've never heard someone share that same experience before. But it rang true to me, and took me back to standing at the side of the road, watching two shaking, scared kids with a gun take my scriptures and MTC journal.

They were scared. Theft in Napoli is punished far worse than theft here in the US. Here, you maybe go to jail. But there... the guys who robbed us weren't part of the organized mob... which meant they were working in the black market of the black market, and stealing without permission. I don't know the exact punishment, but it was probably a good reason to be scared.

The thoughts of fighting back, or of anything, disappeared and all I felt was complete peace. They rode off on a motorcycle, my companion broke down, and life went on. A man let us into his apartment and gave us some water (fizzy water - I hadn't yet learned to appreciate it), and we missed our appointment.

Long story. I know.

But in the theater last night I remembered that feeling as if I was there again. Remembered the incredible peace... and I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude for the Lord's protection when I was in danger. Gratitude for His protection of missionaries all over the world. Gratitude that He is willing and able to give us peace no matter what dangers or trials we face.

I'm glad that I had the chance to feel that peace - to see the hand of the Lord so clearly in my life. It cost me my passport and ID's, a newly marked set of scriptures, and my scripture journal... but the payout to me - in faith and knowledge from feeling God so clearly - was worth anything they could have taken.

I don't know the Elders who were kidnapped in Russia. But I hope that they had the same experience I did in feeling God's presence... and I hope that everyone can have that experience at some time or another. Not getting robbed or kidnapped... but feeling complete and total peace when fear should be there.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing that with me!! I always treasure when others share their true feelings. It helps me connect with you like I believe God wants us to.

  2. It's such an amazing feeling! It's interesting too how sometimes people don't always understand it, and they worry about you when you reach that point. But it's amazing, and I fight to try and keep it in my life :)

  3. I've had that type of experience before. I was in a pretty severe car accident with my little girls about 5 years ago (then, they were ages 3 and 1) and instead of panic and fear as I watched the world spin and tumble, I felt calm and peace.
    I had started my road trip in a foul mood, but I knew I couldn't continue on like that, so I had said a prayer to help calm me down and to ask for protection on the road.
    I totaled the car, but nobody who was in it was harmed in any way. Not a scratch, bruise, or sore muscle anywhere. It was a miracle and one I am still thankful for. :)


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