by Rachael Bakaitis
|Rachael as a missionary in the Trujillo Peru Mission, 2009|
with friend Luz Nancy
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
We first met Maria because we were looking for someone to do our laundry. I was a brand new 21 year-old greenie missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and my trainer and I were opening a new area. In my Peruvian mission we didn’t do our own laundry because of the time it took to do it by hand in a country where washing machines were not main-stream and you could hire someone else to do it for very little. We asked the bishop who in the area lived close to where we rented and who would benefit from a little extra income. He suggested Sister Maria.
Maria lived just across the courtyard from us. When we first went over to visit she let us in whole-heartedly. “Oh! What a blessing it is to have missionaries again in this house!” We started to ask some friendly questions to get to know Sister Maria a little better. She was born and raised in the church and was still very active. She got married at age 18 to a returned missionary. She showed us a wedding picture and a picture of her husband as an AP with his mission president. She had four sons, all active in the church. She was struggling financially to keep up with the demands of a large family after her husband’s recent business venture had failed. She seemed to live the sugar-coated LDS life, with a small hardship mixed in. We decided that the money we would pay her to wash our laundry each week could help her, and so we gave her the job. As a missionary of only one week’s experience in the field, little did I know that that was not the only thing she needed. Little did I know that that was not the only way we would help her.
It wasn’t long, after interacting with her twice a week for laundry pick-up and delivery, that she gained the trust to confide more in us. We soon learned that she was experiencing much more than just financial hardship. Her husband had been in a long-term affair. She was deciding if she should stay with him or leave him. On top of that, he was physically abusive to her and she had bruises to prove it. “Sisters, I know that you were set apart as representatives of Jesus Christ. I am grateful to have you in my house so often and am grateful I have someone to talk to.” She explained that she tried to talk to her bishop but felt that he favored her husband. She needed a woman to talk to. We listened and gave her the best council we could. I started to learn that the Holy Ghost really was there to help me teach and counsel in my role as missionary. My companion and I, even with my limited language abilities, felt inspired in the counsel we were able to give in every conversation we had with Maria.
Maria's desire for the counsel of a woman leader was not rare. I soon learned that, at least where I served my mission, it was common for sisters to pull us aside privately after church to ask, “Missionaries, pleeeeeaaaaase, can you stop by my house this afternoon?” We tried our best to come, even with our busy schedules. We heard about abusive husbands and boyfriends, disobedient children, problems with communication with the bishop, young women deciding if they should serve missions, hurt feelings because of gossip, financial difficulties, children in prison, women deciding if they should say yes to a marriage proposal, alcoholism, absent fathers, feelings of impotence towards church service, pregnancy out of wedlock, suicide attempts. So many things! “What a blessing to have SISTERS in this area!” was such a common thing to hear. One terminally ill sister requested that we come just to sing hymns to her. She could not talk or communicate, but she too greatly felt the need of some kind of interaction with a woman during a difficult time. One day she requested an urgent visit from us. That was our last visit. She passed away as we finished the last line of the hymn “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth.”
I am thankful that I not only taught the gospel to those who did not have it, but I was also able to be available to many women in the church who felt like they had no one to turn to. I am also thankful for the power and guidance my Heavenly Father gave me when counseling these sisters.
|Rachael and cousin Heather, 2012|
Besides sister missionaries, the LDS church organization has another program in place that can help God manifest His power through His daughters on this earth. I believe that Visiting Teachers can play an effective role. The problem is that often they do not visit as assigned or do not always have the trust of the sisters they visit. Gossip can also be very damaging for sisters. Most of the sisters who requested our visits said that they did not have or know their visiting teachers or did not feel comfortable sharing things with those individuals assigned to them for whatever reason. This year’s general women’s session focused on the need for us, as women, to be united. I encourage all sisters to find ways to fulfill this counsel through visiting teaching.
|Women's Temple Trip, 2009|
On my mission, members would joke that we had the “mujerdocio”, a word combining the Spanish word for woman ,“mujer,” with the word for priesthood: “sacerdocio”. It was said lightheartedly but with some truth. Maybe there isn’t a word for it, but I think most members of the church can agree that there is something special that sisters hold. It’s more than what is commonly called “being a wife and mother”. No, it’s a power ALL faithful women hold. (I am neither a wife nor mother. While I feel that wives and mothers pull from this power to fulfill these amazing roles, by saying that those are a woman’s special callings, comparable to priesthood for men, we are ignoring a large segment of the LDS female membership). I found that power within me as a missionary, but, even though I have been released from that calling, I still feel that same confidence and strength within me. I also now can recognize that I had it even before my mission. Sisters that are reading this, find this power within you. It is there. Is it priesthood? Is it some sort of special ‘nurturing’ power? Is it the ‘Mujerdocio’? Or does it matter what we call it? Sadly, I have seen many members of the church who do not appreciate its potential. I have had brethren treat me as if I were not an equal and exclude me from opportunities to lead. I have known sisters who have taken a back-seat in their own spiritual development.
|Mother Peggy, daughters-in-law Megan and Rena,|
daughter Marlene 2004, Allen Park, Michigan
It can be frustrating realizing that there is not a lot of canonized scripture directly addressing the special role women play within the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know we talk a lot about it in Relief Society (the LDS church’s organization for women), but as for scripture, I always am hungry for more than what’s available. Because of that I, along with many women who may be reading this, can often feel lost within the gospel. “They say I’m special, but HOW am I special? I certainly am not treated that way!” I have found myself thinking many times. All I can say for sure at this time is that I do have a special kind of power. Those that treat me as a lesser person because of my gender are wrong. God wants me to develop the power he has instilled in me to serve his children here on earth. This is my testimony of the power of a woman.
|Megan and daughter Rachael, 2007|
Parklands Nature Preserve, IL
|Chelsea and Mother Megan 2010|