“Sometimes the Lord gives us Faith to move mountains, but sometimes He uses that same faith to move us up our mountains.” This is was often said by mission presidents wife, Bianca Lisonbee. She recently passed away and I’ve been reflecting on the profound and personal impact she’s had on me. I desire now, more than ever, to be a strong faith filled disciple like she was.
She shared with me her deep love and appreciation for her sister, who had converted to the restored gospel in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When her sister died at a young age, she was bombarded with negative self talk and shame. She wondered why God would have allowed this to happen. She felt perhpas it was because she didn’t have enough faith to save her sister. She would have feeling of worthlessness. She exited the hospital room right after her sisters passing, and wondered why the world hadn’t stopped. People were still going about their lives. Working, buying food a vending machine, and doing other things that seemed so trvial. Her world had stopped, but the everyone else in the world just keep moving anyway.
She went to the scriptures and read about how when Jesus was tempted, he used scriptures to cast Satan out. (See Matthew 4) She began to memorize scriptures like “The the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10) but would try to personalize it into “The worth of my soul is great in the sight of God.” She made a list of her negative self-talk on one side of the paper, and on the right side she wrote scriptures that countered it. For example, she felt at times “That I can’t do this,” so then she would quote that scripture that would combat that thought which was “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Phillippians 4:13)
Scriptural passages became a literal shield against the fiery darts of the adversary. They built her self worth and her confidence. Instead of wondering “Why me?” She began to question it with “Why not me?” She wanted the Faith to save her sister’s life, but she found the faith to continue with her death. There is power in the Faith to be healed, but often it takes even greater faith not to be healed. Bianca spoke with power when she bore testimony about Faith that can move mountains, that would more often move us and change us to move up our mountains.
A quote from Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare could be used to describe this incredible woman. “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” But I would use the word “powerful” instead of fierce to describe this wonderful 5 foot tall woman. I’ll remember the first time I ever heard her speak to us as missionaries. We were all her new missionaries from a dozen different countries serving in Bahia, Brazil.
She bore a powerful message about the missionaries who taught her. There was something incredible as she told her conversion story from someone who loved the catholic faith to joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her story invoked a fire in me to seek people out to share the gospel with. She spoke with such a conviction, vigor, and power that I remember thinking it would be such a privilege to one day to get to speak with her.
She said in that first meeting, that she felt that we were all now her children. Even though there were 150 of us in the room, somehow we all felt that it was true. She radiated with sincerity that love of a mother. We were separated from our actual mothers at the time, but having her near made us feel like we had a mother guiding and comforting us on the hard days, cheering and encouraging us on the good ones. And oh, what an incredible mission mom, she was!
Without my knowing she would write my own mother a couple of occasions (Like this example here). One thing she said about me in those letters was that I was “a man without guile,”a phrase the Savior used to describe Nathanael. It was something that touched me deeply, that she saw me as someone trustworthy and with pure intent.
Bianca’s trainings were legendary. Her extraordinary acting, pure testimony, and incredible stories go down as some of the best experiences I had on my mission. I wish I would have captured more footage of it. Often, she would incorporate puppets into her trainings and get us laughing – like this video below. Then, she would open the scriptures and teach us in a way that made the gospel come to life and would often bring tears to my eyes.
Bianca was extremely generous. I watched as she would Skype her family on special holidays and saw how much love and homsick she felt. She wanted badly for her children and grandchildren to be with her. And yet, she choose to be there in Bahia, serving the Lord and the wonderful people there.
I watched as she would head to McDonalds for Lunch and lots of hungry looking children would surround her in the streets. She would invite them to go with her, pay for their meals, and enjoy a happy meal with them.
I watched as she counseled with the missionaries, bore incredible testimonies, and strengthened those around her. Every conversation with Sister Lisonbee was insightful, fun, and spiritual.
One of my favorite memories with Sister Lisonbee was when we were near a beach. We saw men fishes in the far distance. She begged me to teach her the phrase “Come with me and I will make you fishers of men” in Portuguese. She wanted to walk out on the docs and call the men to come and learn of Christ and his restored gospel. I loved her courageous missionary spirit and large heart. But just before she had the opportunity to go, someone else had pulled her away. At one point, we had lost track of her. President Lisonbee, a few other missionaries, and myself were trying to find where she had ended up. We found a crowd of people standing around her. Though she was new to Brazil, she was the best Portuguese she could to teach them all.
Some of my favorite memories with Bianca were like this one. But the ones that I really cherish are the simple ones. The ones where we sat and talked. I always felt she believed in me and cared about me. Sometime after the mission, I had more opportunities to see her impact as I worked in the company she co-founded with David Lisonbee. I cherish those uplifting memories as well.
Bianca, thank you for everything. Thank for your training, your example, and your love. Thank you for help me have the faith to move mountains, and move up the mountains to climb.