Text by Maurine Proctor and photography by Scot Facer Proctor
The first thing we see as we enter the Roberts home is red, white and blue New Zealand flags. One is behind the dining room table and smaller flags are stuffed into red foil stands on the coffee table and elsewhere in the house. Someone here has been celebrating New Zealand in a big way and we know why. Dillon Roberts has been called to serve in the Hamilton, New Zealand mission and will leave March 12.
But it’s a celebration that almost wasn’t. As reporters, we’ve come to find out about the reason, but at first we make small talk. “Is Dillon your first missionary?”
“Oh, no,” his mother Tammy, answered. “His brother just got home from Barcelona, and we have a daughter who wants to put in her papers in six months.”
We’ve just hit a topic of mutual interest. “Our youngest daughter is putting in her papers this week, too,” we ventured.
Suddenly there is vulnerability in her eyes, and a bit of halting in her voice, “Are you nervous to send a daughter?”
We can tell there are oceans behind that question, a question that we left hanging while she and Dillon tell the story they have to tell.
For the Gilbert Arizona Temple Cultural Celebration, the climax of the evening is when all the missionaries in the region who have been called, but who haven’t left yet, will come marching on to the field, waving the flags of the countries where they will serve while 12,000 youth sing, “We are as the armies of Helaman. We have been taught in our youth. And we will be the Lord’s missionaries to bring the world his truth.”
Since Dillon was to be one of those missionaries, the Saturday before, he was required to attend the dress rehearsal. Living only five miles from the temple, he pulled on his helmet and jumped on a motor scooter. He figured it would be easier to find a park than if he took a car.
As he was driving along the fairly busy road, his back tire popped. Dillon flew across the road and landed on a curb and the scooter followed the same trajectory-flying and rolling and finally landing on Dillon.
A woman driving behind him saw the accident and with quick presence of mind, put on her blinkers and stopped traffic so that he wouldn’t be hit by an oncoming car as he flew and landed.
Shortly after at the hospital, Dillon was diagnosed with a stage one concussion and exhibited short-term memory loss. He didn’t remember he had done all the steps to turn in his papers. He didn’t remember he had a call. He didn’t remember if he would be learning a foreign language.
It was if the last four months of this life had been wiped away. He repeated the questions again and again, “Can I turn in my papers?” “When will I get my call?” “Can I still go on a mission?” Then he would be overcome by emotion.
The doctor said for his parents to patiently answer his questions as if had just asked them the first time.
One of his biggest questions was “Can I still represent my country in the cultural celebration?” This, he asked over and over. This was a question Tammy just didn’t know how to answer. Could he possibly be in the celebration the next week. And even more tenuous, could he speak in church the next day to give his farewell address. Could he come to the gathering people were holding in his honor?
Tammy said, “His father and older brother gave him a blessing, and the doctor, who was also LDS, stepped in.”
Beyond that, someone called the hospital to find out how he was and asked, “Can we announce that it happened at the celebration and can we ask everyone to pray for him?” Shortly after a text came to Tammy. “Everyone is going to pray for your son right now.” 12,000 youth and 1,000 leaders at a cultural celebration lent their faith to Dillon’s recovery.
“That was the moment that I realized that everything was going to be OK,” said Tammy.
Dillon woke up Sunday morning, when he was to talk in church, and asked, “What day is it?” About two minutes later he asked, “What day is it?” About the third time, he said, “Oh, it’s Sunday. I’m going to get up and give my talk.” This was a talk he had written much earlier and Dillon’s parents assumed that someone else would give it for him.
Instead he pulled off the bandages, scrapped off some more gravel from his back, and said he “hoped nobody would pat me on the back too hard.”
When he went to stand up to talk, the first counselor in the ward bishopric told Dillon he was going to be ready to catch him if he fell. But Dillon gave his talk with no spills. He cracked a few jokes to keep the audience interested. Later, he couldn’t remember what he said.
Now, we had to ask about the question that had so much behind us that Tammy had said earlier, “Are you nervous to send a daughter?”
I broached the subject tenderly, “Why is it so hard for you to send off a missionary?”
Tammy said, “I was really shaken by this accident. I’m not one who is great at sending my sons off. We have already lost two children. We had a baby who died at 4 months of SIDS. Her initials were CTR, so that means to us the way to return to home to be with her again. We had another who was stillborn.
“When I send my children on missions, it feels like I’m losing them again.
“When I got the call that day that Dillon had been in an accident, it was like the worst thing I could hear. Then to watch him not remember that he had a call, not to remember he was going on a mission, not to have a memory longer than a few minutes was so hard.
When I knew everyone was praying for him, I felt so grateful that I was not burying a third child that day.”
Because they live so close, the Roberts family has watched the Gilbert Arizona Temple rise level by level. The day that the Angel Moroni was placed on top of the temple Dillon was checked out of high school and all his mother put for a reason was: Angel Moroni.
Because there are several other LDS students at his school, the secretary said, “Everybody is putting Angel Moroni on excuses today.”
The Gilbert Arizona Temple would have been Dillon’s temple just because he watched it grow from a grass field into a House of God. But he will also have something more to remember-the day he was healed by the faith of those who were celebrating its dedication.
And yes, he carried the New Zealand flag in the Cultural Celebration.
Meridian reports this on a sad day, knowing that an LDS missionary from Utah, 19 year-old Mason Bailey was killed when he was struck by a car in Sweden.