Stranger's painting brings comfort to family mourning loss

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WEST JORDAN — Almost a month after their missionary daughter's death, a local family received some comfort from a stranger.

On a recent evening, Frank Thomas stood on the family's doorstep in a West Jordan neighborhood and gave five quick raps on the door, having made the almost two-hour trek with his wife from Holden in Millard County. In front of him he clutched a large canvas print of his own artwork surrounded by a gold frame.

A few weeks earlier, Thomas learned that Nancy Vea — who died Aug. 22 after being injured in a car accident just three months into her LDS mission in Oklahoma — had her picture taken next to his original painting that hangs in the Missionary Training Center in Provo. He was determined to give the family a copy and had one stretched and framed.

"Oh my gosh," Kaniteli H. Vea, Nancy Vea's mother, gasped when she opened the door, before ushering Thomas and his wife inside.

She put her hands up to her face and blinked back tears as a handful of Vea family members looked on.

One of the first pictures Nancy Vea sent to her family captured her standing next to the same painting.

"Often people wonder how we are getting through this, and it's certain moments like this that give us great peace and comfort, so we are honored," Kaniteli Vea said.

Thomas explained to the Veas that his parents were from the area of Oklahoma where Nancy Vea had been serving. He also said he often hears from missionaries who have their pictures taken next to his work, but Sister Vea's situation was different.

"I felt that you needed this to bring a certain amount of closure to the tragic event," Thomas explained. "I thought maybe it was something you could have to remember her by when she was totally devoted to doing that very thing."

The painting depicts Mormon missionaries from the 1860s to the present along with words from what has come to be known in LDS missionary circles as The Standard of Truth, given by the church's first prophet Joseph Smith, portions of which read:

"No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; … the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country and sounded in every ear."

Often people wonder how we are getting through this, and it's certain moments like this that give us great peace and comfort, so we are honored.

–Kaniteli Vea

Missionaries taught and Thomas and he converted to the LDS Church when he was 20, and he eventually created the painting as a tribute to them, he told the Vea family.

"Like you, we love missionaries because the missionaries not only converted me but also converted my family, too, and saved our family," Kaniteli Vea said.

Receiving the painting was one of many "tender mercies" since her daughter's death, she said.

"Every time we look at this picture we'll all see our angel. That's the important thing."

She and her husband will visit Oklahoma this weekend to attend a luau for the local congregation that Nancy Vea and her companion had planned before her death. This coming Sunday is also the one-month anniversary of Vea's death.

"We sometimes wonder, 'Are we supposed to be mourning? Like, how do we mourn?' We miss her but we know she's doing great things on the other side," Kaniteli Vea said. "So that's encouraging us. That's motivating us to do our part here so we can be worthy to be with her again."

Even though Nancy Vea was in the area for a short time, her parents learned that she influenced many of those she met.

"She was so loving and so compassionate. She'd often share the word of charity, the love of Christ, which is why I think she was able to touch so many hearts," Kaniteli Vea said.


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Whitney Evans


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