Today, as in earlier ages, people who accept the gospel of Jesus Christ often find their lives dramatically changed.
New members commonly make drastic changes in their daily activities, their living style. They gain new friends, set new goals. They may even find it necessary to take a new job, perhaps one in a different city or country, with less money and less prestige. They may suffer heartaches and shed tears as loved ones fail to catch the vision that now is theirs. Yet they may taste love as they never have before in their lives. With Paul they may find that their joy is the joy of others. (See 2 Cor. 2:3.)
Their stories are usually rich in spirituality and heartwarming testimony. Consider the conversion experiences of this European-born Latter-day Saint family:
Answering a knock on the door by two Mormon elders changed the lives of the Herreys in Sweden.
“They said in terrible Swedish that they were missionaries from America,” Gerd Herrey recalls. “They wanted to talk to us about a message. I felt they had such a strong spirit. They just looked great.
“My husband said he was going back to work, that they couldn’t come in then, but maybe another time. So we made an appointment and they came back.”
This is how Willy and Gerd Herrey were introduced to the Church in Sollefteä, Sweden, in 1956.
“From the very beginning I knew they had something I had been waiting for for such a long time,” Gerd says. “But I didn’t want to tell them I knew it, so we asked a lot of hard questions and tried to put them down. But we just couldn’t do it. They had so many good answers for everything.”
When the missionaries told her of a living prophet, she remembered something she had said to her mother as a little girl: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a prophet around!”
Later, in another Swedish city, Enköping, Willy’s mother introduced Gerd to a group of friends, saying, “This is my son’s wife, and she is very interested in the Mormon Church.”
Recalls Gerd: “They started to say bad things about the Church, things I hadn’t heard before. I thought it was so strange.
“‘Oh, no, that’s wrong,’ I said. I asked them if they wanted me to tell them what the missionaries taught me. I told them the story of Joseph Smith. Everybody was so quiet. Finally an old woman who had been a Methodist missionary in Africa for many years spoke.
“‘If this is true,’ she said, ‘it is wonderful!’”
Gerd was only twenty-two. She told them she didn’t know much about the Mormon Church.
“But I told them, ‘One thing I do know: it is the truth.’
“Afterwards I felt so happy, I could have danced for them. And on the way home, I sang and danced and laughed. If someone had seen me, they would have thought I was crazy.”
Soon after this, her husband also received a testimony and they were baptized.
Willy was night editor of Sollefteä’s newspaper, Nya Norrland, at the time. “In the beginning we thought it was going to be hard on Willy at the newspaper because they picked on him. But when they realized that he was serious, they didn’t do it any more,” says Gerd.
Later the family moved to Strömstad, a small town on the west coast of Sweden where there were no Mormons. Despite the opposition of other churches, within two years there was a Mormon branch with a Primary, a Sunday School, and a thriving MIA.
Other churches intensified their attacks on the small Mormon group. In 1963 a famous Swedish minister was sent to “tell everybody about our Church,” recalls Gerd. For some time he had been warning Swedes against “nylon stockings, bubble gum, and Mormons” from America. He put an article in the local newspaper telling everybody how bad the Church was.
A public meeting was planned at which the minister was to speak on the Mormons. As a result, newspapers throughout Sweden published articles on the Mormons in Strömstad. An overflow crowd of 500 jammed the high school auditorium for the meeting. Radios and television newsmen came to cover the event and interviewed Willy, who was branch president and working at the time as a newspaper correspondent.
“After the minister had spoken against the Mormons for an hour and a half, people started asking questions,” Willy relates. “Our own family doctor asked the minister why he was so concerned about the Mormons. He reminded the minister that Swedes are not easily fooled. His speech drew the biggest applause of the evening.”
A few months later Gerd went to another town, Jönköping, on a district Primary assignment. A woman introduced herself and said, “I read in the newspapers about the horrible attack on your brave little Mormon group up there in Strömstad. When the missionaries knocked at my door, I opened it. I am so happy I did. Now I am a member.”
While living in Stenungsund near Göteborg in 1966, Gerd talked to her neighbor Hjördis Kärn about the Church, and before the Herreys moved, Hjördis was baptized.
Soon after, her husband, Bengt, joined the Church. Now he is president of the Luleä Branch in Sweden’s “land of the Arctic Circle.”
After Bengt was called to this Church position, Willy declared during a fast meeting, “My wife has gathered a whole branch into the Church. Now she has got her branch president, too.”
In the seaport city of Göteborg, where the Herreys now live, they were singing together during family home evening when their Jewish neighbor, Tony Levin, dropped in to listen. Within a month he and his wife, Masza, became members. Now they are doing a fine job as district MIA leaders in Stockholm, reports Willy. The latter was with them when the Levins and their three young daughters were sealed recently in the Swiss Temple at Bern.
Today, fourteen years after joining the Church, the Herreys are active and happy in the Church and doing their bit to advance the Lord’s work. They are members of the First Branch in Göteborg, Sweden’s second largest city. They’ve had many opportunities to bear their testimonies to important people in Sweden and to tell about the Church.
Willy has had items about the Church published in many newspapers. He wrote a series of articles about happy families and included one article on another Mormon convert family.
He is now widely read as a feature writer for the special Sunday edition of the Göteborgs-Tidningen. When Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Atlantic in his papyrus boat, the Ra, recently, Brother Herrey wrote articles comparing Heyerdahl’s journeys with the voyages of Jared and Lehi as related in the Book of Mormon. Shortly after, a leading paper in Norway, Heyerdahl’s country, published a long article based on Brother Herrey’s material.
In 1968 Gerd was one of ten finalists in a Swedish Mother of the Year competition. The day of the contest she prayed not to win but for a chance to “preach the gospel to somebody today.” And at a luncheon that day she happened to sit by one of Sweden’s leading magazine publishers.
“He knew I was a Mormon, so he asked me a lot about the Church. We still write to each other. He thinks the Mormon Church is great,” she reports.
The day after the contest, another of the finalists telephoned Gerd long distance to ask what it was that made her so different. “We talked for over an hour. I bore my testimony to her and told her about the Church.” The missionaries began teaching the woman.
Also enthusiastic missionaries are the Herreys’ seven children. They are all deeply involved in the Church—in classes, in teaching and secretarial positions, and in music, dance, and sports.
Willy is a counselor in the branch presidency; Gerd is on the district MIA board and is a Primary teacher.
Father, mother, and children—ages ten to eighteen—deliver newspapers before sunrise. They also train and sell horses. In the summer they operate a children’s dude ranch at Strömstad for four hundred to six hundred children from Sweden, Norway, and Finland. When the day starts for most people, the Herreys have been in action for several hours. After work and school the day ends with Church activities. Monday evenings—family night—they sing and play musical instruments.
They are too busy and excited about life to be unhappy.
Dr. Haroldsen, associate professor of communications at Brigham Young University, was Chicago regional editor of U.S. News and World Report before joining the BYU faculty in 1969. A former bishop and high councilor, he now serves as secretary to the Aaronic Priesthood–Adult group in Orem 14th Ward, Sharon West Stake.