Not since I left France in 1965 had I personally known another missionary called to serve there, until Sister Marian Ream departed from our ward for Paris in the winter of 1978. I wrote her letters of encouragement, and she responded with postcards telling me of the progress of the mission.
The following summer I was startled to find enclosed with her letter a picture of me and a junior companion taken in Versailles in 1964. Where had she found this picture?
“Dear Gladys,” her letter read, “A strange thing happened last week. We were at the Desmurs to visit and get some copies of the Book of Mormon they had for us, and we got to talking. When they found out I had always been a member of the Church, Sister Desmurs stood on a chair in her front room and got this picture down. She pointed to the missionary on the right and asked me if I knew her. I looked for a minute and said, ‘I’m not sure, but I think it’s Sister Farmer who lives in my ward in Provo, Utah.’ The whole family was very excited to think I might have identified this missionary. Sister Desmurs had tears in her eyes. She said it was because of the testimony of this sister that she had joined the Church. She had asked countless missionaries since if they could identify and help locate her.”
Sister Ream went on to describe the family to me. The father, now second counselor in the ward bishopric, had joined the Church several months after his wife’s baptism. The entire family of seven was active and very helpful to the missionaries.
I was perplexed. Who was this active French family, and why was the mother crediting me with being involved in her conversion? They were not among the individuals or families I remembered teaching or seeing baptized in France. With dim hopes, I consulted the little diary in which I had written a few sentences at the end of each day. Among my entries during the summer of 1964, I finally found mention of the Desmurs.
“July 8. Made calls back and gave good first lesson to Mme. Desmurs in Grand Chéne.
“July 9. Gave first four points to M. Desmurs—a challenging man.”
That entry jarred my memory. I could picture no faces but vaguely remembered the house. My new companion did not speak any French, and it had been challenging to teach alone. I had covered only four out of twelve points of the lesson, and the husband had challenged every statement I made. I recalled walking home, trying to explain to a discouraged companion that not everyone who asks us back to teach them is ready to accept our message.
“July 21. Did six hours of tracting. Met with the Desmurs family. She is sweet and believing. He’s a tough nut to crack.
“July 26. Missionary program at American Branch. Visited inactive family … and the Desmurs.
“July 29. Second lesson with Desmurs. We’re ready to give up.”
Frequently missionaries meet a family where one member is receptive, yet the resistance of others is such that there is no choice but to move on to those who are ready to accept the baptism challenge. So it was with the Desmurs.
But now, years later, I received a tape recording in the mail and learned the story of the Desmurs’ conversion to the Church.
About a month after my last visit to their home in 1964 Mrs. Desmurs was shining shoes for the family one Sunday morning and talking with her husband about the gospel. He was totally opposed to the Book of Mormon, as he had been from the beginning. She mused, “I don’t know, but we might just find out some day that the book is true.” At that moment, she suddenly heard my voice speaking to her, bearing testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. At first she felt fear, but that was suddenly replaced by a feeling of great peace and joy. During the next weeks she thought often of her experience and felt the witness of the Spirit.
Years passed; the family moved from their home to an apartment in another part of Versailles. In 1970—six years after my contact with them—two elders knocked on their door. The first thing Mrs. Desmurs told them about was the visits of the sister missionaries years before, and about the spiritual experiences she had had since then. The elders explained to her that it had been the witness of the Holy Ghost. She said she knew that was true, and she wanted to join the Church. But her baptism had to wait for a change of heart in her husband.
One day when their daughter was ill with appendicitis, Mr. Desmurs had gone straight to the hospital from work. Surprised that his wife was not there with the girl, he went home to find her talking with the two elders. In anger he told her she had better concern herself with her daughter before she worried about religion. He tore up the Bible of one of the elders and put them out of the house. Then he took his wife back to the hospital to see their daughter.
The next day Mrs. Desmurs chastized him, saying, “Those missionaries aren’t rich, you know. They come over here at their own expense. You ought at least to pay for that Bible.” So Mr. Desmurs went to the missionaries’ address, paid them for the book, and told them he never wanted to see them again.
Yet over the next few months his heart softened, and he allowed his wife to resume her studies; she and the three oldest children were baptized in 1971. He began to attend church, dropped some bad habits, and finally in 1972 followed his family into the waters of baptism. He later made contact with the missionary whose Bible he had torn, an elder who had gone home from his mission with few baptisms and one ripped Bible among his souvenirs, and who received this unexpected news with tears of joy.
Brother Desmurs ended his portion of the tape by saying that he wished there were some way to tell all missionaries how important their work is, and not to get discouraged. He said they had found a member who had a picture of me, hung it in their living room, and asked every new missionary who came to Versailles if they knew me.
Brother Desmurs assured me that I would always be dear to their family because I had helped to plant the gospel seed, even though his own “soil” had not been very fertile at the time and the nurturing and harvesting had come much later. The family members each spoke in turn, thanking me and praying for the Lord’s blessings upon me.
As I finished listening to the tape, deeply moved by the words I had heard, I opened the French Book of Mormon they had mailed along with the tape. Inside was a picture of the Desmurs family along with their written testimony—a witness they had shared in this way with many of their countrymen.
I smiled through my tears. My missionary labors had gone full cycle. It had all begun with my own testimony of the Book of Mormon; no one knows where it will end. Indeed, how little any of us realize the effect our actions can have on the lives of others.