A short time ago, the Ensign gave me a wonderful opportunity to travel throughout the British Isles visiting and talking with Church members. I was to learn about their lives and what the gospel means to them. I found them in many ways very different from each other, but in all I found a warm welcome and a strength of hope and testimony.
On the windswept Orkney Islands off the northern tip of Scotland I met Charlotte May Gorn. Born in 1919 in Holm, “Lottie” grew up on a farm and learned to help in all the farm tasks.
During World War II she served as a teleprinter operator in the British Army—at Inverness, all over England, and finally in Italy. Following the war, she returned to the family farm to help care for an invalid brother after her mother died. When her brother died, she left farming to work as a doctor’s receptionist, a bookkeeper, a hotel receptionist in Kirkwall, and briefly for the local newspaper, the Orcadian. Then she took a job with the local medical services, keeping health records and helping new patients find and register with a doctor.
Now retired, she lives in a smart little bungalow in Kirkwall where she keeps a garden full of flowers. She regularly reviews books for the Orcadian and has begun writing stories with local background.
Lottie had always loved the Bible, but it left many unanswered questions in her mind about the Redemption and man’s destiny. One evening in 1977, the missionaries called. She had been reading the epistles of Peter, so she poured out to the missionaries all the things that seemed unexplained to her. They answered each question. That was the beginning of an awakening to the truth for Lottie. She was baptized in October of that year.
The Orcadians are a tolerant and friendly people. Nevertheless, Lottie has faced some adversity, some unpleasant remarks, and now is hardly ever invited out. She has lost the social pleasures of the past—entertaining, dining with friends. But she says, with a smile that lights her face, “I don’t regret anything. My life before I joined the Church seems far away. I don’t desire the things I used to think so wonderful. And I’ve learned to accomplish things I would never have dreamed of before.”
What are some of them? She has become a great student of the gospel; she conducts and teaches Sunday School for the three Saints in Orkney—herself and Arnie and Mina Flett. She has a sweet, true singing voice and has learned to conduct and lead music.
Lottie has crossed the frequently wild and stormy Pentland Firth and traveled over three hundred miles to conferences of the Aberdeen Scotland Stake. She has traveled to the London Temple to take out her own endowment. But she has a great hunger for deeper knowledge of the gospel, which association with other Saints could bring. “I sometimes wish I could meet in a big Sunday School class and listen to the discussions, asking questions and learning from other people,” she says.
Still, there have been blessings in learning on her own. “When I was new in the Church I didn’t fully understand tithing, and it was not until after a year or two that I realized I had been paying improperly. I had to go to an accountant and ask him to calculate what the difference would be, so I could put it right. I was afraid it was going to be a lot of money, but as I reached his door, the decision made in my mind, I felt a great warmth, just as if a hand had been laid very gently on my head. I could really feel the weight of it, and I was filled with complete joy and well-being.”
The money she had not tithed amounted to some 30 percent of her income, but she paid her tithing immediately. She says, “I have never forgotten the happiness I felt, and the moment of that hand on my head in blessing.”
Many miles away in Bangor, near Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Ferguson family faces unusual challenges—with special qualities of faith and character. Peter Ferguson’s parents were deaf and mute from birth; now he and his wife Lillian have five daughters, three of whom are also profoundly deaf. Modern teaching methods have helped all three learn communication skills.
Peter, schooled at a technical college, met Lillian when both were in their mid-teens, working in the textile industry. (Lillian went to work in the mills when she was fourteen, putting in ten-hour days for £1.15 a week—about $2.50 in those days.) Peter later went into clerical work and is now in a management position with a large international company.
It was Lillian who asked Peter, more than twenty years ago, if she could have the missionaries in to hear their teaching. She had been to a missionary discussion with a friend, and on the way back quite suddenly said to herself, “I know this is true!” When the missionaries came, Peter found himself drawn into the discussions. The missionaries’ visits continued for five or six months. Finally, when he was able to meet the challenge to keep the Word of Wisdom, and during a youth hosteling tour throughout Ireland, he realized there was much more to life than he had ever known. He and Lillian were baptized 13 August 1964.
Genealogy work and the doctrine of baptism for the dead helped strengthen Peter’s commitment to the Church. “What made me really happy was the fact that the gospel is open to all who will accept it, even those who haven’t the chance in this life.”
He has served in many Church leadership positions, and when the Belfast stake was formed in 1974, he was the first high councilor called. He served for nine years in overseeing youth programs and was involved when seminary classes were begun in Ireland. “I really want to see the youth strong and keeping high standards,” he says. “That way they’ll be happy and grow into fine people.”
Two weeks after Lillian’s baptism, she was called to be the Primary president in a tiny branch with only half a dozen families. She has taught children in Primary for fifteen years and has been Relief Society president twice.
Her love of people is evident in her warmth, honesty, and outgoing personality. In addition to working in the Church, she cares every Monday for an invalid friend, doing shopping and housework. She also works to raise funds for a group of orphanages. She has been honored locally for this latter service. One of her goals is to get the Relief Society and the youth more involved in compassionate service. “It would be the best way we could help everyone and show other people what we believe, what the gospel is really about,” she says.
Colin Dunne of Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland, shares the Ferguson’s deep love for youth. “We must help the youth to grow together in unity and fellowship to build the Church. I should like to see all young men serve missions,” he says.
Both Colin and his wife Theresa were born in Dublin. Colin works for Standard Telephone and Cables as a field engineer. Theresa’s sister, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were all fishmongers, but Theresa left school at fourteen to work as a dressmaker in order to help out with family finances. She met Colin that same year, and they were married five years later.
Both their families are Catholic. It was while they were living with Theresa’s mother and saving for a home of their own that the missionaries first called. To be hospitable, Theresa invited them in.
“We listened to them,” Colin recalls, “and we took a Book of Mormon, but we had no intention of changing our faith.” Theresa recalls: “I kept looking for a chance to get rid of the Book of Mormon, but somehow when we moved nine months later, we still had it with us.
“Then one day I was looking out the window and I saw two young women in the street, gazing around. I thought perhaps they were lost. When they sat down on the garden wall and bent their heads, I was worried that they were in real trouble, perhaps ill. I went to the door; I was going to ask if I could help them, but they were standing on my step with the nicest smiles I’ve ever seen.
“They told me they were LDS missionaries, and I thought, ‘At last I can get rid of that book!’ But they said they’d like me to keep it and asked if they could come back that evening. Colin agreed, and we both listened to the discussions.” She laughs. “I was determined I was going to convert them! I thought up all sorts of questions to confuse them. But the sisters answered them all and kept coming for three months.”
Theresa’s family was very concerned and gave her much counsel, but by now she knew the gospel was true. In spite of extreme social pressures, and friends of many years making every effort to persuade her away, she was baptized on 22 November 1975. As she says frankly, “When the Lord knows you know it is true, there is no going back.”
For Colin, the commitment came slowly. He was open-minded, and he liked the missionaries, particularly because they always had time for young Colin (the eldest of their three sons), who was about three. When the missionaries finally challenged Colin to kneel and pray aloud for an answer to his uncertainty about the gospel, Colin asked bluntly in his prayer if Joseph Smith was really a prophet and if the Book of Mormon was the word of God. He felt clearly and plainly the answer inside himself, as if someone had spoken: “Why are you asking me something you know to be true?” He rose totally committed. “I knew,” he admitted. “And God knew that I knew. I had to act upon it.”
His colleagues at work gave him a hard time, and it was some years before his family at last accepted the fact of his conversion. A week after his baptism he was called as a counselor in the Sunday School presidency. He has since been in a branch presidency; now he is second counselor in the Dublin Ireland District Presidency.
Theresa has also held many callings, including, currently, Relief Society president. She has an unusual ambition. “I’ve heard that in Africa there are so many people hungry to learn the gospel and be baptized, and there aren’t enough people to teach them. I want to learn Afrikaans and one day go out and serve a mission to help with that work.”
Missionary work can have far-reaching effects. In Merthyr Tydfil, in the mining valleys of south Wales, there is a heritage of faith possibly unique in Britain. It began with Moses Jones, born in 1819, who was converted to the Church with his family. He immigrated to Utah in 1869. The family was to follow, but after many years’ delay, they decided to remain in Merthyr Tydfil. Eventually, most of the family in Britain drifted away from the Church. One of Moses’ daughters, Jane, married a William Davis, and their daughter Ellen married a Walter Price.
When LDS missionaries returned to Wales in 1932, they taught and converted Ellen and another of Moses Jones’s granddaughters, Jennet Pulman. Both were amazed to learn from their families that they were descendants of an early Welsh member and that Ellen’s grandparents had once been Latter-day Saints. Ellen’s daughter Enid married John Mahoney, who is now president of Merthyr Tydfil Wales Stake.
Enid’s Church service began early. At fifteen, she was Primary president. Since then, she has held a wide variety of callings, including district MIA president.
John Mahoney was also born in Merthyr Tydfil, but grew up in the Lake District of England and did not return to Merthyr until after his father’s death. In January 1956, when he was seventeen, John met Enid and was attracted to her immediately. He had never heard of Mormons before. When he told her that he would never change his religion, she replied very quietly that she would not marry outside her Church. Of course, she told him, he should make his own decision.
He began going to Church with her, even allowing the sister missionaries to practice their lessons on him and joining in their discussions. Within six months he was logically persuaded that the Church was true, but he had not had a spiritual witness, and he resisted baptism.
Later, while he was away from Merthyr working, he began to pray about it. One day while on his knees, he recalls, “I had a tremendous burning feeling so powerful it completely enwrapped me. I thought I was going to die. Then the words from the Doctrine and Covenants section 9, verse 8 came instantly into my mind—‘if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.’” [D&C 9:8]
He was baptized 22 December 1956. At eighteen he became a Sunday School teacher, then branch clerk. When he was nineteen and a half, he and Enid were married. At twenty he was branch president—at that time the youngest in the country.
From 1964 until 1976, John was first counselor in the Wales District and, at the same time, president of the Young Men program. He taught the first seminary class when seminary was introduced in the area. In 1982 when the Merthyr Tydfil Wales Stake was divided to form the Cardiff Wales Stake, he was called as first counselor in the Cardiff stake presidency. Later, when the Merthyr Tydfil stake was reorganized in 1985, he was called as stake president.
He is a dedicated genealogist and has appeared on a popular nationwide television program explaining the genealogical library in Merthyr, the information available there, and its use.
John and Enid Mahoney’s greatest dedication, however, is to missionary work, among both nonmembers and less-active Latter-day Saints. Setting an example for members and leaders in their stake, he and Enid are always seeking out those who are ready to hear the gospel.
They have found them in surprising places. They have met some by chance: one was an admirer of their son-in-law John Morgan’s photography, another a clerk in a shop they didn’t frequent. In each case, patience, warmth, and the gentle introduction of the gospel by example has brought people toward the Church—and many of them into it.
In London, Christopher and Rashida Charles were prepared by the Spirit to accept the gospel as they sought answers to their own questions about life. Their heritage is different from that of most Latter-day Saints in the British Isles. Chris was born in London in 1950, but both his parents were Greek Cypriots. A good student, Chris earned an honors degree in business finance from the City of London Business School and went into banking. He is now senior corporate manager in one of the largest branches of a leading British bank.
He stopped attending his mother’s church as a boy and began to search for his own belief. He tried several churches, but eventually put religion completely aside and called himself an atheist.
He met Rashida when he was seventeen and she fourteen, and they were married five years later. Rashida’s father was a Pakistani leather merchant, and her mother was a Scot. Rashida spent her first nine years in Glasgow, then went to Pakistan for a year, after which her family returned to the British Isles.
The tragic death of an older sister, combined with the earlier loss of a younger brother, helped turn Rashida’s mind toward matters of faith. She began to wonder about death and resurrection. Those she loved deeply could not simply have disappeared. “I started to pray for an answer, to know which church was true,” she says.
Two weeks later, sister missionaries knocked on her door, and her prayer returned to her mind. Immediately, within herself, she heard a voice: “This is the truth.” She knew it was so, before she had been taught a single lesson.
At this time, Chris was commuting from their home in Sevenoaks to the bank in London every day. “One evening while I was driving home, I was suddenly struck by the reality of the force of evil in the world,” he recalls. “Then, after a moment or two, the realization came to me that there must be an equal force for good, and in that moment my atheism vanished. I became intensely aware of the beauty of nature all round me, the clarity of the air and the sky, and inside myself a great peace.”
Three days later, the missionaries gave the first lesson to the Charles family. Chris and Rashida would not let them leave until they had also given the second. “The missionaries brought a spirit with them into the house that was beautiful. We felt it there; and when they left, it went with them,” Chris says.
Chris and Rashida were baptized three weeks later. Within a month Chris was Sunday School president. He has gone on to serve as a high councilor, then as second counselor in the stake presidency, and, since 1982, as first counselor. Rashida has filled several ward and stake leadership positions, and is now a counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency. She has especially enjoyed teaching the temple preparation course; her face lights up when she speaks of its importance.
Rashida loves children. She is trained as a nursery nurse. However, after many years of marriage, she and Chris still had no children. They considered all the possibilities open to them and, after much thought and deep prayer, applied to adopt through the Church program.
When at last the news came through that there was a baby girl for them, Rashida recalls, “I was uncertain how I felt—whether this child could ever be part of our family for time and eternity in the same way our own child could have been.
“I went into the room and picked up the tiny baby and held her. And in that moment I had the extraordinary sensation that the baby looked back at me perfectly steadily and met my eyes. For an instant I was aware of her mature spirit saying to me, ‘It is right—I am meant to be with you,’ and then she was a very small baby again. I was overwhelmed with peace, and I passed the baby to Chris.”
Outside, Rashida tried to find some words to share her experience with Chris. But “he understood without hesitation. He had had exactly the same witness.”
Chris and Rashida Charles are determined to share with their daughter all their knowledge and love. By doing so, they hope to express to the Lord their gratitude for the gifts he has given them.
The same gratitude for blessings from the Lord is strong in the hearts of Len and Rita Farlow, who live in Peterlee, County Durham, at the other end of the country.
Peterlee, a new town, serves the old mining area of Shotton Colliery. At eighteen, Len went down the mines at Pelton Fell Colliery, and later other pits, working thirty years underground altogether. Then he took a night job in a brickworks, and now he works night shifts at a garage—in addition to two other part-time jobs.
Len joined the Church in 1968 and was called almost immediately as Sunday School superintendent. But he admits he was not ready for the responsibility and did not fully understand his faith. He dropped out of Church activity until late in 1982, after his second marriage—to Rita. It was Rita’s second marriage also.
A warm, outgoing man with a ready smile and a gift for friendship, Len is now second counselor in both the Peterlee branch presidency and elders quorum presidency. But it is as a home teacher that he fulfills his great love of fellowshipping, encouraging less-active members back into the gospel. “I’ve got a goal of thirty prospective elders I want to reach and bring back,” he says.
Rita, born in Shotton Colliery, was raised in a different Christian faith, to which her grown children still belong. After her first marriage broke up she had what she describes as “eight years of power cut” when she felt cut off from God. “The faith I had been taught no longer satisfied me. I was convinced there must be something else, some more profound meaning in the gospel than I had so far learned.
“When the missionaries came to the door I listened to them, and I knew that even at the cost of my family’s displeasure I must place Heavenly Father first. I believe I cannot really lose them forever if I follow God’s way.”
Her family, whom she loves deeply, fiercely opposed her baptism. Rita became seriously ill and was placed in the hospital’s intensive care ward for five days. But as soon as she was well enough, she was baptized—on 21 September 1982, the anniversary of the day Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith.
Her testimony is strong and sure. “In spite of what it has cost me, I know that all true happiness lies in putting Heavenly Father first.” She quotes Luke 9:62: “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
It was marvelous traveling through the British Isles visiting other Latter-day Saints. In the valleys of South Wales, the Church is old and strong, and in the south of England, it is large and growing. In the towns of the north, the Church is young but full of heart, and in the hills of Ireland members face great challenges, but are meeting them. In the highlands of Scotland, Church members are few and are often scattered at great distances, but they know the truth, and will not turn back.
Lottie Gorn’s testimony speaks for many: “I used to get very concerned because they have withdrawn the missionaries and there are only three of us here in Kirkwall. Will we be strong enough? Then I heard a voice say quite clearly in my mind, ‘I am God. I am stronger than the devil. Nothing can bring my Church down.’”