“Love, Your Visiting Teachers”
About four years ago my husband, David, and I bought an old “fixer-upper” house in Clarksville, Tennessee. We gutted the insides, ripped up some of the floors, replaced the wiring and plumbing, and added on to make a duplex. It was a major undertaking! And we stayed in the house the whole time.
Needless to say, we lived in a veritable construction site. At night before falling into bed, I’d rake the sawdust, sheetrock, chips of wood, and other debris from the sheets. I used a corn scoop, a type of large shovel, instead of a broom to clean the floors. Lumber and sheets of plywood were stacked in the living room. Batts of insulation, rolls of wallpaper, cans of paint, boxes of nails, and ladders, tools, and sawhorses decorated other rooms.
During the remodeling, I was pregnant with our second daughter, Caci. On a weekend two weeks before my due date, we stained the floors and painted the addition. Monday morning, the baby started coming. We rushed to the hospital, leaving behind a house with no heating system, no windows in the living room, and no place for an infant to sleep.
Mama and Daddy came to the hospital that afternoon, driving the seventy miles from their backwoods farm near Crofton, Kentucky. I was apprehensive about Mama coming. She and I hadn’t been on good terms since I joined the Church in 1976. But she knew I needed help, with a new baby and the house all torn apart.
Before returning home, Mama stopped by the construction site. Overwhelmed—and a little dismayed at the living conditions her new grandchild would be brought into—she made plans to clean the house the next afternoon before I came home from the hospital.
Mama came as planned, clad in workclothes, with shovel, rake, and bucket in hand. To her surprise, the construction site was spotless. Lumber, plywood, wallpaper, paint, and tools were all neatly stacked in one room. Clean sheets were on the bed. A bassinet with a new mattress and new sheets waited for Caci. The dirty laundry was missing. A fast-food lunch for David was in the refrigerator. And a wrapped package of baby clothes and a large bag of disposable diapers sat near the front door. The card attached read, “Congratulations! Love, your visiting teachers, Carol and Barbara.”
I hardly knew these sisters—they had been called to be my visiting teachers only the month before. But when I came home from the hospital the next day, Carol brought the freshly washed laundry. Barbara brought supper—roast hen and dressing, vegetables, salad, homemade rolls, and dessert. Although it was only October, we felt as if Thanksgiving had arrived.
But something else had happened, too.
Mama had taken the missionary discussions while I was on my mission. She had even read the four standard works and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. But her heart did not begin to soften until she saw the gospel in action.
Mama and I had a long talk later that week. We hugged each other for the first time in years. Tears fell long into the night, and we felt a closeness as mother and daughter again.
We currently live in the West, and I look forward to Mama’s calls and letters. We wouldn’t have traveled back to Kentucky with our three daughters last summer—four thousand miles round-trip—if it hadn’t been for Carol and Barbara, my visiting teachers. They had come to clean a house and cook a meal. But they had no way of knowing that they were mending hearts and healing wounds and putting a home back together again.
The Key to the Thompson Branch
When my wife and I arrived at our missionary assignment in the city of Thompson, Manitoba, we found a lovely little chapel, a baptismal font, and a few stalwart members who had to struggle to pay the heat bills to keep the meetinghouse warm in the subzero winter weather of northern Canada.
The branch president’s comment to us was, “It seems we have a lovely building and not much else.”
Our mission president had told us to work with the members. We were to try to get the branch going, and to “enjoy our mission.” But there were problems in the community. In addition to low membership, many people in Thompson considered the Church to be a cult. The only bookstore in town sold anti-Mormon books.
We concentrated much of our initial efforts on the Turnbulls, a less-active family in the branch. We visited them, took cookies to them, and invited them to come to church with us.
After a few weeks, the Turnbulls agreed that their son, Jamie, could go to church with us. We quickly became close friends of Jamie’s, and we took him to church with us every week.
Each Sunday morning, Sister Jensen would say to the Turnbulls, “We sure would like to take Wendy with us, too.” At last, one morning, Jamie came out with his adorable five-year-old sister, helping her through the snow to the truck. A few weeks later, little Devon joined her brother and sister. We enjoyed acting as grandparents to these sweet children.
After a few months of hard work, things were going a little better in the branch, and we decided that we should ask Heavenly Father to bless our efforts in the city of Thompson.
We organized a mall display to try to help change the attitude of the people toward the Church.
The night before the display, our little group met at the chapel. It was forty degrees below zero outside, and the wind was blowing, making the windchill seventy degrees below, but out we went into the church parking lot, which overlooked the city. We could see the residential areas as well as City Hall and the Provincial Building in the distance.
The street lights glistened, and fine ice crystals blew as our humble little band of stalwart members formed a circle and sang “The Spirit of God.” Never had those words sounded better (or more determined) to us.
A sister in the branch opened the meeting with prayer, then we sang “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” I then asked for blessings on the city of Thompson for missionary work.
It seemed that almost immediately, things began to happen. Attitudes began to change. A few days after the dedication, our phone rang. “This is Debbie Turnbull, Elder Jensen. You won’t need to pick up the children Sunday morning.”
My heart skipped a beat. She continued, “I have a friend I am bringing to church a week from Sunday, and I’d better come at least once before I bring her.” Her chuckle was wonderful to hear. We knew that a lot of prayers were being answered in remarkable ways.
That Sunday, Debbie Turnbull came to church, and she brought Jamie, Wendy, and Devon with her. The following Sunday, she brought her friend Susan Nykiforuk and Susan’s two daughters, and the next Sunday Susan’s third daughter and a son also came. They made arrangements to be taught the missionary discussions, and a miracle began to unfold.
Susan and her four children, as well as Jamie Turnbull and a young couple, were baptized into the branch that month. Our hearts were full. We could see Heavenly Father’s hand in the miracle in the Thompson Branch, and we eagerly look forward to the day when the goal of its members to become the Thompson Ward, and then the Thompson Stake, will be realized.
“Terminate the Pregnancy!” the Doctor Said
Terminate the pregnancy? We were shocked at the doctor’s suggestion. We knew we never could.
Between finishing final exams at school and going to work, I had gone home to share a few peaceful moments with my two sons and my wife, who was two months pregnant. When I arrived, Charlene tearfully greeted me with the results of her most recent physical examination. I quickly learned there was good reason for her tears.
The doctor strongly recommended immediate termination of the pregnancy. Before we knew Charlene was pregnant, he had been using a variety of potent medications to treat her for some physical disorders. He was convinced that the medications would cause extreme birth defects. If we did not abort the child, he said, we faced the probability of a baby coming into the world with deformed limbs.
We sought additional advice from three different physicians, but they only reaffirmed the first physician’s prognosis, adding to our discouragement.
Yet, in the depths of our despair, we held fast to the faith we had developed in a kind and loving Heavenly Father. The only decision we could consider was to follow the advice of our living prophet. We believed that meant giving birth to a very special child who would bring many blessings into our home.
Through a priesthood blessing from our bishop, Heavenly Father made known to us that all the problems concerning this pregnancy would be forgotten in the birth of a perfect child. Not only did the bishop promise a normal delivery, but he also stated under inspiration that the child would be female and that Charlene would have the privilege of seeing her in a personal revelation before her birth.
This priesthood blessing was a great source of strength for us, especially during the seventh month, when my wife was hospitalized with severe bleeding. When this happened, the doctors predicted that she would miscarry. But the pregnancy continued to full term.
And the promised manifestation came.
One night, during her eighth month of pregnancy, Charlene saw in a dream the daughter that was to be sent to our home. She had rosy cheeks, blue eyes, and long, dark hair, and she was surrounded by a bright light. Immediately, my wife awoke and excitedly recounted every detail to me.
Our dark-haired little girl was born healthy, normal, and right on schedule—just as we had been promised. Today Amy is a testimony to the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the importance of obeying the Spirit.
A Model Airplane Led Me to Dad
In May of 1985, with one semester of college behind me and the vacation months ahead, I had a host of activities to pursue. There was a research paper to complete and a test to take, among other things. I didn’t suspect that Heavenly Father had other plans for me.
One Saturday early in the summer, I attended the dedication of a model-airplane park with my husband, Joe. It was a beautiful day, and the park was full of friendly people, eager to share their hobby with us. One of the exhibitors had the airplane I most wanted to see fly—a scale model B-29 Flying Fortress. It drew me like a magnet, reminding me of my father’s service in World War II as an airplane armorer. So many times I had sat beside him, listening to stories, laughing with him, looking at pictures, mementoes, and coins from far-away countries. At times we sat together in silence and I watched his eyes fill with tears at some unspoken memory.
As I watched the exhibitor fly his little replica, I knew it was time to get out the box of jumbled pictures and memorabilia I had stored in the closet and organize it into a meaningful collection. And further, the Spirit told me I had better do it now. No more waiting.
The following Monday evening I spent several hours sorting through the box of pictures, hoping to recognize faces and match scenery in similar pictures, but nothing worked. Obviously I could not do this alone. I had forgotten too much. But where could I turn? I knew there were men with whom he had served during the war, but the only one I knew personally had passed away.
My limited knowledge could not begin to build the book I dreamed of for my sons, who had been too small when their grandfather died to remember him now. I wanted to provide them with the means to know him.
I went to bed frustrated and saddened that this work had not been done while my father was living. I lay in bed, praying and pleading with Heavenly Father to send someone to help me with this work. I was desperate, and all the while that insistent little voice was saying, “Do it now, Cheryl; don’t wait any longer.”
The next day I called the Veterans of Foreign Wars offices, both locally and nationally, hoping they could put me in touch with a reunion group from my father’s unit. One man after another told me I was trying to do the impossible.
By the middle of the afternoon I was beginning to believe it was impossible. But at three o’clock there was a knock at the front door. The gray-haired man at the door was just selling newspaper subscriptions, but immediately that insistent little voice prompted me to seek his help for my project. I felt silly trying to explain my dream to a total stranger, but for some reason he didn’t seem surprised. He encouraged me, explaining that he was a Navy veteran of the war; I invited him in to see my collection on the dining room table.
After a few minutes of pointing out familiar objects and giving me some history, he picked up a small brown notepad, where forty years ago my father had written the names and hometowns of a few young men with whom he had served. He pointed to the first name on the list and told me to call the newspaper in the man’s hometown, a tiny community in Nebraska, to place an advertisement asking for help locating the soldier.
I was doubtful. After all, forty years is a long time, and so many people move away from their childhood homes. But then I remembered my prayer and the prompting I had received to ask this man for help, and I placed the call.
I was not prepared for the newspaperman’s reaction to the soldier’s name. He said, “Well, I’m going to do myself out of an ad for the paper, but I can help you.” He knew both of the soldier’s brothers.
The first brother was not at home, but the second brother’s wife was, and I learned that my father’s friend was still living and that he had just undergone surgery for lung cancer. The insistent little voice pressing me to work quickly began to make sense now.
My father’s friend and I spent two hours on the phone remembering things he had almost forgotten. He had met my father in boot camp and all through the war they had shared a tent and meals, high comedy, and sobering tragedy.
At the conclusion of our conversation he told me he had dreaded the long months of inactivity that would have to be endured before he could return to work. Now he would spend those months writing down his memories for me, beginning with the day he met my father in Savannah, Georgia.
Inspiration from Heavenly Father led me to other materials. Joe found a box in the garage that contained copies of all the papers pertinent to my father’s Army Air Corps service, including letters of commendation and recommendation, as well as copies of official documents. The originals had all been destroyed a number of years before in a government records center fire. These were the only copies in existence. Also in the box were more letters and pictures, including the last letter I had written to my father before his death. I had often wished it had been saved.
Then a closet shelf yielded a box of twenty-year-old Christmas cards. One of these, a card from another of my father’s service buddies who still lived at the same address, really paid off. He was the photographer who had taken and developed most of the pictures I have. Another two hours on the telephone provided even more insights—and the promise of more pictures to add to my growing collection.
I will probably never completely understand the benefits of all these treasures. Already, many people have been touched. My two boys now know more about my father than I knew at their age. All the funny stories Dad told me when I was a child have been recorded, as have the explanations for the tears and nightmares he suffered. He never did tell me some of the sad stories that his friends were willing to recount.
These men, who have so generously shared their time and memories with me, have benefited too. They are now in touch with each other. When this family book is finished, they will receive copies for their own children, hopefully to spark new insights and strengthen their family ties as well. Just as my father and these men were linked forty years ago, our families are now joined in a new bond of common sharing.