A Gift of Testimony
Whenever I read the section of my patriarchal blessing referring to my “gift of testimony,” I think of a distant and isolated island in the Alaskan wilderness where I received my witness of the truthfulness of the gospel.
As a sergeant in the United States Air Force fire department in 1973, I was assigned to a very small island near Attu, at the western tip of the Aleutian island chain in Alaska.
Since my childhood I had dreamed of moose roaming wild and free and of grizzly bears feeding on salmon in Alaska. But nothing could have prepared me for the stark reality I faced when my plane taxied to a stop and the crew exit door was opened.
Instead of lush green forest, majestic mountain peaks, raging rivers, and abounding game—there was a flat, desolate island with nothing except tundra grass and a few scattered pre-World War II Quonset huts to break the horizon.
Our one-year mission was simply to “watch Russia watch us watch them.” During our first few weeks, much of which was spent in solitude, I did some very difficult soul-searching. I did not want this year of my life to be wasted, so I devoted myself to improving my spirituality. I had never really thought of myself as a righteous man, but now, more than ever, I wanted to be.
I had grown up in Indiana and was reared in a non-LDS family. Since early childhood I had been greatly interested in religion. After investigating several different churches, I was convinced that only one true church existed. I also knew that I hadn’t yet found it.
Hour after hour, I pored over the scriptures in the Bible as I had seen my father do during my childhood. But the question of which church was true continued to burn within me.
Weeks later, as I was going through some pre-World War II magazines in the base library, I found an advertisement inviting people to find out what the Mormons believed. Intrigued, I read it again and again. I decided to write to Salt Lake City for information, even though I did not know anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Actually, I doubted that my inquiry would reach its destination. The magazine was thirty years old, and because the 100-miles-per-hour crosswinds and subzero temperature made air travel difficult, mail frequently sat around for days and was often lost or misplaced.
To my delight, a couple of months later I received a package postmarked Salt Lake City. It contained a brief history of the Church, the story of the restoration of the gospel, and of course, a copy of the Book of Mormon. I began to read them at once. I was thrilled with what I read and could not wait to read more! I received answers to many questions and knew that I was learning the truth.
Alone in the arctic wilderness, I prayed aloud to Heavenly Father and asked if this was in fact his church. Before long, on that distant island, I received a plain but powerful answer in a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When I returned to the “lower 48,” I quickly sought out the missionaries. Halfway through the first discussion, I committed to baptism; and shortly thereafter, I became a member of the Church.
My time in Alaska had not been wasted. In many respects, it was the best year of my life.
“Don’t Try to Convert Me”
“I know you Mormons.” The flicker of a smile flitted across John K. Mugliston’s face and belied the seriousness of his message. “Please don’t try to convert me.” As John’s eyes focused on the pedigree charts in his hands, my cousins and I winked at each other simultaneously and vocally agreed, “Oh, we won’t convert you.”
The three of us, Ruth Mugleston Clark, Rose Mugleston Gibbs, and I—two cousins and a cousin by marriage—had arrived that July 1976 morning at London’s Heathrow Airport from America with a Brigham Young University genealogy tour. John Mugliston, a distant English cousin, had previously agreed in a letter to Cousin Ruth, the family genealogist, to meet with us and share his research. Unfortunately, our visit had to be limited to three days because John was in the process of moving from Surrey to Cornwall.
John had attempted to satisfy an inner urge to verify the source of his surname and its correct spelling and pronunciation. He had already spent numerous hours and a small fortune on his research. John’s large black suitcase was stuffed full of valuable certificates and pages of names, dates, and places. He unhesitatingly gave me forty color-coded sheets filled with information compiled from his pedigree charts. They proved to be a gold mine of statistics, and John had certificates verifying almost all of the dates, names, and places.
As two of us copied data, the third visited with John. We changed places frequently to relieve each other from his cigarette smoke. His chain-smoking was punctuated with numerous stops to drink a cup of tea. Occasionally he’d ask a question about the Church that we always answered as briefly as possible. We were not going to try to convert him. Of course the brevity and incompleteness of our answers to his queries brought forth more questions.
That evening as Rose, John, Ruth, and I sat around a small table, I asked John what he’d choose to do if he had sufficient funds. His two-pronged reply, at first, struck a patriotic nerve. “I’d like to visit the Colonies,” he said. Then a feeling of complete understanding flooded my spirit as he finished, “I’d like to spend half an hour in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.” John sighed after expressing his wishes. Rose’s eyes and mine met. Then I spoke up, my voice steadier than my pulse, “John, if you can manage a round-trip ticket to New York next summer, Rose and I will provide the balance of funds necessary to get you from New York to Salt Lake City.” Rose nodded her firm approval of the offer.
“You will?” His eyes widened.
“Yes, we will, and you needn’t be concerned about board and room after you arrive. Those are included.” The deal was set.
We spent the rest of our time with John copying statistics, certificate numbers, names, dates, and places as rapidly as we could. One night we included an appreciative John as we enjoyed a night on the town. On Thursday evening, he departed with the understanding that Ruth and Rose would spend the last weekend of their month in the British Isles at John’s new home in Cornwall.
At the end of the month, when the two women stepped off the train after an all-night ride from London, John met them, smiling. As they drove to his home he asked, “Have you noticed anything different about me?”
“Yes, you haven’t smoked since we arrived,” Ruth said.
“I haven’t smoked since that night I left you in London three weeks ago, and I’ve located the newly constructed Mormon chapel nearby. I’d like to attend Sunday School with you.”
The ladies were thrilled.
On Sunday, Ruth, Rose, and John listened to sacrament meeting talks focused on family history and attended a Sunday School class on family history research techniques. That day, John was introduced to the missionaries.
My cousins and I returned to America with three thousand names to be submitted for temple work, knowing we had planted the seeds of the gospel in John’s heart.
By the summer of 1977, all the arrangements for John’s trip to the United States had been made. Just prior to his departure from England, John learned that I was recuperating from spinal surgery. When he arrived at my home in Salt Lake City, he realized his visit posed a bit of a problem for me in my convalescing state, so after a restful night, John continued on to Ukiah, California, to visit Ruth.
Six weeks later, the Mugleston family reunion was held in Salt Lake City, and John and Ruth came from California. Those of us who had done research on the Mugleston family history reported on what had been accomplished since the last reunion. The concluding item on our agenda was to tape John’s remarks concerning his visit to “the Colonies” and his thanks to us for our hospitality. It is one of my treasured tapes.
After the reunion, John and Ruth spent two full weeks in the Church Family History Library. Each evening they returned to my home full of excitement and enthusiasm. It was a dream come true for John.
I was not surprised to receive a note in the middle of September from John, thanking me for his trip to America. But I was surprised to receive a letter from him in November which read, “My dear Maurine, I was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on November 3, and I want you to know the genuine caring and hospitality of three loving women was the cause.” It touched my heart.
However, this story does not end there. Two summers after his baptism, John K. Mugliston and my cousin, Ruth Mugleston Clark, were married in the Oakland Temple. In a grand way his name now became her name.
Two Books and an Organ
The missionaries asked my Relief Society counselor and me to visit an elderly lady investigator in an older section of Cleveland. When she played “Come, Come, Ye Saints” on her organ for us, we were very surprised.
“How do you like that hymn?” she asked. “It is very special to me.” The small, dark-haired lady in her late seventies explained that two missionaries had spent some time in her home when she was a little girl. Her parents had invited them to eat dinner and stay the night.
When one missionary had commented on the family’s beautifully carved wooden organ, she recalled, her father had offered to play for them. After he had played a few familiar songs and hymns, the missionary had handed him a hymnbook and asked him to play from it.
At breakfast the next morning, the missionaries had left two books with the family: the hymnbook her father had played from and a copy of the Book of Mormon. “When my parents died, I inherited the organ and learned to play from the hymnbook,” she said. “The Book of Mormon was put away on a shelf until a couple of months ago, when two young missionaries came to our door with their message. This time I listened.
“I have read your Book of Mormon and the missionaries have taught my husband and me the gospel. We both want to be baptized, but he is terminally ill.”
Her husband died a few weeks later and shortly thereafter, this sister was baptized.
I remember her face, shining with the Spirit as she said, “The gospel is true, and I know that my husband is aware of what I have done this day. Now I will make arrangements to have his baptism done for him.”
The two missionaries who visited her parents’ home long ago never realized the important seed they had planted. They had prepared the way for other missionaries by bearing their testimonies and giving them two books—books that would forever change their lives.