Mormon Journal

By , as told to


A Purpose Made Known

The ditch bank was damp and cold against my face as I lay there, knowing that death could come at any moment. I wondered what it would be like to die for my country. It was September 1944, and I was a German soldier, pressing my face into the earth of Nazi-occupied France.

Several French guerrilla fighters were angrily pacing up and down the lonely stretch of road, looking for any remaining German convoy soldiers that might still be alive. It was only a matter of seconds before they would find me lying in the ditch, and then death would surely follow.

A strange thought came into my mind as I waited for the inevitable discovery. If you come out of this alive, you’ll have a special task, a special purpose in your life.

Before I had time to wonder about this odd conversation with myself, I heard the whine of troop trucks carrying German soldiers. The guerrilla soldiers hurried away; I had been spared the wrath of their machine guns.

During all the troubled times that followed, I never again feared for my life, for I knew that God had a purpose for me. However, many years were to pass before I would find out just what that purpose was.

Shortly after the war, I met and married Vera. I felt that a partial answer to my life’s purpose was somehow connected with our marriage, but I recognized that there was still more purpose than this. However, no one seemed to be able to tell me what caused this emptiness in my soul. My concern prompted me to ask my wife to open our doors to anyone who seemed to have more information about God and the meaning of life.

It was with this thought in mind that, one day in 1956, my wife greeted two sister missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She invited the sisters to return later when I would be home. She assured them that I would be very interested in what they had to say.

But for some unknown reason, I was upset when Vera told me about the missionaries’ scheduled return visit. However, I grudgingly agreed to see the sister missionaries and soon lost my ire when the two young sisters were able to answer many of the questions that had puzzled me for years.

In the course of listening to the discussions, my wife and I made the commitment to be baptized. I read the Book of Mormon and felt good about it. My wife also prayed for direction.

But we both felt truly torn as we struggled with this decision. I visited our minister, who was shocked that we were contemplating baptism. We talked back and forth, with the Book of Mormon as the central theme of our conversation.

“Have you read it?” I asked.

“No!”

“Well, I have, and it’s true.” The discussion was finished as far as I was concerned.

Now one door—my past religious tie—was shut behind me. But I was still hesitant. I felt good about the Book of Mormon but still had no testimony of Joseph Smith. I also remembered my earlier feelings of having a purpose in life, and I struggled with whether or not this church offered me that purpose.

My wife and I began a period of concentrated prayer. Our baptismal date was only two weeks away. We told the missionaries, “Pray for us. The next two weeks are going to be difficult ones.” I sensed that the opposition would only get stronger.

As the day of our baptism grew closer, it became more and more difficult to find peace of mind. I am convinced that the adversary was determined to fight our decision, knowing what joy we would find once we entered the waters of baptism.

Finally, the night before our scheduled baptism, the tension was too much for my wife, and she decided she simply could not be baptized. Perhaps later, but not now.

On the other hand, I decided that if this church was not true, no church was. I was going to go ahead and be baptized.

The next morning, we went into our eight-year-old daughter’s bedroom to awaken her. However, before we could say anything, she sat straight up and asked her mother, “Are you going to be baptized?”

Startled, my wife surprised us both by answering yes.

“Good. You are on the right path,” our daughter said. Then she lay back down and promptly went back to sleep.

Determined to follow through on her statement, my wife was baptized after all. We both knew that we were doing the right thing, and we felt a peace that made our previous doubts and trials seem insignificant.

An added testimony occurred when hands were laid upon my head and I received the Aaronic Priesthood. Once again, I heard and felt the still, small voice I had heard years earlier in that ditch while contemplating death. I knew that I had finally found my purpose in life.

Ernst Jonathan Kaiser passed away in 1988; his wife, Vera, is a member of the Frankfurt Ward, Frankfurt Germany Stake.

Don Thorpe is a member of the Garden Park First Ward, Salt Lake Bonneville (Utah) Stake.

The Perfect Teacher

The Sunday School dismissal bell rang just as fourteen-year-old Jason was saying the closing prayer. It had been one of my most successful lessons, and I kept my eyes shut a few minutes longer to add my own words of appreciation. The boys unfolded their lanky bodies from the chairs and ambled out of the classroom.

Jason paused as he passed me. “That was a good discussion, Sister Udy. It really made me think.”

I smiled. “Thank you, Jason. I enjoyed it, too. I’ll see you next week.”

I packed my lesson book and scriptures into my tote bag and made my way along the congested hallway toward the foyer.

“Sister Udy! Sister Udy!” A voice rose above the babble. I turned to see Brother Richardson, the Sunday School president, frantically waving at me as he tried to maneuver through the crowd.

“Sister Udy, I’ve been wanting to talk to you, but I haven’t had a chance,” he said as he guided me into an empty classroom. “You’ve been doing a wonderful job with your Sunday School class.”

“Thank you.” I smiled.

“That’s why we feel we can ask you to take another student,” he continued. “You know that the Housman family recently moved into our ward, and we really haven’t known where to put Deedra until now. We think she would fit well into your class.”

“Deedra?” I stammered. “But she must be at least eighteen years old. Shouldn’t she be in with the adults?” Or in Primary? I thought. Anywhere but in my class.

I knew about Deedra—knew that she was intellectually impaired and that she talked out loud during the sacrament and sang all the hymns at the top of her lungs. I knew that some girls made fun of her. The boys simply ignored her. What would this eighteen-year-old girl have in common with a class of lively fourteen- and fifteen-year-old boys?

“You know that there are no other girls in my class this year,” I reminded Brother Richardson. “And the boys tend to be a little rowdy at times. Don’t you think Deedra might be more comfortable somewhere else?”

Brother Richardson smiled reassuringly. “No, no,” he said kindly. “We think that you will be the perfect teacher for Deedra.” He looked at me expectantly, then added, “Of course, it’s up to you.”

I sighed. “Of course Deedra is welcome in my class.”

Brother Richardson beamed. “I’ll tell her parents,” he said happily. “She’ll be there next Sunday.”

I knew she would. Deedra was never absent. My heart sank as I thought about the lesson I had already been preparing for the next class. How could I ever keep the boys’ interest if I had to teach on Deedra’s level too? The boys were used to lots of questions and discussion of scriptures. Deedra couldn’t even read.

Maybe she won’t like it. I comforted myself with the thought. She won’t like being in my class, and then they’ll see that it is wrong for her.

The next Sunday morning dawned bright and fair, but the beautiful day failed to lighten my spirits. My prayers were perfunctory—my heart just wasn’t in them.

After Sunday School opening exercises, I hurried to my classroom. Deedra was already there, horn-rimmed glasses tilting crookedly across her freckled nose.

Deedra’s face broke into a wide grin when she saw me. “Hi, buddy,” she said as she bounced out of her chair to give me a hug. “Can I help you?”

I smiled in spite of myself. “You can move the chairs if you want. I like them in a big circle.”

She was busily moving the chairs as the boys walked in. They looked at her warily. “Here,” said Deedra, pointing to Jim. “You can sit in this one, buddy.” She set the chair down. Jim sat. One by one, Deedra assigned them a seat. Then she sat herself down, facing the boys. She smiled at me. “I did a good job,” she said.

“Yes … thank you,” I replied. I introduced her to the subdued boys and began my lesson.

Deedra was quiet while the boys responded to the questions. The discussion became animated as the class attempted to determine the function of each member of the Godhead.

“And what does Jesus do?” I finally asked Deedra.

She looked up. “He loves me,” she replied.

I stopped for a moment, stunned. “That’s right,” I said. “He does.” I slowed the pace of the lesson, aiming more questions at Deedra. She responded simply but with unerring accuracy. She knew the things that mattered. I pointed out to the boys that her answers were correct even if they weren’t what we expected. The end of the class came before we knew it, and Deedra gave me a hug as she left. This time I hugged her back.

I can’t say that the following weeks were easy. Often Deedra became bored, and sometimes the boys grew restless. But gradually they loosened up and began to exchange friendly banter with Deedra, who could hold her own.

“I want to sit next to Jim,” Deedra announced one Sunday. Jim’s ears reddened as the boys teased him, but he good-naturedly moved to make a place for her. After that, Deedra always sat with the boys instead of across from them. Whoever was her choice for the week would share his scriptures with her and be on her team if we had a game. No one ever complained. Deedra was as much a part of the class now as anyone else.

January was almost here, and most of my class would be moving on. I sought out Brother Richardson.

“Would you like me to keep her another year?” I asked.

He gently smiled at me. “You’ve done a good job with Deedra. But I’ve already spoken to her and her parents, and we think she’s ready to go on.”

A feeling of disappointment overcame me. I hadn’t realized just how much I had grown to love Deedra, with her cheerful spirit and ever-ready hug. “I’ll miss her,” I said sincerely.

“I told you that you were the perfect teacher for her,” Brother Richardson said.

“No,” I said softly. “I was the one who learned the lesson this year. It was Deedra who was the perfect teacher.”

Wendy Evans Udy is a Sunday School teacher and ward organist in the Niagara Falls Ward, Buffalo New York Stake.

“I Can Give Blessings”

“I have what is called the priesthood,” I quietly told my friend Maria Torres. Blankets hung over every window, and the house was dark and gloomy, as if the inhabitants were retreating from the cold of winter and sorrow.

“With it I can give blessings, like in the New Testament,” I said. And with enough faith, I thought, people can be healed. Do I have enough faith, I wondered?

I had been a member of the Church for a year and had just been ordained an elder a few weeks before I returned home to my small town in Colorado for the Christmas holiday. I wasn’t completely familiar with Church procedures, but I knew about the priesthood and had seen its power manifest.

I had met Maria before I left for college. She had encouraged me to overcome my lifelong fear of water and had taught me how to swim. Now it was my turn to offer help.

Her husband had just walked out of her life, leaving her with bills, no job, and two children under the age of four. Maria’s sister had arrived on a bus from California the night before to offer comfort and assistance. Now both of Maria’s children were sick.

“Do you have faith in the Savior?” I asked Maria.

She said she did.

“Would you like me to give you a blessing?”

Again, the answer was yes.

I was frightened and a bit awkward as I laid my hands on her head and searched my mind and heart for the proper words to say in the first blessing I had ever given as an elder.

When I finished, Maria took me into her four-year-old son’s room, asking me to give him a “prayer,” too. Next I was asked to bless the baby, and then Maria’s sister placed a chair in front of me and sat down, bowing her head. She wanted to be next.

After giving the blessings, as I walked out of the house and approached my beat-up Volkswagen, I thought of my inexperience. But then a beautiful feeling overwhelmed me, and the tears I had been holding back flooded into my eyes.

I knew then that my friends would recover their health and reassemble their lives. Their faith would grow, and perhaps even lead them to the Savior, as it had me.

And I realized that by receiving the priesthood, I had received a blessing that would stay with me forever.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dikayl Dunkley

Coke Newell is elders quorum instructor in the Fort Collins Riverside Ward, Fort Collins Colorado Stake.