High in the Andes mountains in Bolivia trudged Tomasa, her black bolo perched on her head and her baby, bundled in a fuchsia and orange shawl, carried on her back. Her voluminous velvet skirt was wrinkled and damp from her night’s rest alongside the icy road. Although tightly wrapped in his brilliant blanket, the baby cried from the cold and his illness.
Tomasa smiled with relief as she entered the gate to the training center. She had walked for two days to get instruction and was proud to have been chosen from her village to be health promoter. After the training she would return to her village to teach others.
The way had been long and the baby sick, but she had made it. Two days on the road with an infant with diarrhea was not a new experience for Tomasa, but today was different. She would have water. Tomasa watched another health promoter turning a wooden handle to pump water into a tub. She’d seen a pump like that before in one of the villages and yearned to have one near her house. She’d often walked a mile or more for water. She drew closer.
I met Tomasa at the pump. We greeted each other in Spanish, although she spoke many phrases in Aymara. Nimble as a dancer, she lifted her burden from her back and began caring for her baby. Although he was a handsome child, his cheeks were scabby and dry and his eyes sunken and sullen. The pant legs of a man’s old suit, which served as a diaper, were loosely wrapped around his skinny legs. His bony bottom was raw.
Tomasa cared tenderly for her precious bundle, comforting his cries with soft words. Her eyes were anxious as she cuddled her son. She brushed the soil from her long velvet skirt and, without washing her hands, began to nurse him.
“I may not have him long, sister,” she said, tears rolling down her beautiful brown cheeks. “This is the way Juan, Eduardo, Ekna, and Pablo were, exactly like this before they died. I have lost four babies with this awful disease, four beautiful children from God, taken from me. Am I going to lose this one, too?” she cried.
“No, Tomasa, you are not going to lose this one,” I assured her, “because by the end of this day, before the sun goes down, we are going to teach you how to save your baby. And we will also teach you how, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, you can live with your other children forever.”
As medical missionaries in the South America North Area, my husband and I have a divine call to teach struggling mothers like Tomasa how to save their children, and themselves, from dreaded diseases, and more important, how to prevent many other diseases. In addition, we have a commission to share with them the healing balm of the gospel. It is a work of deep satisfaction and joy.
Whether mature couples are called to heal bodies or search for lost sheep or keep records of those who are found, the Lord urgently appeals to us to help. The experience of a mission for a mature couple is retirement with a purpose, a divine purpose.—Dorothy L. Nielsen and her husband, Talmage, recently returned from their mission and are members of the Salt Lake Monument Park Fifteenth Ward.
By the middle of February in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, winter has already been around for three months. Storms are frequent, highways have several feet of old snow piled in high banks on the sides, and residential roads are covered with several inches of packed snow.
When Elder Bill and Sister RaNae Perry drove into Marquette, Michigan, this was the weather greeting they received. After leaving the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, they had spent three days driving in their small red compact car. Within twenty-four hours of their arrival, they found themselves digging their car out of a snowbank and putting chains on their tires. But despite the surprises and challenges, the Perrys had only one desire: “to get busy and find out what we were supposed to be doing as missionaries.”
It didn’t take them long. A few days after arriving, Sister Perry sat on Dorothy Grubb’s unstable piano bench and observed, “You need somebody to fix this. Elder Perry can do that. What else do you need fixed?”
Sister Grubb, a blind single mother of a teenage daughter, speaks fondly of that first visit. The Perrys arrived on her doorstep at the end of an especially difficult day. During the visit, the piano bench was repaired, her daughter’s bed was fixed, and plans were made for weekly family home evenings with the Perrys.
Originally from Redmond, Oregon, Elder and Sister Perry were assigned to work in two branches in the Marquette Michigan District, Wisconsin Milwaukee Mission. The five Church units in the district range in size from about twenty-five members in Germfask to a larger branch in Marquette. The Perrys soon discovered that their responsibilities would include working with the less active, serving in branch leadership and teaching positions, home teaching and visiting teaching, and traditional proselyting.
During their time in Marquette, the Perrys accomplished much. When the Marquette Branch presidency was organized, leaders set a goal to visit each household. By the end of the first year, they had only been able to visit half of their members. “The Perrys, within six weeks, had visited all but one,” explained branch president Timothy Compton. The Perrys have been able to tell the branch leadership about people so “we can focus our efforts more on helping them. Having the Perrys full-time has given us more contact than we’ve had before.”
Another of the major contributions the Perrys made was their invaluable leadership experience. “Their years of experience in the Church help supplement the branch leadership, which is frequently long on enthusiasm but short on experience,” says David Peterson, district president.
Harry Metzler, president of the Germfask Branch, is enthusiastic about what he learned from Elder Perry. A convert of only a few years and the only active Melchizedek Priesthood holder in the branch, he relied heavily on Elder Perry, who served as a counselor. “He trained me in the right ways. He showed the whole branch how to run and gave us a boost. Both of the Perrys were quite a strength to branch members. They answered all our questions and had such gentle ways.”
Germfask Branch member Colleen Metzler felt of the Perrys’ gentleness. When her father died, she felt lost and confused. “I was just like a rag. My sister and I were floundering. Sister Perry stayed with us and kept us busy. She had such comforting words to say. Elder Perry gave me a blessing. I don’t know how our family would have made it without them.”
When Sister Perry gave her first talk as a missionary in the Germfask Branch, she said she felt like there was someone in this particular part of the mission she had been sent to teach. At the time, she had no idea where this someone was or when she would find them, but Colleen Metzler thinks she knows. “I think the Germfask Branch is the ‘someone.’ She and Elder Perry are everything this branch has been praying for.”—Yvonne S. Peterson is a member of the Marquette Branch, Marquette Michigan District.
Arthur and Martha Muller didn’t join the Church until after they were married, although both were well prepared for the gospel way of life. As a young man, Arthur Muller made a commitment not to drink alcohol or smoke. When they got married, Martha Muller joined her husband in his convictions. “When the missionaries told us about the Word of Wisdom, we had been living it for years,” she observed.
But although they felt a kinship with most gospel principles, they struggled with tithing and eventually decided not to have the missionaries in their home any more. Shortly after that decision, Brother Muller found work in Sweden, so the couple left their homeland of Switzerland.
Brother Muller recounts the experience that brought the gospel back into their lives. “I was sitting on a train and noticed a young couple sitting next to me. They spoke English and so did I. We began to converse. I told them that I was coming to work permanently in Sweden and that I liked this country because it was a strong Protestant country. The young lady smiled and said that they were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“One of the reasons I had left Switzerland was to escape that religion, and now Heavenly Father had placed it directly before me one more time—he had given me another chance.”
This time Brother Muller took the chance. He gave the young lady his address and the missionaries came. “The rest is one big, happy ending,” says Brother Muller. The couple was baptized in 1965 and a year later moved to South Africa. Their years of service had begun. In 1986, after many years of faithful service in local Church units, the Mullers were called to serve in a different way—on a mission. They worked for three years as temple missionaries at the Johannesburg South Africa Temple.
After finishing that mission, they were called to serve at the Frankfurt Germany Temple, where, repeatedly extending their mission, they served for two and a half years. When they finished that mission, they received another call, again as temple missionaries. This time they went to the Freiberg Germany Temple. As soon as the Mullers arrived, they set a goal to obtain more referrals from the approximately twenty-five thousand visitors who came to the temple every year. “We prayed together and asked the Lord for the elect to come here,” explained Sister Muller. “Because of the situation in the country, we couldn’t go to them. After we prayed and were patient, we started getting many more referrals.”
The Mullers treasure their experiences at the temple. One of their favorites involved a young man who walked into the visitors’ center looking for a copy of the Book of Mormon. “We told him that we usually send someone to explain the book, and he said that was fine,” Sister Muller said. “The missionaries came back and asked us what we had done. The entire family of six was waiting for them when they arrived to give the Book of Mormon to the young man. They were all baptized.”
There are hundreds of other such stories, and after being members of the Church for twenty-eight years, the Mullers say their service has just begun. Brother Muller says, “We want to dedicate our lives to the work of the Lord. We have loved these years as missionaries; it is not time to leave yet. We want to serve until we die.”—Ken Rogerson is a member of the Layton Twenty-third Ward, Layton Utah Stake.
Bill and Irene Ferber had been planning on serving a mission since they joined the Church in 1962. They hoped to serve in Poland, the home country of Irene’s parents. In the spring of 1989, the couple submitted their missionary papers, requesting to be sent to Poland.
When they received their call, they were disappointed to discover that they had been called to the Illinois Chicago Mission. However, they dealt with their disappointment and arrived in the Chicago mission in July 1989. The Ferbers were soon thrilled to discover that a large section of Chicago is nicknamed “Little Warsaw” because of the heavy Polish population there—close to one million. Bill and Irene got involved in the Polish branch and loved teaching Polish investigators. After proselyting for about six months, the Ferbers were transferred to the mission office, where they began learning about the administrative side of running a mission.
On 30 April 1990 the Ferbers received another transfer—to the newly created Poland Warsaw Mission. It seems that the Lord had used Chicago as a training ground for the Ferbers.
When Elder and Sister Ferber arrived in Poland, there were fewer than one hundred Church members in the country. The Ferbers’ Chicago experience quickly proved invaluable.
The eastern European countries don’t use checks. They deal strictly in cash. Drawing upon his training as a ward financial clerk and what he’d learned about finances in the Chicago mission home, Elder Ferber devised a system of accounting that has since been adopted in all the eastern European missions. After setting up the mission’s finances, the Ferbers organized the motor pool, began keeping records, and devised a system for tracking home teaching and investigator teaching pools. They also started a sports program that helped branch members fellowship their friends. Volleyball and horseshoes became favorite pastimes for members and friends alike.
One of the Ferbers’ greatest experiences, however, was a spur-of-the-moment open house held on one of the most celebrated holidays in the Polish culture. For Poles, November 1 is similar to Memorial Day in the United States. Businesses are closed, and people flock to the cemeteries, where they spend the day sweeping and cleaning the graves of their ancestors and decorating the gravestones with flowers and candles.
The Ferbers watched with interest as hundreds of people, laden with brooms, flowers, and candles, walked to a cemetery near the mission home. Elder Ferber noticed that many of the people were parking in the lot next to the brand new chapel. After completing their duty and as they returned to their cars, many people stopped to peer at this new building. Elder Ferber, sometimes hesitant to speak Polish because of his lack of command of the language, wanted to communicate with these people. Grabbing some Joseph Smith pamphlets, he hurried to the meetinghouse, unlocked the doors, and turned to the small groups of onlookers. “Za pra sha my! (We welcome you!)” he called.
To his astonishment, the people slowly moved toward the building. He called to his wife, and the couple began conducting impromptu tours. By noon, eight more missionaries arrived to help out. Some three hundred copies of the Book of Mormon and more than six hundred Joseph Smith pamphlets (all they had on hand) were given out as approximately 650 people toured the meetinghouse. Numerous investigators and baptisms resulted from the first “open house” in Poland.
A year later, the Ferbers extended their missionary service for an additional month so they could participate in the second annual open house. Held the same day, this one was a little more organized. There were pictures displayed throughout the building illustrating the Atonement, the Apostasy and Restoration, and the Book of Mormon. Elder Ferber led the other missionaries in a chorus of “Za pra sha my! Za pra sha my!” More than 1,800 people were introduced to the gospel on that day, and although Elder Ferber never did feel a command of the language, what he couldn’t express in words he managed to convey in the love and enthusiasm he and his wife have for missionary work.—Russell G. Pendergrass is a counselor in the stake mission presidency, Huntsville Alabama Stake.