“That Baby’s Not Yours!”
Hungary’s highways were jammed with stalled cars due to a nationwide strike in 1989 over inflated gas prices. Our family’s trip from Budapest, Hungary, to Vienna, Austria, had already been delayed one day. Then, to make matters worse, the expected 2-hour trip to the Hungarian border took us 10 hours. Already insecure because of the delays, my wife, Filomena, and I sensed something else was about to go wrong when we arrived at the border and saw the Hungarian guard’s cold face.
“Show me your papers,” he demanded.
Filomena, holding our infant son, João, on her lap, instinctively tightened her hold on the baby as I handed the guard our passports and papers. Without looking at us, the guard gave the documents a casual glance and said, “Your papers aren’t in order.” Then, pressing his face up to the car window, he said something that brought terror to our hearts: “That baby’s not yours! You’re trying to smuggle him out of Hungary! You’re illegals!”
We protested, but he brusquely told us we could not cross the border and that we would have to go back. The only other way out of the country would be to cross through the Czech border, which meant going all the way back to Budapest—a disheartening thought. And there would be no guarantee we would be able to convince anyone there, as well, that João was really our baby. My wife looked panic-stricken.
To compound the problem, I had no coins for a pay phone to call anyone for assistance, and the guard refused to let us use the telephone in the guard hut. We looked at each other in utter confusion. I asked Filomena what we should do. “We need help from Heavenly Father,” she told me. “Let’s pray.”
We bowed our heads in prayer and asked for God’s help to get us through this problem. It was then the supervising guard noticed we were praying. With a gentle motion of his hand, he gave us permission to leave Hungary. As we drove away, the other cold-faced guard warned us sternly not to come back into the country. He was very angry.
We knew Father in Heaven had answered our prayers and softened the heart of the supervising guard to let us pass.
My Grandchildren’s New Mother
In January 1982, my daughter Margaret was called to her heavenly home after a courageous battle with cancer. But before she left, she taught us many truths as she and her husband prepared their children, ages 3 to 11, for the transition ahead.
Margy was blessed during her final days of illness to remain at home, surrounded by her loved ones. During this time, she and her husband, Bill, called their children, one by one, to her bedside and explained tenderly that their Heavenly Father didn’t want their mommy to suffer any longer, and that he had a special place for her with him. Margy expressed her love for each of them separately; then, as they gathered around her bed as a family, she again assured them of their “forever family.” She told them that she would be busy and happy until their family could be together again. She also assured them that their daddy would find another mommy who would love and care for them as she had.
A few mornings later, after kissing the children as they went to school and delivering the two youngest to Grandma’s home, Bill lay down at his wife’s side. They visited for a few minutes; then Margy was quietly and sweetly relieved of her suffering.
Not many months later, Bill did find another companion and a wonderful mother to these children. Nelle cares for them now with love and devotion. I spent a few days with their family while Bill and Nelle took a much-needed vacation.
Early in the morning, alarm clocks sounded in two of the children’s bedrooms; the older ones dressed, then woke the little ones. Ten-year-old Brenner was at the piano practicing at 6:30, while the other children checked the large chart on the kitchen wall to see what their assignments for the week were. Vonae, age 12, helped the little ones dress; Bill Jr., the oldest at 14, set the table, and Jason, age 8, emptied each of the wastebaskets from their rooms into a large plastic bag. At seven o’clock Bill Jr. called each of the children to the kitchen table, and we were soon seated in our places, our scriptures in front of us. Bill Jr. then called on 6-year-old Amy to say their morning prayers after they had read, in turn, the scriptures. I helped Amy; Nathan, the 4-year-old, preferred to be a silent participant that morning. This devotional lasted approximately 15 minutes. Breakfast was then served amid much laughter and happiness, starting the day with the warmth of the gospel wrapped around these children because of the teachings of their parents.
Renewed by the joyful activities of the morning, I went to my knees to thank Heavenly Father for the restored gospel—and for my grandchildren’s new mother, a blessing that has helped this family to continue fashioning a bit of heaven within their own home.
Touched by Their Faith
I met Jeanne on a diving board at the high school pool in Redondo Beach, California. I was doing some pretty bad dives, and she was watching. Afterward she came up to me and said, “Hey, do you want to learn how to do that right?” From that time on we became best friends.
Jeanne and I did everything together. We even called each other “Sis” after I dated her older brother. At one point in our friendship, I agreed to take the first missionary discussion; but I just wasn’t interested, and it went no further.
We were finally separated when my family moved several states away from California. But five years and many letters later, Jeanne brought Brennan, her first child, to see me in Colorado when he was just four weeks old. I absolutely adored that sweet little baby boy.
After Jeanne’s visit, my mom and I crafted a baby gown for Brennan in fine Catholic tradition—pure white and long, with novelty buttons down the front. The gown was to be for Brennan’s blessing, which I didn’t understand but wanted to participate in nonetheless. Jeanne later told me that in Brennan’s blessing, he was promised that he would be a great missionary and help convert many people to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One early winter morning, I picked up the phone to hear Jeanne’s ragged, tear-choked voice. I caught only the last wailing sentence: “Brennan died.”
“Sis, I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon. Hang on.” I hung up the phone and gave vent to my own grief. I was angry that a tiny baby could be torn from his parents’ loving arms.
When I got off the plane in California, I rushed to put my arms around my dear friend. She was pale, with indescribable pain reflecting in her eyes.
That night I got the whole story. There had been an accident involving Brennan’s infant seat flipping off the couch. The ambulance was called. Jeanne sat by her baby’s bedside for two days. Early the last morning, Brennan passed away as Jeanne held and rocked him for the last time on this earth.
Jeanne asked me if I would mind if Brennan was buried in the blessing gown my mother and I had made for him. I told her I would be honored.
During the funeral service, the bishop said words of comfort over that tiny white coffin. He said that because Brennan was born under the covenant, his parents would again cradle him in eternity. I thought bitterly, A lot of good that does right now.
After the funeral, Jeanne and Tom, her husband, invited me to drive with them to Salt Lake City. I tried to decline so they could be alone together, but they insisted that I accompany them. During the drive, I was amazed to feel Tom and Jeanne’s peace despite their grieving hearts. When we arrived in Salt Lake City, the couple wanted to go to Temple Square to see the Christmas lights.
It was evening when we got there. As I turned the corner of one of the buildings, my eyes were drawn upward to a statue in the visitors’ center, the Christus. It seemed to be beckoning, “Come, follow me.”
“I’ve got to see that up close,” I told Jeanne. She was overjoyed to take me into the building and find me some literature on the statue.
All the way back to California, I read and asked questions. Jeanne gave me a Book of Mormon with pictures of herself and Brennan taped inside. Later, I read the book all the way home to Colorado, and I was filled with love to find a church that gave a young, grieving couple the faith to go on and the knowledge that they would again be a family in eternity.
After I got home, I came across Moroni 10:4 [Moro. 10:4], in which Moroni challenges the reader to pray about the book’s truthfulness. I immediately got down on my knees and asked if these things were true and if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the true church of Jesus Christ here on the earth. The answer I received was indescribably soft yet undeniably firm: yes.
I was baptized on 23 February 1985 by a young missionary elder, but the missionary who played the biggest role in my conversion was a little spirit who was on this earth for only a short time: Brennan Thomas Hansen.
Crows in Place of Seagulls
During the long, cold spring of 1990, frost continued each night well into June, causing our alfalfa hay crop to be unusually small. As the weather warmed into July, we anxiously awaited a good second crop. While some of our hay seemed to be growing well, some on bordering fields didn’t look so good. As we checked the fields, we discovered that thousands of grasshoppers were coming onto our land. The grasshoppers were so numerous that the hay stems bent to the ground.
Days turned into weeks, and still the grasshoppers came. By late August we were desperate for ways to combat the insects. We needed this crop of hay and had tried many ways to save it, but nothing seemed to help. We turned to our Heavenly Father in fasting and prayer. Thinking of the miracle of the gulls experienced by early pioneers, we wondered if such a thing could happen again.
As we watched the days go by, one morning we heard and saw thousands of black crows flying together above our barns. They flew into the hay fields, but because we thought of crows as scavengers, we did not realize at first that they were an answer to our prayers. Each morning at daybreak the crows would fly to our fields, fill up on grasshoppers, fly to the hills above our home, then return. For three weeks the crows came daily. Early in September, the crows left for good and have not returned since.
Thanks to the crows, we harvested enough of our crop to take care of our needs over the winter. We were very grateful for this experience, and have learned that Heavenly Father can, and sometimes does, help us with problems that are beyond our own capacity to solve.
I Found My Answer
My husband and I have lived in cities in both the eastern and western United States. The great problems of these cities have always troubled me, but when my five children were under age 13, I felt I could not be actively involved in helping the communities where we lived deal with their problems. Still, I was constantly chafed with anxiety.
One night the news seemed to especially prick my conscience. As I watched and listened, I felt guilty for having chosen a quiet, peaceful life and for being able to enjoy it. Was there more I should do? I asked myself. Should I throw myself more fully into community service, possibly neglecting my children?
At the same time these thoughts and feelings were troubling me, I was reading the Book of Mormon. The answer to my dilemma came one day as I read in the fourth chapter of Mosiah, in which King Benjamin instructs the Nephites to care for their children. It was here that I found the peace I so needed as a mother and as a member of a society plagued with ills crying to be corrected.
Particularly as I studied verses 14, 15, and 16, I realized that part of my contribution to society would be well-prepared children. While not neglecting those who might have needed my help, during those few years while my children were young, my main responsibility was training, teaching, and preparing them to be loving, responsible adults.
These verses form a beautiful pattern for life. They assure me that there is a time for all things. I am to “teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness … and to love one another.”
How reassuring it is to know that I can fulfill my responsibilities to my family without thinking I am shirking others. My time for serving can come after raising my family. In the Lord’s plan, there is indeed a time for every purpose under heaven.
My Best Calling Ever
Circumstances moved my family to a town where we knew no one. At church on our first Sunday, my wife and I met the bishop. At least six foot five, he towered over us as he led us to his office.
“If the chance arises,” he asked, “where would you like to serve?”
My wife, an organist, mentioned music. The bishop nodded, then turned to me.
“Sometime I’d like to work with the priests,” I said.
Figuratively, the bishop nearly jumped out of his chair. Then he settled back. “We’ve been praying for an adviser. But you don’t want those guys. They are big and tough, sometimes a problem. Some of them are on the high school’s football, basketball, and wrestling teams. You are just too small to handle them.”
“Please, if the opportunity comes I’d like to give it a try.”
During the week I fasted and prayed. Everything I found out about the priests seemed to bear out the bishop’s appraisal. Yet I continued to feel all would be well.
Sunday morning the bishop guided me down a hallway and opened a door. The scene was grim: seven large young men huddled at the far end of the table. They stopped talking and looked at us.
The bishop spoke quickly. “Fellows, this is Brother Stowell, a new ward member. He’ll be your adviser.” The bishop turned to go, leaving the door ajar. In those days it was not always common for bishops to spend some time with the priests each Sunday. I closed the door and turned to face the class, praying inwardly for help.
One of the young men narrowed his eyes and asked, “How long do you think you will last?”
Pleasantly I replied, “A whole lot longer than you will unless you are tougher than I think you are.” Surprise covered his face. Quickly I pointed to the one sitting next to him and asked gently, “What is your name?”
“Why do you want to know? So you can report me?”
“I don’t report people.” He gave me his name, and I wrote it on the board. “Now, where are you from?”
He hung his head and moved his shoulders from side to side as he answered, “From a little jerkwater town in Utah.” He named the town.
“Stop right there,” I said. “I know that town and the people who live there. There are no finer people on this earth. You are fortunate to have been born there.”
He straightened up, humorously stuck his thumbs under his armpits, and said, “See, fellows, this guy knows what he’s talking about.”
Now, others were willing to give me their names and birthplaces. Fortunately, I could say something good about each name or birthplace. Then I said, “You are priests. With that goes responsibility. This is the Lord’s Church, and he’s put us together in this class. We will run it together, but much of the responsibility will be yours. I’m here to deliver—not read—a short lesson each week and respond to any questions about the lesson or whatever else.”
As the young men came to sense that I seemed truly interested in them, they quieted. One of the young men asked for a pen and paper. He wrote down the names of those absent that day on small pieces of paper, which he handed out. “Call these guys and tell them to come next Sunday,” he said.
About then the door opened. It was the bishop. “It was so quiet,” he said. “I just came to check …”
“Nah, this guy is OK. You don’t need to worry.” The bishop left and closed the door again.
Soon 18 boys were showing up for class. During those and subsequent weeks I conferred with the bishop often, and I began visiting the priests at home. At first my visits were met with some suspicion, but as the young men found out I really cared, they looked forward to the times I dropped in. In time we found more than 30 priests who should have been in class, and attendance at church continued to grow.
As the months turned into years, first one and then another class member began leaving on a mission or going to college. We received wedding announcements from many of them. Once we counted eight who were bishops, high councilors, or members of stake presidencies.
I was grateful for this opportunity to confirm that physical size wasn’t as important as fasting, praying, and exercising “persuasion, … gentleness, … and love unfeigned” (see D&C 121:41).