A few decades ago, we were able to fellowship and help activate a wonderful couple in our stake, George and Joanne Watters. We loved doing member missionary work in this way but always felt there was more we could do.
We had dreamed about serving a mission together after retirement. We saw our bishop, turned in our missionary papers, and started packing.
We were quite excited when we received our call to the Nigeria Enugu Mission. We chuckled as Sister Watters told us, “We’re so excited for you—but we’re glad it’s not us!”
Soon we learned that life in Nigeria was a big adjustment. We saw much of poverty and sickness. But we fell in love with the smiling people, who instantly made us feel welcome. We saw beauty and dignity in their lives in spite of their trying circumstances. And we were surprised to learn how happily and comfortably we could live with so much less than what we were accustomed to back home.
We rarely had to find people to teach, as people would simply come to us, and we felt great joy in sharing the gospel and seeing people grow. We helped and encouraged our new branch president, a student who had just turned 22. We assisted many other recent converts, and as the faith and joy of the people increased, so did our own.
Correspondence with our grown children—whom we had thought could not get along without us—showed that they too were thriving. We also regularly corresponded with Brother and Sister Watters, sharing with them the marvelous experiences we were having.
Several months before our mission was complete, Brother and Sister Watters wrote to tell us that they too had accepted a call to serve as missionaries—in Enugu, Nigeria! We served alongside these friends for four months before we completed our mission.
With their love of the gospel, enthusiasm, and skills, Brother and Sister Watters brought great strength to the Church in Enugu. The couple who once told us they were glad not to be in our shoes loved the Nigerians so much that, a year after their mission was complete, they returned to Enugu to run a school that teaches computer skills to young people preparing for employment.
During our 18-month mission, we found a new home away from home, we adopted a new people, we made eternal friends. After being home for a few years, we find ourselves yearning to go again.
John and Patricia Waring, Golden Hills Ward, Bakersfield California East Stake
While serving as Church-service missionaries in LDS Family Services Substance Abuse Recovery Program, we learned much as we worked with individuals struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
Tim (name has been changed) was one such individual. Tim’s family had lived in our ward when our children were growing up, and he was a friend of one of our sons. We remembered him as a good-looking boy with a contagious smile, a boy raised in a righteous family.
We were shocked when Tim showed up in one of our recovery groups—a group we conducted for prison inmates! Tim explained to the group that as a teenager he had experimented with drugs. He eventually became seriously addicted and lived on the streets, stealing from and manipulating others in order to support his habit. After this behavior led to his imprisonment, Tim became humble and began to remember the truths his parents had taught him.
Through the weeks and then months, Tim faithfully attended our group. We and several other missionary couples loved and supported him as he participated in the recovery program with all his heart. We listened as he humbly pleaded with the Lord to forgive him and to change him into a new man through the power of the Atonement. Gradually, Tim’s whole countenance changed. He even became a mentor for many confused and discouraged offenders who were struggling.
After his release from prison, Tim continued to grow. Eventually, he received a temple recommend and married in the temple. He has been drug free for six years. He also works as a facilitator in the Substance Abuse Recovery Program in his hometown, where he now assists senior missionaries in helping others.
It was our great privilege to be able to serve Tim and others like him during our mission. We feel so grateful that the Savior prepared and allowed us to help accomplish His will in such a marvelous way.
Grant and Carole Jewkes, Battle Creek Second Ward, Pleasant Grove Utah East Stake
After leaving our home in Ontario, Canada, and arriving to proselyte in the California Oakland Mission several years ago, we were saddened to learn that although African-Americans make up nearly half the population of Oakland, few had ever visited the Oakland temple visitors’ center and Family History Center. We fervently prayed that a way might be prepared in which we could change this situation.
One night at a Christmas crèche display in a stake center, we were introduced to a local journalist named Paul Cobb. He was an African-American who happened to be the religion editor for the Oakland Tribune.
When Mr. Cobb mentioned that he’d recently been in Ontario researching the destination of slaves who escaped to Canada on the underground railroad before the Civil War, we told him that Malcolm’s ancestors in Ontario had assisted many escaped slaves. Visibly touched, Mr. Cobb interviewed Malcolm, and soon an article appeared in the Oakland Tribune titled “Mormon Leader Traces Roots to Underground Railroad.”
Over the next two years, more than 40 positive stories about the Church ran in the paper.
Misperceptions in the African-American community about Latter-day Saints began to change. After reading Mr. Cobb’s articles, one community member called and asked if we would host in our stake center a lecture by a renowned historian on African-American genealogy. We were delighted. Some 350 attended the lecture and toured the Family History Center. A video of the lecture ran on television and on the Internet.
A few months later, we sponsored at the same stake center a lecture by two Church members, Marie Taylor and African-American author Darius Gray. They spoke of how the Lord guided them in the work that led to the Church’s production of the Freedman’s Bank Records on CD-ROM, a user-friendly database of 480,000 names of early African-Americans. This time, some 600 people, mostly African-Americans, attended the event and signed up for classes at the Family History Center.
Special events such as these have continued, including a lecture by George Haley, U.S. ambassador to Gambia and a brother of Roots author Alex Haley. Local African-American leaders have expressed how happy they are about this relationship with the Church.
As we look back at our mission, we continue to be amazed at how the Lord prepares each of us throughout our lives to serve in the ways He needs us.
Malcolm and Helen Warner, Oak Forest Second Ward, Layton Utah North Stake
“Your life is your preparation. You have valuable experience. You have raised a family and served in the Church. Just go and be yourselves. The Lord has promised that angels will go before you” (see D&C 103:19–20).
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Couple Missionaries: A Time to Serve,” Ensign, May 2001, 25.