At Home with Missionary Work


The sudden change in Tom Barlow’s life led to an unexpected kind of healing and opportunities for missionary work he would never have imagined.

Distractions—that was the major cause of young Tom Barlow’s inactivity in the Church. Coming from a strong gospel background, he had the example of his mother, who was baptized in Denmark, and his loving father. As a teenager, Tom wasn’t faithless—just easily distracted by the world. After all, he thought a day on the ski slopes was more fun than a day in Church meetings.

One thing led to another, and before long Tom served in the army rather than on a mission and later got a nice apartment in Park City, Utah, close to the mountains he loved. But 5 August 1988 brought an abrupt halt to the distractions of ski slopes and bike trails.

Celebrating his new job as an electronics technician, Tom and a few friends were four-wheeling in Snake Creek Canyon when their truck slid on a gravel road and rolled three times. The last thing Tom remembers is being thrown from the truck onto a rock.

About two months later, Tom awoke from his comatose state and discovered to his great horror that he could not move or speak. He recalls now, “The nurse handed me an alphabet chart, and I blinked once for no and twice for yes as I answered the questions she posed to me. She told me I had broken my neck. I asked her how long I would be in a cast, thinking it kept my body from moving. She said it wasn’t like that—it was permanent. When that realization hit me, I glanced at the ventilator and spelled three words: ‘Turn it off.’”

Fortunately, no one listened.

Learning to Breathe

The next few months saw Tom’s mother or father with him at the hospital every minute. Their constant prayers in his behalf were an object lesson of their love for both him and the gospel, and the Lord heard their pleadings. After the first crucial weeks of merely staying alive, Tom was transferred to the University of Utah spinal cord rehabilitation unit. He had been told he would never get off the ventilator or function without the tracheotomy tube. But his mother expected more—and got it. Bishop Val Finlayson assured Tom in a blessing that the Lord would assist his efforts to breathe on his own, and a few months later Tom went off the ventilator.

Breathing wasn’t Tom’s only progress. Although a crushed spinal cord was excruciating, Tom recognized the source of an even deeper pain: losing the Spirit of the Lord years earlier.

“At the age of 22, I realized I had never read the Book of Mormon,” Tom remembers. “I knew the Lord had given me a second chance, and I became determined to find out His plan for me. My dad bought me a large Book of Mormon, cut off the binding, and put it in a three-ring binder. Assisted by my mother, I read from January to September, and then I decided to take Moroni’s challenge. I expected an immediate response, but nothing happened. Finally, after several prayers, my heart began pounding, and I realized that I had known it was true all along.”

Called to Serve

The Spirit of the Lord continued to pour out upon Tom. He regained the ability to speak and soon received his patriarchal blessing. It contained the words he had been praying for: the Lord would direct him vocationally, and he would be a missionary.

Tom, never questioning that these blessings would be fulfilled, worked strenuously during the next few months to strengthen his body, restoring some movement in his left hand and arm. His efforts paid off. Able to use a computer mouse, he eventually started a small graphics business, and the world opened up.

“When I get in front of a computer, a lot of my disability fades away,” observes Tom. At the same time, the gospel opened up to him as never before. He received his temple endowment and prepared himself to become a missionary, believing he would be called when he was able to walk. But the Lord had a different plan for him.

In December 1999 Tom was called as a stake missionary (now ward missionary). A short time later, his mother, Norma, was called as his companion, and together they hosted a mini-MTC for new stake missionaries. As the strains of “Called to Serve” (Hymns, no. 249) reverberated through their home, mother and son knew they were witnessing a fulfillment of their prayers for Tom to be a missionary.

Tom threw himself into missionary work, finding that his strongest tool was his testimony. Among those touched by his simple, heartfelt words was Victor, a Mandarin-speaking investigator from the Salt Lake University Chinese Ward. At the end of Victor’s fourth discussion, Tom bore testimony about the plan of salvation, eternal life, and the Book of Mormon, and Victor was asked to close the meeting with a prayer. “Victor was kind of taken aback,” remembers Tom. “We exchanged glances, and I gave him a ‘you can do it’ sign. Then he began praying. At one point he paused, so I looked up. He then pleaded with the Lord to help me walk again.” Victor was later baptized.

A Full-Time Saint

Tom now spends much of his time in the service of the Lord. A day well spent includes studying scriptures, praying earnestly, preparing the sacrament meeting program he painstakingly designs each week, and working with the full-time missionaries to teach gospel principles to investigators.

Looking back over the unexpected changes and challenges in his life, Tom finds a new significance in those gospel principles he now teaches and studies. “I almost lost my life, but I found my eternal perspective. I know the Lord will help me accomplish every commitment I made in the premortal life if I will be faithful—and I can do it from a wheelchair or my bed. I know if I do my part, the Lord will do the rest.”

A Lifelong Responsibility

Elder Richard G. Scott

“How seriously have you personally taken the Lord’s charge to share His gospel? It is a lifelong responsibility. It is to be addressed differently according to the various seasons of your life. … Seek … ways to serve that meet your present circumstances.” Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Why Every Member a Missionary?” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 35.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett

Jane Forsgren is a member of the Holladay 25th Ward, Salt Lake Holladay South Stake.