John and his two-year-old brother lived with their mother in Trondheim, Norway. After Father’s death they had moved from Froya to a small apartment on Steensbakken (Steen’s Hill). The two little boys and their mother often looked out over the beautiful old city on the outermost island off the coast of Norway. They could also see how the harbor and the fjord zigzagged toward the ocean.
Running up and down the hill helped to wear out John’s shoes. One day his mother asked a neighbor to recommend someone to repair them. The neighbor, a ship’s captain, said he knew just the right person to suggest. In fact, the captain said, this shoemaker’s son would soon deliver some shoes to him, and then he could take back those of John’s that needed repairing.
A few days later the boy brought back John’s shoes neatly mended. A strange little pamphlet was inside each one.
Sometime later John’s mother wrapped another pair of shoes into a package, tucked it under her arm, and set out on the half-hour walk to the shoemaker’s shop. She was restless, had a strange look when she returned, and seemed to be unusually quiet and thoughtful.
When the shoemaker’s son delivered the second pair of shoes, new pamphlets were carefully tucked into each shoe. The next Sunday John’s mother arranged for someone to be with the boys while she went to a meeting at the shoemaker’s sturdy log house.
It was not until some years later that she told John what the shoemaker had said when she went to his shop with the second pair of shoes to be repaired and to ask him about the pamphlets he had put in the shoes. They were words she could never forget.
“You may be surprised,” he answered, “to hear me say that I can give you something of more value than soles for your child’s shoes. I can teach you, as you have never known it before, the love of God for His children on earth.”
The pamphlets were missionary tracts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because of them John, his mother, and his brother became members of the Church. Forty-two years later John A. Widtsoe, who was then president of the University of Utah, was called to be a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles.
Just as he promised, the shoemaker in Trondheim, Norway, did give to John A. Widtsoe’s mother and her family something of far more value than soles for a worn pair of shoes!