Making Friends:

Lorna Wilson of Preston, Lancashire, England

By Melvin Leavitt

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Great Britain has the world’s most regal (elegant) letter boxes. The tall cylinders stand like palace guards, their scarlet tunics emblazoned with a golden crown and the insignia of the queen. One such letter box stands sentry on Cottam Lane in Preston, in front of Ingol County Primary School. From time to time a pretty eight-year-old girl approaches and reaches high to drop in a letter addressed to Masha Melnikova in Mogilev, Belarus. The sender is Lorna Wilson, a Latter-day Saint, and Masha’s true friend.

Lorna’s father, Christopher, is a software designer who spends much of his spare time working for a charity called Medicine and Chernobyl. This organization provides medical aid for the Belarusian victims of a nuclear disaster in the nearby Ukrainian city of Chernobyl. Each year the charity brings a group of Belarusian children for a month-long visit to England. These children live downwind from Chernobyl, and their resistance to disease has been impaired. A month in a healthy environment helps them rebuild their physical and emotional reserves. Masha was one of these children.

Masha arrived at the Wilson home speaking almost no English. Lorna spoke even less Russian. Still, they managed to communicate with gestures and occasional help from a Russian phrase book. Within a day, somehow, they were best friends. Although Masha had her own room the first night, the two girls’ friendship blossomed so quickly that from the second night on, they chose to share a room. Lorna’s parents had to go in each night and persuade them to turn out the lights. They’d be talking away, drawing, and dressing dolls. Neither learned much of the other’s language, but they understood each other very well. On the morning Masha left to return home, Lorna was so upset that she couldn’t go to school.

That was unusual, because Lorna likes school. A very good student, her favorite subjects are art and math. When her school formed a group called the Troubleshooters from among the most able students, Lorna was the youngest person chosen. The Troubleshooters go to local businesses and help them solve problems. Lorna’s group first went to the Preston office of the Royal Mail. They were given two problems to solve. One was that the staff wasn’t looking at the notice boards. The other was that a stray letter was occasionally left in the bottom of a supposedly empty mail sack. The Troubleshooters went to work and produced many good suggestions, several of which were adopted. In a small way, Lorna was helping to speed her letters from the letter box on Cottam Lane to her friend in Belarus!

“Lorna’s an inspiration to me,” her mother, Helen, says. “I really do try to follow her example. When I go to a parents’ evening at school, her teachers tell me, ‘What can I say? She’s just wonderful!’”

Lorna wants to be either a zookeeper or an artist when she grows up. Whatever she chooses, she will do it well. She likes to do art and sewing, especially cross-stitch, and she always tries to do them perfectly. She has been taking ballet for three years. She also is a Brownie and a skilled Maypole dancer.

The oldest of six children, Lorna sometimes feels frustrated when a little sister wrecks a project or pinches (takes) her crayons. Even so, she loves her little brothers and sisters and takes good care of them. Her mother says, “We’re lucky Lorna is the oldest, because she’s a good example to the others. She isn’t perfect, but she’s very trustworthy, and she helps the others with reading and things like that.” In return, the younger children look up to her. Adam (6) is a football player and a dreamer. He has adopted all the older ladies in the ward. Hannah (5) is a gifted artist with a keen eye for beauty. Abigail (4) has her daddy’s sense of humor and likes to tease people. Sara (2) is sunny and outgoing. Everybody at church wants to take her home with them. Joshua (1) just started walking. He is a charming, happy boy.

The Wilsons are a close-knit family who take drives in the countryside when their busy schedules allow. They also like to play games together. Sometimes for family home evening they play a Book of Mormon game Sister Wilson made. It stretches clear across the floor. For many years they invited an elderly neighbor to each of their family home evenings and adopted him as their granddad. After his death, they began to invite a handicapped man from their ward. “He’s a lovely man with a beautiful spirit,” Sister Wilson says, “but he can’t speak. He has to use a machine to communicate.” The children welcome guests with open arms. At Christmas they invite in anyone they know is going to be alone. The family also goes caroling to some of the elderly people who live nearby.

Seeing firsthand the sorrows of others has helped the Wilson children appreciate their own blessings. When the Belarusian children came, they had very little in the way of clothing, and what they had was threadbare. Their diet in Belarus had been poor too. “We learned not to waste food,” Lorna says, “because some people have hardly anything.”

The family tries to read the Book of Mormon at breakfast each day, although sometimes it’s a struggle. Lorna’s favorite person in the Book of Mormon is Jesus Christ.

Preston and the surrounding areas were the sites of some of the greatest missionary efforts in the history of the Church. In 1837 Elder Heber C. Kimball led a group of missionaries there to begin the work in Great Britain. The Wilsons have stood by the River Ribble, where the first baptisms in Britain took place. They have walked through Market Square, where the missionaries preached. They have visited many places where the Spirit was poured out upon their land. It’s no wonder that they do missionary work whenever they can. They once had the favor returned when a nonmember referred them to the missionaries! One day the sister missionaries knocked on a door around the corner from the Wilsons where some older ladies lived. The missionaries asked them if they were interested in learning about the Church, and they said no.

“Well, do you know anybody who might be?”

“There’s a lovely family around the corner,” one of the ladies answered. “They have lots of children. They’d be good Mormons.”

She was right, of course.

Photos by Dick Brown

1. Lorna

2. Mailing a letter to Masha

3. Map of British Isles

4. A gift from Masha

5. The whole family except Dad

6. Masha and Lorna

7. Adam kicking a football

8. Playing Mum’s Book of Mormon Game

9. At school

10. Playing a board game