We gradually rode faster as our bicycles passed under the arched gateway which admitted us into the heart of the old city. I was always impressed when I saw the massive city wall that was built over 800 years ago to protect the inhabitants of the beautiful city of Luebeck in Northern Germany.
I didn’t have much time to think about the wall, though, because I was busy just keeping the bicycle from bucking me off as we clattered over the narrow cobblestone street. The bicycle light generator attached to my front wheel whined as I raced my companion to our small second floor apartment on Kleine Burg Strasse.
Elder Peterson usually got home first—not because he was the senior companion, but because he had a new three-speed bicycle, and I had what we called a no-speed bike.
We were both almost flying as we turned the last corner and headed toward our apartment. Elder Peterson braked hard, jumped off his bike, and was halfway up the steps with a look of satisfaction on his face by the time I had pedaled the final distance.
We parked our bicycles inside the front entryway, locked the door, and hurried up the narrow stairs to the place we had both called home for about three months. We didn’t talk much as we quickly took off our jackets and ties and went to the small refrigerator that supplied us with our nightly supply of yogurt, creamy plain yogurt that we ate with canned strawberries, uncooked oat cereal, and raisins.
After a blessing on the food, we savored our homemade snack and discussed the events of the day.
“I think Frau Malchow is going to make it,” Elder Peterson said between mouthfuls of yogurt.
“Yes, if her husband would start reading the Book of Mormon like he promised, maybe they’d both get baptized.”
“Tomorrow let’s finish the last two streets in the neighborhood over by Sister Sasse and then start looking for a new area to tract in.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me. I’m not used to doing five or six hours of tracting a day without being able to get in and teach a single discussion,” I responded.
We rinsed out our large cups, changed, and knelt for personal prayer. I made a mental note to review one of the discussions the next morning so when we did get in I would be prepared to tell the fine family (I always had goals to teach families) about the plan of salvation.
We quietly crawled into our beds and were soon asleep. About 11:00 P.M. Elder Peterson was awakened by the telephone.
“Elder Klomp, wake up, it’s for you. It’s the mission president.”
I tried to shake the sleep from my head before I took the telephone.
“Elder Klomp,” the president said, “I don’t know exactly how to say this to you, but today I received a call from your sister and she told me that your father had just died. She wants you to call her and your mother at your brother’s home in southern Nevada tomorrow at 1:00 P.M. your time.
“If there is anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to contact me.”
I mumbled a reply and hung up the phone. I was dazed. I stumbled over a shoe in the dark as I made my way to the tiny kitchen. I gazed out the window at the stars shining brightly.
Had I really heard what I thought I just heard? I asked myself. The cold tears streaming down my face led me to believe that I was awake and hadn’t imagined those words about my dad. I hadn’t been dreaming. I never had nightmares like that anymore anyway. Then it must be true!
Not my dad. My dad was always so healthy and strong! He was healthy before that stroke that temporarily paralyzed him. He was healthy the whole time I was growing up, even though he was a lot older than most of my friends’ fathers. Hadn’t he given me a big hug and tried to hold back the tears at the airport when I was getting ready to fly to Germany? Hadn’t he been proud of me, the last of his three sons to serve a mission for our Father in Heaven? Hadn’t he told me stories about his mission and taught me that I should prepare myself to be the best missionary I could possibly be? How could he be gone? Not my dad.
I need you Dad—I’m your little boy—help me know what to do, Dad, I thought to myself as I gazed out that little window at the wonders of the night. Dad, you were the one who first showed me Orion and the Pleiades, remember? Look over there—I’ve spotted the Big Dipper and the North Star too.
Please Heavenly Father, give me some kind of sign so I’ll know that my dad is with you and he’s okay. I love my dad. Please, help me!
While I waited for the outward sign that never came, my mind and heart were full of poignant memories. I remembered how proud Dad and I had both been on the day when we met with our priesthood leaders in the stake president’s office. I remembered the strength I felt in the hands as they joined in a circle around me as my father ordained me an elder after the order of Melchizedek.
“Well, Elder Rick,” they said to me afterward as they enthusiastically shook my hand, “we know that you are going to be a terrific missionary.”
As I shook my father’s hand and looked into his misty eyes, I knew that he was also sure that I would be successful.
That memory faded and was replaced with the discussion I had programmed myself to study. The details of the plan of salvation ran through my mind as the tears slowly dried on my cheeks.
I reviewed the premortal existence and the council of heaven and realized for the first time that my father must have been there. I knew my dad had been born to receive a body, like everybody else, and had obeyed the Lord’s commandments to the best of his ability as we all must. He was always the most selfless man I had ever known, and even though he didn’t talk a lot about his feelings, we always knew by the things he did that he loved Mom and us more than he could say.
Nobody enjoyed being home with his family more than my dad. About the only thing Dad would let take him away from his family was the gospel he loved so much. Few people had served in as many different capacities in the Church as my dad. I knew that he had successfully honored his first and second estates, and could surely expect a promising future with our Heavenly Father.
I tried to imagine my dad’s reunion with his earthly parents and little sister who had died over 50 years ago. It wasn’t hard to picture Uncle Lew and Uncle Vic also waiting with open arms to welcome Dad to his next field of labor, almost like a transfer in the mission field.
These thoughts made me smile as I continued to gaze out that tiny kitchen window. I knew I didn’t have to worry about what my dad would be doing in the future.
What about Mom, though? They had been married nearly 40 years. What would she do without him?
My stomach tightened nervously until I remembered that this was the week of the Klomp family reunion in Panaca, Nevada. All four of my older brothers and sisters and their families would be there with Mom to help her through this difficult time. She would be comforted by her children as she so often had comforted each of us. It seemed terribly fair somehow. I realized also that Mom was not a weak, ignorant, or faithless woman. She had helped me gain a better understanding of and love for the gospel of Jesus Christ and would certainly take strength from that same fountain of truth.
I don’t know how long I stood at that window, but I do remember being stiff as my eyelids began to droop again with fatigue. I stretched, still staring out the window, hoping to see something, anything which would show me that everything was all right. It wasn’t until later that I realized that my “sign” had come in the form of the Spirit filling my heart with peace, calming my fears, and warming me with the love of a faraway family and a God who was very near.
When I finally pulled myself away from the window, I wondered whether or not I should return home, leaving my mission only half served. I remembered scriptures about putting your hand to the plow and then turning away or loving father and mother more than the Savior. I felt confident that Dad would have wanted me to stay and finish the work I had been given to do, but decided that if Mom needed me, I would go home to help her.
I kept the whole thing pretty much to myself the next day and was determined not to let it affect the work. Actually it still didn’t seem real. It seemed like a hazy dream. But I still made plans to make the phone call to my family.
After a busy morning and a quick lunch, we pedaled to the post office so I could make the call. I waited anxiously in the long-distance line. When my turn finally came, I gave the man behind the desk the right telephone number, and he directed me to the appropriate telephone booth in the center of the building.
“Hello, Nancy, can you hear me?” I said when the connection was made.
“Yes, Rick. I’m so glad you were able to call. We’re all here taking good care of Mama and we want you to know that everything is fine. She wants you to do what you think is right.”
After speaking to Mom and some of the rest of the family and hearing that Dad had seemed really fulfilled and happy to have almost all his family around before he died, I knew that I wasn’t really needed at home. I was needed in Germany to do the work a prophet of God had assigned me to do. The still, small voice comforted me, and I was able to complete the second half of my mission in a way that honored my beliefs, my family, and most of all, my dad. He had endured, faithful to the end, and taught me to do the same. Did he ever quit or give up before he finished an assignment? Not my dad!