03871_000_007Wherever life takes them, from the isles of the sea, to North or South America, Bert and Amanda DuPont spread warmth, love, and the gospel.
Holbrook (“Bert”) DuPont has been retired from the United States Air Force for six years now; he and his wife, Amanda, live in a comfortable home overlooking the city of Honolulu, Hawaii. Both were born and reared on the island of Oahu, although Bert’s military assignments have taken them and their two sons far from home on many occasions. But wherever they go, a remarkable blending of faith, heritage, and opportunity has blessed their efforts to make friends and add to their “family.”
Most obvious, at first meeting, is the DuPonts’ mixed ancestry, although, as Bert admits, “My genealogy is hard to trace. My grandfather on my father’s side was Portuguese; my grandmother was Hawaiian. On my mother’s side there was Portuguese, Hawaiian, and English.” Amanda’s past, too, is varied; her father was Chinese—her family name was Wong—her mother Hawaiian and German.
An important part of their heritage is their faith—faith in the Lord, in his gospel, in his prophets, in each other. “I’d like to say that I grew up in the Church,” says Bert, “but I didn’t. I’m considered a convert by Church standards, because I wasn’t baptized until I was twelve, although I went to Primary. I came from a part-member family.”
Bert’s father, a tough, determined, highly-respected police officer, refused to give permission for his son’s baptism; then, “when I was twelve, I really got emphatic. He finally consented, and my brother and I were both baptized. I was ordained a deacon shortly after that.” Within a year, however, Bert was enrolled in a military boarding school, complete with its own non-denominational Protestant church. During the next five years, he recalls, the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “just started fading away.”
Life Started to Change
Amanda was not a member of the Church when she and Bert met, nor was she a Latter-day Saint when they married a few years later. Bert had become somewhat active during his air force training in California; but, he says, “things were moving slowly for me.” Shortly after their marriage, however, “my life started to change because of her.
“We were married after I was commissioned as an officer in the air force.” (Amanda, by this time, had earned a degree in secondary education from the University of Hawaii.) “For a while we lived in California; then we moved to Kansas after some air force training in Texas. Two weeks after we arrived in Kansas, I think the Lord felt it was time that Amanda found out about the Church. Although we had been attending meetings, we hadn’t gotten really serious about the Church.
Bert was sent to Greenland for 109 days, and since the couple had not yet found an apartment in Kansas, Amanda stayed with Bert’s cousin and his wife. The relatives were active Church members, and they and the stake missionaries began encouraging Amanda to schedule her baptism for the same day as the cousin’s eight-year-old daughter’s.
Amanda was unhappy about the situation. “I didn’t think they should know when I was going to be ready; but they said they knew, and they had set the date.”
“I felt a little bad about that,” says Bert, remembering the letter Amanda sent him at the time. “I was a little embarrassed, because that was my church. But then the next week I got another letter saying, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t wait any longer. I’m being baptized Saturday.’”
“They did know,” smiles Amanda. “I was ready.”
Following Amanda’s conversion, Bert began to progress in the Church as well. He was ordained a priest, then an elder, and the DuPonts were soon sealed in the temple.
Still, Bert had questions. “I’m not ashamed to admit it—I had some doubts about the Church, and one of them concerned the reality of a modern-day prophet.” In time, Bert would receive that testimony in a very personal way—from a prophet of God himself.
South American Assignment
Along with continuing spiritual growth came additional Church responsibilities, the adoption of two sons, and rapid professional advancement. As a colonel in the air force, Bert was known and respected for his integrity, willingness to work, and his ability to get the job done. Such a reputation made him a top candidate for assignment in Montevideo, Uruguay, in the early 1970s as an adviser to that country’s military services. He was offered the position, but the decision to accept or refuse it was his. “I looked at a Church directory to see if the Church was there,” he says. “There were two stakes, so I thought, ‘Well, we’ll go.’” Then he and Amanda went to Washington, D.C., where he took an intensive six-month course in Spanish language and culture.
But then came a telephone call for Bert from his superiors. “They said, ‘We need you more in Bogota, Colombia, than we do in Montevideo, so we are changing your assignment.’ I could find no Church listings for Colombia, so I refused, and there was nothing they could say to change my mind.
“Then one day I had another telephone call from an officer. I tried to explain to him that I was a member of the Church and why I didn’t want to go to Colombia. It turned out that he was a member of the Church, the senior president of the seventies in his stake, and he said, ‘Brother DuPont, have you ever thought that maybe the Lord has a job for you to do in Colombia?’ It was the first time we had thought of it like that. We decided that we would go.”
Once in Colombia, the DuPonts found that the Lord did indeed have a job for them—several jobs, in fact. “I really feel,” says Bert, “though I didn’t feel that way at the time, that we were sent there to help with the Church. When the Church moves into a new area, the people who are converted are not the bank presidents or the university professors; they are the humblest and the poorest people. And all we had there were missionaries from the United States, who often weren’t accepted by the people. I was somewhat different because of my rank in the air force; being in the military helped. And I wasn’t white; that helped, too. Missionaries would tell the people something, and they wouldn’t believe it; but if we walked in the door and said the same thing, they would listen.”
“The Blood of Israel Is Here”
Soon after the DuPonts arrived in Bogota, Bert was called to be a counselor in the district presidency; later he served as a branch president in Bogota. Amanda, warmly interested in her Colombian sisters, learned the language and was called to assume leadership responsibilities in the Relief Society and Young Women organizations. Both the DuPonts were loved and honored for their commitment to the gospel and their daily acts of Christian service.
A good part of their service embraced the missionary effort; still developing in Colombia some twelve years ago, the Church needed all the strong testimonies and good examples it could get. One returned missionary who served in Colombia recalls that the DuPonts were “great examples for the Saints. They demonstrated what home teaching and visiting teaching really were; what home evening is all about, and what it means to love and serve each other.”
The DuPonts’ home was a much-loved gathering place for the elders and sisters. Bert remembers, “We’d sometimes have as many as sixty missionaries over for dinner for the big U.S. holidays—Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas.”
From their earliest days in Colombia, the matter of heritage played a significant role in the DuPonts’ remarkable success story. Consider, for example, their participation in the Church’s first youth conference in that country. Invited to provide some Hawaiian entertainment, they drove ten hours over a tortuous mountain road to attend the conference.
Once there, Bert was asked to speak. “As I looked out into that group—the leaders and the youth—I was struck by the impression that it was like I was in Hawaii. They all looked like my relatives; their Indian background matched up with the Hawaiians and the Polynesians. So I decided I would tell them about Hagoth, the Nephite shipbuilder; I started out talking about that, and about how they looked like my uncles and aunts back in Hawaii. Our relationship with them grew from that. I told them, ‘When I say hermanos y hermanas to you, I don’t mean brothers and sisters only in the gospel; I really mean that we have a blood relationship—the blood of Israel is here.’”
The “blood of Israel” image became still more personal when Bert and Amanda invited his parents to visit them in Bogota. It was a new beginning.
“My dad was a good man,” reflects Bert, “but we couldn’t convince him to join the Church—even though whenever he visited us, he would comment about the happiness we had in our family, and how he wished the other children could have it.”
Late one night during his parents’ visit, Bert was awakened. “I was prompted,” he recalls, “to go and challenge my dad—again—to be baptized, even though he had refused many times before. I woke Amanda (I always have to confer with her, because she’s got the Spirit!), told her my feeling, and she said, ‘Well, I guess you’d better go do it.’ So I went into his room … it was like Daniel going into the lions’ den.”
Bert woke his father, bore testimony, issued the challenge. The response? “My dad put his arms around me and hugged me and cried. He had been shot, stabbed, and injured many times during his life as a police officer, and he had never before shed a tear as far as I knew.”
Within weeks, Brother DuPont had fully embraced the gospel. “The missionaries from the U.S. could not teach him in English,” Bert explains, “because they only knew their discussions in Spanish. So I interpreted for them. My parents came to church with us every Sunday even though they couldn’t understand what was going on because everything was spoken in Spanish. But evidently my father could feel something—and I believe it was the spirit of the people. There was standing room only the day he was baptized.”
Personal Testimony of the Prophet
It wasn’t until 1975, after Bert and Amanda had returned to Hawaii, that Bert’s testimony of the living prophet was solidly confirmed. Bert had been asked to assist with security measures for President Spencer W. Kimball who was making a short visit to Bogota. Bert’s description of the experience is a moving testimony of the prophet’s influence:
“President Kimball shook my hand, and it felt like electricity going up my arm. He looked into my eyes, and that was it; I knew. We were together a good deal of the time, and it was the most wonderful experience.
“We had family home evening at the mission home, and I was the only one without my family. I sat right next to President Kimball, and he put his arm around me. Then we knelt down, and the mission president asked the President to give the family prayer. My whole life changed in those moments; I just knew he was a prophet. It was the full conversion.”
Meanwhile, Amanda recalls with a knowing smile, while Bert was with the President, “things weren’t going too well back home. I was in a car accident; I wasn’t hurt, but the car was damaged.”
“You have to understand,” adds Bert, “that I was a person who had to have everything neat and clean. You didn’t touch my car, because you might leave a fingerprint on it.”
Amanda says their two sons, “Duane and Doug, kept saying, ‘Oh, boy, wait until Dad comes home and sees the car.’ The day Bert arrived home, they wouldn’t even go to the airport with me to meet him, so I went by myself; there hadn’t been time to get the car fixed.”
But something had changed. “Bert came off that airplane, and I think he was walking above the ground. When he saw me, all he could talk about was what a great experience it was to be with the prophet. He went right past the damaged fender on the car and didn’t even see it.
“When we got home, the boys were peeking out from behind the drapes. Bert said, ‘Okay, when my boys are hiding, something’s happened.’ So I had to show him the damaged fender. He looked at it, turned to me, and said, ‘Oh, Mom, I’m really glad you didn’t get hurt.’ Then he gave me a big hug.”
The stories go on and on. The DuPonts have opened their arms and home to a procession of foster children, less-fortunate Colombian friends and fellow Saints, missionaries whose finances and confidence needed help, and anyone else who can use a warm Hawaiian greeting, a generous sampling of Amanda’s expert cooking, or a gentle but persuasive nudge in the general direction of truth and righteousness.
“We love people,” says Amanda, “and the gospel gives us direction in serving and helping them wherever we can.”