An International Family


What do Australia, Brazil, Canada, Czechoslovakia, England, Scotland, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Japan, and Kenya have in common?

The Church of Jesus Christ, and the Gordon-Smith family: Simon and Rostya, and their four children, David, fourteen years old, George, thirteen, Richard, twelve, and Henry, five.

The family, an international organization all its own, is now living in Tokyo, Japan, where Simon works for a private corporation. Prior to his present employment, he worked as the Church’s Asia Area physical facilities manager.

“Simon’s father was born in Australia,” says Rostya. “His mother was born in Gibraltar. His parents were serving in the diplomatic corps in Kenya when my husband was born. I was born in Czechoslovakia. Our first son was born in Brazil. Our next two sons were born in England. And our fourth son was born in Hong Kong. In some ways, we represent the international family that is the Church.”

The Gordon-Smith family’s cosmopolitan story begins more than twenty years ago in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where eighteen-year-old university student Rostya saw little hope for a future in her native country. Her parents were divorced. Her mother had escaped to Austria, and her father was in prison. Upon his release, “I told him I couldn’t live in Czechoslovakia any more,” she says. “I had seen a glimpse of freedom.” That “glimpse of freedom” had come during a student demonstration, when she and others of her generation had determined to live the ideals of liberty and equality, in spite of the opposition they faced.

Rostya obtained a visa that would allow her to leave for England, ostensibly to study English. “It was a sad and lonely time for me,” she recalls. “I arrived in London unable to speak English, with one suitcase and five American dollars.” Before leaving Czechoslovakia, she had arranged for a job as a maid with an English family in London. But after a year with the family, Rostya felt she wanted something more out of life.

With the encouragement of friends, she applied for admission to the University of London. “To pay for my studies, I sold newspapers at a railroad station from 5:00 to 10:00 A.M., attended classes in the afternoon, worked again from 6:00 to 11:00 P.M., and then returned home to my attic room to study and sleep.”

Two years later, she met Simon, also a student. A week after they met, he proposed marriage to her. At first, Rostya was hesitant. “I told him that I wanted to have a career and that I was not interested in marriage or children. But he persisted.” They were married eighteen months later. Both graduated the same year, Simon in civil engineering and Rostya in Eastern European studies. Simon’s first job was in Scotland.

Two years later, Simon came home from work and asked Rostya if she would like to move to Brazil on a company assignment. “When?” she asked.

“Tomorrow,” he replied. They were soon in Santos, Brazil, where Simon began work on an oil pipeline along the coast. They knew they had opened a new phase in their life. But the real change was yet to come.

The young couple soon joined a club for expatriates, where Rostya was attracted to a group of women that seemed enthusiastic and open. When Rostya introduced herself, one of the women said, “‘Gordon-Smith’ sounds English enough, but ‘Rostya’ certainly doesn’t.” “That’s because I’m Czech,” Rostya replied. To Rostya’s surprise, the women started speaking in Czech. Rostya had just met Zaza, a native Czech raised in Brazil, married to an American, Don Clark.

The Clarks and the Gordon-Smiths soon became friends, attending movies together, playing tennis, and just visiting. One day, two Latter-day Saint missionaries called at the Clark home while Rostya was there. “I did not know they were missionaries at that time,” Rostya says. “They were just two young men with short haircuts, dressed in shirts and ties. I asked them who they worked for, because I presumed any foreigner was working for a company. They gave me a very vague answer: they were working for a church, they said, and they were visiting people and reading scriptures with them in their homes. I thought it sounded very strange at the time.”

Don and Zaza Clark, who were members of the Church, began to talk to the Gordon-Smiths about the gospel. Soon, the Clarks invited their friends to attend a Church meeting with them. It was a fast and testimony meeting. “It was a shocker for me,” Rostya says. “All I could see was that everybody wept: men, women, and children. I was very, very embarrassed, and my husband was, too. When Don Clark asked me what I thought about the meeting, I looked at him and said, ‘I think it’s mass hysteria.’”

A short time later, Don and Zaza invited Simon and Rostya to an area conference in São Paulo, where President Spencer W. Kimball announced the building of the temple in Brazil. Rostya was impressed by the affection the people showed for the prophet. Following the conference, the Gordon-Smiths agreed to take the missionary discussions.

Nothing much happened until the lesson on repentance. “I was good at justifying any of my actions,” Rostya says, “but somehow the process of repentance seemed logical to me.” She found herself thinking about repentance, even writing letters of reconciliation. “But when the missionaries asked me to pray about the principle of repentance, I said, ‘How can I pray if I don’t believe in the existence of God?’ ‘How will you know if anyone lives on the tenth floor,’ they asked me, ‘if you don’t ring the bell? Ring the bell and see if anyone answers.’

“I was thinking about what they said while I was doing the dishes one day. I decided to follow their suggestion. I knelt down and said, ‘Heavenly Father,’ and a wave of warmth enveloped me. I started again, ‘Heavenly Father,’ and the warmth intensified. I felt enveloped in love and protection for the first time in many years. I asked all the questions: ‘Is this the true church?’ ‘Is Joseph Smith a prophet?’ ‘Is the Book of Mormon true?’ ‘Do you love me?’ My answers came in the affirmative by the power of the Spirit.

“I telephoned my friend Zaza Clark. ‘I’ve got it! I’ve got it!’ I cried. ‘What have you got?’ she asked in alarm. ‘A testimony!’ I exclaimed.”

Rostya and Simon were scheduled to be baptized after a stake conference. During the conference, Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles called on members of the congregation to bear their testimonies. He motioned for Rostya to come to the podium. With Don Clark translating into Portuguese, she bore her testimony in English. When she finished, tears were running down her cheeks. “At the end, when I said, ‘Amen,’ Don Clark turned to me and smilingly said, ‘I don’t understand. What is all this mass hysteria about?’”

Before they left Brazil, the Gordon-Smiths introduced their friends Richard and Sally Hardwick to the Church. When Richard sustained a serious injury that required surgery, the Gordon-Smiths accompanied Sally to the hospital. Rostya said, “Simon, I wish you would give Richard a blessing.” Sally asked, “What is a blessing?” The blessing was given and fulfilled. The Hardwicks joined the Church.

From Brazil, the Gordon-Smiths moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where Simon worked on another pipeline project. When construction ended in 1985, the way opened up for Simon to move his family to Hong Kong and work for the Church. Simon supervised the construction of meetinghouses for the Asia Area—Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. He also provided management support for Japan and Korea.

During this time, political changes in Czechoslovakia made it possible for Rostya to return home for the first time in twenty-two years. “I cannot describe my feelings,” she says. “I know that the new wave of freedom and enlightenment will bring the gospel into the lives of the people and then they will achieve real freedom.”

As for the four boys, they enjoy traveling and have learned to adjust well. Rostya calls them “citizens of the world.” “We found they are learning tolerance and acceptance of other people, cultures, and beliefs,” she says. David sings and plays piano. He loves soccer and swimming. He wants to be a lawyer or businessman. He bears his testimony of the gospel almost every testimony meeting. George also sings and plays piano. He is a gymnast. He wants to be a doctor and serve a mission in Czechoslovakia. He gained a testimony of the gospel for himself by praying after reading from the Book of Mormon. Richard draws and excels in mathematics. He also plays piano and is a gymnast. He wants to be an architect. Henry tries to emulate whichever older brother he is with.

Rostya says that their many experiences in all parts of the world have helped her family understand better who they are. “I am raising my sons with the idea that we are all equal to each other,” she says. “It does not matter what sex or what nationality you are. I firmly believe that. I am teaching them that the world is a very small place, and that with love and with the gospel, we can conquer all the evil.”

[photos] Photography by Tokio Onogi

[photo] Simon and Rostya Gordon-Smith with their four children at Komaba Park, near their Tokyo home. From left: David (14), George (13), Henry (5), and Richard (12).

[photos] Far left: The Gordon-Smith family in their Hong Kong home. Left: Soccer is one of the many sports the Gordon-Smith boys enjoy. Bottom: A family pyramid typifies the support each member gives the others.

[photo] While living in Hong Kong, thirteen-year-old David Gordon-Smith played on a community soccer team coached by his dad, Simon. Simon, who has served as a ward mission leader and a Primary teacher, was in the bishopric of the Victoria Ward, Hong Kong Island Stake, at the time the family moved to Tokyo.