Couple's caring revitalizes branch

We were set apart for our mission by Pres. John Peterson of the Payson Utah South Stake. I was blessed that I would be able to communicate with my heart as well as my voice. We were blessed with strength and patience for those who would fall astray or who did not accept the gospel.

My husband, Elder Johnson, was blessed that as he should be called to judge and lead people he would have the inspiration necessary and to not worry about offending people if he was following the Spirit.All of these promises and more came to us as we served our mission.

As we entered the Missionary Training Center an August 12, 1991, we were `greenie' missionaries. At least I was, since my husband had served in the Eastern Canadian Mission in 1949-51. But we were now called as a senior couple, and we felt nervous. But we came out of the training center with stronger testimonies and a conviction that "We can do this."

We arrived at the mission home in Fairfax Station, Va., and met Pres. Elmo Robinson, who sent us to Petersburg, W. Va., for the first 13 months and then to Romney, W. Va., for the last six months; we loved it.

There were 335 members in Petersburg and we were able to find and visit with all of them but one. When we first arrived, members there were holding meetings in a house, with classes being held in the bedrooms. There was an average of 68 people attending then, and it grew until we had between 92 and 100 coming out. A beautiful new meetinghouse is now under construction there.

We worked with both active and less-active members. We encouraged them to pray, to come out to Church, to go to the temple, to listen to conference, to read the scriptures, to love each other, to forgive anyone who had hurt their feelings, and to always turn to the Savior for comfort and help.

The first week we traveled 750 miles in our area trying to locate some of the lost sheep. We really had to be detectives sometimes.

We found the people of West Virginia were curious about us and interested in what we had to tell them. It was a beautiful experience to feel the Spirit helping us.

We were just new in the mission field when we went to visit a non-member who was living in an old trailer house. It wasn't very clean and she was chewing tobacco. Some juice was slowly running down her chin and was dropping on her blouse. I'm sorry to say that I felt disgust welling up inside of me, and my dear husband had to carry on the conversation alone.

When we studied that night I read about the Savior and how He loved everyone. I realized I hadn't felt love for that woman. I was here to represent the Savior and He would have loved her, and I must live as He lived and love everyone. We had to show the people we loved them before they would listen to what we had to say. This was a good lesson for me. After this I tried to find good in everyone I met and I found there is. I found I could love them too. Love is really what the gospel message is.

Another time, we were told of a member who had left the Church, but may be interested in coming back. When we visited, she was quiet but we felt a special spirit. We asked her how she felt about the Church and if she ever thought about coming back. She said even though she had left the Church, she still felt she was a Mormon and that she would like to come back.

We invited her to hear the missionary lessons and wondered if her husband and her daughter would like to hear the lessons, too. She thought they might and we set a date to go back.

Her husband later told us they had all been so depressed and our coming had made him really want to live again. He said it was the best thing ever to happen to them. His first prayer was so beautiful. We were all crying. The Spirit was strong every time we went, and he was especially anxious to learn all he could. They were baptized December 15, 1991. It was so beautiful.

After a year they were interviewed and he was ordained an elder and called to be the elders quorum president. They received their temple recommends and on Jan. 23, 1993, they went to the Washington D.C. Temple. They received their endowments and were sealed for time and all eternity. It was a beautiful experience. We were their escorts and they were really radiant. They are very special people.

When we moved to Romney for the last 6 months of our mission, my husband served as the branch president, and we were given the responsibility to help the members there in any way we could.

There were a lot of hurt feelings to overcome and the members needed to be lifted spiritually. We didn't know anyone there. But through prayer and inspiration, Elder Johnson was able to find two young "sleeping giants" to help him as his counselors. At first they felt inadequate in their callings, but in six months, when we had to leave, the first councilor, Lucian Herriott, had grown to become a very capable branch president and the second councilor, Mark Lehman, became the new mission leader for the branch.

As branch president, my husband through prayer felt inspired to encourage all the members to pray, to read their scriptures and to love each other. These three principles with the Lord's help started the branch moving forward. Increased tithing payments were made and more people were able to go to the temple. We took several groups to the temple, including two youth groups to do baptisms for the dead. And the spirituality and attendance at sacrament meetings increased.

When we were first called as missionaries, we were told that we would be fulfilling a labor of love among God's children. Now, we are so thankful we had the beautiful privilege to serve the Lord in the Washington D.C. South Mission.

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