Elder's family hears sweet words: `He's free'

Bishop Lee Propst didn't know what kind of trouble there was or which of the half-dozen missionaries from his ward was involved when he got a call in the wee hours of the morning Thursday, March 19, from Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department.

The blur of sleep gave way to the sting of reality when Elder Tingey told him his son, Elder Andrew Propst, and companion Elder Travis Tuttle had been kidnapped.A steady stream of phone calls from the Church, the State Department, the FBI and scores of concerned friends and others followed, but four days would pass before another phone call, again in the wee hours of the morning, would bring the joyous news from Elder Tingey that the two missionaries had been safely released. "He skipped the small talk and just said `He's free,' " Bishop Propst of the Lebanon (Ore.) 2nd Ward said.

Bishop Propst and his wife, Mary, said they spent those four days not knowing how or when the ordeal would end, but they always knew their son would be OK. "We always knew he would come home," he said.

FBI agents came to the Propst house. Among other things, they wanted to read letters Elder Propst had sent home to see if they provided any clues. Those same letters strengthened the family's assurance Andy would survive the ordeal.

In the letters, Elder Propst told his family how strictly he was living the rules. He is the type of young man who focuses all of his energy on the task before him, his family said. The fact that he was closely following mission rules wasn't a surprise but gave the family confidence he would survive the kidnapping and realize blessings promised in his patriarchal blessing.

Andy's focus on missionary work preceded his call to Russia, his parents said. He was spending three to six evenings a week with the missionaries in his Oregon hometown, baptizing two people before being called to the Russia Samara mission. His parents finally had to have him pull back on his pre-mission work with other missionaries because they were concerned his high school grades would slip.

Elder Propst has four older sisters, three of whom were able to stay with their parents while he was missing and help handle the deluge of phone calls, visitors, faxes and letters that came pouring into the house during the abduction.

After the missionaries were released by their captors the morning of March 22, the missionaries were able to make short calls home to let their families know they were OK. "I told him a lot of people were fasting and praying for them," Sister Propst said. "He said he knew that. He felt that power."

Elder Propst also told his family that he and his companion relied on each other for support.

The scope of the fasting and prayer is evident in the pages of a scrapbook the family is assembling from the letters, faxes and notes from phone calls.

Calls from concerned Latter-day Saints came from around the world. One letter pledges the faith and prayers of a Sunday school class from members of another church. Andy's sister, Amy Strickling, made a note from a phone call received by a Latter-day Saint man who said he had not participated in Church activities for some time but was touched by the spirit he felt when he heard about the kidnapping and was praying for the family.

Another letter contains a poem titled "Your Son is Our Son Tonight" that was faxed to the family from someone who put feelings and prayers in verse.

Given Elder Propst's strong personality - "beyond enthusiastic" as his mother puts it - Bishop Propst said the family speculated Andy would either baptize his captors within two days or else they'd duct tape his mouth shut to keep him from preaching to them.

Bishop Propst said he was concerned how youth in his ward would react to the kidnapping. The youth held a special fast for the missionaries Friday, March 20.

While talking with a missionary candidate, "I said, `I hope you don't let this deter you from putting in your mission papers,' " Bishop Propst said.

" He responded,I'm more excited to go now than I was before.' "

Word that the missionaries had been released was generally known in Bishop Propst's ward before sacrament meeting began Sunday, but he could tell while sitting on the stand that some were hearing the news for the first time. "I could see it from the looks on their faces."

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