Chest-deep in mud, a teenage Darwin B. Christenson stared through a chain-link fence at his friends enjoying a summer day at the local swimming pool. Darwin couldn't join them; he was fixing a leaky valve as part of his job working for the City of Blackfoot in Idaho.
The scene was typical. Growing up, Darwin always had a job. His family was poor. It wasn't until that day, however, that he realized it.
Today, the new member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy recalls that moment and is thankful. While all his friends were splashing around, he was learning the value of work.
That lesson helped him as a missionary, mission president and tax specialist for the Church. Now, he knows it will help him as a General Authority.
Born in Firth, Idaho, to Edith Olive Brough and Lars H. Christenson, Darwin grew up in Blackfoot. He attended Primary, survived cases of measles, mumps, chicken pox and scarlet fever, and spent hours with his brother, A.J., playing in the rural countryside. He broke his arm running across a chicken coop and cut off his left index finger in a farm combine. The family couldn't afford a pony, so the Christenson boys rode their cow until her milk production decreased.
Elder Christenson's father worked for the railroad; his mother at home. Their three living children (two of Elder Christenson's siblings died in infancy) grew up with bedtime stories from the scriptures and social activities that revolved around ward dinners and bazaars held to raise money for various building funds.
Most days Elder Christenson was greeted after school with fresh baked bread and clean laundry on the clothesline frozen "stiff as a board" in the winter.
"You could not have had a better setting in which to grow up," Elder Christenson, 64, said shortly after he was sustained to the Seventy in general conference April 1.
While growing up, Elder Christenson was also blessed with numerous opportunities for learning and service outside of Idaho. In 1950, the young man who earned his Eagle Scout award at age 13, attended the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Valley Forge, Pa. Later he received military training in Fort Knox, Ky. It was there he made the resolve to serve a mission.
During the almost three years he labored in the Brazil Mission, Elder Christenson saw LDS membership there about double, increasing from 1,700 when he entered the mission field in 1956 to more than 3,500 when he returned home. (Later, while serving as a mission president there in 1981, the Church had its 200,000th convert in Brazil a country with now almost 700,000 members.)
Elder Christenson said one of his greatest privileges was, as a mission president, to serve with fine missionaries. "The dedicated, hard-working missionaries were an inspiration to us and continue to be so," he said. "Our continued relationship with them is a choice blessing."
Elder Christenson is also proud to have been a part of the early missionary efforts in Brazil, whose people he loves so much. Missionary work, he said, became the "greatest, hardest, most rewarding" calling he has ever had in the Church.
Upon his return from Brazil in 1959, Elder Christenson reported his missionary service during stake conference. There he met his future wife, Sandra Joelene Lyon. "With too much enthusiasm" he asked a friend about her, and to his disappointment found out she was engaged to someone else. However, a determined Darwin got to know her anyway and after a couple of years of acquaintanceship and a short courtship the couple married in the Idaho Falls Temple.
Much like his own parents, Elder Christenson and his wife made the Church their focus. It sustained them through happy years including numerous camping trips in a red Volkswagon van and through some sad times, too.
Shortly after the birth of their second son, a doctor told the Christensons their new baby would not live. Elder Christenson and his stake president gave the baby a name and a blessing a few hours before he died.
Later, when their third son was born, the couple found themselves in a similar situation. Because his lungs could not inflate, doctors gave the child only a 50-percent chance of survival. "[Doctors] finally let our home teacher and me in to give him a blessing," Elder Christenson recalled. "Then we went back to my wife's room to tell her not to worry, that the baby was going to be just fine."
At the same time, dozens of members in the couple's Pocatello ward had spent Christmas day praying for them and their new baby.
The hospital staff was astonished with the child's recovery. "Doctors were very surprised, but we knew," said Elder Christenson. "We have had so many blessings like that. The Savior, the Church and the gospel have been everything to us."
Today, Elder Christenson loves to ski with his family, and there, in the outdoors, count his blessings: his "sweet wife, wonderful children and 10 grandchildren whom he loves and who inspire him;" trees, sunshine and beautiful scenery; great friends he has come to appreciate while serving in the Idaho Falls Temple; and the opportunity to work hard for the Lord and help build His early kingdom.
Unlike he did in his teenage years, Elder Christenson no longer looks through a chain-link fence and longs for recreation with his friends. He looks forward to being chest-deep in his work as a new General Authority.
"He doesn't know any other way," explains Sister Christenson. "I have been trying to teach him how to relax, how to be retired. Now I don't have to worry about it anymore."
Sarah Jane Weaver's e-mail: [email protected]