BETA

Peace came when the missionaries visited

Gospel lifts future leader from desperate setting

Life was difficult for Ellen Baxter and her family when missionaries knocked on her battered door that rainy night in 1967. Living in desperate conditions in a poor area of their city in Scotland, this single mother did what she could to raise four children born from three troubled marriages.

A year earlier she had slammed the door on missionaries. But on this night, she let them enter, probably more out of pity than a desire for preaching.

"An incredible feeling of peace and goodness descended on us when the missionaries came," remembered Elder David S. Baxter, who was 12 years old at the time. "We wanted that feeling all the time.

"Opening the door to the message of the missionaries opened our lives to an incredible transformation — a completely different course," he said.

In the space of three weeks, beginning with his baptism in January 1968, David Baxter was ordained a deacon and set apart as a secretary in the deacons quorum presidency, setting in motion a chain reaction of lifetime service that led to his being sustained as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy during general conference April 1.

One of the early joys of his new membership was meeting the young woman who would later become his wife. With his mother now happily remarried, David Baxter and his family moved from Scotland to Surrey in southern England where he met a charming Dianne Lewars in the branch there.

Dianne had been a member of the Church much of her adolescent life, her family joining when she was 7 years old. The family's conversion also came with a missionary knock on the door. At that time, her mother believed in God, but had lost faith in organized religion when no pastor or preacher could give a satisfactory answer of the condition of her two sons who died in childbirth.

When missionaries knocked, her mother had little interest in their gospel message, but because of the wintry cold, she invited them in. She cut short their attempts to share the gospel, but, in a moment of seeming exasperation, she said she'd listen if they could tell what became of children who died in infancy.

The missionaries reached for the Book of Mormon. Their answer resonated with her, and in short time, she and her husband and older children were baptized.

In 1976, Elder Baxter, then a graduate of the University of Wales, was called to serve a mission in Scotland, the area of his youth. There, he laid a spiritual foundation that secured him for life. Serving 10 months as president of the Lerwick Branch on the Shetland Islands, about 200 miles off the coast of Scotland, Elder Baxter said he was stretched by opportunities to teach and serve in ways that brought depth and breadth of gospel understanding and prepared him for the future.

Marriage followed shortly after his return home. Chauffeured in a white Rolls Royce — their last splurge in extravagance — they were first married civilly on Feb. 24, 1979, as required by law, then sealed later that day in the London England Temple.

Early in their marriage, during a companionship prayer, Elder and Sister Baxter committed their lives to serving the Lord, expressing their willingness to do "His will," with no expectation or anticipation of what might come.

Opportunities to serve came quickly — serving as bishop the first time at age 25. Opportunities to exercise their faith also came early when the investment company where he was employed collapsed, leaving them with a heavy mortgage in a depressed home market.

Elder Baxter quickly found work and began negotiating with the bank for repayment of their debt. As the banker reviewed a list of their expenses, he drew a line through their tithing figure, saying the donation hindered their ability to repay.

Elder Baxter responded with his testimony of tithing and said that without the help of the Lord, he couldn't guarantee repayment of the loan.

The banker listened, then without hesitation restored the tithing amount to the top of the list.

Over the years, as he established himself as a leader in business, including his senior director position at British Telecom, Elder Baxter has proved that, "You can give employment its full due without sacrificing what matters most," he said, "namely the higher order of things; family and service in the Church."

Cast against the deplorable conditions of his youth, "when I went through dark hours as a child," Elder Baxter said, "if I've discovered anything, it is that no matter how bad circumstances may be, you can emerge stronger, tempered, more empathetic and aware of life. The sun continues to shine, even in the darkest of times."

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