Missionary moments: Eager to serve

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin was a member of the Seventy assigned to supervise the work in Europe in 1976 when he set an ambitious plan to visit every zone in every mission. He wished to share the spirit and teachings of President Spencer W. Kimball and other Church leaders who had completed regional conferences in five European countries that summer.

From country to country he went, arriving in Salzburg, Austria, in early January 1977 to conduct the final zone conference, the very city where he had served as a missionary about 45 years earlier.

Circumstances were quite different when he arrived in the 1930s. There was no missionary companion to greet the green elder from the United States, and the oppressive threats of war hung heavy over the city.

After sharing personal remembrances with the several dozen missionaries gathered in the lone branch meetinghouse in Salzburg, he recounted a recent day following the regional conference in Dortmund, Germany, when Church leaders boarded a bus for their hotel following a morning of lengthy meetings. After conversations settled, he watched President Kimball make his way to the driver where he sat in a nearby seat and began conversing.

Remember, said Elder Wirthlin, the bus driver didn't speak English, and President Kimball didn't speak German. But this didn't stop President Kimball from sharing the gospel. The driver soon warmed to President Kimball's love, and the two developed a friendship, engaging in a friendly, jovial discussion.

More important than speaking the native language is loving the people, Elder Wirthlin said.

On another occasion, Elder Wirthlin told how he and President Kimball were the only two to enter an elevator in their hotel — President Kimball going to his room on the sixth floor and Elder Wirthlin to his second-floor room.

No sooner did the elevator doors close than President Kimball turned to Elder Wirthlin and, with a prophet's vigor, charged him to teach the missionaries to work harder and do more.

"We need more from the missionaries," he said, slapping his hands for emphasis.

"I'm glad I got off on the second floor," Elder Wirthlin said. "With President Kimball's enthusiasm, I would never have survived to the sixth floor." — Shaun D. Stahle

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