While Donald L. Clark was growing up in the comfort and security of Council Bluffs, Iowa, his future wife, Zlatarjewa "Zaza" Janosch was struggling for survival in Czechoslovakia.
"I firmly believe it was only through a series of miracles that we ever met," said Clark, the Church's director for Temporal Affairs in Brazil. "There is no logical reason for our paths to have ever crossed, but we met in Omaha, Neb., only a couple of blocks from where I was born. Had I not met Zaza, I would not have moved to Brazil, where I learned of the Church."For Sister Clark, the word "miraculous" barely begins to describe her survival of hardships in Czechoslovakia, where her family's nightmare did not end with World War II. She was only 7 when she and her parents fled the country, pursued by her father's political enemies.
"You hear of people who left their homes with just the clothes on their backs," said Sister Clark. "Well, that was us. My father had a successful restaurant and we were very comfortable, but we became refugees who nearly starved to death."
After much difficulty, which included running from soldiers with dogs through Czechoslovakian forests, the family escaped from the country and went to Brazil, one of the few nations then accepting entire families as refugees.
"Things were bad for everyone, but the refugees especially had a hard time," Sister Clark said. "I looked like just what I was – a refugee. I was so near starvation that my arms and legs were like broomsticks."
A Jewish woman, herself a refugee but in better financial circumstances, took pity on young Zaza, and wanted to adopt her. When Zaza's parents would not agree, the woman hired Zaza's father as a gardener and her mother as a maid. The woman nursed Zaza back to health, feeding her nutritious meals.
As soon as Zaza's parents could manage, they got a one-room place of their own. Through the years, through hard work, they prospered until eventually Zaza's father became a successful businessman, owning his own business.
When Zaza was 19, her father offered her a choice of two gifts: She could have a new car, or she could go to the United States to visit some friends and learn English. Zaza opted to go to the United States.
The second day after she arrived at her friends' home in Omaha, Neb., she met Donald Clark. "It is really incredible to think about how we met," said Clark. "I grew up in Council Bluffs, but when I was in high school, I had moved to Washington and Oregon. I had gone back to Omaha to visit my sister."
A short time after they married in 1961, Zaza's father asked her husband to come to Brazil and work with him in his business, which Clark agreed to do although he did not speak Portuguese.
"That is how we found the gospel – or how the missionaries found us," said Clark, who is now fluent in Portuguese.
The Clarks have three children: Tim, Don Jr., and Jackie. "Tim, our oldest son, was born in 1962," said Clark. "We credit him with helping us find the gospel because when he was about a year old Zaza became extremely concerned about religion. I had always been a church-goer, and we both thought it was important to find a church we felt comfortable with. Our long search for the right church prepared us to listen to the missionaries' message.
"In September 1964, two missionaries went to my father-in-law's home. He told them he wasn't interested, but that his son-in-law was very interested in religion, so he sent them to see me. The missionaries taught us about six months."
The Clarks were baptized in February 1965. They were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple in 1968. They moved to Utah so he could attend BYU, from which he graduated in 1970. A short time after they returned to Brazil, her parents were baptized.
Don and Zaza Clark have spent most of their married life in South America. After he had worked a few years with his father-in-law, he went to work for a U.S.-based chemical company, which had branch offices in Brazil and other South American countries, where they have had major roles helping convert numerous people.
In 1982, the family moved to New Jersey but one telephone call from the Presiding Bishopric's Office set in motion their plans to return to South America. In 1983, he accepted the position as the Church's regional manager in Lima, Peru; in 1984, he became director for Temporal Affairs in the Andes South Area. He was transferred as director for Temporal Affairs office in Brazil in 1985.
Now a high priests group leader, he has been an elders quorum president, bishop and stake president's counselor. Sister Clark has served in the Relief Society presidency in nearly every ward and stake in which they have lived. She is now Relief Society president in the Ferreia Ward, Sao Paulo Brazil Tabao Stake.
She has an extraordinary concern for the needy, not only because of her calling as a Relief Society president but because of her own personal experiences. In addition to helping care for the needs of LDS families, she helps feed and clothe many of the poor of Sao Paulo's streets and slums. She has spent countless hours visiting the very ill and poor in hospital wards, comforting crying children in orphanages, taking food to old women and men too sick and feeble to cook for themselves or too poor to buy their own beans and rice. Sometimes, after she returns to the comfort of her home, she cries. But then, she prepares herself to go out and help someone else. Her empathy for the destitute is genuine. She knows their pain.
Recently, while she and her husband were driving a visitor around, she turned to their guest and said, "Do you see those people over there? They are very poor. They probably haven't eaten since yesterday or even the day before. Not many years ago, I was one of them. I know how they feel."