At age 14, Daila Vizulis came across a small newspaper advertisement that would change the lives of her and two of her close friends forever.
Family and home life was not easy for Vizulis or her friend Margareta Johansson, who lived in her same building. Both their parents were divorced and as Johansson described it, "we had bad times, but we found each other."
Together with their friend Lisbeth Pettersson, the girls had dreams of one day moving to America together and starting a whole new life. They were learning English in school, but when Vizulis saw an advertisement for free classes in American style English, she was excited to share the news with her friends.
The first night the girls showed up for the class, they found two young men, Americans, there to teach the class. They were welcomed in and sat down, but were surprised moments later when the two young men requested to begin with a prayer.
"Nobody who was young really went to Church in Sweden," Vizulis said, recalling the surprise she felt sitting in that almost empty classroom of her high school in Hisingen, Sweden, nearly 60 years ago. At the time, the girls had no idea what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was, or what missionaries were and, as Pettersson recalled, the young men didn't even wear name tags then.
But the religious aspect of the class was minimal and the girls wanted to learn English, so they kept attending for several weeks. It was there that they met another young woman named Lena Lindberg, who had started attending the classes to help with her English — a subject in school with which she had trouble — and through their time together, the four girls became good friends. Lindberg had been invited to the class by a set of sister missionaries who had visited her house one day. Her mother encouraged her to attend and improve her English.
A group of youth, including several young men, from the nearby Göteborg branch of the Church, heard of the group of girls attending the English classes in the Hisingen branch, and began attending the classes as well to meet the girls.
"We kept going and then they invited us to Church. All the people just took us right in and made us feel welcome and so we kept going all the time," Pettersson said.
It wasn't long before the four girls were integrated into their new group of friends and attending Church meetings each week, including MIA activities with the youth of the Gothenburg branch.
A missionary's invitation
A little over a year later, in July of 1960, a young Dee Sandgren arrived in Gothenburg as a new missionary. On his first Sunday there, Elder Sandgren didn't speak a word of Swedish — the language training programs and missionary training centers for the Church were not yet established at that time.
"When I went to Church, I didn't understand anything going on," Sandgren said, recalling how uncomfortable he felt in his first few days there. "But then these four girls came up and spoke to me because they wanted to practice their English."
Sandgren was excited to be able to communicate with the girls, but something else about Vizulis, Johansson, Pettersson and Lindberg made them stand out to Sandgren.
"My assumption for weeks thereafter that was that they were active members because they were there every week," Sandgren said. "Then I started asking questions and that's when I found out that none of them had been baptized."
As Johansson recalled, Sandgren was frustrated when he found out the girls hadn't been baptized.
"No one had asked us," Johansson said. "We just came, and we were so young, so we weren't too serious about the gospel. We just went for friends. But after a while of course we started to think about things and felt the spirit … but we just grew into it in different ways."
When Sandgren found out the girls hadn't been baptized, he reached out to his mission president, President A. Gideon Omer, to ask if he could teach the girls and prepare them for baptism. President Omer declined the request initially, but Sandgren wasn't willing to give up so easily. He watched the girls regularly attend Church meetings and MIA activities for a few more weeks and then reached out to President Omer again.
"The Spirit kept whispering to me that those girls should be baptized. … The next time I saw my mission president I asked him again about the girls," Sandgren said.
President Omer promised to discuss the matter with the European mission president and after a week or so, he phoned to tell Elder Sandgren and his companion, Elder Gordon Olson, that they had permission to teach the girls on the conditions that they get permission from the girls' parents and teach the girls in the home of an active member.
A series of conversions
Thrilled to finally be able to teach the four girls who had made such a strong impression on him, Sandgren said, "We taught them the discussions and discovered they already had testimonies and desired membership."
Getting permission from their parents, who had no interest in the Church themselves, proved difficult, but for three of them, their parents finally consented.
"Dee was the only one that persisted," Pettersson said, noting her gratitude for his efforts to baptize them.
Johansson was baptized first, in August 1960, followed by Pettersson and Lindberg in September. Vizulis, however, was unable to get permission from her parents to be baptized. But despite being unable to officially join the Church, Vizulis felt strongly that the Church was where she needed to be and kept attending. Even after leaving Sweden to study in Germany for time, Vizulis found the Church and walked to meetings each week.
When she finished her studies in Germany, she returned to Sweden. At that time, President Omer, contacted her — knowing she had studied languages — and asked if she would accept an opportunity to move to America and help translate and create mission plans and lessons for missionaries learning Swedish. Vizulis was thrilled at the opportunity to go to America, but felt that she needed to be baptized first.
"I was then 18 years old and no longer needed permission from my parents," Vizulis explained. "So one day I was on a streetcar and I saw two missionaries. I approached them and asked if one of them would baptize me. … You should have seen the look on their faces."
Shocked by such a direct request, Vizulis said the two elders nearly fainted. But they agreed and, in May 1962, she was baptized.
Lives centered in the gospel
Over 55 years have passed since Sandegren first met these four girls and their lives have all gone in different directions, but each has remained faithful in the gospel and their contact with one another over the years has helped them to grow together.
Each woman has individually maintained contact with one another and with Sandgren over the years, exchanging emails, Christmas cards and occasional visits or reunions of sorts.
"Each of them has continuously held on to the iron rod," Sandgren said noting that despite the fact that none of their parents ever joined the Church, the women have built strong and faithful families of their own, and each has done the temple work for their families.
"They have accomplished these wonderful things because of their close companionship with their Heavenly Father, their righteous husbands and their priceless children and grandchildren," Sandgren said.
"I feel like I have grown into the gospel all my life. It wasn't one big thing, it has been thousands of small spiritual things that have told me that the gospel is really true," Johansson said. "I can only answer for myself, but life has been really great for me since then."
Of the four girls, Johansson was the only one to remain living in Sweden. She married a man, Bert Mattsson, from the Göteborg branch and together they have served faithfully, working to build the Church in Sweden. "We have done this conversion for ourselves," Johansson said. "Living in Sweden isn't the easiest thing when it comes to religion."
Vizulis, Pettersson and Lindberg all eventually moved to the U.S.
Lindberg, always a quiet one as Sandgren described her, settled in New Jersey with her husband Larry Crickenberger.
"They were active all of their adult lives but he died a number of years ago and she followed him in death a few years ago," Sandgren said.
Shortly after being baptized, Vizulis moved to Idaho and attended Rick's College while helping translate and prepare language materials for missionaries going to Sweden. There she met and married her husband David Jaussi.
"We've always been active because, I've just always said that when you believe, you believe. That's it," she said.
Pettersson moved to the U.S. and met her future husband, Tom Slater, in 1965. The two were married in 1966.
"I love the Church," Pettersson said. "I love the gospel and the people."
The right place at the right time
Looking back on all that has changed over the years since meeting those four girls in Sweden, Sandgren said he couldn't help but feel awed by the workings of the Lord.
They all came from different and somewhat difficult backgrounds and their family lives weren't easy, Sandgren explained. But the gospel was a positive influence for all of them.
Sandgren explained that part of why he stayed in contact with all of them over the years, as well as with other he taught on his mission, was that he felt an obligation to see to their spiritual well-being.
"It's not that I had anything to do with their conversions, because they really came pre-converted, but I felt like I was an older brother to them, and I felt that was important," Sandgren said. "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but they are the ones that have strengthened me."
Thinking back on how much the four girls have influenced his life, Sandgren said, "I am so grateful that I listened to those whisperings of the Spirit 58 years ago and that I acted upon them. Their families have inspired and added joy and an eternal dimension to my life."