Pioneers in our families: What Grandma taught me about compassion for new converts

Baptized at age 13 in Canada, 87-year-old Jean Wirrick encourages all to befriend new converts

Some Latter-day Saints have pioneer ancestors going back almost 200 years. Other Church members are themselves the pioneers in their families. In the weeks surrounding Pioneer Day July 24 — the annual celebration of the first wagon company entering the Salt Lake Valley — Church News staff members share stories of pioneers in their families, some from the 1800s and some from the 1900s. This is the second in the series.

As someone who was born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s difficult for me to imagine what it’s like to join the Church as a teenager or adult.

I’m inspired by my grandmother Jean Grayson Wirrick, who was baptized at age 13 in Canada and remains faithful.

Grandma was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1935. When she was 7, her family moved to North Vancouver, British Columbia. There she attended the Christian Fellowship church with her mother, Edna Grayson. They were close friends with a devout Presbyterian family who taught Sunday School. Grandma still credits them with her love for Bible stories.

Jean Wirrick, age 10, smiles for a photo outside her family’s home in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in July 1946, after returning home from services at the Christian Fellowship church. | Provided by Wirrick family

In 1947, Latter-day Saint missionaries came to her home. Her father, Kenneth Grayson, accepted the gospel immediately and wanted to be baptized but waited several months for his wife to be ready. Friends became distant, and extended family stopped visiting them. Grandma was baptized in 1949.

Her family attended a small branch in North Vancouver with three other families. Each Sunday they took a taxi, ferry and bus to get to the Odd Fellows Hall, where church meetings were held. With little gospel knowledge, Grandma served in a variety of callings in the branch, which was often intimidating. Saying prayers publicly and giving talks were especially foreign to her. 

Despite challenging circumstances and strained family relationships, Grandma continued to attend church — in her youth, as a young adult in the United States and as a mother with her seven young children.

Inspired by her story, I recently asked her what we as Church members can do to help new converts like her. “Befriend them,” she said. “Sit by them in church. That’s the key, just being there with them. That would have been a salvation to me.”

It’s counsel I see her live by even today at age 87 — do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Sydney Walker, middle, is pictured with her grandparents, Jean and Allyn Wirrick, on her wedding day Nov. 17, 2018, at the Bountiful Utah Temple. | Maddi Driggs
Pioneers in every land: What the Book of Mormon means to Priscilla Yellowhead Tobey of Canada
President Nelson offers 6 steps to becoming ‘true disciples of Jesus Christ’
President Ballard testifies of ‘the most remarkable thing in the history of the world’ during weekend ministry visit to Canada
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed