For eighteen months now we have been on our mission to the New Hampshire Manchester Mission. We have served with 55 different young missionaries in the Lowell District of the Nashua Zone. Each one of these young missionaries have touched our lives in different ways. We love being with them and just might spoil them occasionally. We've had the experience of being with them when they have taught friends about the restoration of the Gospel and Joseph Smith. The prophet Joseph Smith was told in vision that "...that God had a work for me to do; that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues..." My wife never had the opportunity to serve a fulltime mission in her youth like I did. Every time we gather together on Friday for district council I can't help but reflect on the two years I spent in Buenos Aires, Argentina from February 1979 to December 1980. In one of our district councils I shared the following experience with the young missionaries.
My mission was at the time in Argentina was during the rule of the military junta after Isabel Peron was removed from power. It was a tumultuous era when political dissent was not tolerated in Argentina. Many students and others who spoke out against the military rulers "disappeared" after being picked up by the police or swept up in military searches. I taught a couple whose university student daughter was dragged out of her bed by the police early one morning and was never seen again. She became one of the "missing ones." Her mother would go to the Plaza de Mayo regularly to demonstrate with other mothers on behalf of her missing daughter. This group of mothers were called the "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo." For years they pled for answers about their missing children. Against this back drop I served those two years in Argentina. I felt safe for the most part, as missionaries do not participate in political debates. All citizens were required to carry identity documents. As foreigners, we had our own "documentos" we were required to carry and present to the authorities upon demand. One evening early in my tenure as the senior companion to a brand new missionary I learned how important it was that Joseph Smith's name was had for good and for bad in that far off country of Argentina.
In August 1979 I was with my companion, Elder McGrath, at a train station late in the evening ready to take the train back to our apartment. Suddenly, the train station was stormed with soldiers checking everyone's identity documents. There was compulsory military service for all young men in those days. They had a commanding officer who was a career military, but somewhat alarmingly the young soldiers had rifles with their fingers on the triggers. One of them approached us and asked for our documents. My heart sank. I did not yet have my foreigners identity documents. I had not been very long in the country and I had not yet received mine. My companion had only been t here a couple of months and he did not have his either. All we had was a photocopy of our passports. The young soldier called out to his sergeant that we had no documents. He came over, looked at our photocopy of our passports and said that this was not sufficient and ordered us taken at gunpoint to a military transport truck. At this point all I could think about was the all the missing university students who have been taken by helicopter and dropped in the River Parana to their deaths. My companion did not yet speak the language very well, and to be truthful, neither did I. In the back of the truck it seemed that every rifle was pointed at us with fingers on the triggers. I began to pray silently for deliverance. My companion kept trying to talk to me in English and I had to tell him to be quiet so they wouldn't think that we were talking sedition.
We were driven to a police station and herded inside. The sergeant gruffly told us to sit down and wait while he called his commanding officer. I could hear his part of the conversation as he spoke into the telephone, and it will be forever etched in my memory. It went was follows:
"Yes sir, we have two Yankees here. They have no documents. They claim to be missionaries for the Church of Joe Smith. But this is completely unacceptable that they don't have documents!
The sergeant paused as the person on the other end began to speak. He stiffened and stood up straight and looked at us as he continued to listen. Then his face began to pale and blanche. He stood up even straighter as if at attention for this unseen commanding officer.
"Yes sir, I understand," he said weakly. Then he put down the phone and looked at us. "You are free to go."
We walked out of the police station and then back to the train station to catch the last train home. All the while on that return journey I silently gave thanks for the fact that name of Joseph Smith was had for "bad and for good" in the nation of Argentina just as the prophet had been told in vision. I don't know what the commanding officer had told the sergeant on the phone, but the name "Joe Smith," even spoken with derision, had been our salvation that night in Argentina all those years ago.
I recently had a chance to go the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial again with two elders from our district, Elder Smith and Elder Meade and their friend Kieran. We also went to the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth University on the same trip to see and handle a rare first edition of the Book of Mormon.
Our work in Lowell continues much the same as it has for the past eighteen months. We continue to work with the Spanish group in the Lowell ward. We are teaching the temple preparation class again, which we enjoy very much. The missionaries in the Lowell District are hard working and dedicated. They frequently are at the top of the mission in the key indicators of missionary work. We enjoy working with them as much as ever. We continue to hear periodically from those that served here and have returned home. Some are now getting married and we get the Facebook invitations announcing their pending nuptials. They are like children to us. I refuse to think of them as grandchildren although that is getting closer to being an apt comparison.
New Lowell District as a result of transfers - front row left to right - Sister Hoskisson, Sister Thomas, Herman Shipley, Herman Medina, Hermana Kersavage - Back row left to right - Elder Rees, Elder Sabin (DL), Elder Dixon, Elder Meade, Sister Dixon, Sister Zollinger, Elder Zollinger, Elder Anderson (ZL), Elder Smith, Elder Secretan (ZL)
There continue to be cultural events in Lowell. The latest was the Asian Water Festival along the Riverwalk on the Merrimack River. It was very crowded as you can see from the pictures below.
We have two elders who live just down the hall from us, and they are assigned to the Heritage Park YSA Ward that meets in our same church building. They are Elder Smith and Elder Meade. We have to say that this has been a real treat because as a show of gratitude for when we have helped them, Elder Meade bakes us a loaf of bread! Let me tell you this bread is delicious, just like my grandmother used to bake. He was taught by his mother and let me tell you she did a good job of teaching him. He brings us the bread warm, right out of the oven. I will never turn down a loaf of freshly baked bread! Just look at it!
Lastly, here are some of our travels during the month. We went to the Louisa May Alcott Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, the state capitol in Concord, New Hampshire which we really enjoyed. We also went to a nearby graveyard in Harvard, Massachusetts where my 8th great-grandfather and great-grandmother are buried. I was surprised to find out that I have New England roots on both sides of my family. Caleb and Sarah Sawyer from my Van Orman line are buried there.
We love the people of Lowell and enjoy serving here. We can hardly believe that so much time has passed and that we are in the last quarter of our mission. We love and miss you all!