For years, Scot and I have longed to go on a mission, but we didn’t see how, with the demands of Meridian Magazine and a podcast upon us. Still the urging persisted and finally, miraculously a way opened up. We head into the MTC, Monday, November 6, and our house is buzzing with excitement as our daughter Michaela and her husband Greg Hutchins move in and we move out.
We will tell you where we are going at the end of this article, but to tell you one of the reasons why, we have to turn our eyes to the past to a little girl, huddled next to her mother on the train as they headed across a wilderness to a strange place called Utah.
My entire life I have loved my great grandparents, George and Kate Stevens, and I know their story well because they wrote it down. Kate came to Ferron, Utah from her home in England when she was eight, but she had not been here long when her mother who was worn down from making adobe bricks to build a house, died in childbirth. Five weeks later her father died, leaving 7 orphaned children. As Kate said, “We were all separated and placed in different homes, only four of us left in Ferron, never more to know the joys of growing up in a home with parents.”
She said of her new home, “The woodwork wasn’t painted; there was no linoleum on the floor; no washing machines; no silverware; no running water system indoors; no electricity; no furnaces and no lots of things.” She was overworked, lonely and lost that sense of belonging to anyone.
But there was this boy at school, George Stevens who came along and filled that gap. He was smart, and admired, and a real bookworm, and he filled that terrible gap inside. When they were still young, before they had ever had a date, he wrote to her: “The temple’s made of marble stone, the window’s made of glass. There’s many a couple married there. I hope we won’t be last.”
One person called George ‘the hardest worker I ever knew’, and, after they were married and four children came along, they were finally able to buy a grain binder and homestead more land. Things looked so good, yet one day in 1905, when George was 31 a letter came from Box B. Everyone knew what that meant. It was a letter from the First Presidency and George was called on a mission to New Zealand, a country they probably didn’t know much about, and certainly they couldn’t have googled to find out. All they were sure of was that it was desperately far away and George would leave them all behind.
There was not much time to get everything ready to leave. His machinery and some of their acreage had to be sold at a fraction of their cost. Kate said, “Our faith continued strong and we trusted in the Lord for his help and inspiration, but there were so many things to get done. There was much machinery and livestock to be sold, at a discount, and money was hard to get just at tax time. A cow with a suckling calf brought only $17.00 and other sales were correspondingly low. We were humble and prayerful, and felt that surely everything would be well for us; but our hearts were full and our thoughts heavy with the prospects of a separation for two years.”
Some relatives and friends were not all inclined to see the justification of why George should go, “but his mind was clear and his determination resolute to accept this call and see it through, at all costs, whatever that might be.”
When it was time to leave, on the early morning of Wednesday, December 6, 1905, Kate said, “He took me in his arms and smothered me with hugs and kisses; neither of us saw each other for tears. The children were tugging at his coat and legs, and crying.”
George had become sick with a cough, getting ready to go on the mission and, then, continued sick. He was sent to Invercargill, the southernmost city on New Zealand’s South Island. I always say of this city, that the next stop south is Antarctica. The rain was icy and incessant, with little let up. His cough persisted. His head ached. He wore wool suits out in that weather that never got dry. He started to suffer from what they called rheumatism. Then he had a terrible headache, so sharp he thought his head was exploding. He wrote in his journal, “How I am wishing I could have my wife’s warm hands hold my head and rub it gently to assuage the throbbings and poundings.” He wrote of how much he missed his wife and family and how painful the parting was, “I hope that I will never have that to do again. It wrings the heart to the very core to separate from them.”
George sent monthly letters home, but in July, no letter came, and Kate was heartsick. She had dreams. She said, “Almost every night George would come to me in a dream and tell me he wasn’t coming home.” He died at 9:30 p.m. Thursday, July 26, 1906 in a hospital in Invercargill of brain fever. Kate said of the moment she found out, “Like a bolt of lightning or as bad or worse, I was struck down never to be the same again.
This story is in my soul. I have been to the little country cemetery where Kate and George are buried and their markers indicate death dates 53 years apart. Imagine their being separated for 53 years because he accepted a call from Box B and would never be dissuaded from serving the Lord and witnessing of his goodness.
So, when the Utah area presidency asked seniors to come and see a televised meeting about going on a mission last spring, we came and saw. They talked about the great need for senior missionaries, but then Elder Kevin Pearson said this. He explained that long ago, missionaries were called by receiving a letter from Box B from the church, calling them on a mission, and he wanted us to consider that all of us listening had just gotten a letter from Box B.
It hit me like a thunderbolt. George had received this call and taken it at great sacrifice. So little was being asked of me if I took this Box B calling. How could I possibly resist in remembering my grandparents? I have a Box B calling. I’ve heard about Box B callings my whole life. The church was built by people who did extraordinary things like my grandparents. We will not know or remember their names, but feel the impact of their gift every day.
What they did was glorious. When the Saints in Kirtland were asked to build the temple in Dec. 1832, there were only a few hundred of them. They had not the plan, nor the skills, nor the money. Even Brigham Young said, “When we arrived in Kirtland, if any man that ever did gather with the Saints was any poorer than I was—it was because he had nothing…I had two children to take care of—that was all. I was a widower. ‘Brother Brigham, had you any shoes?’ No; not a shoe to my foot, except for a pair of borrowed boots.” I had no winter coat, except a homemade coat I had for three or four years. ‘Any pantloons?’ No. What did you do? Did you go without?’ No; I borrowed a pair to wear till I could get another pair. I had traveled and preached and given away every dollar of my property. I was worth a little property when I started to preach…I had traveled and preached until I had nothing left to gather, with but Joseph said come up’ and I went up the best I could”
A people, surrounded by a state militia of 2,000 to 3,000 in Missouri, with an extermination order in hand and bent on killing them, faced that persecution, then, driven from their homes, walked across Missouri in the dead of winter and built again in Nauvoo.
The Lord expects hard work because what we are doing in gathering Israel and bringing them the covenant couldn’t be more important. How can I reap the rewards of all this sacrifice and not give a bit of my own? It is so small when others have given so much.
Scot was also moved by the Box B moment, so considering ourselves to have our Box B calling in hand, we proceeded to figure out how to submit our papers and go through the missionary application process. Then one day, our mission call came. We were surprised and so happy to know where we were going.
It was Puerto Rico! We immediately started learning the language and can now say, “I have a dog and a cat” in Spanish. We have a long way to go.
We are getting packed and saying one last farewell to our loved ones, then Monday we will be in the MTC and a whole new life will open up.
Scot and I are so happy that in our companionship there will be no transfers! We are also happy that Meridian will continue to come to you every weekday as you have seen it in the past and the podcast will be delivered every week, right to your inbox.
Watch for more reports as we take you into the life of a senior missionary for the next year.