The Proctors are on a mission in Puerto Rico and share this report.

Layers of Light and Power in Family History

You think you know something about a spiritual truth, and then your eyes are opened. You have “eyes to see and ears to hear” what you’ve never seen or heard before—or at least not quite this way.

It’s as if you were trying to read with a tiny 10-watt lamp that cast this weak, unsteady, little glow and you had no idea that 1000 watts was available to you to burst upon you and illuminate your soul. You were working with a firework and had no idea there was lightning.

That’s how working with Family History has been on the mission for us as we are the project leads in incorporating this as a tool that missionaries use. I’ve seen layers of light and power that I never supposed was there.

This is saying something because both Scot and I have loved family history since we were young. I remember well in primary scrawling my grandparent’s names on a long family history chart. Most of all, I remember my talkative and animated mother telling me story after story about her forbears and life in the arid, dusty little town where she grew up. It was like magic to me.

No wonder that Scot and I have spent much time in archives in our ancestor’s English villages or chased down every Danish town where our ancestors lived. Of course, we would have to save our money to follow our great grandfather to New Zealand and find the very hospital where he died on his mission.

Remembering is in our bones. It twirls on our DNA and dances in our genes. We have always felt this grand connection to those we haven’t met, who came before us.

So, what has been revealed to our searching hearts that we didn’t know before? In this time when Satan is raging and quadrupling his efforts, our prophet, Russell M. Nelson has promised, “Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again.”

Satan’s tactics are noisy and noticeable. They are piled on us in a constant barrage of knowing too much about the frailties and violence of humanity, the lies that pass as truth.

For now, the Lord, God works more quietly. Not everyone can see what He is doing, but He is gathering His forces of light, freeing the captives, cheering the foot soldiers. Can we see what the Lord is about as new temples are announced at a breathless pace? As family records are added, stored and accessible as never before?

These are “some of his mightiest works”. Connecting us together so that we might be filled with light and unified with each other is “some of his mightiest works.” I think of Lehi’s vision “even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.”

Who were these numberless concourses surrounding the throne of God? Covenant people—one big covenant family– connected to each other and to God in unity, light, and glory. At the last supper, recorded in John 17:21, Jesus prays, “that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”
It is simply no small thing to let your family history seep into your soul and take names to the temple that our ancestors may, with us, be filled with light and power, unified in the Lord. We are playing a heavenly role, offering saving ordinances now, but also helping to prepare the world for the Lord’s Second Coming.

The Complete Fun of Family History Booths

Elder Barnes called us on fire with enthusiasm, hardly able to get the good news out. After weeks of trying to get permission to put a family history booth in Cayey at a location where many families gather on Friday and Saturday nights for sports, the word came in at the last minute. They had permission. You would have thought this elder had won the lottery because his excitement was uncontainable.

We couldn’t help but laugh with glee as well. For several weeks now, we have been experimenting in a pilot project with putting family history booths on special days across the island of Puerto Rico. We look for market days, special festivals, or any place where people gather.

Currently the booths have a banner that invite people to come and learn the origin of their last name, but we are soon adding another banner that says “Your ancestors deserve to be remembered.” Then in smaller print: “Find your ancestors here.”

These booths are simple. A white pop-up canopy, a large sign from FamilySearch, a table and four chairs, something to put on the table to elicit interest like a fan chart, some old family photos and more. This whole kit has to fit in the missionary’s car for ease of getting around.

We are in a pilot project, so we are learning as we go. The young missionaries take notes on their experience so we can polish what we do for the next time.

We are so impressed with these missionaries. Some of them were in high school only a few months ago, and now they are taking on such adult responsibility. They are contacting the mayor or the event organizer or someone with authority to get permission to set up. While the booth is operating, they don’t hang back behind a table but talk to everyone who comes by.

We’ve worked together on the kinds of questions they should ask passersby. We look for something to open people up to talk just a bit about their family, so we can explain to them that we can help them find multiple generations of their grandparents, people who are a part of them. Of course, some say no, but the interest is piqued for a surprising number, and it is both a fun and happy experience for the missionary.

In the photos below, we invite you to be with us to see the set up for a booth. These are the elders in Caguas, and usually when we run these booths, more than one companionship is working. The tricky thing about these booths is to secure them so they don’t topple in the wind so these elders brought water jugs to place in bags on each leg.

Since they were going to be staying into the evening, they decided to rig some lights, using a heavy extension cord and some Christmas lights.

To make it brighter they hung a headlamp in the back.

They thought they would add candy to the mix to see if that brought people to the booth, and their table included sign-up sheets and fan charts to show people what we could do for them. These booths become more professional looking with each week.

We’ve learned that the best thing to do is for the young missionaries to fan out into the crowd and start talking to people about family history. Here is Elder Aslami and notice how many people he has who are absorbed in his message. Eight!

If you can just get their ear, people don’t only like family history. They love it. It is like you are passing out free ice cream, only so much better. “I never knew. I never knew,” they exclaim as they see their lines for the first time.

One of the speed bumps we’ve hit is that it is difficult for the missionaries to get back in touch with everyone who is interested. In that way, they are dealing with too much success. (Can there be such a thing?) Thus, we are working on figuring out a way to be more timely with a series of texts that offer them something of value (a piece of knowledge about an ancestor, perhaps), while they are waiting for us to deliver an opportunity to sit down with us or attend a family history evening at church.

Of course, some people who visited the booth and were excited in that moment have forgotten that when the missionary goes to call them back. We are learning what is effective bit by bit to perfect the process.

We are also learning how to make it a seamless transition between knowing about your ancestors to wanting to learn the gospel. This is a pilot project and we are carefully learning what we are doing.

But if you want to see pure, sheer, joy, look at what happened when Scot worked with a man called Tito at a Family History evening in the Guaynabo Ward. He said, “The only thing I know about my ancestors is that my dad said he thought we came from Spain.”  It took Scot and him five minutes to find 10 generations of Tito’s ancestors in all four lines extending back through his four grandparents into Spain and Portugal into the early 1600’s. This excitement is contagious with family history.

Training of the Young Missionaries

We have been tasked by our mission president, Paul Horstmeier, to train the companionships in our mission about Family History, and it has been such fun. To this point we have trained about 106 of them, and our goal is to spark that testimony of family history in them, so that they can be effective teachers of others, grounded in a living testimony of their own. We ask them, could they teach someone how to be whole, if they were broken? It is the same with Family History. We want it to live in them so they can help it to live in someone else. We also want them to recognize those sacred “Elijah moments” when they are conversing with a friend.

We’ve always found that sharing family history stories brings the spirit. Perhaps that is why we love the quote by David Eagleman, “There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment sometime in the future when your name is never spoken again.”

Remembering is a sacred activity. We remember the transcendent spiritual events that have shaped human history, but we also remember the people and the part they played. People are eternal and their story is sacred.

When we train our missionaries, we ask them to tell us a story from their family. Do they know anything about their grandparents? Have their parents told them stories about their family as they have grown up? We tell them they need to have some of their own family stories in their heart to share as they look for new friends and ask them about their ancestry.

Our missionaries have remarkable stories their parents have passed on. These are legacy stories, heritage pieces more valuable than an inheritance of money or a chest of gold. Their family stories can live in the missionaries. We’ve heard:

“My great grandfather was on the beach at Normandy on D-day.”

“My several greats grandfather crossed the plains 19 times helping other pioneers to get across” and from another “My grandfather crossed the plains three times to help, and every day when I get up to what may be a hard day for me, I think, if he can do it, I can do it.”

“My direct line grandfather was a Jew living in Russia, who sold milk. (Think Tevye in Fiddler in the Roof). Because their life was so stomach-empty and threadbare, he used to water down the milk just a bit with pond water. When one mother found a minnow swimming in what was supposed to be pure milk, he was exposed and ran away so he would not be caught and punished. He stowed away on a ship to America and that changed everything.”

“My grandmother had a beautiful, green, velvet dress that she couldn’t part with, so some how she got it across the plains as a pioneer. When she arrived in Utah, she gave it to be cut up to make temple aprons.”

We laugh and are inspired as each missionary tells a story. The Spirit is with us. It is with them. We give them technical instructions on how to help a friend or ward member find names, but above all, we give them an invitation to carry their ancestors and their stories within them; to build a bonfire of connection stick by stick, memory by memory so it won’t ever die.

We ask the young missionaries to tell us about their successes, and this is what Elders Brenchly and Nieherhauser recently sent. It was a phone call from a somewhat less active member. As they had prayed about what to talk with her about in their next visit, they felt impressed to talk to her about family history.

Here’s how she responded:

“You guys are the coolest. The Lord actually did send you guys to help me. He heard my cry, my fervent cry over and over and He sent you to answer my prayers. My prayers are going to get answered ‘cause Heavenly Father’s good and He has missionaries like you who are the best. Thank you so much for what you are doing for me and this really, really means a lot to me. And the way that you are doing it is the best.”

Early Morning Inter-island Seminary

We have been asked to co-teach an early morning seminary class for the youth that live on some of the smaller Caribbean islands near Puerto Rico. It starts at 6:15 am from Monday through Thursday and it is a Zoom call where we teach students upon the screen in their own homes. This sounds good in theory. Unfortunately Zoom has this great option of allowing participants to turn off their screens.

So far, we know, for sure, that we are teaching 10 or 11 blank screens every morning with their names attached, and though we have begged and pleaded to see their faces and hear their voices, we are mostly met with darkness and silence. We hear via the grapevine that many of them are still in bed or getting ready for school at that unfortunate, early hour, but because we hear nary a peep from them, we can’t be sure if they are there.

When we asked for them to please, please show themselves, one girl said in a lilting Caribbean English, “Would it be all right if I did not turn on my screen?” We asked, “Are you exercising your agency?” and she shyly said, “Yes.”

Scot and I love discussion while we teach, so we are glad that we have each other. We throw out a question like, “What does Nephi mean when he talks about line upon line and precept upon precept?” and in return we hear utter, impenetrable nothing. At that point, we are grateful for each other. I say, “Elder Proctor, tell us your thoughts?” and at least I hear one voice.

Since this is an extra assignment in our mission, we were just about at the point where we were going to say, that since this adds so much to our schedule, we just couldn’t teach. That very day, I was bearing my testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and my voice caught and my eyes swelled with tears, and the Spirit was so strong.

Then we felt it, that witness that does penetrate black screens. We felt the love of the Savior for all the teenagers who were hiding there behind their screens. They had been absences to us since we neither really heard nor saw them, but suddenly their presence as God’s beloved children was so moving. I could actually feel them behind their screens on the isles of the sea. “Know ye not that there are more nations than one,” the Lord says, “and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea.” He does remember them. I could feel their identity and their strength.

Maybe someday, we’ll see them.

Missionary Apartments

This picture above gives you a sense of the kind of apartments the missionaries sometimes inhabit.

This looks pretty meager to the contiguous United States American eye, but things are like this here in this territory. Homes are almost all built of concrete with flat roofs and generally one level (of course there are many two levels, like this one). Wiring is mostly on the wall where you can see it. The floors are always tile because bugs love to inhabit carpets. When we ask the missionaries how they like their apartments they say, “This is awesome.”