The term Mission Training Center was not the name they used for missionary training when I was a missionary. I think it was called the Mission Home. The name does not matter as long as my readers know what I’m talking about.
Missionary training was considerably different then than it is today. There was no missionary plan or set of missionary lessons to learn, because none was used on a church wide basis. We received numerous lectures on gospel topics from different general authorities of the church, and a general authority in those days was either a member of the First Presidency, an apostle, one of the Seven Presidents of Seventy or a member of the Presiding Bishopric. Usually our gospel lecturers were apostles.
In addition to gospel subjects, we were given some exposure to the many things that missionaries needed to know. We had lectures on meal preparation and nutrition because we would be doing our own cooking. We were given the basics of travel and tipping so we would know the accepted rules of the day when we traveled by bus, train, or ship. Airplane travel by missionaries was rare because of the cost, but Luan flew from San Francisco to Australia. The Korean War had started and the ship that Luan was scheduled to sail on was recruited by our government as a troop ship. As a result Luan got his first airplane ride.
While at the mission home we attended the temple several times during the two-week training period. One exciting privilege we enjoyed was an extensive tour of the Salt Lake Temple. The missionaries at the training center were divided into groups of about six people in each group, and the tour guides were general authorities or members of the temple presidency. An apostle was the guide for my group, and we were shown the entire temple from bottom to top except for the dressing rooms. The tours were conducted at a time when the temple was not in use, and we were given plenty of time for questions and answers as we went along. I was particularly interested in the rooms on the upper floors that are used by the general authorities. There was a large priesthood room where special solemn assembly meetings are held with invited priesthood leaders. I could remember my father telling of attending one of these meetings when he was a bishop.
The temple tour was a special privilege few people experience today. As the church has grown from somewhere around one million when I was a missionary to over ten million today, the Salt Lake Temple has had extensive facilities added underground. These additions were necessary to accommodate the ever-increasing members that attend the Salt Lake Temple, but I doubt if the rooms in the upper floors are much different today than during my tour in 1950.
On to the Mission Field
All the missionaries going to missions in the eastern part of the United States and Canada, or to Europe, Africa and the eastern parts of South America boarded a train in late afternoon and headed east. Our car did not have sleeping quarters except for the chairs we were sitting in, so we did not get much sleep that night. However, I must have dozed because I remember being awakened when the train stopped in Denver, and some of the missionaries got off.
The next morning we arrived at the railroad station in Kansas City, Missouri. Elder Jay Francis, my first companion, met the train along with the companion for the other Central States missionary who was traveling with me. We went by bus from the train station to the Mission Home in Independence, Missouri where we met the Central States Mission President, President Ellsworth, and his wife.
After an interview with President Ellsworth we were hosted to a delicious dinner at the Mission Home before we received instruction from Sister Ellsworth on missionary cooking and housekeeping.
About 5:00 o’clock in the afternoon the other new missionary and I followed our senior companions to a busy corner in downtown Independence to hold a street meeting. Elder Francis was the first speaker, and he introduced us as missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. When he finished speaking, he introduced the other senior companion. By the time the two Elders had finished talking a fairly large crowd had assembled at the corner. To my complete dismay the second speaker ended his talk by introducing, “Elder Owen Barker, a new missionary from North Ogden, Utah.” I was shocked. I did not expect to be called on to speak at my first street meeting without some instruction. Not only that, the first two speakers had already covered everything I knew about the church and the gospel, from a missionary standpoint, and I did not know what to say.
I took my place at the curb next to the street where the other speakers had just vacated, gulped three times and started in. I elected to tell the Joseph Smith story and the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon. I had not talked very long until people in the crowd began to ask me questions, and some of the questions I could not field very well. When I could not properly answer a question, the crowd would bore in with probing questions that became harder and harder for me to answer. When that happened, I turned to Elder Francis for help. Instead of coming to my aid, he just shrugged his shoulders. Finally, I decided the only way out of my predicament was to stop talking and introduce the other new missionary. Unfortunately, he did not fare any better with the crowd than I did.
When the street meeting was over and the crowd dispersed, Elder Francis said the Independence ward was having a party that evening, and we were invited. When we got to the church I recognized hecklers that had been in the crowd at the street meeting. As the other new missionary and I looked around and saw more and more people we had seen at the street meeting, the Bishop came forward and welcomed us to his ward. It turned out that all new missionaries entering the Central States Mission received a hazing initiation at a street meeting from the members of the Independence Ward.
The street meeting had been a frightening and humbling experience, and it pointed out to me in a vivid way my limited knowledge of the gospel and how much I needed to learn.
After the party Elder Francis and I took the bus back to our small basement apartment in the outskirts of Kansas City. The apartment had one room with a bath. The room contained a bed, dresser, stove, sink, table and four chairs. When Elder Francis turned on the light to show me the bathroom, a dozen gigantic cockroaches scurried behind the shower curtain. The huge brown bugs were almost two inches long and a half- inch wide. For the next two months this tiny, cockroach infested apartment became my home.
Life with Elder Francis
Elder Francis was older by several years than most of the missionaries. He had been in the navy, and when he was discharged after a four-year stint he postponed his college education to serve a mission. He was an excellent, dedicated missionary, and he taught me a number of good habits. The first, and the one that probably stayed with me the longest, had nothing to do with missionary work. When I left home I was a typical young man that threw my socks on the floor when I took them off and tossed my other clothing helter-skelter on a chair or wherever.
That type of sloppy housekeeping was not acceptable with Elder Francis. In our little apartment there was a place for everything, and everything had to be in its place. I assumed that his housekeeping system was the standard for all missionaries, so I accepted his system and formed a lifelong habit.
He was adamant about following the missionary rules and the recommended missionary schedule. We were up at 6:00 A.M. each morning, and prayed together and then separately in our individual silent prayers. We read the scriptures and studied for an hour. Then we shaved, showered, had breakfast and were ready to go tracting at 8:30 A.M.
As I remember there were five pair of missionaries assigned to Kansas City, six Elders and four Sisters. Kansas City was a big metropolis so each pair of missionaries had a large territory to cover. As a result we usually had to ride the bus to get to our tracting location. Elder Francis was disappointed if we were not in position to knock on our first door by 9:00 A.M.
We would return to our apartment at noon to fix our lunch and at about 5:30 P.M. to cook dinner. I quickly learned to adhere to one of my senior companion’s idiosyncrasies that I assumed was the recommended missionary procedure. When we came into our apartment for lunch or dinner, we would remove our suit coats and pants, hang them up, and then pull on our pajama bottoms. We would put on aprons that covered us from our necks to below our knees and roll up our shirtsleeves to just below our elbows. With these precautions we could prepare our meals, eat and wash dishes without soiling our missionary clothes.
Elder Francis had a goal to develop as many meetings with investigators during the afternoons and evenings as bus travel limitations would permit. When our last investigator meeting was concluded in the evening, we would return home, immediately remove our outer clothes, hang them up and change into our pajamas. After we had prepared and consumed our dinner and washed and wiped the dishes, we would relax for about half and hour before saying our prayers and going to bed. During this time we would read and answer our mail.
Every Saturday at 1:00 o’clock the missionaries in Kansas City would meet on a corner by the courthouse and hold a street meeting. Elder Francis would start things off, and each of us would have at least one turn to speak. When we were not speaking, we handed out small pamphlets called tracts and tried to engage passers-by in a gospel discussion. I hated street meetings! I felt that street meetings were outdated and degrading to the church. Once in a while someone would accept a tract, but most people would look the other way and try to ignore us. We may have had a few discussions with passers-by, but I can not recall any. The happiest day of my missionary life occurred just before I was transferred from Kansas City. On that day we received word from President Ellsworth that street meetings and summer tracting without purse or script were being discontinued in the missions. What a happy day!
Luckily, I completely missed out on tracting without purse or script. Tracting without purse or script was a part of summer missionary life in the Central States Mission that I anticipated with fear and trembling. Tracting without purse or script meant to go into the country and visit the farms and tract door to door as we did in the cities. The big difference was that the farms were far apart, and the missionaries had to “beg” for their meals and a night’s lodging at the farms they visited. Out in the farming areas there were few places to buy meals or rent a room, and the missionaries traveled from farm to farm on foot. If these accommodations had been available in the farming areas most missionaries could not afford the expense of eating in restaurants and staying in motels. What a happy day when the practice of tracting without purse or script was discontinued before my first summer in the mission field!
On Saturdays we washed our clothes, ironed our shirts, pressed our pants and often got together with the other missionaries in Kansas City.
Elder Francis was the District Supervising Elder for the western portion of the state of Missouri, including the cities of Kansas City and Independence. One week a month we would visit some of the other missionaries laboring in his district in towns away from the big cities. It took several of these weeklong trips to visit all the missionaries in his district. During those visits we would go tracting with our host pair of missionaries. I would tract with one of the missionaries and Elder Francis with the other. The next day we would switch tracting partners. All four of us would attend their investigator meetings. While tracting with the missionaries and attending their meetings, Elder Francis made an assessment of those serving under his direction, both as missionaries and as individuals. It was an interesting and growing experience to meet and work with other missionaries in our district.
For most missionaries tracting was the most difficult part of their early missionary life, but with my experience as a door to door cookware salesman, tracting was easy for me. After I had been in the mission field long enough to learn the basic information we were to present to people when we knocked on their doors, I began to instigate changes to our presentation to make it more effective. Elder Francis liked my innovations and encouraged me in my endeavor to improve our approach when tracting. He had me teach my innovations to the other missionaries in his district when we went to visit them. He talked to President Ellsworth about my tracting approach and their discussions resulted in my being transferred. Elder Jerry Hansen was touring the mission with his companion training other missionaries to be more effective in their proselytizing. My transfer was to be Elder Hansen’s companion in his training program for the remainder of his mission tour.
During our short time together Elder Francis was my Supervising Elder, my senior companion and my friend. I developed a great respect and brotherly love for him. It was a pleasure to be in his company, and I was very fortunate to have him as my first missionary companion. I was saddened when the mail came with my transfer to tour the mission.
While serving with Elder Francis my testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had grown dramatically. For the first time I read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover and put Moroni’s promise to the test. Moroni was a prophet and wrote the last book in the Book of Mormon. His promise is found in Chapter 10, Verse 4 of the Book of Moroni, in the Book of Mormon. To quote:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Note, “these things” in the above quotation refer to the doctrine contained within the Book of Mormon.
After reading the Book of Mormon from cover to cover I put Moroni’s promise to the test by getting on my knees and asking God if the Book of Mormon was true. In my case I had to pray long and hard many times before I received my answer. But when the answer came there was no longer any question in my mind or heart if the Book of Mormon was true. The burning in my heart and feeling of peace in my mind manifest to my sole that the Book of Mormon was true. With that manifestation not only was my testimony of the Book of Mormon made certain, but all phases of my testimony were greatly strengthened. I now literally knew that God lives, that his son Jesus Christ atoned for our sins, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and all succeeding Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were and are prophets. With a testimony of these truths I knew that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was the only true church on earth.
With this knowledge and burning testimony in my heart I left Elder Francis to tour the mission with Elder Hansen.
Touring the Mission
Elder Hansen met me in Kansas City, and we went tracting together for several days so we could learn tracting methods from each other and arrive at a agreed upon tracting system before we started teaching other missionaries. Afterwards we traveled by bus from town to town visiting, teaching and working with the missionaries. At each location we went tracting and attended investigator meetings with our host missionaries in much the same manner that Elder Francis and I had done when we visited the missionaries in his district. We were so busy and spent so much time tracting separately as companions with other missionaries that I did not have an opportunity to get to know Elder Hansen as well as I did Elder Francis.
One month after I left Kansas City the mission tour with Elder Hansen was complete and I was transferred to Pittsburg, Kansas.
A Senior Companion
President Ellsworth made me a senior companion and assigned me to re-open Pittsburg, Kansas to missionary work only three months after I entered the mission field. I do not remember why the proselytizing effort had been discontinued in Pittsburg or how long it had been since missionaries had been assigned there. There was a very small branch of the church in Pittsburg, but to us it seemed like we were the first missionaries assigned there.
As I write about my missionary experiences I feel very sad that I did not keep a journal as we were told to do while in the Mission Home in Salt Lake City. I was a poor speller and at that point in my life I hated to write. I did start a journal but stopped making entries after a couple of months. When my mission was over and I was getting ready to go home, I looked at the meager entries in my journal and decided they looked so bad I was embarrassed for anyone to see them. As a result I threw away my journal.
Had I daily written in my journal I could now turn to my entries and include in this document the names of people and places, and the details of special spiritual experiences as they happened throughout my mission. My companion in Pittsburg was Elder Mills; a brand new missionary in the field, but without my journal to refer to I can not remember his first name.
I arrived in Pittsburg early in the morning and met Elder Mills when his bus came in from Independence. While I was waiting for Elder Mill’s arrival I contacted the President of the Pittsburg Branch and arranged to stay with him that night.
The next morning we found an apartment that met our needs. It was one large room plus a bath. The large room was our kitchen, living room, study and bedroom. We spent the rest of that day organizing our lives in the apartment and stocking the pantry with food. The next morning we went tracting and began our missionary effort in Pittsburg.
Tracting is the word that missionaries use for going house-to-house knocking on doors trying to find someone with an honest heart that they can interest in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Central States Mission, and I’m sure it is done the same way in all missions, each pair of missionaries kept careful records of where and when they had been tracting in a given location within their assigned city or town. These records were passed on from one set of missionaries to the next so that all of the city or town would be tracted once before stating over.
My companion and I would take turns knocking on doors as we went tracting down a street. When our knock was answered, the person that had knocked on the door would introduce us as missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We would either tell a little about Joseph Smith’s vision and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, or show photos from the ruins in South and Central America and explain that the Book of Mormon is the history of the people that built those civilizations. Our objective was to spark sufficient interest that the person who had answered the door would want to read the Book of Mormon.
When we loaned or sold a copy of the Book of Mormon we would tell the person we would come back in a week to see if they had any questions. Some times when we came back the person would give the book back to us and in effect tell us to go away and leave them alone. Other times the person would show great interest in our church and the Book of Mormon and be eager for us to teach them the gospel. When the person or family was willing, we would set up a weekly training session. We called these weekly training sessions “investigator meetings”. It was our aim to have enough investigators that these scheduled training sessions occupied essentially all our afternoons and evenings, Monday through Friday.
According to church statistics, only one convert baptism results from every one thousand doors that missionaries knock on while tracting. Not only do most people reject the missionaries when they come to their door, but a large number that are interested at first and are taught the gospel in the investigator meetings eventually decide not to be baptized.
When I was a missionary there was not a church wide recommended method for teaching the gospel in the investigator meetings. Our mission followed the Anderson Plan, which was composed of twenty-one comprehensive lessons. Normally one lesson was presented each week, so that the investigators were reasonably well founded in gospel knowledge before they were baptized.
We were encouraged to use a flannel board with visual aids when presenting the lessons because a normal person learns 87% of their knowledge through their eyes. We were told that our investigators would learn and retain considerably more of what we were trying to teach them if they could both see and hear the information we were presenting. In addition to flannel board lessons, there were a few filmstrips available to us at that time. The one we used the most was called Joseph Smith’s First Vision.
The single lesson that really separated the sheep from the goats, so to speak, was the lesson on tithing. The missionaries would have been teaching the investigator family for about fifteen weeks before the lesson on tithing was presented. If the law of tithing was accepted, it became almost a forgone conclusion that the investigator would be baptized. It was usually no longer a question of if they would be baptized, but when? On the other hand if they did not accept the law of tithing, they usually declined baptism. When our investigators rejected baptism, it became a real low blow to us as missionaries and to us as individuals. We would have been teaching the investigator family for almost four months before presenting the lesson on tithing. In that time they would have become our friends, and we were deeply involved in their lives. Usually, if they did not accept the law of tithing, they would end their investigation of the gospel. Sometimes they would continue to receive the lessons and eventually join the church even though they rejected paying tithing when the lesson was first presented.
A Letter from Elder Francis
About three months after I arrived in Pittsburg, Kansas I received a letter in the mail from Elder Francis. In the letter he said that he would be going home from his mission after he made one last tour of his district. He further stated that during his tour he would be in a town near the Missouri/Kansas border and he would like to see me before he went home. He asked if I could come and meet him in the town on the specified date.
I liked and respected Elder Francis and was pleased and flattered that he wanted to see me before going home. While I was serving with him, he had become one of my favorite people, and I very much wanted to see him again. I sent him a letter by return mail verifying that I would meet him at the specified time and place.
Unfortunately, there was a problem with my making the trip. The town where we were to meet was out of my district. President Ellsworth did not allow the missionaries in our mission to leave our specified district without his written permission. I knew about the rule, but I chose to disregard it. Elder Francis was so dedicated and so strict about following mission rules and policies that I rationalized leaving my district must not be a major infraction. Otherwise Elder Francis would not have asked me to leave my district. Besides, he had been a District Supervising Elder for sometime, and perhaps he understood the mission rules better than I did.
Elder Mills and I made good time hitchhiking from Pittsburg, and we met Elder Francis and his companion at the apartment of the missionaries he had come to see. It was great to be with Elder Francis again! We visited for a couple of hours and then went tracting together while our companions and the resident missionaries went to an investigator meeting. We spent the rest of the day and evening doing missionary work, then talked together until the wee hours of the morning. Elder Mills and I slept on the floor that night, and after breakfast we hitchhiked back home to Pittsburg.
Had I kept my mouth shut, that would have been the end of my transgression, but I made the mistake of telling the wrong person I had seen Elder Francis before he went home.
Transferred to Tulsa
I had been in Pittsburg for five months when a letter came from President Ellsworth transferring me to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa was the second largest city in Oklahoma, and claimed to be the wealthiest city per capita in the United States. Oklahoma was part of the first major oil exploration, and many oil companies had their headquarters in Tulsa. A large area of the city had palatial homes of the wealthy, but most of our work was with middle class, hard working, family oriented individuals.
My companion in Tulsa was Elder Yows. He was quite short and for some reason it seemed strange working with him. Our living quarters were in the home of a widow where we had a bedroom and shared the bathroom and kitchen facilities.
When I arrived in Tulsa, there were two pair of missionaries. In a short time Elder Yows and the senior companion from the other pair were transferred away. The junior companion from the other pair of missionaries became my companion. The Korean War was raging fiercely at that point in time, and draft boards were restricting the number of new missionaries from each ward. Therefore, when five missionaries were released to go home, perhaps only two or three new missionaries arrived as replacements. This reduction in the number of missionaries in our mission caused President Ellsworth to remove missionaries from some locations and reduce the number of missionaries in the larger cities.
The reduction in the number of missionaries in Tulsa from two pairs to one pair resulted in twice the work in order to conduct all the investigator meetings. Not only did we have to cover twice the number of meetings, but also half of the meetings were located several miles across the city. The extra travel time, including the wait to transfer from one bus to another, really slowed us down. We solved our problem by rescheduling the meetings so that we worked some of the days of each week where we lived, and the other days in the week in the area where the other missionaries had lived.
I had been in Tulsa about two months when we attended a Quarterly District Mission Conference. At the conference I learned that my former companion, Elder Jerry Hansen, had been assigned as my new Supervising Elder. I had not seen Elder Hansen since we completed touring the mission together before I was transferred to Pittsburg. After the conference meetings were completed on the first day, Elder Hansen and I had some time for visiting. I enjoyed seeing and being with him again. Among other things, I told him that I had been able to see Elder Francis before he went home. My statement about seeing Elder Francis piqued Elder Hansen’s interest, and he wanted to know all about my sojourn out of my district. Elder Hansen was my friend and my former companion, so I had no qualms about telling him the details. I fully expected him to respect my confidence and keep the information to himself.
Instead, as my new Supervising Elder he felt duty bound to report my transgression to President Ellsworth. After the conference meetings the following day Elder Hansen escorted me to a private interview with President Ellsworth. When I arrived for the interview, it was evident President Ellsworth was furious with me. He said he could not begin to express how disappointed he was because of what I had done. He went on and on telling me that I had exhibited such promise as a missionary, that he had expected me to become one of his leaders in the mission, but now he knew I could not be trusted with such responsibilities. By the time he finished ranting and raving I fully expected to be sent home with a dishonorable release, but it did not happen. Instead, I was assigned a new companion, Elder Donald Ferguson, from Logan, Utah. Little did Elder Ferguson and I know at the time that we would be companions for the remaining fourteen months of my mission. Elder Ferguson and I had become friends while I was serving in Pittsburg. He was assigned to a nearby town, and the two of us, along with our companions had often done things together on P-day (our day off). We were both senior companions, and I was very surprised after my severe reprimand that I remained the senior companion, and he became my junior companion.
Shortly after Elder Ferguson became my companion, we were invited to have Sunday dinner with Alex and Helen Kerr. T-bone steak was the main dinner entrée, a cut of meat I loved. When the steak was served I became apprehensive because it looked raw enough to bleed and moooooo if I stuck in my fork. My mother and most other women in Utah cooked meat so well done it was almost like shoe leather, and that is how I had learned to like it. Being used to meat cooked well done, I had a problem with the steak on my plate. I did not want to even try and eat that raw meat. At the Mission Home in Salt Lake City we had been told we must at least taste all the food that was served to us if we accepted a dinner invitation. Therefore, I inserted my fork into the steak and juice ran out, yeeuck! I reluctantly cut off a small morsel. It was pink inside! The thought of eating pink meat made me cringe. Finally, with fear and trembling I plopped the morsel into my mouth and slowly started to chew. Instead of gagging on what I considered to be raw meat, the succulent juices of the tender steak were very pleasant. I could hardly believe how good it tasted. I cut off another morsel, and the tender steak almost melted in my mouth. From that moment on I wanted my steaks medium rare. I did not want to eat any more steaks cooked until they resembled shoe leather.
The Back of the Bus
When I rode the bus to school, the most prized seats were in the back of the bus away from the driver. In fact in the school bus the most prized seat of all was the big wide seat at the very back of the bus. When I got to the mission field, walking or riding the bus was our normal modes of transportation. Because of my conditioning on the school bus, I always went for the back seat of any bus if it was available. My habit of taking the back seat was of no consequence until I was transferred to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Then it became a big problem. Unfortunately, neither my companions nor I recognized the problem for several months.
Oklahoma was part of the Central States Mission but from a segregation standpoint it was a Southern State. My missionary experiences were before civil rights had become a major issue in the United States. At that time black people were discriminated against almost everywhere but particularly in the south.
When I first went to Tulsa, we only rode the bus in white neighborhoods, but covering investigator meetings across town changed all that. Our new bus route went from the white neighborhood where we lived, through the black neighborhood in the center of the city and on to the white neighborhood on the other side of town. As we got on the bus in either white neighborhood the back seats on the bus were always empty, so we would dash to the prized back seat. As the bus moved along its route, people would get on and off the bus as needed.
One day while enjoying the entire back seat to our selves, I noticed over a dozen black people standing in the aisle. Then I saw that most of the seats in the front of the bus were unoccupied. With further examination I saw that most of the seats in the back of the bus were also empty.
All at once I realized that my eyes were open, but I did not see what was happening around me. In Southern States in those days black people were not allowed to sit in the front of the bus. To the black people on the bus Elder Ferguson and I were two militant young whites occupying the big back seat so they would have to stand in the aisle. With us sitting on the very back seat they dare not occupy any of seats allotted to them within two rows from where we sat.
I whispered to Elder Ferguson that we were occupying seats in the back of the bus, and making the black people stand. He looked up in surprise and recognized what I was saying. We jumped up and moved to seats in the very front of the bus. When we were solidly in our new seats, the black people moved from where they stood in the aisle to seats in the back.
For the rest of my mission we always took seats in the front of the bus and left the prized back seats to the black people.
Move to an Apartment
For several reasons, renting space in the widow’s house in Tulsa was not an ideal arrangement. First, her house was not near public transportation. As missionaries our transportation was either walking or riding the bus, and the bus stop was several blocks from the widow’s house. Second, we were sharing the bathroom and kitchen facilities with the landlady, an arrangement that is always difficult. Third, except for the bathroom and our small bedroom we had no privacy. Fourth, this lack of privacy was a strain on the landlady when our Supervising Elder and his companion came to visit. With these drawbacks constantly on our minds we decided to try and locate better accommodations.
We saw an Apartment for Rent sign on a building in one of the areas where we were working. We decided to investigate and found the apartment to be within our price range and ideal for our needs. It was located on a main thoroughfare with a bus stop on the corner and a grocery store and drugstore across the street. The basement apartment had its own entrance and private bathroom. A large main room served as kitchen, dining room, living room and bedroom.
After moving to the new apartment we found advantages not considered during our investigation. The apartment was within easy walking distance to four of our investigator’s homes and to the little building where the branch held their meetings. The improved living conditions cost each of us $2.50 more per month, but the increased rent was more than offset by our savings in time and bus fare. Moving proved to be an excellent decision. The apartment served as my home for the remainder of my mission.
Talking in Tongues
Elder Ferguson and I were tracting one morning when a nice looking lady about forty years of age came to the door in response to our knock. I introduced us as missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and gave her a short presentation about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. The lady became very interested and invited us to come inside and tell her more. At the end of our visit she accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon and said she would read it. We told her we would come by the following week to see if she had any questions.
Elder Jerry Hansen, my Supervising Elder, was touring our district with his companion and came to visit us in Tulsa the next week. Elder Ferguson took Elder Hansen’s companion and the two of them went tracting while Elder Hansen and I made follow-up visits from our tracting the week before.
We went to visit the lady where we had left a copy of the Book of Mormon as related above. When she came to the door, she was very excited and invited us to come in. She said she had read the Book of Mormon, knew it was true and wanted to be baptized. We explained that we did not baptize anyone until we had taught them a series of lessons and felt reasonably sure they understood the principles of the gospel and had a testimony of its truthfulness. She wanted us to teach her the first lesson right then. We did not have our visual aids with us and had not come prepared to teach a lesson.
While we were setting up an appointment to come back and teach her the first lesson she stopped talking in the middle of a sentence. She went pale with blotches of blush here and there on her face. Her eyes rolled back into her head and her eyelids closed. I was afraid she was going to faint. All at once she started jabbering in sharp non-understandable sounds.
We were shocked! We had never seen or heard anything like she was going through. We didn’t know what to do. We just stood there wide-eyed with our mouths gaping open.
Finally she started to come out of her trance and reached out for the table to steady herself. When she seemed reasonably back to normal we ask her if she was all right. She said she was fine and that she had been talking in tongues. She indicated she often talked in tongues.
Elder Hansen and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows. What she had just gone through did not match with our understanding of someone talking in tongues. We understood that talking in tongues was a gift, but the gift was given to the person for a specific purpose.
For example President David O. McKay gave a talk on one of the islands in the Pacific. He did not understand or speak the language of the people on the island, and they did not speak or understand English. Yet when he gave his talk the people understood everything he said.
The woman’s jabbering did not seem to have any purpose. In the discussion that followed Elder Hansen was much more blunt than I would have been. He said he thought her speaking in tongues was not from God but from the devil. Obviously the woman was proud she had the gift of tongues. She became very, very angry and ordered us out of her house.
The whole situation has bothered me ever since. The woman seemed so sincere. Maybe if Elder Hansen had handled things differently, the woman could have been reclaimed and become a valued and faithful member of God’s kingdom. Instead, we left her full of anger toward us, and I am sure toward the church. I have often wondered what happened to the woman and to the copy of the Book of Mormon.
The Kenneth Duckworth Family
When I arrived in Tulsa, the missionaries had completed presenting the lessons to the Duckworth family but they had not been baptized. The family still showed great interest in the church, and after fasting and prayer the missionaries decided to continue meeting with the family each week to read and discuss the Book of Mormon. The family consisted of Kenneth, his wife Mildred, a daughter, Linda, about ten years old, and a son, Dale, about eight. Kenneth and Mildred agreed to the proposal, and when they met together the missionaries and each family member took turns reading from the Book of Mormon. When it was Dale’s turn to read Mildred read for him and pointed to the words as she read.
The first time I joined the group for their reading session I was almost in a state of panic. Although I had completed two years of college I was not a good reader. In addition, I do not think I had tried to read aloud since I was a child. With fear and trembling I took my turn reading. I’m sure my reading did not sound like one would expect from a college man. In retrospect, those weekly reading sessions may have been arranged by the good Lord just for me. Over the next year my reading skills improved dramatically, and by the time the Duckworth family finally agreed to be baptized I had become a reasonably good reader.
After the family joined the church, they became solid, faithful members. The family was sealed together in the temple, Dale filled a mission, and both Linda and Dale were married in the temple after attending BYU.
I exchanged letters and Christmas cards with the family over the years. It was interesting to learn about their church callings and of the growth and development of Linda and Dale as they grew to adulthood, married and had families of their own.
Over the nearly fifty years since I left the membership of the church in Tulsa has grown from a small branch of about fifty members to three stakes. Kenneth and Mildred have passed on, and with their passing our contact with the Duckworth family came to an end.
The Walker Davidson Family
Shortly after Elder Ferguson came to Tulsa, we met Hilda Davidson when we knocked on her door while tracting. She invited us in and accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon. During our follow-up visit she agreed to have us teach her family the investigator lessons.
Her family consisted of her husband, Walker, a son, Bob, about twenty years of age, and two daughters, Marilyn and Sue. Marilyn was about sixteen and Sue was about ten. The family was extremely friendly to us, and after the first few lessons they invited us to have dinner with them each week before we presented the lessons. After a month or so the parents told us they felt like we were members of their family, and requested we call them Mamala and Popala.
I grew to love the family dearly, and it was one of the greatest disappointments of my life when they declined baptism. Mamala’s family had been charter members of the first Methodist Church in Tulsa, and they were true and faithful members of that church. Elder Ferguson and I thought they were very interested in our church at the time, but looking back after nearly fifty years there must have been something else that sparked their interest. I think at first they listened to our lessons from curiosity about Mormons. As time went on they became as fond of us as we were of them. Also, they may have thought we were a good influence for their children.
Although they rejected baptism, they were gracious and full of southern hospitality and continued to invite us into their home for dinner and family activities. From a strictly missionary standpoint we should have declined their invitations after we determined they were no longer interested in our church, and spent the time working with potential converts. However, the love and caring that the family showered upon us was too difficult to abandon. Their home really was our home away from home with loving surrogate parents.
I had hopes that maybe the seeds of Mormonism we planted with the family would take root somewhere as the years went by, but at this point it has not happened. There are members of their extended family that have joined the church but none of the converts resulted from our efforts.
I corresponded with them after I returned from my mission. About that time Mamala started a weekly letter to her family and loved ones. She called her letters “epistles” and each week for nearly fifty years she has included us on her mailing list. For most of those fifty years she wrote and sent along with her epistle a personal note just for us. She is a wonderful Christian lady, and such a good writer that her letters often became one of the highlights of our week. We eagerly waited for the mailman to bring her epistles. Unfortunately, I have not been nearly as diligent in answering her letters as she has been in sending them.
As the years went by Bob, Marilyn and Sue have married and raised families of their own. My family and I had the pleasure of hosting a visit from Mamala and Popala when we lived in Thousand Oaks, California. They were on the return leg of their Golden Wedding Anniversary trip to the Hawaiian Islands. It was wonderful to see them again.
The years have continued to go by and Mamala is now a widow living with her daughter, Sue, in Terrrytown, New York. At ninety-three years of age she still issues her weekly epistle with help from Sue. For several years we have sent Mamala stamped, self-addressed envelopes to reduce her cost and effort in sending her epistles to us. Fond memories of the time I spent with the Davidson family are one of the brightest highlights of my missionary experiences.
The Virgil Nelson Family
One of the active families in the Tulsa Branch was the Virgil Nelson family. We were invited to their house for dinner one Sunday and our conversation led to a very interesting fact. Sister Nelson’s grandfather’s family had been converted to the Mormon Church in the Southern States Mission, and my grandfather, Charles Andrew Hickenlooper, had been the missionary that taught them the gospel, baptized them and confirmed them members of the church. Another interesting and very surprising fact came to light during that same dinner. Virgil was not a member of the church. We were shocked. He came to church regularly with his wife and daughter and took part just like an active member.
We were so surprised and dumfounded that we just let it pass during dinner, but we knew we had to find out why he was not a member. We were reluctant to probe because sometimes non-members will go to church with the member spouse but have a real hang-up about being baptized. In those cases sometimes probing causes problems and bad feelings.
A few days later we got enough courage to make an appointment to meet with Virgil. After some preliminary small talk with the family, his wife and daughter left the room and we popped the question.
“Why haven’t you joined the church?”
“Because no one has ever asked me,” was his startling reply.
With that answer he was in the waters of baptism and confirmed a member of the church as soon as we could arrange the necessary interviews and schedule a baptismal service.
Shortly after I came home from my mission the family moved to Dallas, Texas. The following year Virgil was ordained bishop in his ward.
My Painful Cyst
A couple of months before I was to go home from my mission I began to experience pain at the bottom of my spine. I thought I must have fallen and injured myself without being aware I was hurt. I expected the problem would clear up and go away, but instead it got worse and worse until I could hardly walk.
As missionaries we were not supposed to go anywhere without our companion, but as I became more and more immobile Elder Ferguson elected to continue holding our scheduled investigator meetings without me.
I hated to go see a doctor, but after Elder Ferguson left for an investigator meeting one afternoon I could not stand the pain any longer. With great difficulty and extreme pain I hobbled the two blocks to a doctor’s office. When I arrived, I did not have an appointment, and the receptionist said it would be a while before the doctor could see me. As I sat in the waiting room the pain was so severe the perspiration was standing out on my face and trickling down into my collar.
When my turn came to see the doctor I hobbled into an examination room and was questioned by his nurse. After she finished writing on her clip-board, she ask me to remove my clothes, put on a hospital type garment that was open down the back, and lay on my stomach on the examination table.
Finally the doctor came in and looked at my painfully sore rear end. He said I had a badly infected cyst that would have to be lanced. He called his nurse back into the room and asked her to prepare for a minor operation to lance my cyst while he went to see his next patient.
The nurse explained that the cyst was a puss bag or sack about the size of an egg that had formed at the end of my spine. She said this type cyst only forms in people that were born without that part of their anatomy completely developed while in the womb. The cyst normally drains a little at a time through a small opening at the base of the spine. Many people with the malady go their entire lives without ever knowing that they have the condition, but with others the tiny drain hole becomes clogged and the difficulty I was experiencing is the unfortunate result.
The doctor returned and lanced the cyst by cutting an opening into the cyst to relieve the pressure from the infection. When he cut into the cyst and the infected puss spurted from the incision, I immediately experienced two different sensations. First, the horrible pain in my bottom was dramatically reduced, and second, the foulest stench I had ever smelled filled the room. The stench was so intense that the nurse opened a window and turned on an exhaust fan.
When the doctor finished working on my bottom, he explained I had a very severe infection and gave me two prescriptions. One prescription was for the infection and the other was for an ointment to draw out the puss. He said the cyst would have to be hot packed three times a day for about three weeks, and the ointment applied after each hot packing procedure. He stated further that the person doing the hot packing would have to work the puss out of the cyst with their fingers before applying the ointment. In addition, I was to sit in a bathtub filled with a strong solution of Clorox and hot water for a half-hour each evening. With those instructions and my prescriptions he bid me farewell and said to return in three weeks.
With the pressure relieved from the cyst, walking was not quite as difficult as when I had hobbled to the doctor’s office, but it was still painful. About midway between the doctor’s office and our apartment I began to feel weak and shaky. I noticed that I was nearing a barbershop and was in need of a hair cut, so I went inside to rest while the barber cut my hair. The barber was alone in his shop so I went directly to the barber chair and carefully sat down. He had just started cutting my hair when I fainted dead away and gave the poor man quite a scare. When I regained consciousness the barber said he had tried and tried to revive me without success. Finally, he had rushed to the telephone to call an ambulance when he heard me mumble and saw that I was stirring. He hung up the phone and rushed back to make sure I did not fall out of his chair.
"You better go see a doctor," he stammered.
"I just came from one," I said, "I think I will be all right. Go ahead and cut my hair."
The barber looked relieved when he finished cutting my hair and I slowly worked my way out of his chair, across the room and out of his shop.
When I arrived at our apartment Elder Ferguson was just returning from the investigator meeting, I explained that I had been to see a doctor and gave him a blow by blow account of what had happened in his office, including the doctor’s instructions.
"I can’t do all that," exclaimed Elder Ferguson, "Besides, we have a shower not a bathtub. Why don’t you ask Sister Kerr to be your nurse?"
Alex and Helen Kerr were an active couple in their thirties with three children in elementary school, Peggy, Mike and Stephen. They had become our good friends, and I was sure Sister Kerr would be my nurse if I ask her, but I remembered how bad the infection smelled and hated to inflict that stench on anyone. Besides, I was a bit concerned about baring my rear end for a member of the opposite sex, even if the doctor’s nurse had helped when he was lancing my cyst.
With Elder Ferguson refusing to be my nurse I did not know what else to do so I called Sister Kerr on the phone and explained my plight. After she asked me a couple of clarifying questions, she put her hand over the telephone mouthpiece and talked to Alex. I could not understand what they said until they started to laugh. When she came back on the phone she was still laughing but agreed to be my nurse.
Elder Ferguson helped me get a few things together and make the move to what we had learned to call, "The Kerr Madhouse".
When we arrived at her house, Sister Kerr had everything ready to be my nurse. Even with Elder Ferguson in the room it was still embarrassing to bare my bottom for Sister Kerr to start the hot packing procedure. Elder Ferguson seemed interested in watching my nurse do her duties until the horrible stench emanating from the puss pocket filled the air. All at once he decided to returned to our apartment and continue with missionary work.
Sister Kerr turned out to be an excellent nurse, cook and hostess, and she gave me first class treatment. I could hardly believe how the infection had sapped my strength when I tried to do anything physical. It took a full three weeks for the puss to quit draining to the extent that I could return to our apartment and join Elder Ferguson in our missionary endeavors.
My First Diet
On the day I was preparing to leave the Kerr Madhouse after the bout with my painful and still tender cyst, Sister Kerr asked me a probing question.
“Do you want to go home looking like that?”
I did not know for sure what she meant, but I finally got the message she thought I was a bit overweight. During the nearly two years of living on good, fattening missionary cooking, as well as the scrumptious meals provided to us by members and investigators, I had gained about thirty pounds. When I admitted I was not happy with my overweight condition but did not know what to do about it, Sister Kerr gave me a book. I still remember the title and author. It was called, “How to Eat and Reduce,” by Victor H. Lindlar. She told me if I would carefully follow the diet in Mr. Lindlar’s book, I would be slim and trim when I went home.
I read the book and followed it religiously. It was a good diet book published long before its time. The meals were well balanced but the amount of food was small, only 600 calories per day. As a young active person the pounds just melted off as I carefully followed Mr. Lindlar’s diet. In thirty days I lost thirty pounds.
I still had money left over from my days as a traveling salesman so I ordered two tailor made suits and had four other suits altered to fit my reduced size. Consequently I had essentially six tailor made suits when I returned home to the dating scene. Six suits may seem excessive in this day and age of mostly casual wear but it was unusual in those days for a man to go on a date dressed in anything but either a suit or slacks and sport coat.
Go Home and Get Married
About three weeks before I was to be released from my mission Elder Spencer W. Kimball toured our mission, and we met with him in a District Mission Conference. Elder Kimball later became President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but at this point in time he was an apostle.
During the first session of the conference Elder Kimball requested that all missionaries scheduled to go home within the next two months come to a special meeting and meet with him immediately following the conference. There were about six of us in attendance for his special meeting including the missionary that had entered the mission field with me. Elder Kimball’s message to us went something like this:
"As you know, the Korean War is raging and when you return home many of you will become involved in that conflict. You may be uncertain about what you should do with your lives because of the unknowns that the war places before you. You may conclude you should remain single in the event you do not return from the war zone. My advice to you is to go home and get married in the temple to the righteous girl of your choice. Then the two of you face the future together as best you can."
It was a short meeting, but Elder Kimball was so forceful and emphatic with his message that I’m sure it had a major impact on all of us. That night as I lay in my bed I reviewed in my mind all of the girls I knew which I considered potential candidates for marriage if they were available when I got home. The girl I sorted out from the list as the best candidate was Karen Vandenbosch. I had known her for over six years and had gone on more dates with her than any other girl. We had always had a good relationship, and I could not remember ever having a serious argument with her. The reason we stopped dating from time to time was because I found another girl that I wanted to date. When the new relationship dissolved for whatever the reason, I would start dating Karen again. I had heard from the grapevine that she was more than a bit disturbed with me because I had not taken her to my missionary farewell.
Karen and I had exchanged a few letters early in my mission, but she stopped writing before my mission was half over. Nevertheless, I decided to date Karen when I got home if she was still available.
A Farewell Party
The evening before I was to leave Tulsa, the Kerrs hosted a surprise farewell party for me. I thought we had been invited to their home for a farewell dinner, but after the dinner people started coming to wish me a fond farewell. The Kerrs had invited all of the branch members and all of our investigators including the Davidsons. Sister Kerr had obtained a list of our investigators from Elder Ferguson, and they were all in attendance. The crowd was much too large for the Kerr home, so people spread out into both the front and back yards.
I had been in Tulsa for almost a year and a half, and it was a grand ending for my mission. I had an opportunity to tell everyone goodbye one last time in an individualized manner and got a lot of hugs from the ladies and teenage girls. It was a little sad to leave so many people I had known for so long, and many of whom I had learned to love.
Except for Elder Ferguson, the Kerrs and the Davidsons, I never saw any of them again. For years I exchanged Christmas cards and letters with many of them, but Mamala Davidson is the only correspondent remaining from my missionary days.
Looking Back on My Mission
As I have been writing my history and pondering the things I remember about my mission there are several items I feel inclined to comment further about.
First, I am flabbergasted that I remember some things almost as well as if they happened yesterday. Yet other things I would think I would remember just as well are so fuzzy in my memory as to be useless. Over the period of my mission we had dozens of investigators, but Virgil Nelson, the Duckworths and the Davidsons are the only names I can dredge from my memory bank. My companions and I baptized twenty-six people while I was on my mission, yet most of their names have long since faded away.
Had I kept a missionary journal as I was directed, I could now list our tracting successes, the names of the investigators we taught, the people we baptized, and our spiritual experiences. Looking back from this point in time, it was a major sin for me not to have kept a journal.
Second, I should not have broken the mission rule by leaving my district to visit Elder Francis.
Third, I feel it was a mistake for President Ellsworth to have left Elder Ferguson and I as missionary companions in one place for so long. We did not have the opportunity to serve in other locations and meet new people. Not only was it a disservice to us but it may have reduced the total number of baptisms in the mission. Had new blood come into Tulsa there may have been investigators baptized that we let fall by the wayside because different people react differently with different missionaries. On the other hand, Elder Ferguson and I may have helped touch the hearts of investigators in other locations if we had been assigned there.
Elder Ferguson and I were very lucky to have been compatible with one another for such an extended period of time. Had we been companions from three to five months, the normal time for companions to be together, we probably would have been lifelong buddies. But after being together for so long the friendship lost its luster.
Fourth, overall my mission was a very good experience, both for me and for those with whom I worked. I usually tried hard to do what was expected of me as a missionary and to serve the Lord. My companions and I planted many gospel seeds, taught the true gospel of Jesus Christ to a large number of investigators, and with the help of God were able to take some of them into the waters of baptism.
Fifth, and most important, I gained an unwavering testimony of God, his son Jesus Christ, and the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Including its prophets, its scriptures and its teachings and precepts.