Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Frozen Over and Snow
On a cold, snowy Tuesday evening in December, the scheduled speaker for the Provo MTC Devotional was unable to travel from Salt Lake City to Provo because of the extremely hazardous driving conditions. Remarkably, the MTC Presidency managed to find a stand-in at the last minute! It was Bruce C. Hafen, an emeritus General Authority. How they managed to find him and how he managed to be prepared to speak on such short notice seemed like a miracle to me.
The feeling of the presence of the Spirit came into the auditorium as he spoke. It was palpable.
During his talk, Elder Hafen recounted his own missionary experience as a senior companion in the early 1960s in West Germany with a new junior companion who had just arrived from the MTC. That first day in the mission field, this junior companion, whom I will call “Elder Green,” went on “splits” with another junior companion, while their respective senior companions were in a day-long meeting with the Mission President. Elder Hafen and the other senior companion had thought that the two inexperienced missionaries would be “safe” tracting in a huge complex of apartment buildings.
At the end of his day tracting, Elder Green ecstatically reported to Elder Hafen that he had found a woman who would become a member of the church. “We have to go back and find her!” he said. Elder Hafen had been on his mission for at least a year by that time, and had become somewhat cynical—“frozen over” was how he described it. Nevertheless, he decided to humor his starry-eyed junior companion. Alas, because of his inexperience, Elder Green had neglected to note the woman’s name and address. All he was sure of was that she lived on the fifth floor.
So, the next day, Elder Hafen and Elder Green spent hours climbing to the 5th floor of countless nondescript apartment buildings that all looked the same to try to find her again. As the day wore on, Elder Hafen was convinced that the search was futile. But Elder Green would not give up even though Elder Hafen was obviously skeptical and reluctant to continue. After several difficult hours, they finally located the woman.
Elder Green’s confidence in the spiritual assurance he’d received concerning this woman turned out to be entirely justified. She and her family joined the church. The woman’s husband later became a sealer in the Frankfurt Germany Temple.
Elder Hafen’s message to the missionaries was this: serving a mission is going to be hard; try to not let yourself become cynical or “frozen over,” try to remain hopeful, “be realistic but stay open to promptings from heaven.”
In the most recent issue of the Church News (March 1, 2014), there was an article about the biography of Neal A. Maxwell, which was written by Bruce C. Hafen. To read this article, go to:
As he wrote the book (at Elder Maxwell’s request), Elder Hafen reflected on the question, “Why do we read and write biographies?” His answer was, “When we tell our own stories to each other, we realize that the cosmic quest to overcome evil and find God is a very personal quest for each of us,” he said.
In telling his own personal missionary story at the MTC, Elder Hafen was sharing that sacred moment during which he recognized that the Spirit really had directed his junior companion. In that moment of recognition, he experienced a change of heart, and was rescued from his “frozen over” condition. ~PLH
My Husband's Take:
The Length and Breadth
I, too, thoroughly enjoy the stories told by the Brethren about their missions when they were young men. It is wonderful to me that they frequently speak of their foibles, as did Elder Hafen and his “frozen over” moment as a senior companion in West Germany that was mentioned above by my wife. Last Tuesday’s devotional featured Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy. He recounted how difficult his mission had been in the late 1960s in northern Germany. He and his companions spurred themselves on, however, with little quips like: “Let’s keep tracting Elder; for every door we knock on, someone gets baptized in Mexico!”
Elder Snow went on to talk about other missionaries who had seemingly not performed well as young Elders. He referred to President Joseph Fielding Smith’s mission in Great Britain, where the future prophet, seer, and revelator handed out 10,000 pamphlets and visited in over 4000 homes, yet no one received the Gospel at his hands while he was there. He performed no baptisms, and the whole time that he served in England, he helped confirm only one person into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet the experience proved to be no detriment to his character or to his later service in the Kingdom of God.
This past Sunday, as part of Mission Conference, President Nally spoke in a similar vein, and then went on to relate the experience of President James E. Faust during the early 1940s as a new missionary in Brazil. The whole time that he served there with his companions, only three people were baptized and none of them were at his hands. During his first day on the streets of the city where he and his companion, William Grant Bangeter, were working, Elder Bangeter told him that the next door would be his. He knew little Portuguese but made a valiant attempt to communicate with the woman who answered the door. They did not teach her; they did not baptize her. Thirty years later, however, while President Faust was visiting Brazil, this same woman came up to him and wept into his hands in gratitude for his service to her in preparing her and her family for the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As I listened to President Nally, I reflected upon my own mission to southern Mexico. I had been one of those missionaries who baptized a person for every door that Elder Snow knocked upon. I knew that I had served well, and that the Lord was pleased with my labors. That was as certain as certainly itself. However, I did not know how lasting any of my efforts had been. Were any of those families who received the Gospel during my tenure there still active in the Church? Were their children and grandchildren faithful members of the Kingdom of God on the earth? I did not know. I have not returned to my former fields of labor to find out how things have gone with these people that I loved. I suppose that I will not know until I pass out of this life and proceed into the next. Will I have to seek them out, or will they be waiting for me?
President Nally played an audio clip of one of President Faust’s talks at one of the Mission Presidents’ Seminar held at the Provo MTC. President Faust began by stating, “You cannot know the length and breadth of your labors as a minister of Christ”. I marveled at that. How fruitful had my mission been? Was it fruitful because of the things that I could outwardly point to in the records that I kept? Were there other things heretofore unmentioned and unrecorded by human hands that had contributed to the building up of the Kingdom of God in that part of the Lord’s vineyard as I labored throughout southern Mexico? I rather hope that there are. ~PNH
Elder Hyde 1964-1966