Every Mormon missionary gains an appreciation for the areas where they serve. For most, their mission, no matter where it is, becomes a new adoptive home. I was in awe of the beauty, the culture, and history of my new homeland, Germany. I gained an even greater appreciation, however, for the German people. In particular, the members of the church had a remarkable influence on me. I reserve a special place in my heart for those good people to this day. One member comes to mind that instilled this love for the German saints in a very different way.
While serving in Nürnberg, I was the junior companion to Dave Williams the Zone Leader. We met regularly with the local district in their weekly meeting, which was under the direction of District Leader, Alan Hackney. I enjoyed listening to Brother Hackney because his thick Kentucky southern drawl had a way of softening the German language in an almost melodic way. Each agenda included assignments for dinner invitations from the local members. Of course the prospect of an authentic German home cooked meal was always welcomed by any missionary.
There was one invitation, however, that was always filled more out of a sense of duty than pleasure. Brother Jurowatti was an octogenarian war pensioner and widower of very simple means. He had a standing monthly lunch date that the missionaries were invited to.
President and Sister Gunther had thoroughly instructed us on many do’s and don’ts. One of the ultimate insults (beleidigung) we were told, would be to turn down a German’s invitation to eat when they offer or to leave food on your plate.
Brother Jurowatti was not just old school… he was closer to Old Testament, and as such, any seasoned missionary knew that he would have this beleidigung thing notched up to an art form if the missionaries didn’t show up. Brother Hackney understood the gravity of the situation and, as the District Leader, made double sure that someone would always take a turn to be there even though what was served would not be the most appetizing.
The Jurowatti menu was simple and very predictable. As such, the missionaries had affectionately given the limited menu items fancy names. For example; one standard fair was titled: ‘Reis Ueberlauf’. I was told this consisted of steamed rice that had been portioned out on a serving plate early in the morning to allow it to cool. At meal time, Brother Jurowatti would pour canned (woody) peaches over the rice and then sprinkle hard crusty raisins over the top. Missionaries would also be served a single glass of room temperature apfel saft (apple juice) to wash it all down. As the missionaries consumed this epicurean delight there would be expressions of ‘bitte’, ‘das schmecht gut!’, ‘wunderbar!’ etc. Sincerity was generally the one thing a good elder could fake the best. When the missionaries cleaned their plates the host, as was the custom, would offer a second helping. The missionaries would graciously but insistently decline the offer.
Brother Hackney, was very adept at making sure that each missionary received the opportunity to dine with Brother Jurowatti. I had become very skilled at avoiding the opportunity…until one particular day there was a back room deal that madesure I would be Brother Jurowatti’s next guest. The calendar had mysteriously been altered. Everyone had obligations on the day in question except me and a poor unsuspecting green elder, Bruder Watts, who would be doing splits with me.
I was told that because of my perceived importance (I was the junior companion to the Zone Leader, Dave Williams) I would probably receive Brother Jurowatti’s ‘best dish’, ‘Fett’.
‘What’s that?’ I inquired.
‘You’ll know it when you see it’ I was told.
We arrived at Bruder Jurowatti’s at the appointed hour, knocked once, and were enthusiastically greeted by our host. Bruder Jurowatti was much more animated and outgoing than at church…even the most casual observer could tell he was sincerely honored to have us in his home. As we were invited into the simple three room apartment, our gaze fell upon the linen draped table with three place settings. We were directed to our chairs, I was asked to give a blessing on the food then Bruder Jurowatti rose, declining our offers to help, and gingerly hobbled into the kitchen to get the food. He reappeared with two plates which he placed in front of each of us. Boiled pig knuckles, with bristles of hair protruding from the skin somehow looked out of place on a plate for human consumption. The cold congealed grease at the base of the grisly meat added to the effect. Yes, I knew ‘Fett’ when I saw it. As he made his next trip to the kitchen he told us he had cooked it the night before and had kept it in the Kuhlschrank overnight. “Bitte, bitte, essen.”, he motioned admonishing us to start without him, as he returned with his plate. He placed his serving of ‘fett’ on the table, returned again to the kitchen, explaining as he went back and forth, that the Metzger gives him a good deal on the meat. I noted with some chagrin that our portions were more generous than our host’s.
I did not want to be the poor Elder that tested the long standing beleidigung tradition…so I proceeded with what I was obliged to do. The ‘fett’ jiggled slightly as I sank my fork into it, and… I started to eat. I remember thinking that somewhere in my short life I’d had worse…I just couldn’t recall what or when it was. One glance at Bruder Watts, who was waiting on my lead, spoke volumes. His complexion’s color wheel was dialed back several shades but he followed my lead and began to eat. As Bruder Jurowatti went back to the kitchen for apfel saft I waited for him to turn the corner. With him out of my plane of view, I quickly bare handed the biggest piece of ‘fett’ and stuffed it into my jacket pocket. Bruder Watts’ eyes grew to the size of saucers, he quickly glanced toward the kitchen, saw he was clear, and followed suit. Returning, Bruder Jurowatti poured the apfel saft as we each chewed vigorously and commenced with the obligatory ‘danke’, ‘das schmecht gut’, and ‘wundershoerns’. Our host noticed how we seemed to be enjoying the main plate as each trip back from the kitchen, first with steamed kartoffeln (potatoes) then with steamed kohl (cabbage) our portions were noticeably smaller.
All the food was now on the table and our host sat down to enjoy the meal with us. Our servings of ‘fett’ had diminished appreciably, due in large part, to secreting what we could into our pockets. It was now obvious, however, with our host seated at the table, the plates would have to be cleaned up by a more traditional means: We were going to have to eat what remained.
Between mouthfuls we talked about missionary work, our families and other related matters the entire time interlacing our conversation with compliments to the chef. I soon discovered that if I had more kartoffeln or kohl in my mouth than ‘fett’ it would neutralize the effects of the offending food. Bruder Watts proved to be a quick study as it became apparent that he had made the same discovery and a subtle battle ensued over who could get more kartoffeln and kohl to help diffuse the gastronomic disaster we were experiencing. One glass of apfel saft couldn’t wash this down but we knew better than to ask for more so we sipped it carefully. I don’t believe I’ve had more satisfaction from any single glass of refreshment before or since.
Midway through the meal it dawned on me that ‘fett’ and suit coats weren’t the best combination. Sister Gunther always instructed us on proper decorum and manners and had told us we were to carry a clean handkerchief with us at all times. ‘I need to wrap my handkerchief around the ‘fett’, I thought. I pulled the handkerchief from my pants pocket and in one smooth motion, touched my nose, lightly brushed the beads of perspiration from my brow, and deftly wrapped it around the ‘fett’ in my jacket pocket. I doubt that Sister Gunther’s admonition to always carry a clean handkerchief ever anticipated such utility.
Finally, we were done. As always, we were asked if we would like more. When I said I couldn’t eat another bite, it was the absolute truth! We thanked our host and with all the dignity and grace we could muster and made a hasty departure.
When we got far enough away to not be seen or heard we both shared a common concern that our queasiness could violently erupt at any moment. We agreed that anything that unpleasant going down would certainly be worse coming up. I briefly thought there could be potential for losing the respect of a new missionary but the fear of losing my lunch overrode that moment of valor. We decided that too much activity was not a good thing so we returned to the wohnung (apartment) for some much needed ‘scripture study’. Later in the day, our stomachs had settled down enough for limited activity. We un-wrapped the ‘fett’ and took a picture of it.
I will never forget that meal….but not for the obvious reasons.
This humble Saint, of simple means honored us with his best offering…he couldn’t afford even the most modestly priced cuts of meat. Our meal stretched his meager means.
Brother Jurowatti saw us as those servants spoken of by Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith to Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7) He consecrated what little he had to the Lord and the Lord’s servants. Brother Jurowatti saw us as special witnesses of Jesus Christ and was honored to have us in his home. He loved the missionaries….they had brought him that wonderful message that had changed his life and had given him hope in the poorest of circumstances. Brother Jurowatti held us at a level of esteem I could only hope to be worthy of. No magistrate or dignitary was ever served a finer meal with more pomp or circumstance. I only hope to see him again. I owe that good brother a heart-felt sincere thanks for such a magnificent feast.
As a missionary, I learned that the German Saints have a deep love of Christ, an enduring love of His message and a profound love for His messengers. I will be forever grateful for the way they opened their hearts and lives to me while I served my mission.
I grew up hearing great things about serving a Mormon mission. I had heard the amazing stories and experiences of friends who had gone before me. Almost everyone who had served described it as one of the best experiences of their lives. I just expected that if I went I was going to have those same things to say afterward.
I was assigned to serve in the England Birmingham Mission, and unlike some of my friends who had to learn new languages, I simply had to adjust to some new accents and a couple new words. I thought it would be easy. I had become quite skilled at public speaking while growing up and felt I also had a solid knowledge of the scriputres and the Church. I was confident that I could teach and open the eyes of anyone.
I was humbled faster than you can imagine. I quickly realized my weaknesses, as they were made known in almost every situation I was placed in during the first few days. I can remember coming home one night after spending all day talking to people who did not want to listen to me and who seemed to not like me before even meeting me. I was frustrated and wondered how I was going to keep this up for two years. I thought about all the great stories I had heard and wondered why things weren’t exactly like I had heard.
I knelt down in prayer and pleaded for help. I finally recognized that if I was going to make any kind of difference, that I was not going to be able to do this alone. The skills I thought I had and my knowledge was not enough. This was a turning point not just on my mission but in my life.
The relationship I currently share with my Father in Heaven is much different than it once was. Serving a mission helped me to understand that I need to rely heavily on Him for strength and for the ability to do those things required of me in all aspects of my life. I know that He loves me and wants me to be happy. I feel that those humbling experiences on my mission helped me to develop a much deeper relationship with God. All those great experiences I had on my mission I attribute to my willingness to finally turn my life over to Him.
“HIS THOUGHTS ARE NOT OUR THOUGHTS, HIS WAYS ARE NOT OUR WAYS”
We can’t really fathom what our Father in Heaven is thinking, because His thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways.”
When I was a child, I loved to dream. Having been brought up by a father who was deeply rooted in the Catholic faith, my first dream was to become a Catholic nun. I always loved seeing nuns in their habits and loved seeing how people reverenced them. Another reason I wanted to be a nun is simple: I love God. I wanted to offer my life to Him for all the goodness He had given me, for the family He gave me, and the lists goes on and on.
When I told my older sister about my dream, she told me that if I became a nun, I would be locked up in a convent and would never be able to see my father or mother again! Imagine the horror that brought to my six-year-old mind. So, becoming a nun was taken off of my dream list. I am the youngest in my family, which is why I am particularly attached to my parents, especially to my father. My young mind could not fathom never seeing them again.
My father was in the military, so I grew up on military bases with the sound of men jogging in the wee hours of the morning serving as our alarm clock. Men in military uniforms was a normal sight for me, and Hummers were like school buses to all the children of the men in service. The soldiers became my instant heroes, because they fought hard for the security and the safety of the Filipino people. I admired their valor and courage. I admired them because their leader was my own father. I said to myself, “I want to become a soldier too, like my father. I want to follow his footsteps. I want to enter and study at the prestigious Philippine Military Academy, where my father graduated. I want to defend my friends and family.” However, when I verbalized my dream to others, I was bombarded with negative responses. So becoming a soldier was crossed off of my dream list.
Finally I said to myself, “This time I am sure; I am going to be a doctor.” I wanted to become a doctor because when I saw those kids in Africa on the television, my heart just went out to them. I wanted to help them. I wanted to find the cure for AIDS and make many people’s lives better. My family finally approved of my dream.
Everything was going great. I was in my senior year of high school, excited to finish so that I could start my pre-med courses. I had already envisioned myself attending my dream college, excelling in my program. Then I received the most devastating news of my life: my father had cancer. The news broke me to pieces. I received this news shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. America lamented over the loss of thousands of lives, and I felt the same despair and loss in my own life.
My mother asked me, for practical reasons, to forgo medical school and just take up nursing, because becoming a doctor was extremely expensive, and my parents simply couldn’t afford it with my father having colon cancer. I cried buckets of tears that night. For so many years I had held on to that dream; then it was simply fading away from me.
My father passed away in May 2003. The one thing he taught me that I will never ever forget is to never ask God why this happened to our family and to never ask why, of all people, my father had cancer. My father taught me to be faithful to the end. His teaching me this faith was the very reason it was so easy for me to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ as it was taught to me by Mormon missionaries in December 2004. I was baptized March 20, 2005, and was confirmed the following week.
I never really thought about my past dreams until I became a full-time missionary, for which I patiently waited, fasted, and prayed about for three years, when my mother finally allowed me to go.
During the last weeks of my mission, I remembered my dreams, and I cried again because I realized I had become what I had always wanted to become. God does answer prayers.
For eighteen months, I became a “nun.” I was called Sister Sesante, and I wore skirt-and-blouse combinations which became my “habit.” I became a soldier of truth, defending truth and righteousness for Jesus Christ every day. I did not have the weapons of a soldier, but rather my complete set of scriptures and my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though I did not become a doctor like I always wanted, I became a nurse, and for eighteen months as I was an assistant to the greatest Physician in the world, Jesus Christ.
This is why I truly believe that we have a living God, our dear Father in Heaven, who loves us so much. I testify of His goodness. I know everything happens for a reason. I know that better understanding His Plan of Salvation will help each and everyone of us look at trials and adversities with a brighter hope. I know for a surety that we really can not comprehend what the Lord can comprehend.