Friday, June 13, 2008

A Tribute to My Dad (part 4)

With time, Dad apprenticed as an electrician. When he passed all of the tests to become a journeyman electrician, he began working for a company that installed telephone systems. He was working on a job in central Germany that was nearly complete when there was a delay in receiving some of the needed parts. The bosses sent all of the workers away for a few days.

With some money in his pocket and some time on his hands, Dad decided to go home and visit his parents. His father took him out fishing in the sea. Dad fished all day with no shirt on. But his skin hadn’t seen that much sun for a long time. Consequently, he was sitting in his parents’ living room the next day in great pain. He had no shirt on because of how tender his skin was.

When the doorbell rang, his little brother answered it and talked to someone briefly. His brother then ran into the kitchen and told his mother that the Mongols were at the front door. “This I have to see,” said my Grandmother. But it wasn’t Mongols at the door; it was Mormon missionaries. Grandma wasn’t interested in religion, but she knew that her oldest son was, so she brought the missionaries into the living room.

Dad said that these two young men had a very poor command of the German language. They wore bad suits and had bad haircuts. Dad could speak some English, so that allowed them some kind of rudimentary communication. Dad thought that what they had to say was rather odd. He was stunned when he found out that they were not professional ministers, but were volunteers that were spending their own money to preach their message to Germans for 2½ years each. Dad invited the missionaries to return the next day.

That evening, Dad wrote down 50 fairly deep philosophical questions to present to the missionaries. When they returned, he told them that if they could satisfactorily answer all 50 questions he would join their church. Some of the questions were ones that Mormon Primary children can answer, but many of the questions were way beyond the missionaries’ understanding.

After struggling through the concept of addressing all 50 questions, the missionaries told Dad that they could teach him a series of lessons and that through these lessons, most of his questions would likely be answered. Dad replied that he was leaving the next day to return to central Germany. They said they would be glad to send missionaries to meet with him. But Dad explained that he would be at that location for only a brief time before moving with his job to an unknown address in Hamburg. They said that he could look up the church when he got to Hamburg.

While Dad chatted with the missionaries, he asked how their church got started. They responded by telling him about Joseph Smith and his first vision. Then one of the missionaries bore his testimony of the truth of this message. Dad felt something go through him that stunned him. It felt new, but somehow also felt like something he had previously experienced. He knew that he had to find out more about this message.

A few weeks later, Dad was settled into a dingy little apartment in Hamburg. He went to the American library and researched everything he could find about the LDS Church. It was almost all bad. It ranged from mildly anti-Mormon to virulently anti-Mormon. But he said that it was easy to see that much of it was bluster and hyperbole. He thought that anything that generated so much blatant falsehood in opposition had much more to it than was apparent.

Dad then looked up the nearest address of the LDS Church. The streetcar went right by there, so he went there one evening. It had the name of the church on it, but it looked like a standard brownstone office building. When he went inside, he saw people practicing for some kind of theatrical performance (road shows). He wondered if this was part of their worship service. If so, it seemed pretty strange. He went back outside and looked to make sure he was in the right place. It looked like he was, so he went back inside.

Someone then saw Dad and asked if he was the piano tuner. Dad responded that he was there to see about joining their church. They got kind of excited and ran upstairs. They returned with two young ladies that introduced themselves as missionaries. They took Dad to a classroom and started chatting with him. They went the rounds with him on his 50 questions again, and ultimately arranged to meet again.

At their next meeting, one of the sisters told Dad that they would start by kneeling and praying. Dad was a bit uncomfortable with this ritual, but he went along. He appreciated the discussion, but he felt like it was far too puerile for him. They arranged for another meeting.

Before starting their next lesson, the sisters again invited Dad to kneel in prayer with them. Dad obliged. Then one of the sisters turned to Dad and said, “It’s your turn to offer the prayer.” Dad was dumbfounded. He had never prayed and he had never thought of God as a personal being. The thought of praying out loud like this seemed a bit ridiculous to him. Still, he figured that it seemed to be a ritual that was valued by these people, so he decided to give it a shot.

As soon as Dad opened his mouth, even before the first word came out, Dad suddenly knew with every fiber of his being that God was listening to him and that God intimately knew him and loved him in a very personal way. Dad could almost not manage to say any actual words. After that experience, the lessons the missionaries taught him seemed unnecessary. He knew in ways that no human can communicate that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are real beings that personally love him, and that Christ wanted to relieve him of the burden of his faults.

Dad found the experience of praying so wonderful that he found himself praying continually. Moreover, he started having visions. Night after night, Dad would lie down in bed, and while fully awake, he would have something that looked like a screen appear in front of him. The scriptures in German would appear just as they look in print, and would begin scrolling. Dad didn’t even own a set of scriptures, since German language scriptures were rather difficult to come by at that time. Yet Dad soon had read the entire Standard Works and was well versed in them.

As Dad learned about the Plan of Salvation, the meaning of his recurring dream finally became clear. Things came into focus and started to make sense.

Next time I’ll write about Dad becoming an American.

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