I did not grow up in an active LDS home. My stepfather was a very good man who was as honest and hardworking as the day is long. He had picked up some bad habits during his years in the war and felt uncomfortable around active LDS people, but he always felt close to the Church and its teachings. My mother was very caring and supportive—but she did not go to church very often either. During my days at Bountiful High School in Utah, I became very close with a number of young men and women who were not only active in the Church but who became very patient and caring friends—the kind you value throughout your life. They always seemed to take me into their circle. I loved being with them and their families and soon developed an ideal of what I wanted for myself in a family. Through their examples, I was baptized, attended seminary the last two years of high school, and nurtured a desire to serve a mission. For me, my mission was a transformative experience. I served in Germany under two devoted mission presidents who had a powerful influence in my life. I also mingled with some remarkably bright and capable missionaries who were not only becoming well-educated but also faithful and hard-working. In spite of best efforts, we were not very successful in winning converts of the German people. Those who did take our message to heart and were baptized were quite amazing people—but we didn’t have the opportunity to see that very often. What I didn’t realize was that I would come have an opportunity to take a new look at my mission a couple of decades later.
About twenty-two years after returning from Germany, marrying the girl of my dreams, defending the country, finishing grad school, bringing five energetic children into the world, and starting a university teaching career, I received an invitation to make a presentation in Amsterdam at a conference. I thought it would be a good opportunity to take our oldest son, Evan, on a father-son adventure not just to see Holland but to go back, for the first time, into my old mission area. So, after the conference, we rented a tiny car, braved the no-speed-limit autobahn, and drove through Holland and across the border into Germany. What a thrill to see the familiar cities and towns of the old industrial section of Germany—once crowded with steel mills, coal mines, chemical plants, and Protestant and Catholic churches. I showed Evan some of my old apartments, the cobblestone streets I had “tracted out,” and our old rented branch meeting hall in Herne. Here we managed to also find a beautiful new modern ward meetinghouse. Faithful Schwester Klein was the custodian on duty when we stopped by. She gave us an update on the growth of the branch into a ward and then showed us where her 97-year-old mother, Oma Klein, and her nearly-as-old aunt were living. We knocked on the apartment door. They peeked out, carrying the open copies of the Book of Mormon they had been reading. They seemed to glow with remembrance and filled me in on the people of the branch I had known.
Then we drove south to Düsseldorf and our former mission office, where I spent many months of my two years. The meetinghouse we helped build was still there, but the office had been sold to a real estate company since the missions in Germany were consolidated a few years back. It was in this office where a robber broke in and stole the tithing money and many other things back in 1966.
But the most important and most unexpected part of our trip was ahead of us outside the boundaries of the old Central German Mission. We drove the next morning down to the Frankfurt area, where the church had recently completed a temple. In the light snow we walked around the beautiful building, took some pictures, and talked to some American missionaries. I asked at the desk where one might stay—Frankfurt is actually many miles away from this rural town and I hadn’t seen any motels nearby. The person at the desk said, “Oh, you could have stayed here—we have several rooms available but they just filled two minutes ago.” How disappointing. “But,” she continued, “there is a sister who has a place near here. She rents out rooms to temple visitors. Here’s the number.” I called and, fortunately, she had space for us. Not only that, when we arrived, white-haired Schwester Hansen fed us a sumptuous German dinner. After our long day’s drive, we were anxious to get straight to bed, but Schwester Hansen said cheerfully, “Would you like to see my photo albums?” I translated this for sixteen-year-old Evan and I could tell he would much rather have gone to bed—and so I would have preferred. But she had been so good to us. Soon a large photo album was spread before us going back many years. We tried very hard to look interested. I asked her how long she had lived in the Frankfurt area. “Oh, I’m not from here—I live up near Düsseldorf. I just rented this apartment because I knew people would need a place to stay when they came to the temple.” She had shown us some pictures of one of her children who was in a wheelchair. She mentioned that he was one of thirteen children. That made me start thinking. Thirteen children is highly unusual for a German family. Then she said, “We’ve had a lot of sickness in our family. I’ve been ill a lot, too.” Could it be? A memory started to awaken. “Did you ever have heart problems?” “Yes,” she admitted. “Did you once come into the mission office in Düsseldorf seeking a blessing from the mission president? But he was not there, was he, so you were blessed by his two assistants?” She looked at me with squinted eyes. “Yes.” I asked her to excuse me a moment. I went back into our bedroom and extracted my mission diary from our luggage. I hurried back, and leafed through the pages until I found the right spot. Then I read to her what happened on that miraculous day.
It was a Sunday morning in the winter of 1966. A heavy snowfall had covered the streets. President and Sister Horace Beesley had left early for a meeting in Wuppertal. Elder Steve Smith and I had just stopped by the office before we were to travel out ourselves. A couple came into the office and asked to see the mission president. The woman looked very ill—exceptionally pale and weak. We brought them both into the president’s office and asked if there was anything we could do. “I just came from the hospital,” said the woman. “They didn’t want me to leave but I just had to. I have nine children to care for and they need me at home. I have a very bad heart problem. Feel my hands and my face.” They were both pale and ice cold. “But I know if you bless me, I will recover. God will heal me and let me take care of my children. Will you do that for me?” I had given blessings before but never to someone who appeared so ill. She had much more faith than I felt I had. Elder Smith and I looked at each other and asked to be excused for a minute. We went down the hall into his office.
“We need to pray,” he said. We prayed. We asked that we be able to give a blessing that would be equal to the trust this good woman was putting into the Lord’s priesthood holders. This seemed to be a life or death situation to us. We went back into the president’s office. The woman’s husband did not feel he could participate in the blessing. Elder Smith, being the senior companion, anointed her with consecrated oil. I put my hands, with Elder Smith’s, on her head and started to bless her. At first the words just wouldn’t come. I felt nervous and self-conscious. But then something happened. The German started to flow. Powerful impressions. Whole sentences. I pronounced a blessing I had no earthly capability of pronouncing. I used words I didn’t know. I gave her advice I didn’t understand. I promised her a full recovery and the ability to return to her children and take care of them. I had not experienced such feelings before—feelings of confidence and knowledge and goodness. This was something beyond normal life experiences.
When we finished, she stood, glowing. “Feel my hands.” We did. They were warm. “Feel my face.” We did. It was warm and flush. “Danke! Danke!” she said. “I’m all better and now I’ll go take care of my family.” She and her husband put on their coats and headed out into the snow. Elder Smith and I sat for a while in that office wondering at the remarkable experience we had just been part of. Since then, I had often wondered what had happened to her and her family. I did not see her again over those twenty-two years.
When I finished reading the experience to Schwester Hansen from my diary, she wept. I wept. Evan wept. What a blessing to cross paths with this soul who entered my life only for a few minutes some twenty-two years earlier. She went on to have four more children after that time. She continues to serve others even all the way down in Frankfurt.
I’m glad we were two minutes too late to occupy a guest room in the temple and got to come and revisit one of the most memorable experiences of my missionary days.
I’m very grateful for the church’s missionary program. It not only spreads the gospel throughout the world, but it also gives young men and women—and even older ones—opportunities to stretch their capabilities, enlarge their world view, discover the goodness of other people, and even glimpse the power of God.
Ned C. Hill is former dean of the Marriott School of Management (1998-2008) at Brigham Young University. He taught at Cornell University and Indiana University before coming to BYU in 1987. He graduated in chemistry from the University of Utah, where he was a laboratory assistant to Professor Henry Eyring. He earned a master’s degree in chemistry from Cornell and then a PhD in finance from Cornell. He is currently the National Advisory Council Professor of Finance in the Marriott School, where he teaches corporate finance. He has authored three books and over seventy academic articles. He has served as a bishop and stake president (twice) and his current calling is chair of the board of the Volunteer Care Clinic of Utah County. He serves on a number of other boards of directors. His wife, Claralyn Martin Hill, is a BYU Law School graduate and a University of Utah undergraduate. They are the parents of five grown children and fifteen grandchildren.
Posted December 2010