Tender Mercies Revisited
Heaven’s tender mercies are everywhere, and certainly the little good we do in one generation comes back to bless us and multiple generations more. (D. Todd Christofferson)
Several weeks ago, in an email from our grandson, Nathan Harman, who is serving as a missionary in Liberia (West Africa), he reported that the area president, Elder Terence Vinson of the 70, had visited his mission and spoke to the missionaries. Nathan was moved in the most profound way. His testimony was strengthened, and his resolve to be an even better missionary was increased. He did not know my connection to Elder Vinson’s wife, Kay, and, therefore, to Elder Vinson.
Several years ago when Elder Vinson, an Australian, was called to serve as a general authority, he related the story of his conversion. He said he was introduced to the Church in the early 1970’s by the young woman he was dating, Kay Carden. They discussed religion and agreed that each Sunday they would both attend each other’s church. Elder Vinson’s was a spacious, beautiful edifice, and Kay’s a small rented space where her little Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints branch met. After a while, referring to the Spirit he felt at Kay’s Church, Elder Vinson said, “The comparison was embarrassing!” He began taking missionary discussions, and the rest is history.
In January of 1962, eleven or twelve years before Kay introduced her husband-to-be to the Church, my companion, Elder Wagstaff, and I knocked on the door of Lorraine Carden who was living in a suburb of Sydney, Australia. A divorced mother with three young children, Lorraine absorbed the gospel like a sponge. Two weeks later, she and her oldest daughter, Kay, were baptized. And the other children followed suite as they reached baptism age.
Now, some 54 years after I first met Lorraine and Kay, Kay’s husband, Elder Vinson, affected my grandson in a powerful and direct way. The results of my missionary efforts over a half-century ago had come full circle to bless me and my family.
This last month, my wife, Joyce, and I attended the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho stake conference. We are not members of that stake, but Joyce’s cousin, and our dear friend, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, was presiding, and we wanted to hear him speak. He was accompanied by Elder Meurs, a recently called general authority Seventy. Elder Meurs is from a small town in western Australia, and he told the fascinating and moving story of how missionaries found his family when he was a boy in the late 1950’s.
I immediately identified with those missionaries, and Elder Meurs’ talk moved me to want to make a concerted effort to contact Lorraine Carden to let her know the affect her son-in-law, Elder Vinson, had on my grandson. Lorraine and I communicated with each other for decades, but she had not responded to my emails for a couple of years. She and I were Facebook friends, though, and I determined to try that route. I went through my missionary journal and posted on her Facebook page a summary of the events that brought her and her family into the Church. Then I related my grandson’s experience with Elder Vinson.
I received a beautiful, loving response from her youngest daughter who was taking care of her “Mum” in Brisbane. Lorraine was an Alzheimer’s victim, she explained. That’s why I hadn’t heard from her. Then her sister, Kay Vinson, messaged me on Facebook—my first contact with her since she was baptized. Here is what she wrote:
A missionary from the US serves in Sydney in 1962, (and) a family's life is forever changed. Over 50 years later a connection occurs in Liberia, West Africa that ties these people together again. Such a marvelous reminder that we are (God’s) children. On mission tours I often tell the missionaries that their converts will never forget them just like I haven't forgotten Elder Hanson and Elder Wagstaff, even though I was just a child at the time. Two weeks was all it took to change the destiny of generations. I can't thank you enough for your missionary service all those years ago. I love how the Lord positions people where they can be useful to achieve his purposes.
(This is) too special a story to keep to ourselves. Such a beautiful reassurance that we are personally known to God. … I feel like Alma and the sons of Mosiah when they were reunited (after all those years) and were thrilled to know that they were still united in the gospel.
I read this . . . and wept. And following Kay’s suggestion, I am sharing our story with you.