Thursday, January 24, 2013

Recent Miracle in Barcelona

Ryan Sommerfeldt and his wife, Jen, recently returned to Spain where they spent Christmas in Palma. Ryan recounted the following experience he had while they were in Barcelona at year end.

Elders Keller and Sommerfeldt with Mario and Magda,
Singing for the Angels, 28 June 2011
I had a recent miracle a couple weeks ago when I was back in Barcelona visiting people.  I had heard that Mario and Magda, a couple Elder Keller and I baptized in Barcelona, had gone through some struggles and, subsequently, had become less active.  We arrived in Barcelona on a Saturday night and I was determined that we would pass by their house and help encourage them to come to church with us the next day.  We passed by their house, but they weren't home.  I called both of their numbers (the numbers that I had from a year and a half earlier), but both numbers had a message saying that the numbers no longer existed.

The next day in church Mario and Magda weren't there, but there were sister missionaries who now cover the area where Elder Keller and I used to work.  They were both newer in the area and hadn't personally met Mario or Magda.  They had a number in their planner for Mario and gave it to me so I could call them to see if they had moved or where they were.  I called the number and we set up a visit for Tuesday evening at 7:00 p.m.  We went to their piso on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. and to our dismay nobody answered the door again.  I was getting nervous because the next day was our last day.

Elder Sommerfeldt with his group at Montjuic on their first day first day in Barcelona
Wednesday morning I called the number I had for Mario and he said they had gone for a walk and were really sorry.  I was a little upset, but we rescheduled for later that night.  We went and saw some places and visited many other people and for our final visit at 10:00 p.m. we passed by Mario and Magda's house, and they weren't there, again.  I was more upset at this point because it was our last night and we were leaving early the next morning.  We found a locutorio (because our phone had run out of saldo earlier in the day) and I called the number for Mario.  He told me that they didn't live on the Rambla Badal but that they lived on another street and they'd love for us to come over.  At this point we were all really confused because he had said in a previous conversation that they hadn't moved, but still lived in the same house.  I had even asked him in a previous conversation if he was the Mario who was married to Magda that Elder Keller and I taught and he said yes.  We walked over to the new address we had, timbre'd, they opened the door, and we went up the elevator.  When we rang the doorbell a guy I didn't recognize answered the door.  I told him we were looking for Mario and he said, "Soy yo" (That's me).  I told him we were looking for another Mario that I had taught when I was a missionary, but they insisted we come in.
At the airport headed home

We went in (me, my wife, and my parents) and Mario, his wife Marta (which explains why he said he was married to Magda), his daughter, and his daughter's friend were there to listen to us.  They had to have been one of the best families I've ever taught.  We talked to them for a while and they were investigators.  They hadn't been visited for about a month and a half because of his work schedule during December, but they were going to be visited the next day by the Hermanas.  We talked to them about The Book of Mormon and what their favorite parts were and questions they had.  Then I asked if the missionaries had talked to them about baptism at all and he said they had talked about it a little bit, but not very much.  We talked to them for the next 15 minutes all about baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost and committed them to ask the missionaries the next day how they can prepare to be baptized.  Afterwards the dad said to the daughter to make sure to write that down in their book of questions they had for the missionaries.  It was an amazing visit.

In our conversation the dad also said that they had seen pictures of a missionary's family before and the missionary had told them how his family was a source of strength for him, and the family had always wanted to meet a missionary's family.  They told us that our visit was like an answer to their prayers.  I asked if the dad could offer a closing prayer and in his prayer he thanked God for "sending this family from so far away to visit them."  It was a very spiritual visit and a special experience for my wife and I.  Jen was able to see what being a missionary is like, and I was able to return to feeling like a missionary with my wife as my companion.  It was a great miracle, and even though we were frustrated throughout the week, God knew that we needed to see that family while we were there.  Milagros ocurren!

Ryan served in Cornellá, Vilafranca, Barcelona 1, Castellón, Poniente, and Barcelona 2. He returned home in June 2011. He and Jennifer Parks were married on December 16, 2011. Ryan is currently enrolled at BYU.

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Continue to Reach Out"


The Hadleys and Hna. Lund
at the Christmas Conference, 2010
            Since returning from our mission in Barcelona, I have had the message of Christ’s great love and mercy reinforced in a very meaningful way.  As Sister Hadley and I worked at the Young Adult Center, we became aware of a young adult who had been active in the Church during his young life; but as he grew older, he became completely inactive.  He was the topic of conversation several times as we met with the young adult council to discuss ways to activate those who had lost the way.

            This young man actually came by the Center on one occasion, so I “cornered” him and asked if I could visit with him for a moment.  We found a quiet place to visit; and in the course of our conversation, he told me that while he still believed in the principles that he had been taught as a child, he knew that he could never come back into activity because he had made so many serious mistakes that he could never be forgiven.  We visited for quite some time.  I suggested that he might want to make an appointment to visit with his bishop.  I also asked if we could meet again.  He was agreeable.  During the next few months, I met quite regularly with this young man.  He continued to see himself in a very negative light.  Each time my focus during our meetings was to help him understand that nothing he could have done in his young life would had disqualified him from the Savior’ love.  Nothing he could have done put him beyond the reach of the infinite Atonement. 

With Archie on 28 Feb 2011
            The young man’s mother became aware of our visits.  She invited Sister Hadley and I to their apartment to visit with them.  She invited us to a birthday celebration that the family was having for this same young man.  She invited us for dinner a few times.  Her effort became an effort to support us and her son in his return to Church—if he would ever have a desire to do so. 

            Over the months, I began to see small but significant changes in his attitude.  His church attendance began to change from no attendance at all to sporadic and, finally, to almost weekly.  During one of our visits, he reminded me that one of Spain’s significant holidays was coming up.  He said it would be a real challenge for him because on major holidays his uncles would come to pick him up for the evening.  They would first spend the early evening drinking at a local bar.  Then his uncles would take him to pick up local girls for the rest of the evening.  The young man and I spoke about some things that he could do to avoid trouble!  The following week, we met again.  I was afraid of what he might have to report.  So among the first things that I said was, “Well, how did it go?”  He reported the following.  His uncles came by.  He went with them.  When they went to the bar, the uncles ordered alcohol.  He ordered a Coke.  They spent some time drinking until the uncles were quite drunk.  Then the uncles told him that it was time to go looking for the girls with whom they would spend the rest of the evening.  To my great relief, the young man told me that he said to his uncles, “It’s time for me to go home.”  Then he said, “I knew I would be coming today to visit with you, and I just couldn’t disappoint you.” 

            From that day forward, things began to improve in his life dramatically.  His was not a life without challenges.  There were still studies to complete, daily employment to attend, “uncles” to whom he had to say “no.”  But he rose to nearly every occasion.  When we left Spain, he was attending his meetings every Sunday.  He still struggled somewhat with negative feelings about himself, but gradually he began to see himself in a better light. 

            We kept in touch by email and Facebook on a regular basis.  He wrote of his struggles and his triumphs.  I tried to respond with words of encouragement.  One day an email came saying that he was leaving Spain to live in another country.  I was very concerned that this change of address might let him slip back into old habits.  But just the opposite was true.  Just a few months later, I received an email telling me that he was in a very serious relationship with a young lady who was LDS.  Then came another email saying that he thought it was time to get engaged.  Then an email saying that he was engaged. 

Some of the JAS bid a fond farewell to the
Hadleys at the Barcelona Prat Airport,
7 Mar 2011
            About three months ago, an invitation arrived at our home.  It was an invitation to attend a temple sealing and a reception that followed.  Time and distance prevented Sister Hadley and I from attending these events.  But time and distance could not stop the tears of joy that I shed.  Christ’s infinite atonement had reached the heart and soul of a young man who had been lost.  That Atonement had lead him to the sealing room of the Holy Temple.

            During this past Christmas season, I received a special Facebook message from this young man.  He offered thanks for that fact that I had been able to stick with him—even across many miles and much time.  Then he said, “I am grateful that Jesus has given me a second chance.  Life is not without its struggles, but I have a wonderful wife to whom I am sealed eternally.  And I want you to know that a few weeks ago I was called to serve as the Elder’s quorum president of my ward.”

            Again, my tears flowed as I felt the great love that our Redeemer has for all of us.  He loves us and searches us out—even when we are lost in the narrow streets of Barcelona, Spain.  When we reach out to him, He lifts us.  It is not just second chances that he gives us because two chances would be too few for almost all of us.  The chances that his gives are at least seventy times seven—and probably many, many more. 

            As missionaries we had the opportunity to share the love that Christ has for all of us.  But that sharing does not need to end with the end of the mission.  Just as there are lost souls in Barcelona, there are lost souls in Salt Lake City, Utah; in Boise, Idaho; in Preston, England; in Cadiz, Spain; in Dallas, Texas; in Santiago, Chile or wherever in the world we live.  We need to continue to reach out to them because we are the hands of the Savior, and His Atonement will bring us all together again one day in the kingdom of His Father.

Elder Dennis and Sister Lana Hadley supervised the Barcelona JAS Center and returned home in March 2011. They live in Ogden, Utah.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tender Mercies and Small Miracles


Ryan with the Lunds
at Singing for the Angels
Early one Monday morning, I was studying for a written exam that was just a few hours away. The test could be on any one of four possible essay questions. I was quickly running out of time and had studied only the first question. Hurrying on to the second question, I had a thought that I should skip to the fourth question instead. My inclination was to continue studying the questions in the order given on the study guide, but again I had the thought, “You’ll be better off skipping to the last question.” I used my remaining study time to prepare for the last question, and when I got to class, sure enough the last question was pulled out of the hat. After the test, I reflected on the experience and had the distinct impression that I had received that tender mercy as a result of the decision I had made to not study on Sundays.

This experience happened soon after coming home from my mission. It was among the first of many small miracles that have continued to happen since then. Often times the miracle comes after I have done all that I know how to do, and have no other option but to pray and trust. I have marveled at the surprising ways I have seen this scripture fulfilled: “let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17).

Ryan and Jeni
I have been grateful for the many opportunities the Lord has given me to exercise faith in his promises. He has proven to me many times that he will bless us when we keep his commandments. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say” (D&C 82:10). I am convinced that when we put the Lord and his commandments first, we not only receive great blessings, but we also accomplish far more than we ever could on our own.

Ryan served in Gandia, Zaragoza 1 and 2, Hospitalet 2, and Bilbao. He returned home in April 2011. He married Jeni Gubler on July 29, 2011, in the St. George Temple. They are the proud parents of Olivia. The Awerkamps currently live in Provo where Ryan is a student at BYU. Jeni maintains the family blog at

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

"I Came to Understand..."

Jesse on his last day in the mission field.


            Unlike most missionaries I didn’t wait my whole life to serve a mission.  To be precise I waited about a year and a half.  The reasons for this are complicated, but suffice it to say the moment I decided to serve a mission nothing was going to deter me.  I knew I wanted to serve, and better yet, I knew why I wanted to serve.  The difference the Gospel had made in my life was real and I felt an unconquerable desire to share that with others.  I knew the Gospel wasn’t merely a matter of preference; that anyone who lived it would feel a greater peace, a greater purpose, a greater sense of self-worth. 

            As I prepared for the mission I remember everyone telling me that it would be the greatest two years of my life.  I heard this line so much I actually began to resent it.  What’s wrong with you people that ten, twenty, thirty years later you’ve accomplished so little else in your life that your fondest memories are from when you were barely past being a teenager?  To be honest it sounded a lot like that guy, no matter what age, whose eyes glass over at the mere mention of high school.  That is of course, until I got there. 

Concilio, 28 Aug 2009 (click to enlarge)
I fell in love with the mission at the MTC.  From the moment I entered those doors in Provo to the moment the plane left the tarmac in Barcelona two years later I was entranced.  Everything about those two years was a literal gift from Heaven.  Who knew Spain was so beautiful; its people, its culture, its language?  I served and served with some of the greatest companions, converts, leaders, and members who have shaped and continue to shape me to this day.  Sure there was frustration with the language, certain rules, and certain companions.  There was disappointment with some investigators and at times myself.  And then there was the interminable feeling of exhaustion and undernourishment that began that first week in the field and never let up.  But in the end it was impossible to deny (or even to fully explain) that those truly were the best two years. 

Samuel Melgarejo, Jesse Rae York,
Samuel Close, and Brad Peterson,
7 Sep 2009
(click to enlarge)
The only day I ever regretted, and to some extent still regret, about those two years was the very last one when I stepped off the plane in Houston.  And while the reasons should be obvious to most, there was another, not so obvious one.  When I left on the mission another thing I remember people telling me was how much my service to the Lord was going to bless my family.  And unlike my skepticism toward the notion of the ‘best two years’, I put a lot of hope into this one.  More than anything I wanted it to be true and would often use that promise as motivation in those moments when my weaknesses would begin to emerge.

But when I got home it seemed the more I tried to encourage my family the more the message was met with resistance.  This continued for over a year until I realized I might be doing more damage than good in the long run so I took a step back.  But the thought of being separated from my family for all eternity ate at me like a cancer.  I found little consolation in the idea of “visiting” them in a lower kingdom of heaven.  And the more people I met with inactive children, siblings, parents, and friends, the more I began to wonder, even question the doctrine that families can be together forever.  That word can took on a whole new, almost sarcastic meaning.  And while my testimony of the Plan, the Resurrection, and the Restoration remained strong there was an emptiness to it that I couldn’t ignore.

With little else I could do I got down on my knees and prayed from the depths of humility for guidance on how I could reconcile the emptiness that I felt.  The answer I got was almost immediate, but it wasn’t a statement or an idea, rather it came as an impulse.  I spent the next six months scouring the church archives and internet database.  I wasn’t sure what I was looking for and I wasn’t making a whole lot of progress until one day I found a passage that led to another that led to a dozen others each offering a new invaluable insight into the nature of our Heavenly Father’s plan and His love for us.  The basic line of reasoning was this, If Christ’s atonement was both infinite and eternal then the full blessings of repentance must be available to anyone at any time, whether in this life or the next.  To say otherwise would be to deny the atonement, to say that it is somehow limited.

I came to understand that progression, like the atonement, is not limited.  This seemed to be substantiated by the prophet Joseph Smith’s teaching that, ‘There is never a time, when the spirit is too old to approach God.  All are within the reach of pardoning mercy.’  Brigham Young put it another way stating, that all those consigned to lesser kingdoms ‘would eventually have the privilege of proving themselves worthy and advancing to a celestial kingdom.’  George Q Cannon took that idea further when he said that all those in higher kingdoms ‘must help those in lower kingdoms to rise up to their plane.’  Adding to this line of reasoning B.H. Roberts stated, ‘I can conceive of no reason for all this administration of the higher to the lower, unless it be for the purpose of advancing our Father’s children along the lines of eternal progression.’ 

I found similar statements had been made by a dozen other church leaders including; Hiram Smith, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph Fielding Smith, J. Reuben Clark, Joseph F. Smith, Orson F. Whitney, James E. Faust, and Boyd K. Packer.  My favorite however comes from James Talmage who says, ‘Progression, then, is possible beyond the grave.  Advancement is eternal.  Were it otherwise, Christ's ministry among the disembodied would be less than fable and fiction.  Equally repugnant is the thought that though the Savior preached faith, repentance and other principles of the Gospel to the imprisoned sinners in the realm of spirits, their compliance was impossible.’   

And while the Church has declared that it takes no official position on the subject Joseph Smith’s assurance that, “Our Heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive,” offered me the comfort that I sought by confirming what my heart already knew to be true, that God loves us, that He will not forsake us, and that the work we do in this life will, in fact, bless our families.  So while I didn’t wait my whole life to serve a mission I will spend the rest of my life preparing for the next one.  If for no other reason than to help my Heavenly Father make good on the promise that families can, and will be together forever. 

Jesse served in Alicante 2, Barcelona 2, Zaragoza 2, Badalona, and Menorca. He returned home in March 2010. His wife, Aprih, served in the Spain Madrid Mission. They currently live in Dublin, Ireland, where Jesse  studies creative writing at American College Dublin and writes crime mystery novellas. 

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Friday, January 11, 2013


Hna. Olson on her last day in Barcelona
Lately I've been experiencing some miracles of a returned missionary that have been incredibly gratifying, and have served as reminders to me of the greatness of the Lord's work.  Allow me to explain:

I'll start at the beginning.  Shortly after coming home from the mission, I started losing track of and contact with converts and members I'd come to love during my eighteen months in Spain.  I decided I would be better about maintaining contact by sending out mass emails every few months or so with updates on how I've been, what I'm doing, and with my testimony.  Most, if not all, of my dearest friends and I have been able to check in with each other this way over the last three years, and still stay close.  Facebook has also been an excellent tool in this regard, and the primary reason I still have an account is because it connects me to the daily lives of so many people I met on my mission.  One of my converts in my last area, however, never responded to my messages-neither to personal emails I sent him.  I wondered if he wasn't receiving them; I wondered if I had offended him and he'd never bothered to tell me.  But every few months, I would still include his name on mass letters, and I would check to see if he'd set up a Facebook profile.  After a year or so of this, I gave up, and though he would frequently cross my mind (because who doesn't still think about the mission daily?) I figured I'd never hear from him again.

Fast-forward a year and a half: after some personal spiritual slumps, all of a sudden, everyone I love is deciding to go on a mission.   I'm asked to teach temple prep in my ward.  I resolve to be a better member missionary by inviting myself to appointments with the elders serving where I am living.  I start having dreams in Spanish again.  I am reminded just how much my time in Spain meant to me with every farewell talk I hear over a pulpit, every testimony I hear shared in an appointment.  My sister is called to Lima, Peru.  An amazing convert who becomes my best friend and eventually my boyfriend is called to Calgary, Canada.  My cousin is off to North Carolina in a couple of months, and two more are going to British Columbia and coming home from Winnipeg.  My former roommate is excited to leave for Milan, Italy, and a current roommate is starting to fill out her papers for spring.  With the missionary age lowering, it seems that everyone is embracing the call to enact the Lord's work and it has only served to show me all over again the many blessings that came from my own service.  

But that last convert in my last area - I still didn't know what's going on with him, and he was coming to mind more and more frequently as a result of all these events happening with friends and family going on missions.  Eventually (and I should have thought to do this well before) I decided that I would start praying for the chance to hear from him.  I prayed more fervently for the people I left behind in Spain - members or not - and finally, one day, I felt prompted to look for this convert once again on Facebook.  I plugged in his email, and a profile came up with his name!  I immediately added him as a friend and sent along a message saying hello.  A few months went by with no response, and then finally, I got a message back right before Christmas.  We spent the next few days catching up and talking about how things are going for him.  He hasn't been able to attend church as often as he was before, since he found a job working at Ikea that makes him work Sundays, but we reminisced and it was a joy hearing from him again. Working on Sundays has taken a toll on him, and he recognizes that he needs to go back to church and put the Lord first in order to be happy again.  I didn't want to make him feel more guilty than he already did for not attending, but did say, with the same frankness I'd employ as a missionary, that re-embracing daily scripture study, prayer, and church attendance were part of keeping the covenants he so enthusiastically made at baptism.  Not too long after our conversation, I received a follow-up message that among other things said that his faith was renewed, and his desires to keep his covenants along with it.  He thanked me for having spoken with him so plainly, and told me I was family to him.

It meant so much that I was able to find this convert and be able to help him again, despite the fact that I have been home for almost three years now and all that time had lapsed since we last spoke.  It was a miracle that I was able to establish contact with him when I did, and I have been so blessed in the past few months to feel my own testimony revitalized because of the spirit of missionary work reintroducing itself in my life. 

I know that the Lord is aware of what we need to hear and when we need to hear it, and there's no doubt that He uses His children as instruments to bless one another.  I was able to promise miracles to my convert as a missionary, and after, because I have seen them in my own life and know that they happen when we keep the commandments and continue enduring the way we are commanded to do in 2 Nephi.  I am grateful for the tender mercies that we are shown when we express desire to align our will with the Lord's and do as He would have us do.  Getting back in contact with my convert was a tender mercy for me, and every week when I hear from loved ones on missions, I can reflect on the privilege I had to bear the name of the Savior alongside my own as I went about His work

Emily served in Murcia, Benidorm, Hospitalet and Zaragoza. She returned home in February 2010 and lives in San Luis Obisbo, California, where she is earning a masters degree in English at California Polytechnical State University. She works as a teaching associate at Cal Poly, teaching English 134: Composition.