Posted by: erniejshannon | January 10, 2014

Former Columbus Temple President’s Reach Was Extensive

In the late 1990s as work on the LDS Conference Center neared completion, a decision was needed regarding the broadcast capability of the new 21,000-seat structure adjacent to Temple Square.  Distance from KSL studios upon which the Church had traditionally relied for General Conference and other broadcasts originating from the Tabernacle and new  FCC regulations meant the Church needed its own broadcast resources for the new building. As different options were considered, the Church turned to an unlikely source for counsel, the director of the Church Correlation Department, Edward Brandt.

Decades devoted to teaching the gospel in academic settings and later having purview over every printed document advanced by the Church didn’t keep the Idaho native from following a passion for the broadcast industry – a passion and interest that prepared him to advise President Gordon B. Hinckley to bring cutting-edge digital technology to the Conference Center when it opened in the Spring of 1999. Some considered the move risky preferring tried-and-true analogue technology, but the enhanced broadcast quality of programs coming from the Center for nearly 14 years now is a testament to Edward’s counsel.

Born and reared in Pocatello, Idaho, Edward later met and married Carol Bartschi, also from Idaho and together they raised eight children, all of them girls except seven – as Carol loves to say.

Edward commenced his Church service as a seminary teacher in Brigham City, Utah in 1964. Four years later, he moved to Southern California providing gospel instruction at the Glendale Institute of Religion, the Van Nuys Valley Community College Institute of Religion, the Burbank Stake Young Adult class, the Glendale Stake class, and the institute class at Oxnard College, Cal Tech, and in Palmdale near Edwards Air Force Base. After two years of non-stop driving and many evenings away from home, the Brandts returned to Utah for a Sabbatical of sorts so Edward could complete his doctorate while teaching at Brigham Young University. Then, two years later, he was assigned to the Institute of Religion at the University of Utah where he also served as the associate director for 16 years.

During those 18 years at the University of Utah, the Brandts began leading tours of the Middle East focusing on the traditional Bible lands of the New Testament. In 1978, Edward was invited to be the director of the tours which allowed him to bring his 14 years of gospel study and instruction to bear on student and adult forays into Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and, of course, Israel. Seven of these tours were for Church Educational System teachers and their wives. In addition, several of these tours included BYU Travel Studies groups.

“There’s a special spirit in Israel,” Edward shared. “It’s the spirit of the land and the most remarkable thing is that it opens up a view and understanding of the scriptures like nothing else. For instance, most people don’t realize how close Bethleham is to Jerusalem. You can stand in Manger Square and see the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.”

On these tours Edward was careful to point out that many of the experiences of the early Apostles in the New Testament occurred outside Palestine.

“We would take tours to the Maritime Prison in Rome where Paul was held and his writings take on a new meaning as he addressed those early Saints while in prison and while the Church was being persecuted so heavily.”

During summers when the University of Utah campus was quiet and activity at the Institute minimal, Edward was assigned go to Church headquarters and work on curriculum. His abilities led to an invitation in 1989 to work in the Evaluation Division of the Correlation Department of the Church. This department supports the Church Correlation Committee which is the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. This new assignment put him in direct contact with the leading counsels of the Church.

“In the Evaluation Division, our responsibility was to evaluate all the materials produced by the Church for distribution: manuals, handbooks, posters, student manuals, forms, labels for Deseret Industries products, magazines, and everything posted online,” Edward said.

With a staff of only six individuals, the division literally touched every item produced by the Church for public consumption. Their task was to ensure that everything was doctrinally correct and in harmony with policies and procedures of the Church. This is no small task given the Church’s global footprint and the fact that the vast majority of its leadership in nations worldwide serve voluntarily. This magnifies the challenge to keep the Church as doctrinally and procedurally correct in the meetinghouse just blocks from Temple Square as it is in the struggling branch meeting in a rented structure in the interior of Nigeria.

In his role at Church headquarters, Brandt served as secretary to two general authority committees. The Communications Evaluation Committee reviews all correspondence going out to stakes and districts throughout the world.  Before the letters leave Salt Lake City, they are reviewed by the committee to ensure gospel harmony and confirm they measure up to current Church policy. The Correlation Executive Committee which accomplishes the “nuts and bolts” of the work, as Edward described it, is led by two members of the Twelve.  Their assignment is to ensure every manual, brochure, pamphlet, and document produced in a printed format and online meets accepted Church practice and doctrine.

In the last few years, for instance, this duty included the recently completed Chuch handbooks of instructions for ward, stake, and general officers of the Church. This committee had the task of overseeing the preparation of the new handbooks and had as its head Elder Dallin H. Oaks as chairman and President Thomas S. Monson as the final reviewer. As with the handbook, nothing of consequence left Church headquarters without Edward or his team reading every word and measuring it against current Church policy and long-standing doctrinal concepts.

“You don’t appreciate the wisdom of the brethren and their devotion to keeping Church doctrine pure and in line with revelation until you stand before members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to report on the handbook’s progress and development,” Edward said all too knowingly.

In between correlation assignments, Edward, an electrical engineering student in college, dabbled in his hobby of keeping up with the latest technology used by broadcasting outlets. His interest extended to attending the yearly National Association of Broadcasters conventions. And, to be honest, he more than dabbled. He became an expert on the evolving technology and was an early advocate for digital format rather than analogue broadcasts. Hence, these were among his contributions as an engineering adviser for the Conference Center.

With such accomplishments in his more than four-decades of Church service, it’s no wonder that President Boyd K. Packer of the Twelve postponed Edward’s normal retirement date and might have succeeded in keeping him on indefinitely at Church headquarters if not for a decision by the First Presidency in the late summer of 2010 to assign the Brandts to preside over a temple.

Meanwhile, in the late fall of that year as Richard and Pam Christensen completed their three-year term as president and matron of the Columbus Ohio Temple, speculation among Church members and especially temple goers focused on who might fill their shoes in November. If precedent held, the new couple would exhibit strong Ohio ties. That had been the case with the first three presidents and there seemed to be an unspoken qualification to serve as a temple president here – there had to be some of “The Ohio” in the blood!

Instead, Edward and Carol were called by the First Presidency to assume responsibility for the temple and no one in Columbus knew them.  The selection of dyed-in-the-wool Utahns with no apparent ties to Ohio surprised a few, but as details of Edward’s many years of service to the highest levels of Church leadership and Carol’s administrative skills emerged, it became apparent the Brandts would add in their own unique way to the rich heritage of leadership with which the Columbus Temple had been blessed since its dedication in 1999.

The Church Office Building’s loss was the Columbus Ohio Temple’s gain and for three years he and Carol led the temple’s more than 700 volunteer workers and thousands of attendees with the same exactness and love that accompanied their other assignments throughout their married life.

“This has been a most wonderful experience for us,” Carol said, “We have grown to love the people here in Ohio.” Edward added, “Our experiences have been enriched by the people we worked with at the temple and we’ve gotten to know so many of the patrons as well.”Now, more than three years since the Brandts arrived in Columbus and just a couple of months after their return home, it’s important to address “the Ohio” thing. If there was any concern among temple workers in November 2010 when the Brandts stood to address a temple fireside in the Columbus Gateway chapel that these Utah natives might be outsiders, Edward put them to rest when he referred to the passage in the Doctrine and Covenants and exclaimed what a blessing it would be to serve in “the Ohio.” And then, at their last temple fireside in November 2013, the Brandts confirmed what everyone already knew – “the Ohio” was now indeed in their blood and would always be.


Posted by: erniejshannon | January 1, 2014

Church Work Blesses, Challenges Narcotics Officer

Each morning Miguel Torres slowly transforms from a caring church servant to a Philadelphia narcotics officer. His life depends on the transformation. It’s not that he casts aside his humanity or his integrity. Rather, he straps on an air of distrust and of readiness that allows him to brook no challenge from some of the most dangerous characters in the City of Brotherly Love.

“My mentality is that each morning when I’m driving to work I go through a change,” Torres shared. “I have to put aside the softer side of church service and prepare myself to confront violent people that would just as soon shoot me as to talk to me. Unfortunately, I can’t use everything the church teaches me about human relations out on the street. If so, I couldn’t survive.”

Survive he has, however, and one could say Torres thrives in a life of polar opposites. For more than nine years he has toiled in the mean streets of Philadelphia with a group of narcotics officers who depend on each other for their lives. He and his team carry a demeanor consistent with the streets seeking out drug dealers, and removing them from the neighborhoods they afflict. After hours and on weekends, Torres dons a suit and serves voluntarily in positions unique to his church: the stake high council, as a member of a bishopric, and as the high priest group leader. He is a member of the Pennypack Ward of the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“After working for the state of Pennsylvania, I applied to join the Philadelphia police force in 1994. I eventually started in 1996,” Torres said. “I fulfilled a childhood desire to be a police officer and for several years I was a uniformed patrol officer. The only problem was that my schedule rotated throughout the week and I frequently worked on Sunday. I began to pray for an opportunity that allowed me to have the Sabbath free. Soon, I was approached about becoming a narcotics officer which would guarantee my Sundays off.”

To suggest that police work is not a casual nine to five job would be laughable given the amount and nature of societal crime today. The men and women who patrol America’s metropolitan neighborhoods occupy one of the most dangerous professions in the United States. Tracking down drug traffickers and users, however, takes a risky job to a whole new level of danger. Therefore, if one aspires to be a narcotics officer, he better get along with his co-workers.

“It’s a teamwork environment and each member of our team knows what to do and we often figure it out on the run,” Torres said. “We spend a lot of time together. I think I spend more time with my fellow officers than I do with my own family. But the fact we function as a team almost exclusively and have done so for so long means we know each other’s tendencies and in a crisis can react with full confidence to situations.”

Because Torres and his companions spend many hours conducting surveillance, they’ve come to know each other’s families, life stories, and passions.

“One of the things I appreciate about my guys is that although they are not members of my church, they respect my values. They know I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. And they know I won’t put up with certain things such as pornography.”

Torres’ team knows the positions he’s held in his church over the years and even though they may not understand the ramifications of being a member of a bishopric, they respect his commitment to the Church.

“They’ve had a hard time understanding my commitment to paying tithing, especially because they know my salary,” Torres explained. “But I tell them that what they spend in alcohol and tobacco, I give to the Church.”

On a Sabbath morning, Torres looks the part of a devoted church member. Dressed in a sharp, dark suit with white shirt and tie, hair combed perfectly with a smooth face, one can hardly imagine how he manages to filter into crime-infested communities during the week. And his devotion to the gospel goes far beyond his clothes to include his message to his fellow members and his concern for his brothers who are sick or less active.

“The gospel of Jesus Christ has taught me that we are all God’s children regardless of our circumstances or the decisions we’ve made. That knowledge helps me when dealing with some of the people I meet every day, but it also increases my respect for the fellow officers that I work with who don’t share my faith, but who willingly risk their lives for me and each other.”

Torres’ respect for the men with which he labors is such that he has on several occasions turned down invitations to take promotional tests that would mean leaving the narcotics unit.

“I’m not suggesting that I find any satisfaction dealing with some of the people I must confront on the street, but at the end of the day there is satisfaction at removing drugs from neighborhoods where dealers literally prey on people,” Torres said. “One is faced with a lot of temptation such as drugs, prostitution, and we see a lot of money. But I look at the job I have and consider it an honor to serve. I wouldn’t want to bring shame to my family.

“My philosophy on the street is that if you treat me with respect, I’ll treat you with respect and most of the people that I come into contact with accept that. However, I can make it clear that if someone intends to hurt me, I’m going to hurt them.

“We see three cultures, so-to-speak in the city,” Torres said. “You have people coming in to the inner city to buy drugs. If you try to stop them, they will usually run. They aren’t generally hostile to deal with.

“Another culture of people buy and sell drugs and for them it is more of a business. If you stop them, they will usually cooperate so that they can return to their business as soon as possible. It’s not in their best interest to put up a fight.

“The third culture, however, is the most dangerous. Buying drugs is just one aspect of their criminality. They carry guns, are very confrontational, and are willing to fight. We have to be very much on guard in dealing with them.”

The dangers present on Philadelphia streets became very real for Torres in the last year when he and his team discovered what they thought was a drug deal in the making.

While parked on a side street watching some activity further down the block, a man strolled past Torres’ unmarked car and joined the group of men Torres’ team had been watching. Within moments the situation escalated into a fight and the man who had passed the officers’ car took a blow in the head and ran bleeding from the encounter. As Torres’ and his fellow officers exited their car, the half-dozen males at the end of the block saw them and immediately split up running into nearby homes.

“At this point, another officer and myself followed two of the individuals to a house, kicked open the door, ran in. We ordered the two males to hit the floor, but the first one chose to get into a wrestling match me. During the confrontation, I suffered a blow to the head that resulted in a concussion. Fortunately, my companion was able to take the first guy down while the second male remained on the floor. We later realized the guy I had been wrestling with had had a gun and could have fired through the door at us or the second male could have joined fight and grabbed the gun,” Torres related.

Though Torres was out of action for three months recovering from the blow to his head, he realized he had been greatly blessed by the Lord even though he had failed to be as fully alert to the dangers encountered in that house as he should have been.

“It confirmed to me that the Lord was watching over me. I’ve had the confirmation several times in my career,” Torres said. “But I’m a firm believer that the Lord will only protect me when I’m doing what I should be doing. When it’s time for us to leave this life, we will be taken, but not a moment sooner.”

Posted by: erniejshannon | December 15, 2013

Former Buckeye Finds Faith After Prison

Terry White

          Drilling ball carriers into the ground provided peace and solace for Terry White looking to escape an abusive father and a hostile neighborhood in Cambridge, Ohio in the early 1980s. Unfortunately for White, the games always ended sending the all-state athlete back to an environment better suited for a ticket to prison than a scholarship to college.

After a sterling high school career in football and basketball, White received numerous offers from elite college football programs and ultimately chose The Ohio State University. There, helping anchor a defense that included linebacker Chris Spielman, White played a key role in the Buckeyes’ earning a Rose Bowl invitation in January 1985. He also brought to campus baggage from his home and community that eventually wrecked his promising athletic career.

“Looking back I had some great examples to follow on the team in William White, Keith Byers, and Chris Spielman,” White remembered. “I loved the lives they led, but I couldn’t emulate them because I was so caught up in destructive and deep-seated behaviors. Just the lifestyle of being a high profile athlete who was told how wonderful he was when I was really doing bad things assisted in my decline. I had two really good years at OSU athletically, but socially, it was crazy.”

White’s mother was only 14 years old when he was born and White became a father at 18. During the next two decades another five children would follow. But fatherhood was not a goal in his life. Football was his passion and he worked hard at it. But as before, practices ended, seasons concluded, and White returned to what he knew best.

“I was in to drug use. I ended up failing three drug tests in college and I was suspended from the 1985 Rose Bowl. And then, at the beginning of my redshirt junior year, Coach Earle Bruce tried to suspend me so I transferred and played my last two years at the University of West Virginia. I was really lost and I was searching. I had begun my drug habit in high school and I just really struggled with addiction and the lifestyle that accompanies it,” White said.

With his disjointed college career behind him, “I signed as a free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League, but was cut a week before the season. Then, the following year, I signed a free agent contract with the NFL’s Houston Oilers, but was cut a couple of weeks into that. I did make a little bit of money and went back to Cambridge to my drug addiction and lifestyle and everything just got out of hand. I became a career drug dealer.”

Within five years of his audition in the NFL, White was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to prison at age 30. Five more incarcerations followed until just three years ago when, at the age of 43, White emerged from prison doors determined to turn things around. What distinguished this emergence from the previous five?

“I found faith in God during my second prison stint,” White said, “but being grounded and rooted in that faith was something I really struggled with. Every time I encountered hard times, I reverted back to what came easy. I had never been taught how to deal with disappointment or failure. So I did what I had seen my father do and others in my environment. It was just a hard long process for me to get out of that.”

Since his last prison stay, White worked as a UPS manager before being laid off. Then, some six months ago, he received a call from Reverend Joe Foster of the Fountain of Hope near downtown Columbus about an at-risk youth position at Foster’s ministry.

Foster leads the organization as executive director and he invited White to join the Fountain of Hope and bring his experience to bear on young men and women suffering through challenges similar to those White confronted.

“One of the good things about bringing Terry here is that he has had his own struggles – very similar struggles to the youth we bring inside these walls,” the reverend said. “He is an excellent example of someone who has turned his life around, discovered his talents, and is now using them to help others. In fact, if you look at the Fountain of Hope’s leadership, you will see similar stories to Terry’s in terms of having potential taken away in our youth, but finding it again as adults.”

As inspiring as White’s story may be to young men and women desperate for good role models, his visible athletic career and the ties forged during that brief era of his life are enticing to an organization fighting to stay afloat. It’s a testament to the power of Buckeye football that an all-Big Ten defensive back from a quarter-century ago who crashed and burned multiple times during those 25 years, can still open doors to donors.

“The Fountain of Hope has struggled to get funding during its existence and they have nearly closed the doors several times,” White said. “But we have goals now. We’re building a calendar filled with fundraising opportunities. We’ve applied for state and federal grants and have gotten sponsors for several of our initiatives. When I started six months ago, there were probably 4 or 5 children finishing the program. When we completed our last summer session we had 22 children involved in the Fountain of Hope.”

White has also reached out to former teammates and the university seeking assistance for the inner city refuge. He has gotten positive responses and his efforts are beginning to pay dividends for the non-profit gradually moving from life-support to a more stable financial footing.

One senses that while the athlete turned drug dealer, turned counselor to youth, has closed the door on his past, pain is still there. The anger associated with a dysfunctional home and a society that valued his ability to run and jump more than his soul has largely been compartmentalized and no longer weighs in on his decision-making. However, now, White must wrestle with the lost years. Time lost building relationships with his children. Time lost establishing a career with which he can support his new family (White is engaged to be married soon and is expecting his seventh child). And there will always be the question of whether, with more discipline, he could have succeeded in the NFL.

“What the world calls a conscience is also a divine spark available to guide us. I finally started to pay attention to that conscience and when the world was telling me ‘no’ I couldn’t escape drugs, it was telling me ‘yes’ I could. The last time I was in prison, I really dedicated myself to finding out who I was.  I didn’t have athletics anymore, but I didn’t have to have drugs anymore either. I finally realized that I have many other gifts – the ability to communicate, the ability to reach young people caught up in many bad behaviors, and the ability to love. I use those now in my life at home and in the community and I love what I have become.”

Posted by: erniejshannon | December 8, 2013

Former Olympian Leads Buckeye Gymnasts

Rustam Sharipov

            Only four years after reaching the summit of athletic achievement, 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist and gymnast Rustam Sharipov descended through a career-ending injury to devastation caused by divorce and separation from his two children, to the sudden death of a fiancée and her unborn child. Then, to seal his fate, the Ukrainian gymnastics federation refused to consider Sharipov for any post-retirement role in the sport he loved.

The advent of the new century in 2000 held little hope for a man stretched nearly to breaking in body and spirit and broken financially. In the wake of enough setbacks for several lifetimes, the still young Ukrainian turned his attention to the United States feeling his best chance to find employment in gymnastics and rebuild his life lay overseas. And rebuild Sharipov did, moving from the Houston Gymnastics  Academy to the University of Oklahoma gymnastics team to his 2011 appointment as coach of Ohio State University gymnastics, all in the space of a decade.

A native of Tajikistan, Rustam lived in a home where his father was a practicing Muslim and his mother, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. This religious diversity within the walls of his home would set the stage many years later for one of the greatest blessings of his life. In the meantime, he focused his attention on athletics. Early in his youth he exhibited great promise as a young gymnast allowing him to train with the leading Tajik gymnastic coaches. At age 15, he left his homeland to live in Kharkov, Ukraine to train under legendary gymnastics coach Yegor Kolesnikov. The special training paid off when in 1989 at the age of 18, he won the title of Soviet Junior National Champion. Two years later he was named an alternate on the USSR World Championship Team. His natural skill combined with hard work culminated in an Olympic gold medal as part of the Soviet Unified team in Barcelona, Spain in 1992.

With the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Rustam and several of his Olympic teammates left the Russian team to form the core of the new Ukraine gymnastics program. Continuing his winning ways, Rustam earned his first individual World Championship medal taking the silver on parallel bars in 1994. In 1996, he won the gold medal in the same World Championship competition.

In his second Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, Rustam had what he called his “best-ever” competition, finishing eighth in the all-around, third with his team, and claiming a second Olympic gold, this time on parallel bars. He had also received an invitation to remain in the United States and pursue his gymnastics career here, but he turned it down.

What followed was a turn of events Rustam never expected. His nine-year run of success professionally and otherwise came to a screeching halt. On the heels of his gold medal in Atlanta, Australia invited him to train with its national team – an arrangement he hoped would lead to citizenship in time for the Games in Sydney in 2000. However, the relationship never developed and he returned to the Ukraine only to separate from his wife and two children. In 1999, a back injury led to an examination that revealed a spinal condition that could have resulted in paralysis if he continued to perform. He retired. Unable to find a coaching position in Ukraine because of a traditional bias against hiring former athletes as coaches and facing ruin on several fronts, Rustam remembered his previous invitation to come to America.

In October 2000, Rustam arrived in the United States and headed for Norman, Oklahoma where he was aware of a gymnastics academy coaching position. Coaching had not necessarily been his goal prior to arriving in the United States. In the Ukraine, coaching offered little progression in gymnastics and, what’s more, the Ukrainian style of coaching did not match his own understanding of what made a coach successful. Nevertheless, the Oklahoma position was an interesting option for him.

Upon Rustam’s arrival in Norman to interview for the position, he met his future wife, Amber, who worked for the same gymnastics academy. She had majored in Russian at Brigham Young University and was attracted to the now-retired gymnast so obviously in need of help. Rustam was hired by the Norman academy and he began dating Amber in April 2001. Less than a year later, in 2001, he received an offer to coach at the Houston Gymnastics Academy in Texas working with youth of a junior national-team caliber. Amber followed him there and they married in February 2002.

“My experience as a gymnast attracted the interest of others and I began traveling to academies to share what I had learned,” Rustam said. “Eventually, in 2005, after four years in Houston, I moved to the collegiate level taking an assistance coaching position with the University of Oklahoma.” In the meantime, he and Amber had their first child and the Sharipov remained in Norman for another six years.

In April 2011, the Ohio State head coaching position opened and Rustam applied, not so much because he thought he would be hired, but to see how competitive he might be in pursuit of head coaching jobs.

“I didn’t expect to get the position because there were several well-qualified candidates with significant coaching experience,” Rustam said. “I was one of three selected to interview for the job and the interview went well. Several days later, the university called and offered me the job and I was really quite surprised as were a lot of other people, I’m sure.” The other two candidates for the position were also Olympians and one served as head coach of the Air Force academy at the time of the interview.

Rustam found a gymnastics program at Ohio State with a proud tradition, but one that had declined in the previous four to five years. With his new opportunity, Rustam immediately began recruiting, organizing training regiments, and working to mend bridges throughout the program and around campus. And expectations are high that Rustam can borrow from his own success in an elite gymnastics program to make the Buckeyes’ future a bright one.

Rustam’s come a long way from the pinnacle of Olympic competition to the depths of despair. He has rebuilt his life – one centered on a new family, the Church, and a career he loves.





Posted by: erniejshannon | October 1, 2013

Swiss Baptisms Planted Gospel in the Congo

In 2007, 28 years after baptizing a young Congolese couple, Mucioko and Mutombo Banza, in Geneva, Switzerland, Dickson Call and Todd Clement learned that the baptisms had assisted in the establishment of the church in the Congo and the conversions of thousands in the years since. At the time of the baptisms, however, the young missionaries feared the Banza family might never live their newfound religion.

On a warm August evening in 1979, the decision to contact residents in one more Geneva apartment building placed then-Elders Call and Clement at the doorway of the Banza family, which had come from their African home to pursue an education. The Banzas were among hundreds of Africans in Switzerland seeking additional schooling that was lacking in their native lands.

In 1977, the Banza family arrived in Geneva and Mucioko began his studies. In August 1979 when Mucioko Banza was nearly two years into his studies, Elder Call had come within days of being transferred away from Geneva when his mission president, Owen J. Stevens, changed his mind and decided to keep Elder Call and Elder Clement together in Geneva. President Stevens’ explanation to Elder Call was, “You have more to accomplish here.”

On the evening of Aug. 30, the elders introduced themselves to the Banzas and Mucioko invited them in. According to Elder Call’s account, “We taught them a (first discussion) and they said we could teach them all the discussions. They were incredible, very kind, warm, and they are Christians.”

Elder Call continued, “The father was outgoing. They have two boys who are 7 and 5 years of age. We are going back on Tuesday to teach. There is a great feeling there — we’ll see.”

A week later on Sept. 7, the elders stopped to see the Banzas again and Elder Clement wrote: “Tonight we passed by the Banza family and had a real good discussion. They are coming along great. They are looking sincerely and they are coming along really well. They said the whole family would be coming to church Sunday. They have two little boys. … Mr. Banza says that he wants to take the gospel truth back to Africa with him. So he is really studying hard. He and his family could very well be some of the first pioneers in the African country in which they live. They are from Zaire (as the Congo was known by for a period of time). They are a beautiful family and we’re really looking forward to their progress. I love it here in Geneva because you get the chance to teach people from all over the world. It’s a great experience.”

The elders didn’t teach the Banzas for another 12 days, but in the interim, the American missionaries made a banana cream pie and delivered it to the family. The effort solidified a warm friendship already developing. When the elders and the Banzas met again on Sept. 19, they taught about the Book of Mormon.

“We planned on teaching the commandments, but they had a friend there so we ended up teaching a ‘C’ … the First Vision and the re-establishment of the gospel, and presenting the Book of Mormon,” Elder Clement said. “It was neat. Mr. Banza asked us if he could tell his friend about it and we agreed. He did a pretty good job and then we explained it in more detail, but it was neat to see that he was excited enough about the re-establishment to tell his friend about it.”

Eight days later, the elders crossed the threshold with the Banza family and arranged a tentative baptism date. “We fixed a partially good date for the baptisms of the Banzas — this coming Tuesday or Wednesday,” Elder Clement said. “He can’t say right now because he has to give some kind of presentation to the public for his schooling. We sure have been blessed with finding people. The Banza family wants to go to BYU. Hopefully things work out for them. They are going to be pioneers back in their home country of Zaire. They are excited about it too. They want to return and spread the gospel to their people.”

What the elders didn’t realize was that the Banza family’s residence and schooling in Geneva was sponsored by another church in the Congo. When that church’s leaders learned that the Banzas had been receiving Mormon missionaries, they threatened to revoke the sponsorship. If the Banza family continued their contact with the missionaries and were baptized, they would be forced to leave Geneva and return to the Congo.

The Banzas had a decision to make. A critical decision. To join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meant forsaking their father’s education in Switzerland and returning home. But the family had been touched by the light of the gospel and the spirit had borne witness to them of its truthfulness. It only remained for the Banzas to exercise their burgeoning faith.

On Oct. 2, Elder Clement exclaimed in French and English in his journal, “Incroyable! Nous avons eu un Bapteme merveilleux! The Banza baptism was amazing and there were a lot of members and missionaries there to witness it. This has been such a blessing to be a part of and I thank God to have had a part in teaching and testifying to this family.”

Only a few days later the elders learned the Banzas’ sponsorship had been rescinded and they were preparing to return to Zaire. The day of the Banzas’ departure at the Geneva airport was a sad one for Elders Call and Clement, but Brother Banza, sensing the elders’ concern, assured them he and his family would remain faithful to their baptismal covenants. They would seek to build the church in their native land. Those were the most worthy of intentions, Elder Call thought, but how likely when so much would be arrayed against their determination and for how many years?

Elder Call returned home to Columbus, Ohio, in October 1979, and Elder Clement followed him back to the United States a year later.

“I have always said that my mission was the most spiritually intricate time in my life,” Call remembered. “The growth in my testimony was remarkable. I knew it was the Lord’s work and that I had been a part of that work. I had great companions, saw amazing things and had moderate success. I would not have traded those two years for anything.”

Yet, in terms of conversions in which people remain actively engaged with the church throughout their lives, Call felt some disappointment.

“I have always said that I felt a little empty in that I received so much personally from serving but that I did not accomplish very much as far as moving the work forward. I wasn’t sure that any of the converts that I had been a part of were still active in the church and certainly not the Banzas who lived in a country devoid of the gospel. Still, the memories were incredible. As far as the Banzas, I pretty much resigned myself to the comforting fact that they were awesome people who the Lord loved, and that at least they were baptized and that some day, even if in the life hereafter, they would be back in the arms of the Lord’s church. This did bring some comfort.”

During general conference weekend in October 2005, Brother Call attended the 25-year anniversary reunion of the Switzerland Geneva Mission. His former mission president, Stevens, delivered a slide presentation that explored his and Sister Stevens’ missionary service in various countries, including Africa. Stevens spoke of the tremendous growth of the church there and it reminded Call of the Banza family.

In May 2007, while preparing for a sacrament meeting talk on the church’s worldwide missionary program, Call came across a Deseret News Church Almanac from 2003. While thumbing through the pages, he came to the Congo.

Having known the African nation by the name Zaire and not the Congo, and having fruitlessly looked for information about the church in Zaire, “I saw the Democratic Republic of Congo and my eyes immediately fixed on these words: ‘renamed Zaire in 1971 and the Congo in 1979.’ My heart began to pound a little. Then I totally lost my emotions when I next read, ‘The first baptisms in Zaire were on 1 June 1986, they were Banza Mucioko Jr., and Banza Philippe, sons of Banza Mucioko Wa Mutumbo. Banza Mucioko was baptized in Switzerland on 2 October 1979.’

“I reread those lines over and over again just to be sure. I immediately called Todd. He answered the phone and without mentioning the reason for the call I just started reading from the Church Almanac. It was hard to breathe — for both of us. All I can say is that for the next hour, he was not Todd and I was not Dickson, but we were Frere (the French term for brother) Clement and Frere Call and we were companions again — back in Geneva.”

Discovering the reference to the Banzas was only the beginning for Brothers Call and Clement. Contacting the Banza family was now a priority, and it proved to be very difficult.

Neither of the former missionaries could remember the Banzas’ complete names or knew the nation or stake of the church in which they now resided. After calling church headquarters, they were told they would need more information. The former companions decided to contact the Stevenses through an old email address that Call had saved. In the email to the Stevenses, Call shared their story, recent discoveries and their goal of finding the Banzas. The Stevenses responded from Brussels, Belgium, where they were on another church assignment, that they would forward the email to several contacts in Africa.

On the morning of Oct. 29, 2007, Brother Call arrived at work. “As I sat down at my desk at work, I pulled up my email messages and saw a message from the Stevenses which said, ‘trying to find convert … FOUND!!!’ The message said that someone who was contacted from all these people searching on our behalf actually knew the Banza family very well. They said that Frere Banza was a bishop there in Kinshasa, Congo, and that their two sons were living in Utah.”

Brother Call immediately found a listing in West Valley City, Utah, for a Banza Jr., and called the number and left a brief message about his relationship to the Banzas. The next day, Brother Call received a call from an 801 number and thought, “this could be it.”

It was, in fact, Brother Banza, and they were both thrilled. Brother Call said, “We spoke for an hour and he told me all about his parents and their story. It was an incredible story and very inspiring. We rejoiced mightily. I learned that he and his brother married returned missionaries from the Congo and that they now lived a block apart in Salt Lake City. I assured him that I would be calling Todd Clement that evening and would arrange for a meeting between us all.”

The next day, Brother Banza wrote Brother Call and told his family’s story. “We have spent the last 30 years wondering if we would ever hear from you again. My parents have always talked about you and the impact you had in their lives.”