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Former  Member Of Lutheran Church


"A Love For My Ancestors Brought Me To The Church"

By Toni Richard Turk

My first encounter with a Mormon was in the spring of 1962. I was a Russian linguist attached to a detachment of linguists assigned to the 319th USASA Battalion, Headquarters located at Rothwesten Air Base near Kassel, Germany.

One of our NCOs was a Mormon, which had no special meaning for me. The entire section was preparing for a spy flight. I and one other were not included, because we had not yet gone through flight physicals. Instead we were detached to Helmstedt for duty.

While there I saw a German newspaper headline that announced that a spy plane had crashed - all aboard died. I remember being impressed that the Mormon Church sent a couple of Elders to assist the new widow and her children to return to the States.

At the time I thought the Elders came from the States for that task. Now I understand they were probably a couple of the missionaries I had observed teaching on the streets of Kassel.

I left active duty in May 1963 to begin school in the fall at Midwestern University. In my first semester I was assigned a project to develop a family history.

Both my wife and I were reared in the military separated from family ties and extended relationships. At that point I had only met my fatherís mother once in my life. Family was something about which I knew very little; however, the project awakened a lifelong quest.

Early on in my research effort, I learned that approximately one out of four of my ancestors were appearing in the LDS genealogical archives.

When I requested records, I asked for the full record set, which included TIB (Temple Index Bureau) cards, on which I noted that some work had been done at the instances of Joseph Smith the Prophet and Brigham Young.

Parallel to my university studies I began to suspect that I was addicted to cigarettes. I had started smoking at age fourteen. In Basic Training the Army encouraged smoking. The Surgeon General had not yet determined that it was harmful.

In spite of eight years of heavy smoking and solely on the principle that I did not want to be addicted, I made the decision to quit. I did so by carrying a pack of cigarettes in my shirt pocket.

Whenever the urge to smoke would strike, I placed my hand on the pack of cigarettes and held it there, realizing that it was available if I needed it.

After a year of such resistance, I realized I no longer needed them and threw them away. I have since learned that Brigham Young carried a plug of tobacco with him his entire life. I wonder if it was for a similar reason.

During the years of my baccalaureate studies our house was tracted-out by two LDS Missionaries just as we were getting in our car to leave. The Missionaries asked if they could return, and I encouraged them to do so. Regrettably they never returned.

I graduated in the spring of 1966 and went to work with the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, DC. My duties were such that I couldn't share them with my family.

That fall our eldest son began kindergarten where one of his assignments was to draw a picture of his daddy at work. He drew a picture of me in a cemetery. At parent conference his teacher asked us about it. I mentioned that my hobby was genealogy and that I spent a lot of my free time with my family looking at headstones.

She mentioned that her Church did genealogy. Again without fully comprehending things I had met my second Mormon (not counting random encounters with missionaries).

A decision was made to leave the intelligence field and to return to Texas and become a teacher. The students in my history class were given a similar assignment to the one that had engrossed me.

One of these was a young man surnamed Pratt. He returned with the report of an ancestor named Parley P. Pratt. This young man had not been reared in an active LDS home, but I asked him to do a little research and make a report to class about why Mormons do genealogy, which he did.

My interests in genealogy began more and more to include an inquiry into Mormonism. Essentially this was limited to reading encyclopedic references. There I learned that Mormons followed something called a "Word of Wisdom."

I processed this against my own life. I had given up cigarettes. Having been reared in an alcoholic home I had revulsion for alcohol. I had never gained a taste for coffee, but living in Texas I drank copious quantities of iced tea.

As a non-Mormon with an encyclopedic article to direct me I made a personal decision to give up tea. When I did so a problem that I had suffered with for five years appeared to clear up.

I went to my doctor and asked about it and he proclaimed there was no connection. Nonetheless, I didn't return to tea and my medical problem remained diminished.

After exhausting available print resources I decided to see if there was a local LDS Church in Wichita Falls where I could find out more. On a Sunday afternoon I called the number in the phone book and got what I initially thought was the minister in his parsonage.

Actually, it was a Bishop in a missionary correlation meeting. He handed the phone to the missionaries and my formal study began, which later was broadened to include the whole family. Barbara, Robert and I were baptized April 5, 1969 and I was introduced to the Aaronic Priesthood.

After our baptism the Missionaries mentioned that they had knocked on doors on our street the day before they took my call in the Bishopís office. The reception on that street had been so bad that they had marked it off for any future return.

Hearing that, we remembered seeing salesmen across the street when we arrived home with groceries. We had quickly put our groceries in the house and left to avoid them.

That was the beginning of almost 40 years of joy, service and a growing understanding of God's love for His children."





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