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
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
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
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
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."