I have four brothers. So far, 4/5 of us boys have served missions. The fifth is a senior in high school and we hope that he too will serve a mission. The odd thing is that three out of the four of us who have served have served in GERMANY. I served in the Germany Leipzig/Dresden Mission, John served in Berlin, and my brother Adam served in Frankfurt. We have also had several cousins serve in Germany- some more distant than others. For example, John actually served as a companion with his second cousin at one point in Berlin. Our first cousin had just finished his mission in Berlin when John arrived there. I think somebody is pulling strings up in heaven. Have you ever thought that about your ancestors?
(Franklin D. Richards)
Our great-great-great grandfather, Franklin D. Richards, served for a long while as the President of the European Mission. In that capacity, he organized the first branch in Dresden in October of 1855. Just prior to that, he baptized the first Mormons in the then Kingdom of Saxony, in the Elbe River- Karl G. Maeser and his brother-in-law, Edward Schoenfeldt. Things in Saxony at that time were dangerous for Mormons- the baptism was performed at midnight under cover of darkness.
I served for several months in Meissen, where Karl G. Maeser was born. I walked daily by the house, which has been refurbished by the Church, where he was born. I often paused and looked into the Elbe, trying to contemplate that first baptism of Karl G. Maeser. However, at that time I had no idea that my ancestor had baptized him. Still I felt a strange connection to the place, and I knew that it was where I needed to be.
A few months after serving in Meissen, I went to Leipzig. One brother in the Leipzig Ward has collected nearly every copy of the Stern from the beginning of its publication (in 1869) until the present day. When I had the privilege of dining with his family one evening, I became quite interested in his collection and began perusing it. I took out one, and only one, copy from 1916. As I looked down, I was very surprised to see the face of my Great-Great Grandfather, George F. Richards (son of Franklin D., father to Legrande Richards). The Stern was reporting that he had just been called to serve as the European Mission President. The good brother whose home we were in could not believe it- for him it was a testimony to the “spirit of Elijah” turning the hearts of the children to the fathers. And in a way it was, for it was looking in the eyes of my Great-Great Grandfather that day which prompted an interest in my heart about family history.
(George F. Richards)
Well, the point is that I feel as though our ancestors have orchestrated a stream of descendant missionaries to continue preaching the gospel in Germany- especially in the former East Germany. Is that possible? Has anyone else experienced similar feelings?
[UPDATE by john fowles: I have spoken with Aaron, who is our only brother who did not serve a mission in Germany (so far–Austin still has yet to serve his mission). Aaron served in Japan, and it seems there is an uncanny ancestoral connection to his mission in Sendai, as well.
Our uncle Elliot Richards (our grandmother Helen Richards Fellows’s brother) was instrumental in bringing the Gospel to Japan after World War II. He baptized a man from Sendai named Tatsui Sato who became instrumental in building up the Church in Japan after WWII (see Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 1996], 117). Drawing mainly from Our Heritage and personal discussion with Elliot Richards, Aaron has written the following concerning Elliot Richards’ role:
Elliot Richards was a servicemen and was stationed at Camp Okazaki—not too far away from a town called Narumi. Narumi is the town that the Sato family resided in following World War II. As I was researching the life of Tatsui Sato, I found that before the war, he went to a small town north of Tokyo called Sendai to study at Tohoku University. I served my mission in Sendai—only the town isn’t very small anymore! After graduating from Tohoku Imperial University, Tatsui taught at the University and local schools for some time, then he moved to Tokyo—Kawasaki to be precise. He worked as a research supervisor at the Nippon Metal Industrial Company, but eventually quit that job because he observed that Japan’s steel was inferior to American steel. He had determined long before the war was over that America was going to win because of the inferior quality of steel Japan used. After his resignation, he went back to the town that he was born in, Narumi. This set him up to meet the servicemen, and my grand uncle, Elliot Richards.
The servicemen were really diligent with missionary work. The Sato family was fortunate to have met the LDS servicemen when they did. Within a few months, the soldiers were all moved from Camp Okazaki to Osaka. He first met Mormon soldiers on Thursday evening, 15 November 1945. There is speculation of whether they talked about the church then or not, but regardless of this fact, they met. Two servicemen were so impressed with Tatsui—probably because he was very intellectual and spoke English well—that they invited another guy, Davis, to come along when the went back the following week. Tatsui Sato recorded that he saw them outside the shop, apparently waiting for transportation back to the base. In reality, unbeknownst to him, they had come with the purpose of seeing him.
After knowing the members for a month or two he was taught the discussions—or at least given lessons about the church. Finally Elliot Richards met him. Elliot Richards and Tatsui Sato became close friends quickly. The army relocated, however, in February 1946. This did not disrupt letters that were sent between the Sato Family and Elliot. In May 1946, the Satos wished to join the church, but the servicemen had all left. One of the servicemen visited the Sato family and set up an appointment for baptism at a conference that was scheduled for early July. Without knowing about the baptismal date, Elliot wrote a letter to his friend that was back in the United States. He mentioned that, “Ray, I wish that before I leave here, I could see the Sato’s baptized in the Church…They are a humble people, and have a mission to perform here among their own people.”
Elliot Richards was impressed by the letters from the Sato family, and he shared them with his friend, Boyd K. Packer. Elliot Richards and Boyd K. Packer felt that they should say a prayer for the Sato family after reading a few of the letters one night. Richards says after praying, “As we were leaving Boyd felt impressed to say that it would come about and that we would see it! At the time there was absolutely no outward indication of such a possibility.”
After they had this experience, Boyd K. Packer was transferred to Osaka. Upon transfer, however, Brother Packer was able to meet W. Richard who had just seen the Sato family and invited them to be baptized. Because of this, when Elliot Richards called Boyd K. Packer to see how he was doing, he found out that the Sato family would be baptized on the 7th of July. Elliot Richards was being casualized the 3rd of July, so he was going to be able to attend. It took some effort to work around all the details, and it looked as if he wouldn’t be able to go. Elliot Richards was able to miraculously talk his commanding officer into letting him go there instead of being shipped off on another earlier day.
The Sato family was baptized on July 7, 1946. In 1957, Tatsui Sato completed a second and much needed translation of the Book of Mormon in more modern Japanese.
This is not all, however. Another ancestor, LeGrand Richards, our Grandmother’s uncle, set apart the first patriarch in Asia–a member from Japan.
Thus, it seems, not only Jordan, Adam, and I, who served in Germany where Franklin D. and George F. Richards had labored, had ancestors intrigally involved in our future mission fields. Aaron, who served in the Japan Sendai mission, also has ancestral ties to his mission field, as foreign as it was to this Anglo-Danish family.
I think that Jordan might be onto something with his speculation that our ancestors can or are pulling strings for us. If that is not the case, then perhaps it is just evidence of how we fit into God’s overall plan for the progress of his Church and our own paths to eternal life.]