Are Ancestors Pulling Strings?

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.


(LeGrande Richards)

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.]

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17 Responses to Are Ancestors Pulling Strings?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Jordan, there is more to this than you even know. Talk to Aaron about our ancestors and his mission in Sendai and then update this post! I think he told me once that our ancestor performed one of the first baptisms in that part of Japan as well. . . . 

    Posted by john fowles

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  4. Jordan says:

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  8. Anonymous says:

    My own case may support your idea in a different way. All my mother’s ancestors have been Latter-day Saints for several generations, but I can’t think of a one who served a proselyting mission. Of my maternal grandparents’ several dozen grandchildren, only three of us were missionaries. In my case, my father was a non-member. For one of the other two, his mother is a convert. The third has another line of Mormon ancestors that I don’t know about.

    The three of us served in Argentina, Brazil, and the Philippines. If we had had great-great-grandfathers directing us to continue their work in particular lands, it wouldn’t be in those lands because the proselyting work in those lands isn’t that old. We three, however, didn’t have proselyting ancestors. The case could be made that we were available to go where we were sent due to lack of any prior commitments.

    In my own case, the patriarch’s blessing was fulfilled that I would be called to a mission that would be the best one in the world for me. I relished having a role in establishing Zion in the Americas. 

    Posted by John Mansfield

  9. Anonymous says:

    That’s a very interesting post.
    I am the only male in my family to have served a mission. I’m Salvadoran born, California grown, and served Vietnamese speaking in Philadelphia. Does that count for something? Just a thought. 

    Posted by Simón

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hi Simón! Your experience illustrates a good point. The work rolls forth whether there are these uncanny connections through the generations or not. I don’t think that Jordan was implying that where anyone serves is necessarily a product of some kind of other-worldly “string pulling.” Conversely, I doubt that Jordan means to restrict such string pulling to serving in the mission field. His observation about our particular experience with regards to that can be expanded, which I think was his intent, to a broader question of whether our ancestors see us and are able to influence the opportunities that open up to us in some way.

    My mother-in-law believes this and claims to have observed it in the context of marriage. She knows people who were single for a long time, with no real possibility of ever marrying, either because of personality issues or health problems. But she has told me that in several of these cases, recently after the death of the person’s mother or some other influential person in that person’s life, a miraculous opportunity suddenly opens up for that person and they get married shortly thereafter. She sees this as an expression of a similar phenomenon that Jordan is observing with mission fields in our family. I think it is indeed plausible but it remains pure speculation for the time being, as I see it. On the other hand, perhaps some more disciplined research into teachings of our leaders might turn up some support for the notion. After all, Joseph Smith is on record with some interesting statements about the Spirit World and its relation to us.

    But I think Jordan is also primarily interested in other people’s anecdotes about observing this type of influence in some way, whether in missionary work or otherwise. 

    Posted by john fowles

  11. Anonymous says:

    John- you said it! 

    Posted by Jordan Fowles

  12. Anonymous says:

    John, very interesting post. I believe that there is a certain divine intervention involved. However, it could be for a completely different reason. German missions are know for their ability to test an individuals mettle. They are difficult and trying to a missionary, especially one that is only interested in the numbers comparison game. I have heard that a missionary can be broken completely in such circumstances.

    There is the possibility that your ancestors knew the difficulty, yet also knew each of you, and your ability to stand tall in the face of great trials. From what I have read of the Fowles brothers, you guys are able to withstand the test and contribute for good, against all odds.

    Or maybe it is just coincidence. I am a true believe, in the theory of “there are no accidents”, though. 

    Posted by cooper

  13. Anonymous says:

    Oops sorry Jordan. I thought John had penned this thread. – cooper

  14. Anonymous says:

    My husband came across your site last night. As I looked through your blog I saw this article and it sucked me in. :) I had the pleasure of meeting your great grandfather, Legrand Richards, YEARS ago. I was just a child, but I remember his sweetness. He reminded me of what a grandfather should be like!

    Also, I have had dreams of people from the past for as long as I can remember. I don’t know if we will ever find these ancestors, or where to start looking. I am speaking of American Indians who were married into the family. At that time they changed their names (usually to Mabel.) and just tried to “fit in”. We know almost nothing about the Indian women on either side of our family line. On my father’s side we know she was a great, great grandmother and was full-blooded Abenaki. It has been difficult, as the birth and death records are not available–or not the Indian records. Tribes are not open to helping as they think we are in it for free tuition and things like that. *sigh*

    Anyway, great post! Thanks.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Great blog! I was perusing the internet and found this site. I served in the Dresden mission 1991-1993.
    Leaving for Germany in two weeks, actually. We’ll be visiting my favorite assignments in Annaberg (Sis. Harper and I were the first sisters ever there!) and Plauen (my *sob* last city). The other cities will wait until the kids are older and can appreciate the deep history.
    I’m a convert, but, was able to discover much about my own family on my mission, although I didn’t know so much had occurred there on my side. wow!
    A (several greats back) grandfather and another lawyer helped to found the Leipzig law school, an (again, several greats back) aunt, Barbara Uhtmann, began the women’s liberation movement (gotta love lace!), uzw.
    There was an Elder Richards with whom I served. He must be a cousin of yours. Good luck!
    Katie Petersen
    (then, Sister Berghammer) 

    Posted by Katie

  16. Anonymous says:

    I just found this site when I was searching for George F. Richards. I am your cousin and great grand-daughter to LeGrand Richards. I was hoping to find a copy of the letter George F. wrote to his family near the end of his life telling us he wants know empty chairs in heaven and bearing his testimony. I know I have read it before, but I don’t know where to find it. I would like a copy of that letter for my children. Can you help?

    I loved your comments about ancestors pulling strings. I served my mission in Seoul Korea. Korea was opened by missionaried serving in Japan. I served the same time as my cousin, Grandpa Richards grandchild. He had Grandpa’s gift for languages and I am certain will contiue to bless the saints in that region his entire life. My sister served in Japan and I had a brother serve in Denmark. I think our ancestors are involved in so much of our lives, not just where we serve our mission.

    Amy 

    Posted by Amy Lofgreen

  17. Anonymous says:

    Amy, thanks for the comment. It sounds like the Richards really have gone far abroad!

    I am intrigued by the letter. George F. Richards is the grandfather of my grandmother, Helen Richards, so you’d think I would have heard of the letter, and maybe I have but have just forgotten. I’ll ask Jordan–he’ll probably know. Also, my mom (Martha Fellows Fowles), daughter of Hellen Richards Fellows, will likely know.

    Thanks again. 

    Posted by john fowles

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