Although we usually think of pioneers as those who walked from Nauvoo to Utah, many Mormon pioneers began their journey in another country, coming to the United States before heading west. Other immigrants, born long after the Utah migration, were pioneers in that they pioneered their family’s way to a new nation. Following are two stories President Monson has told about those who left their homelands for a new country, one to the United States and one to Canada.
A New Land, But the Same Church
One who had learned well the lesson of obedience, who had found the fountain of truth, was a kind and sincere man of humble means and circumstances. He had joined the Church in Europe and, by diligently saving and sacrificing, had immigrated to North America—to a new land, a strange language, different customs, but the same Church under the leadership of the same Lord, whom he trusted and obeyed. He became the branch president of a little flock of struggling Saints in a somewhat unfriendly city. He followed the program of the Church, although members were few and tasks were many. He set an example for his branch membership that was truly Christlike, and they responded with a love rarely seen.
He earned a living with his hands as a tradesman. His means were limited, but he always paid a full tithing and donated more. He started a missionary fund in his little branch, and for months at a time, he was the only contributor. When there were missionaries in his city, he fed them, and they never left his house without some tangible donation to their work and welfare. Church members from far away who passed through his city and visited his branch always received his hospitality and the warmth of his spirit and went on their way knowing they had met an unusual man, one of the Lord’s obedient servants.
Those who presided over him received his profound respect and his extra-special care. To him they were emissaries of the Lord; he ministered to their physical comforts and was especially solicitous in his prayers—which were frequent—for their welfare. One Sabbath day some leaders visiting his branch participated with him in no fewer than a dozen prayers in various meetings and in visits to members. The leaders left him at the day’s end with a feeling of exhilaration and spiritual uplift which kept them joyous throughout a four-hour drive in wintry weather and which now, after many years, warms the spirit and quickens the heart as that day is remembered.
Men of learning, men of experience sought out this humble, unlettered man of God and counted themselves fortunate if they could spend an hour with him. His appearance was ordinary; his English was halting and somewhat difficult to understand; his home was unpretentious. He didn’t own a car or a television. He wrote no books and preached no polished sermons and did none of the things to which the world usually pays attention. Yet the faithful beat a path to his door. Why? Because they wished to drink at his fountain of truth. They appreciated not so much what he said as what he did, not the substance of the sermons he preached but the strength of the life he led.
To know that a poor man consistently and cheerfully gave at least twice a tenth to the Lord gave one a clearer insight into the true meaning of tithing. To see him minister to the hungered and take in the stranger made one know that he did it as he would do to the Master. To pray with him and partake of his confidence of divine intercession was to experience a new medium of communication.
Thomas S. Monson, “Finding Strength through Obedience,” Ensign, Oct 2009, 4–8
Service in Canada
Whenever I attend a temple dedication, I think of Brother and Sister Gustav and Margarete Wacker of Kingston, Ontario. He was once the branch president of the Kingston Branch. He was from the old country. He spoke English with a thick accent. He never owned or drove a car. He plied the trade of a barber. He made but little money cutting hair near an army base at Kingston. How he loved the missionaries! The highlight of his day would be when he had the privilege to cut the hair of a missionary. Never would there be a charge. When they would make a feeble attempt to pay him, he would say, “Oh no; it is a joy to cut the hair of a servant of the Lord.” Indeed, he would reach deep into his pockets and give the missionaries all of his tips for the day. If it were raining, as it often does in Kingston, President Wacker would call a taxi and send the missionaries to their apartment by cab, while he, himself, at day’s end would lock the small shop and walk home—alone in the driving rain.
I first met Gustav Wacker when I noticed that his tithing was far in excess of that expected from his potential income. My efforts to explain to him that the Lord required no more than a tenth fell on attentive but unconvinced ears. He simply responded that he loved to pay all he could to the Lord. It amounted to about a third of his income. His dear wife felt exactly as he did. Their unique manner of tithing payment continued.
Gustav and Margarete Wacker established a home that was a heaven. They were not blessed with children but mothered and fathered their many Church visitors. A sophisticated and learned Church leader from Ottawa told me, “I like to visit the Wacker home. I come away refreshed in spirit and determined to ever live close to the Lord.”
Did our Heavenly Father honor such abiding faith? The branch prospered. The membership outgrew the rented Slovakian Hall where they met and moved into a modern and lovely chapel of their own to which the branch members had contributed their share and more, that it might grace the city of Kingston. President and Sister Wacker had their prayers answered by serving a proselyting mission to their native Germany and later a temple mission to that beautiful temple in Washington, D.C. Then, in 1983, his mission in mortality concluded, Gustav Wacker peacefully passed away while being held in the loving arms of his eternal companion, dressed in his white temple suit, there in the Washington Temple.
Thomas S. Monson, “Days Never to Be Forgotten,” Ensign, Nov 1990, 67