Meridian Magazine tells the unusual story of a missionary serving in Europe just after World War II, as Mormon missionary work was beginning to ramp back up. It should be noted this is in no way typical of missionary service and would have been allowed only if the missionary’s leader, known as a mission president, felt inspired to alter the usual rules for missionary work. In this case, although the missionary did unusual things, he was able to share his faith with people who might not otherwise have paid any attention to a Mormon missionary.
Carl J. Christensen was called to serve a mission in France. He and nine other new missionaries left for Europe by ship. While on the ship, Paul W. Litchfield, Chairman of the Board for Goodyear spotted them and complimented their behavior and dress. He knew many Mormons through his work with the Boy Scouts of America and was a regular listener of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Sunday program, Music and the Spoken Word. During each program, a brief inspirational message is presented. In those days, Richard L. Evans delivered it and was the host of the program. Litchfield, when asked what religion he was, would give the name of Richard L. Evans as his pastor and the program as his church.
The missionaries got right to work, even though they hadn’t arrived yet, and requested space for a worship service. They were nervous when they were assigned a very large room that could hold 100 people. Bravely, they made signs to promote the service and to their surprise, the room was full Sunday morning. They gave the promised sermons that explained why we’re on earth, what we’re to do while we’re here, and what happens when we die. They noticed Litchfield in the congregation, so after the meeting, Elder Christensen introduced himself. The next day, as they studied their scriptures, Paul Litchfield approached them and began asking them questions about their faith, which they answered. Elder Christensen gave Litchfield his own Book of Mormon and invited him to read it. Litchfield thanked him and invited the missionaries to a cottage meeting in his stateroom.
The missionaries agreed, but were nervous, not sure what Litchfield had in mind. They decided to fast and pray as they prepared to teach if given that opportunity. When they arrived, Litchfield had gathered his family and his assistant and invited them to teach their faith. They had several more discussions over the course of the trip and Litchfield took a particular liking to Elder Christensen.
After they arrived, the missionaries told their new mission president about their experiences and he instructed Elder Christensen to stay in touch with Litchfield, who had given them so many opportunities to hone their teaching skills. Elder Christensen did so and a correspondence on gospel topics developed between the two men.
Then Litchfield sent a telegram asking Elder Christensen to join him in Brussels for several days at Litchfield’s expense, serving as his assistant for the trip. Elder Christensen declined, explaining that it was against missionary rules. However, when he informed his mission president, he received unexpected permission to attend. The mission president felt there was a gospel purpose to the trip. Elder Christensen spent the trip serving as Litchfield’s interpreter, since missionaries quickly become fluent in the language of their missions, and as Litchfield’s assistant. On his part, Litchfield introduced him as a Mormon missionary and at each meeting, invited Elder Christensen to offer a spiritual thought and to answer questions about the church. This allowed him to share his faith with important people who now had a small introduction to Mormonism, a religion not yet well-known.
Elder Christensen was invited to do this again later on, and this time, had an opportunity to meet the Pope, who offered him an apostolic blessing, with the missionary’s approval, that his mission would be successful. Elder Christensen handed out many copies of the Book of Mormon during this journey.
Litchfield told Elder Christensen he knew the Book of Mormon was true and that he believed in the church, even though the doctrines it taught seemed too good to be true. He did not, during his lifetime, become a member, but the two men retained their friendship throughout their lives. Elder Christensen eventually went to work for Litchfield. He reported that he had learned that the most effective way to share the gospel is simply to be a good friend to someone and to allow them to see what a real Mormon is like.
Read the entire story:
Missionary Moment: Unique Friendship and Mission, Mark Albright, Meridian Magazine, October 1, 2012
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.