Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spend 18 months on their mission if they are female and 2 years if they are male. I served in 5 different cities in France during my 2-year mission. My last city, one of my favorites, was Pau, pronounced “Po”, where I spent my last 6 months in France. Pau is in the southernmost part of France next to the Pyrenees. I loved seeing mountains again. Having grown up in the Salt Lake Valley, in the Union/Midvale/Sandy area, it was great to see some mountains off in the distance. Some of the peaks of the mountains that were visible were actually in Spain.
I had been transferred down to Pau and was called to be a Zone Leader. I was the missionary-leader over Pau and Tarbes, a city next to Pau. Pau has a nice warm climate. There are even palm trees there. But it was never really too hot. In the winter we even got a little snow. I really liked this place. There is a neat chateau (castle) in the town which we could see from our apartment. Alphonse de Lamartine said, “Pau has the world’s most beautiful view of the earth just as Naples has the most beautiful view of the sea.” Henry the IV was born in Pau. The Wright brothers spent some time there, though I never was able to go to the museum. Life there was pretty good and I was happy to finish out my mission among the Palois. (The name they call the people from Pau)
I recently went to Palmyra while on a business trip and as I was in the visitors center taking the tour, the sister missionary (female missionary) asked where everyone was from and what had brought them to the Smith farm. There was an older couple there taking the tour with me and some others. She explained how she had been raised in the LDS faith, but had gone inactive and had not practiced the faith most of her life. She had divorced her first husband and ended up marrying this gentleman later in life. He introduced himself as a “dry Mormon”. He explained that he basicly lived the life of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, similar to other ” Mormons.” He went to church on Sunday and worshiped with his wife and the other members of the congregation, but he had not been baptized. Thus he was a “dry-Mormon.”
As we walked to the log cabin and then later to the larger house built by Alvin Smith, Joseph Smith’s brother, I spoke with this dry-Mormon a bit. His story reminded me of an experience I had had on my mission. I then told him about this story, of the Barbaroux family in Pau.
I was transferred to Pau in November. The day I arrived in Pau there was a dinner held at the church. The church gathered in a rented house on the outskirts of town. It was actually quite a long bike ride to get there for us missionaries and for many members. It was a nice big two-story home and it served its purpose as a church. There was a plaque on the front of the house which said, “L’Église de Jésus-Christ des Saints des Derniers Jours” (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). But apart from that, you would just guess from looking at the house from the outside that it was simply another house.
The Hennebique family & The Barbaroux Family. I’m in the back center behind Frère Henri Barbaroux (the father) next to Frère Francis Barbaroux (the son).
This dinner was well attended and I was making my way around introducing myself to the members. I sat and talked to an older white-haired gentleman who introduced himself as Frère Henri Barbaroux. As we talked it came up that he was not a member of the Church. His wife and children were there, and they had all been members for a long time and were very active in the church. I asked him why he had not been baptized. He laughed and said that he was not getting baptized and that he didn’t see a need to be baptized. We had a great conversation and I instantly liked him.
As I got to know more of the members, it was interesting to find out that there were three older couples in the ward who each had a spouse who had never joined the church. They were all more-or-less “dry Mormons” like this gentleman in Palmyra whom I had met recently. They all had friends in the Church. They sometimes came to Church and would participate in the activities. For one reason or another, none of them felt like they needed to be baptized.
Well as the story goes, suddenly one of the dry-Mormons in the ward died unexpectedly. It was a shock to everyone. Having her pass away out of the blue shook the other two dry-Mormons as I think they saw their mortality and how life can go at any time. Nobody knows when this life will end. Baptism seemed to be something a little more important, and they both took the missionary discussions and were soon baptized.
The first dry-Mormon to be baptized was a sister (we call the women sisters and the men brothers because we are all children of our Heavenly Father, thus we are all brothers and sisters). She had actually known the Church for 27 years. (I cannot remember her name and my missionary journal doesn’t say her name. I’m sure I thought I would never forget the names.) Her husband was one of the first baptized in Pau. He actually went through some rough times and had not been active the greater part of his life. However, he had two daughters join the Church without him pushing them. Finally, now his wife decides seemingly out of nowhere to join the church. At her baptism, he started crying while explaining it all to me. He said that he wanted to go to the temple and to be sealed to his wife, something he didn’t think would ever happen. (In the LDS faith we believe that through the Priesthood of God, husband and wife can be sealed for time and all eternity, thus creating an eternal family. The children are also sealed to the parents.)
What was happening was simply incredible. Sometimes you recognize when you are witnessing a miracle. I knew that I was seeing a miracle first-hand. There was a very special feeling as all of this was happening. This was a miraculous time in Pau. The Spirit of God was so strong and the hand of the Lord was so obvious in the missionary work. Us missionaries were just there to fulfill our calling to teach the gospel, but God was softening the hearts and doing the converting. I think any member who was there during this time will remember it as nothing short of a miracle.
After her baptism, frère Francis Barbaroux (the son) then gave a talk on the gift of the Holy Ghost. As I said in my journal, it was “Rad.” The Spirit was so strong. The love between everyone there was so incredibly strong. We had an investigator there, Frère Mwamba whom we were teaching. He really liked the baptismal service. Frère Henri Barbaroux, le père, was there as well and he was visibly touched.
The next day on Sunday Frère Henri Barbaroux came to church! I was so happy to see him. I went up and said “Bonjour! It’s so good to see you today!” He said that there would be another baptism soon. He was next! I couldn’t believe it! I was so happy I gave this elderly frère a big hug. I loved this guy even though I had only met him once or twice before. That night at the dinner, my first day in Pau, we had talked about how he didn’t want to join the Church because he didn’t think it was right at that time. But after everything that had happened with the death of the other dry-Mormon in the ward, everyone was so touched by the Spirit, he said that he should have never waited so long. He was so visibly happy. I was absolutely experiencing pure joy! What a miracle. There is no other word. I was so edified spiritually. From my journal that day, “I love the Lord. I felt His Spirit so strongly today. I know this is His Church. I’m so happy to be a missionary.”
A short-while later Frère Henri Barbaroux was baptized by his son Francis. He was soon called to be the Sunday School President. I remember just staring at him as he conducted Sunday School, almost in unbelief at what my eyes were seeing. Soon after that, he again entered the baptismal waters, this time to baptize his grandson. Here was the man who had told me that he would not be baptized, fully engaged now in the gospel and teaching the gospel himself and baptizing others.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we do a lot of family history. We seek out our ancestors and add them to our family tree. If they were not baptized into our Church, we do proxy baptisms and other saving ordinances for them in Holy Temples. We do this so that they can decide if they want to accept the baptism and other ordinances done on their behalf. If they do not want to accept them, no harm no foul. If they do want to accept them, we feel that we have done a work for which they cannot do themselves since they no longer have a body. We are passionate about this and believe that it is by commandment that we are to perform these sacred ordinances. As I have stood in the baptismal font in the Holy Temple, and as I read a name of an ancestor, I have often felt an incredibly strong impression that they were close and approved. I have felt love for them and have felt their love for me and my family. We believe that the afterlife is something very real, and these ancestors of ours are more connected to us than we realize. They are not gone, but it is more like they have passed into another room and we can no longer see them for a time.
Well, if I can feel this for an ancestor who has passed to the other side of the veil, I can’t imagine what Frère Francis Barbaroux must have felt as he baptized his father, who just weeks before was saying, “I’m not getting baptized.” The Lord works in mysterious ways. His ways are not our ways. One thing I have learned over and over in my experience is the Lord knows each of us. He knows our hearts. He will reach out and touch our hearts and bring us back to Him. He gathereth His sheep. Each and every soul is precious in the eyes of God.
From left to right: Me, Jason Bringhurst, Frère Henri Barbaroux the father and his son Francis Barbaroux who baptized him.