Back Previous chapter Table of Contents Table of Contents Next chapter Next chapter

SWITZERLAND AND GERMANY

One of the first to be baptized in the Utah mission was Frederick Ursenbach, a Swiss brother who had come to Utah with a considerable amount of money, expecting to spend his fortune and himself in the interests of the church. He was disappointed, and at his earliest opportunity united with the Reorganization and was ordained a high priest at the first conference of the church in Utah, April 6, 1864.

This decision made Ursenbach unpopular in Utah, and the earning of a living there became impossible. All his life he had earned a comfortable livelihood as an expert buyer of fine wines. Necessity obliged him to return to Southern Europe and his life-long occupation, which he felt so incompatible with his office in the church that he could not officiate as a missionary, but in 1868, he urged the church to send a missionary to Switzerland, where he had found a number of old Latter Day Saints, anxious to return to the old faith. At his own expense he had translated and printed a little tract called The Gospel, which he distributed freely.

But four years passed before a man was found for the mission. At the April conference of 1872, John Avondet, an old Latter Day Saint, and a native of Pinerolo, Italy, was selected. He spoke German well enough to carry on the work in Switzerland. Brother Avondet sailed from New York City for Liverpool on the "City of Limerick," arriving in Switzerland on the 24th of the same month and proceeded at once to look up the old "Mormons," but they would have nothing of him, claiming they had been so badly deceived in the past that they would not be caught in the snare again. He gave out an appointment but only strangers came. Even the visit to his own parents, brother-in-law, nieces, and nephews was a disappointment. They treated him kindly but wanted nothing to do with religion.

He wrote to Brother Ursenbach in Lausanne, who at once came and spent two days with him, "the first real happiness" he had enjoyed on his mission, said Avondet. On leaving, Ursenbach left one hundred francs (about twenty dollars) with the missionary to help carry on the work. As he was "without purse or scrip" and much in need of money, the help was appreciated.

Avondet soon left Switzerland for his native land, and during the winter of 1872-73 worked in his mother's vineyard at Prarostino, Pinerolo, Italy. He wrote to the church that he had not called for any financial help of the church as he "saw it was not necessary" since he could earn his living working in the vineyard daytimes, and preach the gospel evenings and Sundays. That summer he baptized the first fruits of his mission to his native land, two sisters by the name of Gardiol. The mission was a difficult one. He found many dissatisfied old members of the church, but they were afraid of another deception, and had all returned to the church of Waldenses.

In the meantime a Swiss brother by the name of John L. Bear appeared at the fall conference of 1872 at Council Bluffs and volunteered for the Swiss mission, and was appointed. Brother Bear was well educated in the German tongue, a good and fluent writer in a German script that looked like copper plate. He had left Switzerland for Utah thirteen years before, become dissatisfied there, and joined the movement dissenting from the dominant church there under the leadership of Joseph Morris. In the Morrisite massacre, his young wife and infant child had been murdered, and he left the state with the United States Army, under General Connors, when he established the military post at Soda Springs, Idaho. The soldiers whose sympathy was stirred by the conditions of the Morrisites took as many of these unfortunate people with them as wished to go, laid out a little city in the wilderness, and gave each his own plot of ground. Soon the place became an important outfitting post for caravans west and the exiles prospered. Bear married again, and built up another home. The colony held church and Sunday school regularly and preached the Morris revelations with other church doctrine.

For some years they had heard rumors of a new organization of the church called Josephites, and one day in the spring of 1868, a neighbor told Bear there were some of this peculiar kind of Latter Day Saints, converted in Utah, but making their way eastward, camped on the road above Soda Springs. Bear wondered if he knew any of them, and overcome with a sudden nostalgia for old friends, he walked up the road and was happy to see Albert Bishop and family whom he had met in New York in 1860, when all were on their way to the "promised land," also William Summerfield, William Woodhead, and several others. Bear asked for some tracts, but a careful search by everyone of their luggage failed to find a single one. Then someone brought out an old Herald published by Sheen in Cincinnati. Some of the brethren came down and preached that night in the Morris camp, and Bear, having read the Herald promptly, liked it and sent a subscription in for it. The next year Edmund C. Brand and Lars Edler came to Soda Springs, and on November 29, 1869, Bear was baptized, confirmed, and ordained an elder. Bear was devoted to his new-found faith. He wrote in laborious long hand a tract setting forth the mistakes of Morris and inviting his Swiss friends into the Reorganized Church, making a copy for each family. Many came into the church.

He now lived on a farm near Agency City, Missouri, and he and his wife Barbara Dielhelm, read in the Herald of the need of a missionary to Switzerland, and though they were very poor, both felt that here at last was something they could do for the church, and therefore, Bear volunteered for service. It was January before sufficient money could be procured to send him on his way. At last the Bishop wrote him to come on. With what little money he had he bought a cheap satchel and a rough, blue jacket, as he had neither coat nor overcoat. Thus equipped he was about to set out on foot, when, as he was bidding good-by to his wife and four little ones, Barbara, his wife, handed him sixty-five cents that she had saved for just this occasion. That was all she had. He refused to take it, protesting, "What will you do without a single cent?" She insisted, he still refused, and she began to weep, begging him to take it, she had saved it especially for him. Reluctantly, he took it and started for Plano. Joseph Smith kept him over the week end, and insisted that he preach--a happy occasion. In Sandwich a poor widow gave him a dollar, and Brother Rogers took him to Chicago and bought him a third-class ticket which provided him with steerage accommodations, a hard berth with a straw "tick." He had to part with his dollar to secure the loan of a straw pillow and a blanket till he got to Liverpool. Thus auspiciously began the mission of our second Swiss missionary. After a rough passage on the "Atlantic" of the White Star Line, Bear arrived in his native land.

The old Saints there knew and trusted him, and he found in Zurich more invitations to preach than he could fill. All spring he preached in private houses, and on April 13 baptized the first members of the Reorganized Church in Switzerland, one of Bear's brothers and a nephew. He longed for tracts in the German language but had not the money to have them printed. One Voice of Warning of his own, an old edition in German, he loaned over and over again, until it was practically worn out. Some wished to buy it, but he could not let it go.

Laboriously he translated into German The Truth Made Manifest and some four tracts against polygamy for circulation among the Utah people. He loaned them in manuscript form. If one was lost, he had all the toil of translating it over again. Thus the first missionaries to Switzerland and Italy worked patiently and baptized now and then their hard-earned converts. In those early days in Switzerland, John L. Bear lived a life of sacrifice and came back to the States to live and die a poor man. He sustained himself when his funds were exhausted by his own labor, and his greatest misfortune while there was the time when he engaged to thresh wheat from 4 a. m. to 9 p. M. at night for the sum of one franc (about eighteen cents) a day, and being long unaccustomed to the use of a threshing flail his arm became so lame "he could not write a word, for a whole week." In order to supply tracts for the mission, he knew he must not lose a single moment from his translating and copying. He had a good education and knew he translated them correctly, and was a good and fast writer, but the matter of supplying postage to send his tracts to investigators at a distance was a real difficulty. The impossibility of securing money for this purpose he felt hampered him a great deal.

During all this time he and Avondet wrote often to each other and longed to meet. At last on February 15, 1874, this wish was gratified, and they met in Geneva, Switzerland, and held earnest counsel over the condition of the mission. Both were now financially at the end of their resources. They wrote a joint letter to the church, asking to be supported in their mission or recalled.

We are satisfied that the church can be built up here; that many will embrace it, when we can spend our time in spreading the truth; if the church cannot sustain us immediately, then we are not able to stand any longer, and ask to be released, which would give us pain indeed to give up our mission when the Spirit testifies unto us that a great work can be done here; but we are in this position now, that we can see no way for us, if the church does not take immediate action in our behalf and the work of God in these countries. We also concluded that if the church in America would help us, we would like to travel together, if you give your consent to it; we think we could do more good in going together than single. . . . When the work is started, then the mission will supply itself.

This communication found the church in the United States partaking of one of those periods of national economic depression that are part of its history. The men were recalled, and given a vote of thanks for their work.

With mingled sadness at leaving the mission, and joy at the thought of coming home, they made preparations for leaving the little group of Saints in Zurich. A newly baptized man, an old Latter Day Saint by the name of Taylor, a man who could speak both French and German was placed in charge of the newly organized branch of sixteen. Tearfully they bade farewell to the few Saints and started for England, where after six weeks' delay, money came for their passage, and they embarked on the "Ohio" of the Red Star Line on the 9th of December, 1874. After a terrible passage on which the "Ohio" lost several of her lifeboats in a storm, they arrived at Philadelphia on the 22nd. At St. Louis the brethren parted, Elder Avondet arriving home on Christmas Day, Brother Bear three days later.

The latter walked ten miles from St. Joseph to his farm, arriving at 8 o'clock in the morning of Deceibber 28. He found his family in straitened circumstances; nothing to eat but a little bread and potatoes enough for one meal which his wife had saved for months ahead to have for him at his coming. His cattle and horses were so thin he could hardly drive them to the creek for water, for a drought the previous summer had taken their entire crop. The Bishop, shocked at seeing him so thinly clad in midwinter, had given Brother Bear some money, telling him to buy himself some warm clothing. With this he paid the bill his family had at the mill, and purchased flour and oats. In a day or two he was cutting cord wood in an attempt to recoup his fortunes.

Conditions gradually improved, and at length they were renting a larger and more desirable farm and prospects were brighter. Only one cloud dimmed the horizon; the Saints he had left behind in Switzerland were constantly importuning him to return. Then on November 7, 1878, his faithful wife died, and with her last breath said, "The Lord will take care of these children; you go and preach the gospel." German and Swiss friends urged him to go once more to Switzerland and Germany, but he could not make up his mind.

The letters from his far-away homeland had a strong appeal as they told of their isolation and longing to hear the gospel again: "With great longing we looked for your letter, which was delayed so long we soon would have believed that we were forsaken of the whole world and forgotten; yet thy good father heart beats in the far distant land for us, thy children, who are here alone. . . . May God give unto us the joy to see thee once more in our midst, to instruct us and build us up." And then the words of his wife on her deathbed would come to him. At last he concluded to put the whole matter up to the President of the church and the Bishop. They much desired him to go, and that settled the question with him. He began to look about for homes for his children.

Homes were offered at once to the two oldest girls and two oldest boys, but two remained, Mary, four years old, and Lillie, two. Too young they were to be of much help to anyone, and small enough to be a care. At last Sister Hartman Nesser, a poor woman with children of her own, but interested in the Swiss mission, came from Stewartsville and offered to take the baby. The Bishop was willing to pay $25 annually for the care of the child. No satisfactory place offered for the four year-old, and he wanted to take her with him. He felt that if he did not the child would be abused and asked to work beyond her strength, but he was overruled by others, and regretted throughout the time of his mission that he had not followed the dictates of his own conscience and taken the little one with him.

How different this time was his trip to the old country! He was permitted to travel second class, for financial conditions were improving with the church, and a family of Saints in New York entertained him until time to board the vessel. Joseph Squires and his family and another family of Saints in Brooklyn saw that he was supplied with every comfort for the journey, and Brother Squires took him to the pier when he sailed April 24, 1880, on the "Devonia" of the Cunard Line. In a short time he was preaching and baptizing again in his native land. This time he was better supported by Saints at home, at one time receiving $17 from a Brother Bierlein in the United States. He carefully invested the money in having a tract printed The Church of Jesus Christ in the Days of the Apostles and the Present Churches, Their Doctrine and Authority. In one page at the end he summed up the difference between the Utah Church and the Reorganization, and on another the Epitome of Faith, making fifty-three pages in all. The five hundred copies cost him $20, and one of the first of the pamphlets brought to him a candidate for baptism, John Bossard, whom he baptized in the River Rhine.

In the spring of 1882 he left Switzerland again for the States.

Never again did he return to the little group he had baptized in Switzerland, although he did much work among the German and Swiss Saints in the United States. Intermittent missionary work has been carried on in Switzerland since the mission was opened, with a faithful few local men carrying on the work when help from the main church was unavailable.

Strangely enough the work in Germany had its beginning on the faraway continent of Australia, when Cornelius A. Butterworth baptized a fine German brother by the name of Max Kippe in Hastings, Victoria, in the year 1895. Immediately as a labor of love for his family in Germany, who understood only German, Max Kippe translated the Doctrine and Covenants for his brother Alexander, and he was by his brother's efforts converted1 although not baptized until 1906 when missionaries from the States, J. A. Becker and C. C. Joehnk, were appointed to Germany and Switzerland. C. C. Joehnk then baptized Alexander Kippe and his wife into the church. Alexander Kippe besides years of splendid leadership in Germany contributed to the church a translation of the Book of Mormon into German. German-born missionary talent was soon available to the church, Alexander Kippe, Carl Greene, Johan Smolney and others. Despite wartime conditions and restrictions, the work in Germany has prospered, and the Saints there have been blessed and protected, and there exists in that war-torn land a base for extensive missionary development.

1 See Herald, Volume 93, page 744, "Australia-Historic Hastings Branch a Link With Alexander Kippe," by Herald G. McGurk.

Back Previous chapter Table of Contents Table of Contents Next chapter Next chapter