Briefcase from the Dump
February 1993

“Briefcase from the Dump,” Ensign, Feb. 1993, 54–55

Briefcase from the Dump

While my wife and I were serving as missionaries in Argentina, I was called to serve as district president. My counselor, Alberto Schoevenhold, had been one of the first to be baptized in the city. Although his wife and children had not joined the Church and did not support his Church membership, he had accepted the gospel wholeheartedly and served faithfully as president of our young, struggling branch.

One day, Alberto asked us to help him with his family history. We spent the morning filling out pedigree charts and family group sheets with the information he had obtained from his family. His own family group sheet included the name of his first wife, who had died years before in giving birth to Alberto’s eldest son. He felt that she would have accepted the gospel if she had had the opportunity to hear it. After filling out the sheets, he gave them to us and asked that we do the temple work for his family since (at that time) there was no temple in South America. We gladly took the sheets.

After completing our mission and returning home to the United States, we received a letter from Alberto’s eldest son saying that his father had died quite suddenly. We felt very sad knowing our friend had passed away, and we wanted to do his temple work. We knew, however, that while his immediate family were alive, we needed their permission.

We wrote back to his son immediately, telling him there was something he could do for us. We reminded him of Alberto’s great love for the gospel, his service to the Lord, and his desire and request to have the temple ordinances performed for him and his deceased family members. We asked specifically for permission to do the temple work for his father.

Alberto’s son wrote back promptly, giving his written permission. What a happy day it was when we received his reply!

Knowing we must wait a year after Alberto’s death before we could perform his temple work, we placed the letter of permission and Alberto’s family group sheets in one of three briefcases containing our family history papers. We then put the briefcases in a storage unit with our other belongings while we vacationed in Arizona, waiting for our new home to be completed.

After spending several months in Arizona, my wife and I returned and discovered that the storage unit had been broken into. Many things had been stolen, including the three briefcases. The precious papers of our dear friend were gone. Our hearts sank. Those names, dates, and permission papers would be extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, to obtain again. We prayed that somehow we would be able to find them.

A few weeks later the man who had built our new home came to our door carrying one of the three briefcases that had been stolen! He was a stake clerk in a neighboring stake. One night a man from another city had brought the briefcase into the stake office and asked if anyone there knew us. The man said a friend of his had been down at the county dump and had seen a bulldozer about to cover up some briefcases. He was able to grab one before the bulldozer finished the job.

I immediately looked through the briefcase, but the papers from Argentina were not there. We were extremely disappointed. It had seemed such a miracle that someone would be at the dump just at the right time to recover this briefcase, and we had hoped that the papers we needed would be in this one. We fasted and prayed that we might be able to recover the other briefcases in some way.

The following Sunday the bishop asked us to teach a family history class, so we opened the briefcase again to see if there were any materials we might use for teaching. We took the papers out one by one and found some we could use, but not the important ones we were still hoping to find. Everything was so dusty, after having been in the dump in a crushed and partly open case. When we finished, I went out to the patio, totally preoccupied with the loss. After several minutes of contemplation about what to do, I returned to put the papers back in the briefcase. The first sheets I picked up were the pages Alberto had sent with us—the ones that had been lost. They were right on top of the other papers and were perfectly clean.

The next day, we obtained permission to do the temple work for Alberto and his ancestors. We asked our former mission president and several returned missionaries who also had served with Alberto to come with us, and we went together to the house of the Lord to do for Alberto that which he had requested and could not do for himself.

  • Edmund Fehr, of the Union Fort Fifth Ward, Midvale Utah Union Fort Stake, serves in the stake’s family records name extraction program.