The Very Experience I Needed
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“The Very Experience I Needed,” Ensign, Aug. 2001, 61–62

The Very Experience I Needed

“Sister Swaner,” the stake president said as he sat across his desk from me, “Heavenly Father wants to call you to serve in the extraction program.”

“The what?” I replied, bewildered. I had expected a teaching assignment, something that would coincide with my past experience.

Instead, for the next 15 minutes the stake president explained the record extraction program to me. When he finished, echoing in my ears were such phrases as “foreign language” and “commit yourself to 12 hours a week.”

Then he added, “There are no pats on the back in this endeavor. Your efforts will be an act of selfless service.”

I reluctantly said yes to the calling and shook his hand as I left the office.

Soon I began learning about reading and transcribing entries from old German civil and parish records. I felt overwhelmed and apprehensive.

After several weeks in a training program, I returned to the stake president’s office to be set apart. As he did so, he cautioned me not to look at the handwriting on the records as obscure letters or faceless names. “See them as real people,” he counseled. “See them as fathers, mothers, children, and grandparents who lived upon this earth. They loved, had trials and challenges, and now have the opportunity to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and be baptized vicariously.”

In the weeks following, I pondered the stake president’s words and prayed that I could serve in my calling freely and lovingly. I also asked Heavenly Father to help rid me of pride. I knew I must serve the Lord and give Him the praise and glory.

I began my work by extracting names from German parish records of the 16th and 17th centuries. I was surprised to discover how valuable my high school German class was to me now.

After studying the scribe’s handwriting for two months, I grew to know and love him. His penmanship became familiar to me. I witnessed his good days and his bad, such as when his quill had dripped or smudged ink across the page. On those days I prayed for special help and guidance.

I also grew to love those with whom I served in doing the extraction work. I was inspired by their dedication and the life experiences they shared with me. Not least of all, I appreciated the good sisters who patiently instructed me. Through their loving tutoring I gained the knowledge I needed to do the work, and my confidence increased.

As the months passed, a transformation was happening. I was loving my calling. Humbled by the challenges, I realized this selfless service was the very experience I needed at this time.

I am grateful for the lessons in humility, repentance, patience, and endurance that my calling in the extraction program taught me. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to give members the tools by which they can find their ancestors and provide gospel ordinances for them. I am also thankful for the blessing of learning to rely upon Heavenly Father.

  • Ruth Harris Swaner is a member of the Smithfield 11th Ward, Smithfield Utah North Stake.