On October 8, 1882, John W. F. Volker, a young Dutch convert living in Ogden, Utah, was returning from a buggy ride when he learned he had been called on a mission to the Netherlands. Fifty-two other missionaries journeyed to Europe at the same time, but only two—Volker and Peter J. Lammers—were assigned to serve in the Netherlands. They would be the only Latter-day Saint missionaries in the country.
Although Church members faced harassment and even violence, Volker noted the willingness of members to participate in the work. “The Saints here in Holland,” he wrote, “do everything in their power to promulgate the Gospel.” Six members were ship captains who traveled extensively throughout the country for business. At Lammers’s request, these members carried tracts that they distributed wherever they went. In Heerenveen, Volker rented a hall and organized two large meetings. Local members distributed more than 900 handbills advertising the meetings. The meetings were well attended, and in each, Volker and Lammers “bore a strong testimony about this work, and that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God.”
In 1883, Volker returned to Ogden, where he became a partner in a book and stationery store, married Edith Parker, and established a comfortable life. On the evening of September 15, 1885, John and Edith both dreamed that John would soon be called on another mission to the Netherlands. “I accepted the call with gratitude to my heavenly Father,” Volker wrote after the formal call came, “yet I felt my weakness … to do such a work.”
When he arrived in the Netherlands, he found the branches of the Church “in a scattered condition.” Unsure where to begin, Volker prayed for guidance. “First of all,” he wrote, “I tried to get the Saints in as good a condition as possible.” He translated several tracts into Dutch and distributed them among the members “so they could hold meetings … and be encouraged to faithfulness.”
Meeting the needs of local Church members left Volker little time to proselytize. He sought help first from the European Mission and then by calling local members as missionaries. He also began work to provide them with a new teaching tool: a Dutch translation of the Book of Mormon. As soon as sections were completed, Volker sent manuscript copies to branches throughout the Netherlands. After 1890, with the finished translation of the Book of Mormon in Dutch and a larger complement of missionaries, the number of converts in the Netherlands rose sharply.