We are often reminded by the brethren that there is a veil that separates us from the spirit world. President Monson, for example, has said, “May we remember always, as we visit and work in these glorious temples, that the veil may become very thin between this world and the spirit world. I know this is true.”
Not many of us have had the firsthand opportunity to experience how thin this veil may become, even outside of the temple at times. But there are experiences that do happen and must be shared to strengthen our testimonies of this great work of Heavenly Father. In my own family, we have had one such experience that we speak of and share often among ourselves. It is a very precious experience that happened to one our ancestors. After more than a century, this testimony by John Johnson about how thin the veil is continues to inspire us. I hope it will inspire you too.
John Johnson was a young man living in Sweden near the city of Karbenning in 1886. He was the oldest of eight children. His father’s early death left him in charge of the family farm and the support of his widowed mother. During that year, missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to his town. Their message of the Restoration profoundly moved John.
He would have joined the Church at once had it not been for his mother’s strong opposition. He held off for a time, but he could not dismiss the principles that were so firmly rooted in his mind. His mental struggles were relentless. Finally, he realized he could have no peace of mind until he joined the Church. He was baptized on September 12, 1886. He was 22 at the time.
His baptism angered his mother, uncles, and the community. They wrote him off as a complete loss.
One uncle had invited him to visit for a weekend at his home prior to hearing of John’s baptism.
John was excited to spend some time with the family and his cousins. He was naïve enough to think they all would listen to his new beliefs. However, upon arriving at the door, he realized he was not welcome. Not a cousin was to be seen. A short time later, his uncle approached him and said “I want you to leave this house and never return. I understand that Mormonism has a strange power for evil which people cannot resist. I do not want my family contaminated.”
As John left the farmyard, he saw his cousins looking at him through a window. He turned towards them hoping to say goodbye, but the faces disappeared. They were locked inside.
On his way home, he walked through a wooded area. When he was out of sight, he sat down on a rock and wept. This rejection was a great sorrow to him. Kneeling beside the rock, he prayed for the ability to someday reach his people and give them the gospel.
Throughout the years that followed, John kept his testimony. He was called to serve two missions, both back to Sweden and to his hometown of Karbenning. The first mission came before he could immigrate to Utah with the Saints, his greatest desire. He was successful in baptizing many into the Church there, but never his mother or other family members. However, he was able to restore good relations with his mother before he left for the States.
The second mission call came after marrying a young lady also of Swedish descent, Edla, and starting a family in Utah. By the time the call came, they had three children: Elinor, Elsie, and Lawrence, who was only three months old. When he received the call, it took all his faith (and that of his dear wife Edla) to accept it and leave them for several years.
As John returned again to his homeland, he went with much more confidence. He even found that his relatives who once disowned him now took pride in him. On occasion they even befriended him and opened their homes for him to teach in. But none of them accepted his message. And again, he returned home without seeing any of his beloved family accepting the gospel. What would it take to bring them into the fold?
However, over thirty years later, John did receive the desire of his heart — and in a remarkable way. His eldest daughter Elinor went on a mission to Colorado. While serving there, she contracted tuberculosis and suffered several years before passing. Her death at such a young age was a heavy blow to John. He was constantly tormented by the question, Why did my lovely, faithful, and first-born daughter have to die so young? It seemed so unfair; she had every right to live. She had given her short life to serving others.
Then one night he received his answer in a marvelous manner. He had gone to sleep for the night. Suddenly he was awakened by a voice saying, “You asked for a blessing, and I have given you a greater one.” He sat up in bed, thoroughly awake, and received what he called a “manifestation.” He could see Elinor before him well and strong, her face shining with happiness. She said to him, “I have been preaching the gospel to our dead relations, Father, and they are listening to me.”
He remembered her saying before she died, “Dad, I wish I could go on another mission.” Well, she had her desire; she was on another mission within the family and doing what John had never been able to do. The prayer that he had offered so earnestly in the wooded area so long ago in Sweden was being answered. John thanked God for this beautiful and satisfying experience.
Yes, at times the veil is very thin.
George Domm was born and raised in upstate New York around historical LDS sites such as the Hill Cumorah and Palmyra. He was very familiar with the Church long before he was baptized in 1959. Soon after joining, he found himself serving a full-time mission for the Church in Berlin, Germany. That was his first of four missions! George currently lives in American Fork, UT with his wife, Margaret, and busies himself trying to keep up with their 11 children and 42 grandchildren. He loves to do family history and play golf with "all the old men in our neighborhood." His goal is to one day shoot his age, 74.