We shouldn't be given to "hero worship" -- and so we won't be. But if we were, here are 4 of them....
On the left are Elder Charles and Sister Anna Wassum, our senior couple missionaries in Lubumbashi. The Wassums met in France many years ago while at summer school. Anna was from Sweden, Charles from Virginia. Their courtship took several years to develop, but eventually Anna moved to the U.S. and they were married.
Shortly after finishing medical school, they met the missionaries in central California, and after taking the lessons received their testimonies and were baptized in 1969. His career as a doctor and other interests eventually took them to Marion, VA -- a small community in the southwest corner of Virginia.
We found out about the Wassums in Feb. 2007, shortly after our call to serve here. Acutally we found out through two sources. One was the CEO of a microchip manufacturer in Silicon Valley, whose board I served on. The other was through Jim Engebretsen, an associate at the Marriott School of Business at BYU, who had been a partner at Goldman Sachs in Philadelphia, but retired to serve as a mission president in Oklahoma and then came to BYU to do a great job in placement for the MBA's who graduate from the business school. (Jim has organized an annual event where 30 or so MBA's are privilege to fly back to Omaha, spend a day with Warren Buffett including a steak dinner at a steakhouse Warren owns, and have even larger servings of his wit and wisdom. How's that for connections.)
The Wassums were very interested in coming to our mission, but Sister Wassum found out that she had breast cancer. After some treatment and a relatively miraculous cure, she was pronounced "ready to serve" and they came in October 2007, assigned to labor in Lubumbashi.
Lubumbashi is the 2nd largest city in the DRC, located about 1,000 miles from Kinshasa.
Originally they served there with another couple, but for various reasons, including the challenges of serving in Lubumbashi and continual harassment from the police, the other couple was reassigned to Johannesburg. The Wassums said, "we can handle this" and have been in Lubumbashi for 8 months now by themselves.
But that's not the half of it. Throughout the spring, Sister Wassum had a slowly but ever enlarging open sore on her tongue, and was continually losing weight. Not a good sign. After a trip to Johannesburg, it was diagnosed as malignant cancer. They stayed in Johannesburg for several weeks while a skilled surgeon operated and took out part of her tongue. As soon as they were cleared to come back to Lubumbashi, that they did, where they have served diligently and opened many doors for the church. They have a continual positive attitude and help watch over our 14 young missionaries in L'shi. It is always a joy to visit them and share their great attitude.
They went back down to Johannesburg in November to check up on her tongue, and everything is doing fine. We are so grateful for their friendship, their faith and their diligence!!!
The couple on the right are Elder Paul and Sister Ann Koelliker. I wrote a little about Elder Koelliker in another post (see Touring Churches in Kinshasa), and his work for the church in overseeing the building and dedication of so many temples prior to his call to be a General Authority of the church. His work took him to many different countries throughout the world during a time when President Hinckley more than doubled the number of temples operating throughout the world from 50 in 1996 to well into the 120's by the time Elder Koelliker was called to his present calling.
He has worked his entire adult life for the church, in a number of challenging callings. His work experience and travels make him a very well-educated in the ways of a modern dynamic world. Sister Koelliker was a great mom to 7 children, supporting her husband in his career working for the church, and in the calls he received to serve as a leader in his ward (bishop in his late 20's), stake president, etc.
The interesting thing about Sister Koelliker is that for her entire life up to July 2007, which took her into her mid 60's, she lived in the same zip code in Salt Lake City. Raised in it, lived there while attending school, bought a home and raised their children there. Never lived anywhere else -- just in 84109, or whatever the zip code was. And the first time that she lives outside of it, it is in Africa. Although their "home" is in Johannesburg, they travel throughout Africa, including some of the crazy places like the Congo. And she does it with a smile and a grace that silently tells others of what a daughter of Heavenly Father should be like.
Great people. A wonderful privilege to know them, learn from them, and admire them.