Missionary Work Among the Italians in Germany in the Early 1960s
By Gerald T. Snow
I was called to serve in the Central German Mission from September 1963 to April 1966. To my knowledge in 1963 there was no Italian mission or any missionary work taking place among the Italians. However, there were a great many migrant workers from Italy laboring in various parts of Northern Europe.
In the course of my missionary work among the Germans, particularly as we held street meetings in the town of Solingen (part of the Düsseldorf District) where I was assigned, I became aware of the many Italian workers in that city. They would often stop on the fringe of the crowd but could not understand much German, let alone English, nor were my companion and I able to communicate with them effectively. This led me to send to Frankfurt to see if any missionary tracts were available in Italian. I felt drawn to try to find a way to share the Gospel with them, even if only by handing out a tract.
It was not long afterwards that my mission president, Valdo Benson (a brother of Apostle Ezra Taft Benson) called me into his office and, handing me a small Italian dictionary, an "Italian in 30 Hours" text, a set of the missionary discussions in Italian, and a tape recording in Italian, told me that he had decided to call myself and one other Elder to labor among the Italian migrant workers. I was to return to my field of labor and in about three weeks I would receive my assignment.
I was to prepare as well as I could and when the actual call came, I was to turn my attention to the Italians and no longer concentrate on teaching Germans. I was stunned at this turn of events, but at the same time excited. I had been on my mission at that point in time about one year, which meant that the remaining 18 or so months of my service I would be an Italian missionary, learning and speaking a language for which I had no preparation.
I wondered if Frankfurt had tipped my mission president off that there was an Elder in his mission who was inquiring about teaching the Italians, but my mission president professed to know nothing of that. However, Heavenly Father obviously knew. It was the summer of 1964.
I learned later that Apostle Ezra Taft Benson, who was at that time presiding over all the European missions, had decided to create groups of Italian speaking missionaries to proselyte Italian migrant workers in the German and Swiss missions, hoping that the converts would share the Gospel with their fellow countrymen upon return to their homeland. I don't know how many were actually converted before the official Italian Mission was established, but I understand that a few such converts were instrumental in some of the early missionary work in Italy.
Three weeks after the meeting with my Mission President, the call came. My companion was Aaron Andreason (from Norwalk, California). I myself was called from a home ward in Short Hills, New Jersey. The two of us set about learning Italian, going door to door, searching out Italians wherever they could be found, usually in very poor apartments or barrack type dwellings. I was still in Solingen, which interestingly enough had a very high concentration of migrant workers.
We studied, listened to the tape, and immersed ourselves in the language by circulating among the Italian people. Unlike the Germans, the Italians were very willing to let us into their homes in almost all cases, to feed us, and to listen to our memorized door approach. They were intrigued with these two Americans who were trying to learn their language. After getting in, we did a lot more listening than speaking, constantly thumbing through our dictionaries, asking a few questions, nodding politely from time to time, and amazingly, the language came. Call it a gift of tongues, which is what I think it was, but in any event in a few months we were holding intelligent conversations with the Italian people. We had memorized the six lessons in Italian and so we could actually teach. But teaching effectively, with converting power, was yet to come.
Since there were only two of us as missionaries called to teach among the Italian people, there was no-one to exchange with, no reassignment possible. Consequently, Elder Andreason and I spent the next ten months together. It was a long slow period with little success, which tried our faith considerably. But eventually we began to see some success.
It was the summer of 1965 when we taught and baptized the Aurelio family, consisting of the parents: Raffaele and Maria, and three children old enough to be baptized plus some younger children. We became quite close to their teenage son Salvatore who, I thought, understood our message better than any of the other members of the family. There was a set of adorable little twins, Mario and Piero, much younger, and a little sister, Caterina. Salvatore's younger brother, Antonio, was also part of the family group.
In the fall of 1965 we taught and baptized two men who were working in Solingen without any family: Giovanni Fenu from Modena, Italy, and Matteo delle Noci from somewhere in the south of Italy. Edgardo Zani and Paolo Molinari were two young Italians rooming next door to us whom we befriended. They never joined the Church but I am sure they will long remember their Mormon friends.
With that start we began a small Italian group in Solingen that met regularly alongside the German Branch in our small rented chapel located at Augustastrasse 24. After Elder Andreason and I had been together a long time and had seen some success, President Benson called two more Elders to the Work, Ned Zaugg (from Clearfield, Utah) and Jim Williams (from Ogden, Utah). Elder Williams and I stayed in Solingen and Elder Andreason and Elder Zaugg were reassigned to the city of Koln. We were now a district of four and we worked together often in each other's city.
Elder Williams remained my companion for the duration of my mission and likewise Elder Zaugg remained Elder Andreason's companion until he went home. Elder Andreason and I never had the privilege of actually laboring in Italy. However, it was not too long after we each had gone home from our missions in 1966 that Italy began to open up, and Elders Williams and Zaugg and their new companions were sent down to Italy, along with Elders from other German missions who had been laboring in similar small groups among the Italian migrant workers. These first Elders had some very interesting experiences in those early months in Italy that others have written about.
As for myself and Elder Andreason, our missions were forever changed because of our opportunity to teach the Italian people the Gospel in their own language and to be part of the renewal of this work among the Italians in the 20th century. I consider it a privilege and a blessing to have been called not only to teach the Gospel to the German people but also to the Italian people and to have learned the saving truths of the Gospel in two mission languages.
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