(Compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
On Monday the 18th, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin called me about conditions he had found in the Corpus Christi Mission. He wanted me to go there as fast as I could and try to straighten out the problems. I tried to call Elder L. Tom Perry, who was my first contact in the Twelve, but could not reach him. I immediately arranged airline tickets and flew to Corpus Christi.
Upon arrival, I was met by President G____ F____, who was a splendid man, but who looked haggard, worn, and very unstrung. We had a very good talk and then drove to McAllen, Texas, to meet with the stake president, Tim Olsen. We also visited in Harlingen. I had the opportunity to visit with seven very depressed and discouraged elders who were just waiting around for President F___ to decide whether or not to send them home. I immediately told him not to send anyone home and not to hold any more disciplinary courts [now “membership councils”] on missionaries.
During the next three days I toured the entire mission with President F___. I found many serious problems among the missionaries. Apparently, the president had lost control of the mission and was now in a very distressed and depressed condition. I felt very sorry for him and his situation. He was not sleeping very well and he had lost any ability to relax. Altogether there were 189 missionaries in the mission, and I interviewed at least 55 of them. By the time I was ready to go home, I knew what the problem really was and that something serious was taking place in this fine part of the Lord's vineyard. I had a good, honest talk with President F___ on the way to the airport, outlining some things he could attempt to do to turn the mission around.
On Tuesday I met with Elder L. Tom Perry, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, and Elder Robert L. Backman and gave a report on my mission tour. We decided to change the president as soon as possible. . . .
A couple days later, Elder Perry flew to Texas to verify my report of the mission. He felt we should not hastily make a change so nothing happened for three or four weeks. . . .
As I began May 1991, I continued to be concerned with the Corpus Christi Mission. For the previous six weeks, things had just been hanging. We had to do something so we had President F___ fly to Salt Lake City, and on 7 May, he had a very thorough examination with Dr. Quinton Harris. This did not bother President F___ any. In fact he was quite pleased. Dr. Harris was very blunt in telling me that President F___ should not return to the mission because he was on the verge of a stroke and his blood pressure was out of control. The next day, Dr. Morgan, a psychiatrist from Provo, came up to meet with President F___. The doctor immediately came to my office and said, "Don't let him got back to Texas. He is in no condition to do anything and should be released immediately." I explained that he had to return to Texas because of his wife and children, who were in school. This was a rather difficult moment for all of us. I felt sympathetic for this fine man who had worn himself out as a mission president. We flew him back with instructions to sit tight until I could get there. President Monson heard the reports, and President F___ was notified immediately that he was released as the mission president because of his health.
I was assigned to go down and be the mission president until we could get a full-time president. I was set apart on 9 May 1991 by Elders L. Tom Perry and George I. Cannon. I also continued on as a counselor in the North America Southwest Area Presidency so for the next few months, I had a double assignment. None of us wanted to close the mission, but there was so much rebellion and disobedience among the missionaries that it was a distinct possibility.
I flew to Corpus Christi and rented a small downtown hotel apartment, not far from the mission office. President and Sister F___ were very cooperative. . . . They were to continue to live in the mission home until their children were through with school for the year, and then they would leave Texas. I did everything I possibly could to ease the blow.
Every day for the next ten days, I held zone conferences and interviewed each missionary in the entire mission. I traveled into every small city in the mission and met wherever the missionaries were laboring. The zone meetings were welcomed by the missionaries. It was wonderful to see them respond to love and kindness. However, there were still a number who wanted to horse around or do things that were improper and against the rules. Several elders were making some effort to repent and straighten out. I remember interviewing three elders, one after the other, and realized, once again, how hard it is to combat the devil when he takes a hold of somebody.
On 16 May, we held a special six-zone conference and farewell in McAllen. All of the missionaries from the south part of the mission met in one of the cultural halls, where we honored President and Sister F___ and gave them a number of nice gifts. I conducted the meeting, five missionaries spoke, two stake presidents attended and paid tribute. There was some good music and a lot of food for everyone. All eight of the F___ children were with us. The whole family had a good time.
I went with an elder while he and I interviewed a lady who had an abortion. I felt it would be all right for her to be baptized and authorized that. She then took me next door to a neighbor who needed a blessing.
After the program, we drove back to Corpus Christi and mission headquarters. The next day, we did the same thing with the north part of the mission with the missionaries in those six zones meeting to honor the F___. The Corpus Christi Stake president attended and spoke. Once again, we paid tribute to these good people.
After the first ten days in the mission, I flew back home. I was able to celebrate my 73rd birthday with my family . It was nice to be home for the weekend. On Monday I flew back to Corpus Christi to carry on. This time, Marva flew down with me.
Elder _____ and Elder ___ were my assistants at that time and were willing to drive us around the mission wherever we went. On the evening we came back, we took all the mission home elders to supper in a cafeteria so they could get better acquainted with Marva and me. We then went to the store and bought some groceries so we could do our own cooking in the small apartment.
The assistants and I began to work on transfers because after my first ten days of interviewing, I knew they were needed. Most of the missionaries were happy and glad to have transfers, but there were a few who continued to resist anything for their good. We continued to hold zone meetings day after day, meeting with the missionaries from one place and another. It was interesting to see the response and the repentance that was happening. Most missionaries began to go back to work, and for that we were very grateful. By the end of May, I had interviewed every single one of the missionaries at least twice, and some of them I had seen three or four times. There were about 25 who were still possessed by an evil spirit that bothered them. One by one, we tried to get the rebellion out of them. On the last day of May 1991, we made 40 transfers, which was pretty good for the size of the mission.
During June Marva and I flew home for two days. We were able to be at home to enjoy our 50th wedding anniversary with our family. While I was home, President Monson called and informed me that for the upcoming year I was being assigned to be the president of the North America Southwest Area of the Church. Elder W. Mack Lawrence was to be my First Counselor, and Elder Cree-L Kofford would be my Second Counselor. These two fine Brethren were newly sustained General Authorities, and this was to be their first assignment.
We went back to Corpus Christi. It was a great experience to feel the spirit of the mission change and see some good positive attitudes and happiness in the lives of our missionaries.
On 11 June, I spent two wonderful hours with President and Sister F___. I have never met a better family. Their children were eight of the greatest, wellprepared young people, all of them excellent musicians. Sister F___ had been a great teacher, and they had learned well. From these young people will come several professional people and top-notch Church leaders. He asked if he could take his family on a trip into old Mexico with an old camper that he owned. I fully approved of their trip. After they went on their trip, they returned to their home in Arizona. He went back to work in his law office and was able to regain his health. Today, in 2002, more than half of the F___ children have been married in the temple and are successful, fine young people. [Editorial Note: President F____ lived for only six more years and died at age 55 in 1997.]
On 25 June 1991, President J. Kent Jolley, his wife, and two children, Jennifer and Jeff, arrived at the Corpus Christi Airport. President Jolley was to be the new mission president. We welcomed them with several elders and took them to the mission home which had been well-cleaned and prepared for them. I spent the next two days orienting them to the mission. Marva and I then returned home after having two marvelous months in the mission. When I left, I thought the mission had begun to turn around. Most of the missionaries were working, and a spirit of success seemed to be there to greet the Jolleys. . . .
The assignment to help straighten out the Corpus Christi mission was a very special event for me. It was hard, but interesting, and a challenge that I thoroughly enjoyed. I shall always be grateful to the good people of southern Texas, the fine missionaries, and President and Sister F___.