When Robert and Martha Ludwig arrived in Nauvoo, Illinois, on December 30, 2007, the sun was setting over the frozen Mississippi River. President Ludwig, the new Illinois Nauvoo Mission President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had no idea that the Mississippi River froze over during the winter, and Sister Ludwig said that he wondered, “What did we get ourselves into?”
After previously serving as a president of the Colorado Denver South Mission, President and Sister Ludwig were called to the Illinois Nauvoo Mission for two years. But two years extended to three—and then four. “We were thrilled,” Sister Ludwig said. “We love Nauvoo.”
Illinois Nauvoo Mission
The Illinois Nauvoo Mission is somewhat unique from other LDS Church missions. Most missions are known for clean-cut, well-dressed young men and women who ride bikes or walk door-to-door to share the gospel message. In contrast, the majority of Nauvoo’s missionaries are senior couples and sisters. Instead of riding bikes and going door-to-door, they dress in 1840s costumes, greet visitors at historic sites and visitor centers, perform on indoor and outdoor stages, give wagon and carriage tours, assist with holiday events and historic re-enactments, and serve in the community.
During their four years in Nauvoo, the Ludwigs have supervised over 700 senior missionaries, approximately 140 young performing missionaries, and 80 young sister missionaries. “All have become great friends and blessings in our lives,” Sister Ludwig said.
In the wintertime when Nauvoo is quiet with few visitors, 100 to 150 senior missionaries keep Historic Nauvoo alive. “By June, July, and August, everything moves a hundred miles an hour with Pageant, Sunset, Rendezvous, historic sites, and other activities,” said senior missionary Kristy Nicolich. This is when approximately 200 senior, 20 young sister, and 40 young performing missionaries join together to entertain audiences.
“For four years the Ludwigs have put their shoulders to many wheels in Nauvoo,” Sister Nicolich said. They greet and entertain guests, feed scores of people, care for and encourage missionaries, hold meetings and make assignments, attend musical and other performances, and supervise and participate in holiday events and historic re-enactments.
Nauvoo is a destination place for travelers from around the world, and sometimes leaders of the LDS Church stop by. In 2008, President Dieter F. and Sister Harriet Uchdorf and their twin grandsons, who had just received mission calls, came to Nauvoo and stayed in the mission home with the Ludwigs. In June of 2009, President and Sister Ludwig welcomed members of the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra during their summer tour and stop-over in Nauvoo. On October 9, 2009, President Thomas S. Monson arrived in Nauvoo and visited historic sites, met with missionaries, and attended the senior missionary musical “Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo.”
President and Sister Ludwig’s children and grandchildren have come to Nauvoo and participated in church, historic, and community activities. In 2010, the Ludwig’s two youngest children were married in the Nauvoo Temple. A son and his family live in Iowa City, Iowa, and their young children frequently stay in the mission home and experience Nauvoo with their grandparents.
In addition to welcoming guests, the Ludwigs have fed Young Performing Missionaries (YPMs), young sister missionaries, senior missionaries, community leaders, and performing groups who come to Nauvoo. Joan Peterson, former Nauvoo Temple Matron, said, “After every Nauvoo Pageant performance, the YPMs went to the Ludwig house to build sundaes with 20-plus toppings. Sister Ludwig did the same for others who came to perform.”
Rebecca Powell, a former senior missionary, wrote, “Sister Ludwig is an excellent cook, and she had us over, in groups of course, at least twice during our mission--once when we arrived and once before we went home. That's a lot of meals! She'd let us bring salads or desserts, but she had the main dish.”
Nauvoo Temple President Spencer J. Condie described mission home meals. “Shortly after we were called to serve in the Nauvoo Temple, we received a phone call from our predecessor, President Wayne Peterson. He described the commercial establishments in Nauvoo, quickly adding that President and Sister Ludwig operate the best restaurant in Nauvoo. Several dozen meals later we can attest to the truth of that assessment.”
Care and Encouragement
Sister Hadley from the Illinois Nauvoo Mission office said, “President Ludwig is extremely concerned about every missionary and the individual needs of each one and works tirelessly to insure that all aspects of the mission are thoughtfully considered before decisions are made. Sister Ludwig is our head cheerleader, and she does her job so energetically.”
According to Sister Nicolich, Sister Ludwig “keeps count of the number of grandchildren left behind as their grandparents serve in Nauvoo.” A senior missionary in the carpentry shop made a sign for Sister Ludwig to keep track of the numbers. “Last summer 2,000 grandchildren did their part to send grandma and grandpa on their mission to Nauvoo.” In addition, President Ludwig hangs pictures of his missionaries on a bulletin board behind his desk, and he interviews the summertime YPMs and makes sure they are having a good experience.
“President Ludwig deals with everything calmly and courteously,” Sister Nicolich added. “He always has a word of prayer before we talk in his office. He wants to do what is best for us, and he wants to know how we and our families are doing. He asks about our health. After all, we’re not 19 and 20 year olds.” Joan Peterson noted that the Ludwigs look after senior missionaries with health problems as their own children.
Meetings and Performances
Sites in Historic Nauvoo are open seven days a week. Before missionaries go to the sites, they conduct prayer meetings in the Visitors’ Center, Seventies Hall, and Cultural Hall, with President and Sister Ludwig rotating their visits to each place. Once a month, the missionaries all meet in the Visitors’ Center for zone conference, where President Ludwig stresses that they bear testimony of the Savior at each historic site.
Throughout the year, President and Sister Ludwig attend performances by senior missionaries, YPMs, and Nauvoo Pageant casts. “We have seen ‘Rendezvous’ over 500 times,” Sister Ludwig said. “Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo” is a one-hour musical comedy about the early Saints who built Nauvoo in the 1840s and left in 1846. Senior missionaries perform this play six evenings a week. During the winter, audience attendance can be pretty sparse, but the Ludwigs are usually seen in the Cultural Hall, cheering on the actors.
In July, the YPMs and core and family casts perform the Nauvoo Pageant on an outdoor stage. For three years when Wayne and Joan Peterson served in the Nauvoo Temple, “we attended every pageant except one, and the Ludwigs were always there,” Joan Peterson said.