I Will Go and Do the Things Which the Lord Hath Commanded
by G.G. Vandagriff
Before he was deported and then killed, Karen Martin’s great grandfather hid the records in the little chapel.
When Karen Martin was a child of fourteen, she had an experience which was to skew her future life in a way she could never have understood at the time. Shortly after the death of her maternal grandmother, an immigrant from “the old country,”Karen’s Aunt Olga came to Idaho to visit her family. She urgently related the details of a dream which she knew was important, but which she failed to understand. Karen stood at her side as Aunt Olga described the dream to her mother. “Dorothy, I prayed to God to know what has become of mother. I had a dream about her. She was dressed in white and standing in a field in front of a large, white building calling out to a man, ‘Ta-Ta, Ta-Ta.’ The man had an iron rod in his hand and was walking through a field toward an orchard.”
The daughter of Mormon converts, Karen could not contain herself. She ran to the other room and returned with the Book of Mormon, freshly marked from a seminary lesson on Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. “I know your dream, Aunt Olga,” she told her. Then she informed her startled aunt that she had dreamed the same dream as Lehi, a Book of Mormon prophet.
Realizing, even at that young age, that her grandmother obviously wanted the fruit of the tree of life, Karen saw her as figuratively lost in the wilderness. A consuming desire came upon her to do family history work. The journey that Karen would eventually take would carry her back into the earthly wilderness from whence her family had come, and much like Nephi when he returned to Jerusalem for his family’s genealogy, she would have to rely on all her ingenuity and faith to accomplish the task the Lord had given her.
It wasn’t until she was an adult that she was able to persuade a reluctant aunt and uncle to show her their birth certificates. From these, she was able to glean not only the names of two generations of ancestors, but their home villages in a remote, war-torn corner of Poland which used to be called Galicia. When the wall fell in Berlin in 1989, Karen rejoiced and knew it was only a matter of time before she must be ready to make her journey back to the villages she had discovered. Like Nephi, she didn’t know beforehand what she would do, but she took every step she could think of to ensure the success of her project.
Once Poland was open to the west, she set her plans in motion. Contacting the mission home in Warsaw, she was able to find a young lady who spoke good English, who would serve as a guide and translator for her. They arranged to meet a few miles from the Slovakian border, where Karen’s ancestral villages were located. Not knowing what resistance she would encounter, she bought gifts–silver candlesticks and altar cloths.
The first day of her three-day visit was a great disappointment. The priest in the first village informed her that he had no records. The priest in the second village said that he had been there seventeen years and had never seen any records at all. Was her great venture into the wilderness to end in failure? Karen refortified her faith, and, remembering Nephi, tried again. She learned the valuable lesson from her guide that she must appear to be someone who had authority and influence.
Returning to the first priest, she offered him the gifts she had brought and again asked to see the records. This time, impressed by the gifts and her obvious determination, he opened a cupboard, and showed her a row of books going back to 1784. Tremendously excited, Karen opened the first one, expecting it to be in old church Slavonic or ancient Russian, for her ancestors were Eastern Orthodox. To her great relief she saw that the records were in Latin and that she could easily decipher them.
Karen learned that it was a true miracle that the records had been preserved, for her ancestors had been a persecuted minority in Roman Catholic Poland. Even their grave markers had been destroyed. “Ethnic cleansing” had taken place in the area, and both of her great grandfathers had been executed in an Austrian concentration camp, Tahlerhof.. Before being deported, however, one great grandfather performed an act which was to secure his own salvation. In the second village, Karen found that there was a little chapel. Behind its icon tasis, they discovered the missing records. Her great grandfather had hidden them out of fear that they would be destroyed.
In all, Karen has made four different trips back to the wilderness. Through many miracles, plus some cunning, she has gathered records from eight villages. Her adventures and their similarity to Nephi’s are being chronicled in a book she is currently writing, In Laban’s Cloak. By obeying the commandment to “go and do,” she has been the means of preserving the names of 250,000 individuals, many of whom are her direct ancestors. These records were all slated for shipment to obscurity in the Ukraine where they most likely would never have been recovered.
One of the first of her family to receive their proxy temple ordinances was her Aunt Olga. A few days after her death, she had appeared to Karen in a dream. Handing her back her Book of Mormon, she assured her that now she believed it all. She wished to partake of the tree of life. The circle was complete.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.