This account is written by Lauri and Richard Haddock.
Dear Brother Albright,
Elder Tavian Alexander Haddock was originally named Slavcho Temenuzhkov Spassov when he was born in the village of Ivaylo, Bulgaria, near the city of Pazardjik. He was later placed in an orphanage some distance away, in Narechensky Bani, and was just five years old when my husband Richard and I adopted him. We had one “homemade” son who was six years old at the time. Our son Elder Baylor Haddock is now serving in the New York Utica mission.
When Tavian was about ten years old, he experienced a special dream/vision in which he saw a large group of people who were, in his words: “brown like me. And they were on the other side of a fence looking right at me. Their arms were extended toward me. There was a gate! But the gate was locked. Oh. It was alright because I had the key!” He explained that they looked at him as their hero. At that young age, he was puzzled by this. As his mom, I thought, “Oh – he will probably go to Bulgaria on his mission. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?!”
His mission call arrived on October 31, 2012. When he opened it and read “Bulgaria Sofia mission,” everyone present wept, and we felt the presence of angels among us. It was a sweet and extraordinary moment, and Tavian was overjoyed that he would be able to return to the country where he was born.
Tavian’s Sacrament Meeting Talk
Elder Tavian Haddock is introduced to his birth mother, Temenuzhka Alexandrova Spassova. See gave him a big hug and kissed him his cheeks and said, “It’s a miracle, it’s a miracle”. The Mayor of her village, Ivaylo, is wearing the blue shirt and Tavian’s companion Elder Weston Killpack is on his right. His birth Grandpa is wearing the hat.
Tavian’s sacrament meeting talk before entering the MTC summarizes several aspects of his experience that prepared him for what was soon to happen in Bulgaria:
I have waited for this moment to arrive. My life exemplifies the Plan of Salvation and I have seen this with my own eyes and I recognize it. The Plan of Salvation is also called The Plan of Happiness. It is a Family Plan. Family is at the very center of Christ’s church. The Lord’s plan handles all kinds of situations– like adoption-like MY adoption.
My story is all about miracles. My story is about how the Lord listens to the prayers of every single person. I am an example that He doesn’t forget anyone-even abandoned children in Bulgaria-and though some may seem to be forgotten in this life, they are not. Christ knows His sheep and His sheep hear His voice. He will gather them all – if not in this life, then certainly in the life to come – and often with our help. I am an example that God still works miracles. I was an answer to my brother’s prayer.
I lived in a hospital orphanage until I was three. I was then moved to another orphanage in a small mountain village called Narechenski Bani. We later learned that this little village was chosen as the location for an orphanage because the Bulgarians thought it would help the children to be as healthy as possible. It is in the fresh air of the Rhodopa Mountains and is renowned for its healing mineral baths.
The villagers were good to the orphans, taking us fishing and for walks in the forest. I don’t remember every detail or what I was feeling at that time — I just remember that I believed that everything was going to be okay in the end. I was too young to see what would have happened to me if I didn’t get adopted.
The villagers of Narechenski Bani took all the orphans to be baptized in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. At least I can still remember faintly what my orphanage looked like. I barely remember that I was the only orphan allowed in the kitchen and that I got to stir the soup. As my mom describes it- I had charmed my way into the hearts of the orphanage ladies and was now the “little king” of the orphanage.
Back in America, in Lindon, UT – during what seemed to be a regular night-my mom could NOT sleep. She says that in the next life, when we watch the multi-dimensional DVD of that night, we will see that angels pulled her out of bed and guided her to my picture which had been posted on an adoption website.
The miracles had begun, because you see, I was never sung a lullaby– I had no idea what it was like to be part of a family. Later I learned that if I had not been adopted, I would have been put out on the street at the age of fourteen — without a family, a job, or a chance to have a productive and righteous life. Many of these orphans around the world turn to crime as a way to make money and even feed themselves. Miraculously, I was saved from these circumstances.
I was four years old when I first met my mom and grandma. The Bulgarian government required prospective parents/families to come and meet “your” orphan and take that child for a three or four-day “test drive.”
My mom and grandma were driven by Bulgarian adoption attorney, Antonia Vladimirova (a guardian angel in disguise), up the windy canyon to my village and were seated in the office of the orphanage. Then I came in to meet them. I didn’t really know what was going on. I just thought, “Oh-these friendly people have brought me a Sesame Street flashlight!” My mom says that we spent about twenty minutes together and then I was taken back to bed. We were to spend the following three days getting to know each other.
It wasn’t until recently that my mom told me what happened that night. She and my grandma went to the host family’s house. When they were finally alone in their room, my mom says that she was overwhelmed with a terrible and dark, sick feeling. She began to cry and told her mother that she didn’t want to adopt me.
Tearfully, she said, “Mom, he is malformed and tremendously handicapped – not what they described at all.” My grandma answered, “I know!” To my mom, I appeared to have an enlarged head and possibly hydrocephalus. Later, my grandma explained that from her perspective, I had a very flat head, as if part of my brain had been removed.
My mom wanted to get on a plane and go home that very night. But grandma wisely advised that they wait until the next day, spend some more time with me, and then if my mom still wanted to, they would say that they had changed their minds and were going home. My mom says that she prayed over and over again that night, “Heavenly Father, please help me,” not knowing what else to say.
The next morning the sick feeling was gone and I arrived from the orphanage – whole, healthy, and handsome. My head was normal. My mom and grandma wondered what they had seen. Was this the same boy?! Yes–this is the same face. Strange – they both said. It was sometime later that my Mom figured out what had happened. Jeffery R. Holland describes it like this:
“There is a lesson in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision that virtually everyone in this audience has had occasion to experience, or one day soon will. It is the plain and very sobering truth that before great moments, certainly before great spiritual moments, there can come adversity, opposition, and darkness. Life has some of those moments for us, and occasionally they come just as we are approaching an important decision or a significant step in our life.” (“Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence” BYU devotional, March 02, 1999)
My mom believes that the adversary didn’t want me to be adopted and tried to get her to change her mind and leave Bulgaria that night. What a beautiful miracle that she did not! I was five years old when my mom and dad came to Bulgaria to pick me up and take me home. I had many questions when I came to America like: “Which one of those cars in the garage is mine? Is that house across the street also in America? When can I get a job?” When I was told I was going to church the next day, I asked,”Is God in America too?!”
When I turned eight I was baptized again, but this time by immersion, like Christ had been, by one who had authority from Jesus Christ. I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Spirit testified to me that this was the right thing to do. When I was eleven, I decided that I wanted to be sealed to my new family in the temple for all eternity. My parents had waited, allowing me to choose whether or not I wanted to be sealed to them. My mom and dad had never seen me cry as hard as I did when we knelt together at the altar in the temple and became an eternal family. I felt the spirit enter my heart and I was filled with so much warmth and joy that I couldn’t contain it. I will never forget that day.
Being in a family has given me the opportunity to develop talents like drawing and playing the violin and guitar. I even received permission to bring my violin on my mission. Hopefully it will be “instrumental” in sharing the gospel. I got to be a boy scout which taught me eternal characteristics. The scout law has taught me to be trustworthy, etc. It has helped me develop leadership skills. Thank you, dad, and grandpa for setting an example for me of hard work and dedication to the scouting program. When I received my Eagle, my grandpa gave me the Silver Beaver that his father had received and it will be passed down to each Eagle Scout in our family – my family.
I have had another great example to follow — a brother who loved me before he even met me and who has been my best friend and my mentor. Baylor has been obedient, faithful, positive, and has shown me how I should live. Of course he wanted my mom and dad to bring back all of the children in the orphanage, but I guess that wasn’t meant to be! Baylor has led the way by serving in the New York Utica mission and will complete his mission in November 2013. In preparation for my mission, I received the Melchizedek Priesthood and returned to the Temple to receive my own endowment-the plan of salvation in action!
And now I have received my mission call to the place where I was born. Imagine my joy when I opened my call and discovered that I was going back to my homeland to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was overwhelmed — as was everyone in the room. The Spirit was there to testify of this very special part of MY plan of salvation. My plan of happiness is that I’m no longer an orphan, but instead, through the kindness of Heavenly Father — I am a son – I am a brother – I am a grandson – I am a nephew-and I am a cousin — with a family that loves me for eternity. My family taught me the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was brought into the gospel so I could gain my own testimony. Christ’s true church has prepared me for this very moment. My testimony has been growing through the years. It is my turn to repay what the Lord has given me and to dedicate the next two years to His service.
A few years ago before my mission call — I had a special experience which has helped me to understand the significance of missionary work in the plan of salvation. In a sacred experience, I saw a large group of people who looked like me-and they were grouped tightly against each other. We were separated by a big iron fence. Their arms reached out toward me through the bars. They were looking right at me. I could see there was a gate– but it was clearly locked. Then I realized, Oh! It’s OK, because I have the key! I hope my mission will be an opportunity to unlock the gate for those longing to walk through it.
Recently I had a dream in which I was walking down the hall of the church. Brother Curtis was walking toward me to speak to me. When he reached me, he said, “Tavian, the bishop is waiting to bless you with the power to create communities. You will need that.” I told my parents about the dream and the next night, I dreamed part two – a mission companion and I were in a distant land watching a celebration. The people were in traditional costume, dancing with joy. My companion and I felt so much happiness watching them celebrate!
Assigned to Pazardjik
We were surprised when Tavian was assigned by his mission president to Pazardjik as his first area. His language teachers at the MTC had predicted that he would be assigned there first, saying that it was a region in which many Gypsies (known as “Roma” in Bulgaria) lived.
Tavian’s heritage is Roma. These are his “people.”
Interestingly, his mission president, President Michael Wilstead, recently related to me that in anticipation of Elder Tavian Haddock’s arrival, he had Tavian assigned to another city, in another companionship. But upon arrival, when Tavian was bearing his testimony, President Wilstead perceived through the Spirit that Tavian should be assigned to Pazardjik. His companion, Elder Weston Killpack, is from Idaho Falls, Idaho, the city that I grew up in. In fact, Elder Killpack’s great uncle sealed my grandparents in the Idaho Falls temple. Richard and I were in Idaho Falls last week for the Memorial Day weekend and met Elder Killpack’s parents and were able to have a nice visit with them. We loved them right away.
On the morning of June 1, 2013 I received a call from President Wilstead. Fortunately, he quickly said, “Elder Haddock is fine.” Whew! He was calling to relate to us “something he wanted us to know about – something that Elder Haddock is excited and overwhelmed about.” A church magazine photographer was in Bulgaria and shooting photos of missionary work. President Wilstead, who was calling me from Turkey, reported that he had lined him up to follow the work of several missionaries, including those in Pazardjik. The photographer ended up with Tavian and Elder Killpack.
Seeking his Birth Mother
Apparently the photographer (Brother Leslie Nilsson) was intrigued that Tavian was actually born in Bulgaria and had been called to serve there. He recommended that they find an investigator and take photos of the lesson. They decided to venture out to Ivaylo which is only a few minutes from town. Elders Killpack and Haddock had been talking to an investigator from Ivaylo, had set up a future appointment for a lesson with him, but had not been to the village itself.
After Tavian had received his mission call, as his parents, we had talked to him about the possibility that after his mission, we could come and pick him up, meet the members, and perhaps try to find his birth mother. We told him that if he happened to be in the area where he was born and felt inspired, he and his companion could pursue finding his birth mother. We emphasized that the most important thing that could come from meeting his birth mother would be the family tree: names and dates – as many as they knew. Tavian agreed but said that he would probably just wait until we arrived after his mission and then we could all go together to search for his birth mother.
I’m sure that Tavian had not articulated any of that plan though. Brother Nilsson thought it would be great if they were to find Tavian’s birth mother. According to Tavian, his response was, “Well, I am in Pazardjik, maybe for a short time. Perhaps I won’t get back here again during my mission. I guess I might as well.”
Brother Nilsson, Elder Haddock, and Elder Killpack rode the bus to Ivaylo and asked people where their investigator might live. The second man they spoke to happened to be the mayor of Ivaylo! They asked where the investigator lives and then they told the mayor something like, “And also – this Elder was born here in this village.” The mayor found that very interesting. The mayor asked Tavian his Bulgarian name, “Slavcho Spassov,” and the mayor said, “I know that family.” They were lead to the mayor’s office, were seated and treated to a Fanta (that wonderful Bulgarian hospitality!).
Two of the mayor’s associates came in and took a good look at Elder Haddock. Elder Killpack says that they recognized a family resemblance! The Mayor would take them there. President Wilstead told me that Tavian hesitated for a moment then said, “Why not?!” Tavian actually knew the name of his birth mother because it is on his Bulgarian birth certificate.
They rode in the mayor’s car to the edge of the village. Tavian’s said that people clearly recognized the mayor’s car and began to follow it with interest. When they arrived at the tiny metal house, the mayor knocked on the door and asked the woman if she wanted to see her son. There are no sidewalks or paved streets in this particular part of Ivaylo. It was there in the long grass that Tavian Alexander Haddock met his birth mother Temenuzhka Alexandrova Spassova again for the first time.
An Abundance of Relatives
Elder Tavian Haddock meeting his birth mother in her village when he first arrived. A few of his relatives have gathered. His birth mother lives in the small white square metal house next to them.
Many people gathered around and Tavian has explained that many people in the village are relatives. Tavian said that he was nervous and shaking, but excited. Temenuzhka gave him a big hug and kissed his cheeks, all the while exclaiming, “It is a miracle!” In Tavian’s words: I told her I was so happy to see her. I told her how I’ve been and told the whole group that was there about how I came to be where I am now. I told them our purpose as missionaries. They were happy and said: I’m so glad our cousin loves God.’ I was so overwhelmed and I was even kind of shaking a bit because I was a bit nervous and a lot went through my mind at that time. Temenuzhka’s father came over, hands in the air, exclaiming, “That’s my grandson!”
As they stood there talking, more and more family members came and gathered around. Finally there was a group of approximately fifty relatives assembled. Hey — There in the group was their investigator! Come to find out, Tavian and Elder Killpack had already been talking to Tavian’s first cousin and had an appointment to teach him a lesson!
When President Wilstead called, he said, “Elder Haddock has siblings.” “He has siblings?!” I asked in bewilderment. I told President Wilstead that I was amazed and overwhelmed. Then I felt like he should know about Tavian’s dream/vision – the one with the many people who looked like Tavian, the gate, and the key.
When I told him, President Wilstead, paused and responded, “That’s amazing, because the photographer explained to me saying, They were all standing around Elder Haddock as if he were a hero!'” As I look at the photos, I feel that one in particular parallels the revelatory dream. Tavian (and Elder Killpack) stands encircled by fifty people that “look like him” with a Book of Mormon in his hands – the key to open the gate. Amazing!
Teaching his Family the Gospel
More relatives start gathering when they hear a lost relative has come to their village.
They want to know what Elder Haddock is doing as a missionary and all about his life in America.
President Wilstead reported that he had called Elders Haddock and Killpack that evening, that Tavian was excited but overwhelmed. According to the President, Tavian then asked, “President, can I teach them the gospel?” Realizing that this was a sensitive situation for our family, President Wilstead was calling to ask if Richard and I would give permission for Tavian to teach the relatives the gospel of Jesus Christ. He said to think about it and email him. I told him that we would discuss it, but that the answer would most certainly be a resounding YES! The President also asked Tavian if this would be too distracting for him. Tavian’s reply was, “Absolutely not, President.” We are so grateful for President Wilstead’s inspiration and guidance. He has been compassionate and sensitive about the personal nature of this event for our family.
We feel nothing but joy for what has occured. Well, a little concern, of course, for how overwhelming this must be for Tavian. When we spoke with him over Skype, it was very special to hear about the experience from his perspective and to be able to ask questions, receive answers, and reassure him when needed. He seemed to us to be very strong and solid, which we were pleased to see. He did mention being overwhelmed and shaky for a couple of days. We assured him that considering what had taken place, anyone would be.
We expressed our joy over this significant event in his life and told him that we are praying that his birth family will have open hearts and a special endowment of spiritual discernment that they may embrace the Truth. But if not, very significant things happened in Tavian’s life nevertheless: opportunities for family history and temple work as well as a personal witness that Tavian’s path in life was to be different.
Many more relatives and village members gathered as the word spreads about Elder Haddock’s arrival. They cheered when they hear he graduated from high school.
Tavian told us over Skype that he is number seven of eight children (6 girls and 2 boys) – the only one put up for adoption. I asked him if this particular information made him feel bad. He said that it had initially, but he reported that he had been praying a long time “on his bed” and that feelings of peace and love had come to him. We are so grateful for that. What a beautiful blessing for him! I reminded Tavian that his path was different than theirs and that perhaps someone had to leave that family and find the gospel for them, or at least for their ancestors. He seemed entirely at peace with this.
We so grateful that President Wilstead, Elder Killpack, Brother Nilsson, and others church leaders are worthy to receive, recognize, and act on promptings from the Holy Ghost. We feel blessed and cared for because of their righteous help. We have felt personal confirmation that this event has unfolded according to the Lord’s will. We have been blessed and sustained by the Spirit.
It is clear to us that this situation testifies that Heavenly Father and our Savior know us personally and individually. They want all of us to come home. Each person and each family has a plan and a path. Who would have thought that a little abandoned baby from Bulgaria would come to America, join the Church, and return as a missionary and special witness of Jesus Christ to Bulgaria, finding his birth family within a month! What marvelous wonders the Lord works in His tenderness and mercy. His love is evident and directs this entire situation – and has from the beginning. What a privilege it has been to be a part of this special and sacred phenomenon! We are overwhelmed and overjoyed and humbled. We feel the Savior’s love and know that all of us are known and gathered under the gentle care of His healing wings.
So many people have been touched and inspired by this story. Many friends have expressed that their testimonies have been strengthened. We have heard them testify of the Holy Ghost and their increased love for missionary work. All who hear this story seem to be assured of the special spirit of love associated with this sacred work.
Lauri and Richard Haddock