Stories: (#4) Joe David Warner verses the Cobbler
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|This is the fourth in a series of stories about the California Central/Oakland mission, which we have sent to each of our sons during the first few weeks of their missions. This story had been passed down through several levels of retelling and so I cannot vouch for the exact authenticity of all the details, but this is as it was told to me.
I hope you enjoyed the story about Frank and Sam. When I arrived back, I looked up in my old missionary journal and found the entry for August 20, 1975 as the day when I spoke with Sam on the bus. I thought you might be interested in reading with this letter something else which occurred around that time. I call it Joe David Warner verses the cobbler.
While laboring in the Big Valley during Summer and Fall of 75, we had a most unusual district. We had an elderly couple, Bro. & Sis. Pryde way out in Oakdale to the east; a pair of isolated missionaries in Sonora way up in the mountains also out to the far east. We also had 2 (sometimes 3) Lady Missionaries. They resided in the northern most area of the city of Modesto. In order to work with them, mission policy dictated that we essentially go in a threesome, as splitting up one LM with one Elder just did not make for Celestial mathematics. And so, my ZLC companion would leave me with the Sisters and drive back to our area with the 3rd Elder that we usually had. During those times when we had 3 sisters, they would take one of the sisters up to Manteca. It normally fell on me to remain in the Sisters area and work with them. In my experience, Lady Missionaries were either GREAT or NOT! There was no mediocrity among them. I have some great stories about them,
but I digress, Anyhow, I was working with them one day when they introduced me to a young couple whom they had been teaching, a family called the Warners.
In the area of Modesto, California; there resides a peculiar sect of people called the Dunkard Anabaptists. They are a bit like the Amish in their dress, but accept some modern things in their lifestyle. They are mostly farmers. The men wore great beards and broad hats. The women wore a funny looking tight, little white bonnet over their hair which was done up in a bun within and on the back of the head. They also wore a shoulder to waist length cloak which draped down over full length skirts, very modest apparel. They wore this Summer and Winter, year round.
While attending services on Modesto North Ward, the Sisters came across this fellow who represented himself as an excommunicated member who was thinking about being re-baptized. When the Lady Missionaries went to visit them, they found the family among some Dunkard community homesteads in the Eastern Modesto farmlands. The Warner family received our Sisters warmly and related a most amazing story about the Church. It seems that the husband, Joe, had once been a member, and he was interested in himself and his non-member wife hearing the discussions again together. Joe had been born with an extraordinary gift. He had a pure photographic memory. This is a remarkable phenomenon in which an individual can just look at something and remember every detail. Imagine blinking at a page of spanish grammar instruction you are learning now for your mission, and remembering every word perfectly! There was a time before computers (I realize it is difficult for your generation to imagine such an archaic age) when people with photographic memories were aggressively sought out for their ability to do research. In fact, the Anabaptists had hired Joe to research their German scriptures and develop a cross referencing indexing system, sort of like what we have today in the footnotes of our LDS scriptures. Joe David Warner was an amazing fellow. He never forgot anything he saw or heard. He related to the Sisters (and later, to me) that when he was about 8 years old, his family had been devastated by the terminal illness of his father, who was dying from a Brain Tumor. One day, his mother received the missionaries into their home and listened to a first discussion. That same night, the mother was visited by her own (deceased) grandmother who explained that everything the missionaries had said was true and that it was very important for the Warner family to join the Church. The grandmother spirit said that there was an enormous amount of genealogy which absolutely had to be accomplished and that Joe's Family could play a very important role in making this come to pass.
Joe's family was baptized within the week. Shortly thereafter, the Bishop visited Joe's father in the hospital. After a blessing was given, Joe's father sat up in bed, pulled out all his tubes and went home, totally healed from what is normally a 98% fatal cancer. One would think that with such a marvelous testimonial regarding the power of the priesthood, Joe would have been a very faithful member. However, with his prestigious intellect, he was inclined to be prideful from a very young age. He graduated from High School at the age of 13. He had completed college and obtained a Masters degree by 17. Before the age of 18, he was both a faculty member and a student member at the University of Indiana in Cocomo. He eventually obtained a PhD in Oriental Philosophy, being fluent in Persian, Greek, and several Eastern Dialects. Accordingly, when he was about 17, he marched into the Bishop's office one day and announced that if the Bishop did not immediately begin ordaining Negro Blacks into the Priesthood, Joe would quit the Church. The Bishop explained that it was not up to him, but up to the Prophet who and when to ordain people into the Priesthood. With that, Joe became an apostate, joining with several radical groups who's intent was to embarrass and demean the Church. Eventually, Joe was excommunicated. He later met and married a young woman and, amazingly, he insisted on her taking the lessons. She was eventually baptized, but never had much of a foundation in the Church thanks to her wayward husband.
Joe related that, at one point, he became affiliated with a group that was intent on physically harming the Church. When he attended a meeting in which people actually started developing plans to blow up the Salt Lake Temple, he realized that he was in too far and withdrew from the group. From that point on, he became involved with various religious groups who would frequently sit and take turns debating different religious philosophies. Joe could represent virtually any religion in the world and argue either in favor of its logic or criticize its precepts. He also excelled in Kung Fu (which was a big thing in the late 60Âs). He was a "Perfect Master", wearing a red belt with silver band, and one of the highest ranking Kung Fu SensaiÂs on the West coast.
With all this, he confessed later, he could never deny his testimony. Even though he often argued vehemently against the Church, he always knew, deep down inside, that it was True. After taking several discussions with the Sisters, he decided to be rebaptized and telephoned his Mother in Cocomo, Indiana to discuss this with her. Something in the conversation upset him, which resulted in his getting in the car and driving until running out of gas, somewhere around Merced, about 90 miles south. Without any money, he hitchhiked back up to their home in Modesto, took every pill out of the Medicine cabinet which he could find, and held a gun on his wife to prevent her calling for help until he passed out.
The Bishop of Modesto North ward went to the hospital just in time for a code team to pronounce Joe dead. However, the Bishop explained that he could only perform the ordinance of anointing the sick on a living person, and convinced the Doctors to continue with the respirator and CPR at least until after the Blessing. I remember the Bishop describing how he had to reach around all the tubing for the machines which were connected to Joe in order to anoint and bless. At the moment he said "Amen", the EKG, which had been a flat line, sparked into a normal QRS complex (normal heart beat tracing), to the amazement of the Medical staff. However, the Doctors insisted that, given the time in which he had been unconscious without life support systems, Joe was doomed to permanent brain damage.
Joe David Warner remained in a coma for about a week after the blessing. When he awoke, the first thing he said was "Tell my mother to repent and become active in the Church!" He then looked at his wife who was dressed in the Dunkard garb (after all, the Anabaptists were paying his medical bills, and they still considered him to be one of them). He remarked to her, in front of one of their ministers who was present, along with the Sister Missionaries, "You don't look like a proper Morman in that garb. Why don't you change?" This, of course, offended the Dunkards who left the room. At that point, Joe went on to relate a most remarkable tale.
While he was in a coma, Joe had an absolute recollection that he had gone to the Spirit world. He was met by a messenger or "angel" who proceeded to introduce Joe to thousands of people. The introduction included things like name, place and date of birth, place and date of death, marriage date, children..
. All of which Joe remembered perfectly. The angel explained that the reason Joe had been given his gift of memory was to do Genealogy work. To tie together many lines of ancestors and others who would have been very difficult to authenticate otherwise. Joe related that he also saw a great chasm and on the other side, numerous concourses of spirits striving to cross to the side he was on. They were contained, however, by other "angels" or guardians who gently shepherded them to stay where they were for the time being. Joe remembered being very ashamed that he had done so little to fulfill his purpose in life, and promised those spirits to whom he was introduced that he would help them fulfill their ordinances through Genealogy & Temple work. At that point, the angel who had been Joe's escort turned and said, "The anointing has been given. You may return now and fulfill the mission for which you have been sent..". The next thing he knew, Joe was waking up in the Hospital. His memory was only slightly affected by the incident. I remember him saying that he had forgotten several chapters from the Old Testament and that he would have to "blink again" at them. He made plans to have his mother and family move out to join him and his wife for the re-baptism.
Shortly after the above episode, I was transferred up to the Oakland mission home. While serving as an Assistant to the President over the Deaf program, I had the privilege of interviewing a wonderful old deaf and mute cobbler (maker and fixer of shoes) who worked at the Presidio. He was born in the Phillipines and remembered from when he was a young man the occupation of General McCarthur. The cobbler had come to the United States and Presidio sometime in the 50Âs. He never had any formal education, either in the U.S. or in the Philippines. Because of this, he could not read, write or spell and was granted citizenship largely because his father had died as a resistance fighter in the Philippines during World War II. He communicated in sign language without spelling! It was my privilege to conduct a Leader's interview for baptism with him to determine if he truly understood the principles of the Gospel. Imagine this humble man, who lived in a silent world without ever even reading a book and understanding only what he could see with his eyes. Imagine, with such limitations trying to understand the concepts of Chastity, Word of Wisdom, Tithing, Faith, Repentance, Testimony. To express Faith, he used the signing words of "Believe-God-True". I conducted a great many Leader's baptismal interviews while serving in various Leadership positions (in our mission, only District Leaders, Zone Leaders and Assistants to the President could conduct these interviews and every convert baptism had to have one). It was a sacred and wonderful trust. Of all the interviews which I conducted, none were quite so confirmed by the Spirit as was this one. I knew that this humble, marvelous little old man had truly felt the Holy Ghost, and I knew he was ready for baptism not because he had seen a wonderful vision, but because he had hearkened to the still, small, powerful voice of the Holy Spirit.
Years later, just prior to starting Podiatric Medical school in San Francisco, I returned to some of the areas in which I had served. I was somewhat surprised to discover that Joe David Warner's family had indeed moved out to Modesto, and that shortly thereafter, Joe and his whole family lapsed back into inactivity. The illiterate, noble, little cobbler, on the other hand, had become a Branch President for the deaf branch over in Oakland. It was a great lesson for me about what constitutes the firmest foundation for a testimony. Not the visions and glories of supernatural proceedings, but instead, the trappings of a strong testimony have always come in the same way which was described by Elijah about 2900 years ago:
"And, behold, the Lord passed by and a great and strong wind rent the mountains and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." (I Kings 19:11,12)
Remember, my son, that you will never need to be closer to the Lord then when you hear that still small voice.
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