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Stories: Missionary work and Frits Willem Tessers (I & II)

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Missionary work and Frits Willem Tessers (I & II) 08 Feb 2012
Missionary work and Frits Willem Tessers (I & II) Another merchant-missionary during the beginning years of the LDS Church in Indonesia was Frits Willem Tessers (based on a January 11, 1012 phone interview with his son Frtis Rene Tessers). He was born in 1929 in Makassar Sulawesi to parents with a mixed Dutch/Indonesian/Chinese/African ancestry. His mother’s great grandfather Willem Zwoll had come to the Dutch East Indies from the Dutch colony in Southern Africa to help in the war against Aceh. His father Karl was a cartographer for the Dutch government and his grandfather Jacob was a colonial official in the Dutch East Indies. During the Japanese occupation Jacob was beheaded by the Japanese as an example of what would happen to anyone who did not cooperate. Following WWII, Frits remained in the Indies where while still a teenager he was trained to be a bomber pilot. At some point during the next few years he helped to teach others in the Indies how to fly. He also married and had three children and worked running a large floral business. Following Indonesian independence, Frits fled the country (with only a diamond under his tongue). For unknown reasons, his wife and children remained in Indonesia. Frits relocated to the Netherlands where he re-married and started a second family. He served with the Dutch military in Korea which then opened the door for the Tessers family to emigrate to the United Sates in 1960. The family settled in Huntington Beach, California under the sponsorship of the Episcopal Church. Early on in their stay Frits was presented a Book of Mormon by an LDS acquaintance. As a Catholic who was attending the Episcopal Church (out of duty for having been helped to relocate), Frits had no desire to add another religion to the mix. Several years later, the family became acquainted with another Mormon—Ted Johnson a fifth grade teacher who taught two of the sons during back-to-back years. Ted’s priesthood office at the time was that of Seventy and so as a ward missionary he was always looking for opportunities to introduce his religion to others. This included setting out LDS magazines on tables during parent-teacher conferences for people to read while waiting. It also included approaching Frits Tessers during the second year of teaching a Tessers son when, after a parent teacher conference, he asked if Mr. Tesssers would be interested in learning more about the Mormon Church. The family agreed, liked what they heard and decided to be baptized. The mother Elisabeth Muller Tessers and the three oldest (of eight) children were baptized in 1967, with Frits, who took a while to quit a smoking habit, following suite in 1968. Shortly after joining the Church, Frits started an import/export business with Indonesia. He looked forward to his first trip back to Indonesia in over 20 years as a great missionary opportunity to share his new found faith with people he would meet in his native land. In preparation for that 1969 trip, Frits filled up a large leather suitcase with copies of the Book of Mormon and stacks of various pamphlets about the LDS Church with the intent to share them throughout his several month stay. When he arrived in Jakarta, a customs agent, upon inspection of his bags, was concerned that the large collection of English language materials might be subversive or illegal and so Frits was taken into detention. Soon a senior military officer wearing dark glasses came in and asked: “Mr. Tessers?” Fits replied: “yes.” The office responded: “Mr. Frits Tessers?” Frits replied “yes.” With that confirmation, the officer removed his glasses and with a big smile exclaimed: “I’m the first pilot you taught to fly!” He then gave Frits a big hug. After renewing acquaintances, he asked Frits about all of the printed materials. Frits explained: “These are all materials that will help people to understand the LDS religion.” The reply satisfied the officer who then offered military transport to Frits during his business travels. The only report of what Frits did with his many copies of the Book of Mormon was that with the approval of his military friend he was able to place them in hotels along the way. During his travels he met one Indonesian member of the Church, most likely Sutrisno, and he learned enough about the fledgling church in Indonesia that he returned with a strong desire to help the kingdom grow in his homeland. He therefore sent a letter to Church leaders with a recommendation that a separate mission be established in Indonesia and that missionaries be sent to serve there. A reply letter informed Brother Tessers that it was not yet the time for such a bold move. Brother Tessers, who was described by his son as being “passionate in his proclamations,” and who was very excited to see the Church grow in Indonesia was hurt by the reply, resulting in several years of limited activity in the church. Frits died of cancer in 1992. On the day of his funeral a grandson was born. That grandson was named Frits Willem Tessers II (son of Jim and Lisa Tessers). In February 2012, after two months of language training in the Missionary Training Center in Provo Utah that grandson will start his missionary service in the Indonesia Jakarta mission. The family sees this calling as a fulfillment of Frits Tessers Sr.’s desire to spread the faith in a land he loved.
Chad Emmett Send Email

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