Mary Sturlaugson Eyer was the first African American woman to serve a mission for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She Served in the San Antonio Texas Mission starting September 28, 1978, just about 29 years ago. As we celebrate pioneer day this upcoming weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to share an experience of a pioneer from my neck of the woods.
Mary Sturlaugson grew up in a home with 23 other siblings and was proselyted by missionaries in 1976. She told them if they ever came back, she would kill them. The missionaries felt like they should come back but were discouraged by their mission president. Later, the mission president called those elders back and said he too felt like they should return. They did, and Mary answered the door with a knife in her hand.
Some time thereafter, Mary was baptized. This was very difficult for her as her family disowned her, and while she had a testimony of the Gospel, she had the terrible weight of folk doctrine bearing against her. She petitioned to serve a mission and was rejected several times. One member told her that the reason blacks did not hold the priesthood was because they were all too busy playing basketball in the pre-existence. (Any concept of pre-mortal unrighteousness related to priesthood exclusion has now been proven to be false doctrine.)
Then in 1978, God again touched the world with a message of great importance. Mary, who had once again petitioned to go on a mission received within a week not a rejection, but a call. It was to the San Antonio Texas Mission. Mary was terrified of this call because in 1978, there was still a pervasive fear of being lynched or killed by racists in Texas. Mary wrote a letter to President Kimball asking him for God’s second pick, as long as it wasn’t Mississippi. However, she never mailed that letter and accepted the call. I will leave it to another more skilled than I to share the adventures of Mary’s mission.*
What I truly want to share is this:
This is Mrs. Eyer’s description of the first time she went through the temple.
On September 8, I went through the Provo Temple for my endowments. I woke up that morning as if in a dream. I still couldn’t believe this was actually happening to me. Walking up to the temple that day, I felt as though hundreds of spirits were encircling me. There was such a feeling of love, it was almost overwhelming.
During the temple session I tried to concentrate on the presentation, but my thoughts kept wandering to the full meaning of what was happening in my life. I was actually sitting in the house of the Lord. I could now be married and sealed to an eternal mate; I could do temple work for my ancestors; I could have my family sealed; my children would be able to serve missions. The full blessings of the kingdom were open to me now.
I began to cry. No more limitations. I don’t fully understand why the priesthood blessings had been denied us by our Heavenly Father, but sitting there in the temple, with the tears flowing down my face, I kept remembering the scripture, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” A woman next to me must have been aware of my tears, because she reached over and took my hand. I looked at her to thank her, and I saw that she too had tears in her eyes.
As the temple session neared an end, a peaceful feeling of gratitude filled my heart. I was aware of the tears of others in the celestial room, though I didn’t know most of them. They came forward to hug me and express their happiness for the blessing I now had.
-A Soul So Rebellious, Mary Frances Sturlaugson, pgs. 77-78
Sister Eyer, may I also now shed tears of gratitude and come forward and express my happiness for the blessing you are.
*- Mary has published three very powerful books on her experieces. They are beautiful, well written, and have within them the power to change lives. I recommend them highly.