I was sitting in church recently when it was announced that a young man from our ward had returned home early from his mission due to some health issues. My heart hurt for his young missionary, not only for the physical but the mental anguish he was possibly experiencing. I immediately wanted to tell him about my great-grandfather, Ralph Cutler. An extraordinary man, who was loved and revered by all who knew him, but who also had to come home early from his mission because of health reasons.
He was so sick when he got home his sister Jane recorded that, "Ralph nearly died after he returned from his mission he was so ill. There was one night that we really feared for his life."
In his own words, "I might state here that I felt that my mission was a huge failure because I was terribly handicapped by my old intestinal trouble that bothered me most of the time and prevented me from putting my best and whole effort into the work and was unable to partake of and enjoy the hospitality of the people and to do the work required of a missionary... I gradually got weaker and finally had to give up in November 1900 and come home, a disappointed and heart broken man."
His daughter Alice May records, "Now, lest the reader be led into believing that Ralph Cutler's mission was, as he said, "a huge failure," a perusal of his missionary journal reveals a different point of view. Though his mission was shortened to eleven months, it was one of many varied and worthwhile experiences of fearlessly preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ralph Cutler was a strong advocate and firm defender of the faith, whether preaching on the street corners in the cities or in the schools, churches, and homes of the country. His gift for oration, brought to fore more extensively on his mission while preaching on his first principles of the gospel, prompted one gentleman to remark at the close of a street meeting in Columbus, Ohio, that Elder Cutler "was a good enough orator to be in congress."
As I reflect on Grandpa Ralph's life, I am humbled by his goodness and perseverance. Coming home early from his mission was difficult and something that he anguished, but it did not define him and spent his life doing good, defending the faith and testifying of Christ. His posterity calls his name blessed. I gain strength from the way he lived his life and through the words he recorded for his posterity. Without his journals, I would have known that on January 9, 1900, he had his photograph taken with his companion by a traveling photographer after visiting with 7 families. He made the annotation larger and with capital letters of his beautiful script and he recorded that it cost him $1.00. I know how frugal he was with his money, but I am so thankful he spent the money so that I can show my children what he looked like as a young missionary at 26 years old, who was ordained as a Seventy in December of 1899.
Had he not kept a journal I would have missed out learning that he kept track of all of his expenses and the total of his life as a missionary was only $209.30. Or that one day after his meetings he spent the afternoon at the "National House of Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. A lovely place containing a group of beautiful buildings where 6,000 old soldiers have their home." (You can read more about the location here where I found this photograph.). I learned about some of his struggles, the interesting people he met and most importantly I learned about his resilience. Despite his illness, he still got up and worked as hard as he could. He found the inner strength to be obedient in spite of the pain and hardships.
So to this young missionary who returned home early, you are in the company of great men and women for whatever reason could not fulfill their entire time as missionaries. What defines you will be how you live the remaining part of your life.
Reading Grandpa Ralph's words makes me think back to my mission, the differences, the similarities, the love of the Lord. I am so thankful he took the time to write about his experiences teaching, I am grateful for his grandson, Theodore who scanned and digitized his journal for us as posterity. I appreciate that my father, another grandson, has made it possible for me to read the life of his grandfather from any location in the world. It has been a treasure in my life.
Today I consider what I will do to preserve my own missionary experience for my posterity. With the technology of my smartphone and a scanning app like, TurboScan or Google Photo Scan, in a matter of minutes I can preserve the words and experiences for future generations, and perhaps someone someday will find comfort in my short time as a missionary, because I too was unable to serve all 18 months, but I treasure every single day spent as a missionary and would not change a thing.