"Do you want a big rock or a little rock?" Dave Evertsen asked, weighing one in each hand.
Confused, Heather Evertsen stared at the rough, unremarkable stones. Minutes before, she had been slow dancing in a deserted parking lot with this man whom she had been casually dating the past few weeks.
The date had begun like any other date, with Dave meeting Heather in the lobby of her apartment building. But when deciding what to do on the date, Dave had a prompting to take her on a walk.
But once outside, nothing remarkable happened.
"I then said something that I would not recommend to people, I got a little pushy with the Spirit and said, ‘Now what? I’m here, what do you want me to do now?’" Dave remembers.
The answer came without hesitation: "Propose to her."
Previously, the two had talked about what they hoped their future families would be like. In fact, just the night before, Dave and Heather had shared with each other an eerily similar goal for the future.
"We were sitting in the lobby of an art museum, and we started talking about what kind of family we wanted and the future and stuff," Dave remembers. "We were only just dating. We were friends. We weren’t even serious, and I told her I had a dream that I had six kids, and she said, 'Well I had a dream a few years ago that I had six kids.' It got a little creepy, you know. The Spirit was there and we’re just going, 'Okay, this is not where we wanted to go with this conversation.'"
Now, a day later, Dave was being prompted to propose to the girl he had met on a blind date only weeks before. The abruptness and total unexpectedness of it made him laugh a "losing-my-mind kind of crazy laugh," he says.
"And then in my mind, I’m having this little discussion with the Spirit. ‘You know, this is not what I had in mind. This is not where I was planning to propose to my wife,'" Dave says. "And then I just realized from the Doctrine and Covenants when Joseph Smith told Oliver Cowdery you need to study it out in your mind and ask me if it’s right, and I’ll cause your bosom to burn. If it’s wrong, I’ll cause you to have a stupor of thought. So I said, ‘Heavenly Father, I need a confirmation. I’m going to propose to her and I need a confirmation that it’s what I need to do.’"
Dave says he felt powerful confirmations from the Spirit that he should propose to Heather—tonight!
So, taking everything with more than a dash of good humor, Dave led Heather over to the side of the parking lot, knelt on the ground, and asked if she wanted a big rock or a little rock for her engagement ring.
"I wasn't even thinking about marrying him," Heather says. "I just stood there."
"She just looks at me," Dave remembers. "And I mean, 30 seconds is a long time, but this was, like, five minutes. And I’m like, ‘You know, you could pray about it tonight and pray and fast about it tomorrow.’ And I kept like trying to encourage her to figure out a convenient way to make a decision."
After what Dave calls a very painful five minutes, he said Heather asked, "What about me do you love? Why do you want to marry me?"
"And that’s when I got a little stinky with the Spirit and I said, ‘Alright, you got me into this, Heavenly Father. You better back me up,'" Dave says. "And so I said a few words and I waited until prompted, and I said a few more words and waited until prompted."
After about 15–20 minutes of this kind of response, Heather began to cry. Dave didn't know it, but he was actually quoting, word for word, a paragraph from Heather's patriarchal blessing.
Heather said yes.
Later that night, the couple exchanged patriarchal blessings and were surprised to find that they fit together perfectly. So perfectly, "We joke that it was an arranged marriage," Heather says.
After a three-month engagement, Dave and Heather were married—the only "normal part" of their marriage thus far, Heather says.
But if Dave hadn't acted in such a bizarre prompting, they would have taken their finals at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) and gone their separate ways, most likely never to see each other again.
And neither would have experienced the menagerie of blessings, trials, and adventures that have shaped them into who they are today.
Dreaming in Arabic
The first few years of marriage and moving for jobs trained Heather to become a serial packer.
Once they were married, Dave and Heather moved to Ogden, Utah, where Dave worked on his bachelor's degree. Then they moved to Kanas for Dave's master's degree before moving to Colorado, Utah, Montana, Arizona, and then to Texas for Dave's work.
By the time they moved to Texas, Dave had two master's degrees and was working with local governments. By this point, they had six children and had moved into their dream home: a ranch with plenty of space for their brood to roam. All signs pointed to the Evertsens finally putting down some roots and settling in for a long stay.
But David and Heather both had a strange, lingering feeling that needed to move their family, and not another move to Colorado, Utah, or some other state within the US. For some reason, Dave and Heather received the prompting to move their family more than 5,700 miles away to a country none of them knew anything about and had never stepped foot in: Italy.
Financially, it seemed impossible. But then Dave had a dream. In the dream, Dave says he was "living in an Arabic country speaking Arabic."
When Dave told Heather, she said it sounded like a new job was coming their way.
Heather was right. Two weeks later, Dave received a job offer from a former mission president to help build municipalities in Iraq.
"We prayed about whether we should take this opportunity to move," Heather says. "And the answer we got was an immediate, 'Absolutely.'" They quickly decided that they would live in Italy and Dave would travel back and forth to Iraq for his new job.
Dave and Heather's dream home sold in about three minutes, thanks to a prompting about who to call. Their house was packed in three months, with all their possessions packed, stored, or sold. Even for a seasoned packer like Heather, the ordeal was daunting.
On top of it all, "I also had to figure out what we were going to do when we got there," Heather says. "I just kept thinking, 'I don't know how I can do this.'"
But looking back, Heather admits those three months of packing and preparation were nowhere near as difficult as the challenges that waited for them in Italy.
Welcome to Italy
It was in the Milan train station with 2 strollers, 24 bags, 6 children, and a nanny on the verge of a break down that Heather and Dave found out that their home in Italy was a fraud. The timing couldn't have been worse.
"In August, no one works in Europe because everyone is on vacation," Heather says. "That also means the hotels and vacation homes are full."
Thankfully, the Church members in Bergamo (near Milan) pulled together and the Evertsens were able to stay in the vacation home of members until the Evertsens found something suitable.
"It was pretty amazing," Dave says. "Every obstacle we’ve run into, we’ve lamented, ‘Heavenly Father, if you want us to be here, we need you to remove this obstacle.’ And every single time, HE has removed those obstacles."
But after a week, Dave had to leave for his nine-month job in Iraq and Heather was left with six kids, two of which were still in diapers, and a nanny—the only one in the group who spoke Italian—who was threatening to return to the US.
Heather says she doesn't really blame her. Traveling in Italy nine years ago is nothing like it is today. Heather had to load her children into a van and navigate streets with maps that were often hand-drawn, just to bounce from hotel to vacation home. After looking at hundreds of listings for homes and struggling to get by with a limited Italian vocabulary for months, even Heather was seriously considering moving her family back to the United States.
"The hard part was I didn't know why we were here, why we were doing this," Heather remembers. "And I hit a moment where I couldn't do it anymore."
One day, while staying in an apartment, Heather locked herself in a bathroom. "I prayed and I said, 'Look, Heavenly Father, if you want me in Italy, then I need a glimmer of hope now,'" Heather says.
A moment later, there was a small knock on the bathroom door. One of the children was on the line with Dave who was in Iraq.
Heather stepped out of the bathroom and picked up the phone. By some small miracle, the connection was clear enough for Heather to hear these words: "Heather, don't quit. Don't go home."
That short conversation with Dave was a turning point for Heather. Instead of packing up and heading back to the United States, Heather and the children stayed in Italy, where they settled in Florence.
"Every decision we've made, we've done it as a family," Heather says. "I don't know why those first nine-and-a-half months were so hard, but every time there's been a problem . . . every single time we've gotten powerful answers that we need to stay."
Hearing about his family's struggles and not being able to be there to help was also very difficult for Dave.
"When I’m working here [in the Middle East], I’m focused on the work, to get the work done so I can get home," he says.
But even when he's away, Dave has been able to support his family. Once, when Dave took another job helping build municipalities in Afghanistan, he had the prompting to call home just as Heather was caught in a blizzard. Another time, Dave had the impression to call home and was talking to his 2-year-old daughter when she walked out into the street while being babysat.
"I hear the cars going by and I hear little Italian ladies speaking to my daughters and my 2-year-old," Dave says. "And then I hear my other daughter who is about a year old right behind her outside. And I’m thinking, ‘I’m in Afghanistan. There’s nothing I can do.’ So I just called Heather on the other line and I said, ‘You need to run home really fast. The kids are in the street.’"
But just as Dave has seen miracles in his family's life for taking the job that moved them to Italy, he's also seen miracles in his personal life.
Miracles in the Middle East
Once, as Dave was preparing to leave for an important meeting while in Iraq, he had the prompting not to go.
The company he was working for had spent $10,000 on four transport vehicles and 16 armored men with automatic weapons for protection to get him to the meeting. It should have been the safest meeting Dave could have hoped for in Iraq, but the feeling persisted.
"I canceled two hours before the meeting and the chief security officer said, ‘Why are you canceling?’" Dave remembers. "And I asked, ‘Are you religious?’ and he said, ‘Yeah,’ and I said, ‘The Holy Spirit told me not to go.’ And he said, ‘Okay.'"
Two hours later, Dave's chief security officer called. The building the meeting was supposed to be in was hit with a car bomb. If Dave had ignored the prompting, he likely would have died or been severely injured.
On two other occasions, while working in Afghanistan, Dave received the prompting that he should stay home from church. After staying home from church once, Dave received a call from the chief security officer asking where he was.
"And I said, ‘I’m here in the compound,'" Dave says. "And he [the chief security officer] says, ‘You didn’t go to church? You didn’t go to the market?’ And I said, ‘No, why?’ and he said, ‘Two men wearing suicide vests came in and shot and killed seven people then blew themselves up.’ And I just cried like a baby because I would have been there, at that exact same time I would have been there."
And the Spirit hasn't just warned Dave of danger. When Dave accepted a job in Libya, he called the Church's area authorities to let them know he would be in the Middle East African North region and that he would be working with high-level government officials in the country and ask for any information they might have
A short time later, Dave received a call back from the area authority's secretary.
"He called me back to let me know that I was the only member of the Church the Area Presidency was aware of in Libya and the only priesthood holder," Dave says. "I was informed that, ‘You’ll be protected from life-threatening situations and through your example, people will feel the Spirit of the Lord and the power of the priesthood.' It was my understanding that this came from Elder Holland himself."
For Dave, this promise was fulfilled while he was walking around Roman ruins in the Libyan desert. There, Dave came across a group of women with children. Not wanting to be disrespectful, Dave excused himself and tried to turn around. But then he felt a tug on his pant leg and looked down to see a little boy holding up an empty glass and staring at Dave's water bottle.
"I knelt down and put my arm around him to give him some water, and I started crying uncontrollably. I mean, I just started tearing up," Dave says.
The scene caught the attention of women but there were no men around. "This is not a good situation. I shouldn't be near any women without their husbands," Dave says. "Almost immediately, the husbands arrived. One, initially angry with his wife, was surprised when his wife shouted two words, then, suddenly, the men came over with a smile and hugged and kissed me on the cheeks. I was quite surprised but grateful for this seemingly happy occasion." Soon, the families were surrounding Dave, taking pictures with him, sharing food, and giving him kisses on the cheek. However, "I was soon prompted to leave," Dave says.
Later, Dave asked his driver what a phrase he kept hearing the people repeat meant.
"And Shukri, my driver, said it means, ‘My brother with a message,'" Dave says. "And I never taught them anything. I never said anything about religion. I was just there. I just showed compassion."
Sharing the Gospel in Italy
After nine-and-a-half years in Italy, the Evertsens have accepted the fact that no matter where they go, the topic of the gospel will inevitably come up with those they meet.
"We're a really strange group," Heather says. "We're the 'crazy American big family. And when people ask us why we're here [in Italy], our story inevitably comes out."
"When we’re riding around town on a bus—and, man, when they see a family of five blondes and the dad and they're all speaking Italian—it really creates tremendous opportunities for discussion and conversation," Dave agrees.
Since their arrival in Italy, the Evertsens have kept a chart that includes how many copies of the Book of Mormon they have given to others. To date, they've given out 75 copies in Italian and have a vacation home where they have given more than 30 copies in languages such as Tagalog, Mandarin, Japanese, and Russian.
At the baptism of one of their daughters, Dave and Heather took the opportunity to invite 150 members of other faiths; 125 showed up—double the number of members in attendance.
On another occasion, while working with the International Women's Network in Italy, Heather noticed there was a concern that not all the members of the organization were being reached or included.
"I thought, 'What if we did something similar to visit teaching?'" Heather says. "So I told the group, 'I'm a [Latter-day Saint] and I'm not here to preach my church, but there is something we do that might help.'" The women in her group loved the idea and adopted it with great success.
Heather, who works as a trip planner in Italy, also is the creator of exclusive tours to the Carrara quarry, where visitors get a behind-the-scenes look at where the marble for the statues in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors' Center came from and the process that goes into creating such works of art.
“In the beginning of starting my vacation home and trip planning, I thought it would be a chance for me to help others have an incredible experience," Heather says. "I was surprised by the results, I wasn’t expecting to be on the receiving end. We have so many new friendships, experiences, and people who work in professional areas that have come at the right time with our family.”
Dave and Heather's son, Bronson, also helps with the tours and even had a part to play in the creation of the stained glass Come unto Me window in the Rome Italy Visitors' Center.
Now that the Rome Italy Temple is completed, the Evertsens are planning on taking 300 members of other faiths to attend the temple open house, an act they hope will have the same impact as it did when Dave brought a friend on a VIP tour of the temple earlier this month.
Paolo, a friend of Dave's, was out of work but rented a car and drove more than two hours to meet Dave at the open house.
The next day, Dave received this message:
“Hi David, sorry for the late night message.
"I needed a little time to understand the sensations felt Saturday, before during and after the visit to the Temple. First meeting you and your family, then listening to the presentation by the artists, then visiting the Temple. Serenity, calm and tranquility were sensible by all the people I had the good fortune to meet; from all the people to whom I have addressed and who have turned to me, from the place where I was. I have absolutely not had the feeling of being out of place, but in a place where one can only feel good. Knowing new people, and having the feeling of knowing them already, is not a sensation that happens every day. Thank you for this great opportunity that you offered me, thanks for your hospitality, thank you for having had the opportunity to spend a day that sure does not leave [me] indifferent and [I] cannot forget."
It's moments like these that help the Evertsens understand why their family felt prompted to move thousands of miles away from everything they knew to start over in a different country.
"Our family is not into easy blessings," Dave says. "The ones which take work and sacrifice are far more valuable and fulfilling.”
All images courtesy Dave and Heather Evertsen