As Latter-day Saints prepare to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Pioneer Day on July 24th this year, LDS Living recognizes that in addition to the sacrifices of the early pioneers, there are many modern-day pioneers across the globe who have built the Church in their nations or in their families. In this new series of articles, we wish to recognize these present-day pioneers and remember all who have helped make The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints what it is today.
The address is Strangehagen 10 (now Strangehagen 18), Bergen, Norway.
Nine women sit in a sewing circle when there is a knock at the door.
Hoping to impress the other women with her ability to speak a bit of English, Anne Marie Værøy Fluge invites the missionaries into her home. The missionaries don’t know many words in Norwegian, but one of them is “schrift”—the Norwegian word for pamphlet.
So just as hundreds of thousands of missionaries have done throughout the world, the missionaries leave a pamphlet about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and continue on their way.
The pamphlet is written in Danish—but in written form, Danish is close enough to Norwegian for the women to be able to read what it says.
It is difficult to know in any given moment as a missionary the significance of your actions during a moment such as this. You see, these missionaries have no way of knowing that all the sewing club women will read this pamphlet. And they have no way of knowing that every single one of those women will eventually join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—that each of these nine women will remain faithful to the gospel for the remainder of their lives.
Those missionaries, who could hardly speak Norwegian, absolutely couldn’t have imagined that the posterity of those nine women would also be full of members of the Church. And they would never have dreamed that the family line that descended from the woman who answered the door would one day grow to become dozens of missionaries, seven mission presidents/mission leaders, and a temple matron.
It is unclear what day the missionaries knocked on the door, but Anne Marie, the host of the sewing club, was baptized on November 27, 1917. She was 37 years old. Her husband never joined the Church, but nevertheless Anne Marie sought to raise their children in the gospel.
Years later, Anne Marie’s daughter, Edna, was determined to marry a member of her faith—the faith she had been taught by her mother. She was dating a young man named John Langeland, but their relationship appeared to have no future as he didn’t seem interested in learning more about the gospel.
That all changed when John, a college student studying business at Bergens Handelsgymnasium, needed to check out an economics book from the library by an author with the last name “Jenson.” As he thumbed through the card catalog, he was unable to find the economics book, but another book kept catching his eye: a book about the history of the Prophet Joseph Smith by a man named Andrew Jenson.
Jenson was an assistant Church historian from 1897 to 1941 whose parents joined the Church in Denmark four years after he was born. The book, Joseph Smith Levnetsløb, included portions of the History of Joseph Smith translated into Danish.
John Langeland decided to check out the book, but there was just one problem—the book was in the library’s vault and he would need assistance checking it out. It was time for the library to close and John had to beg the library attendant to help him. She returned with a book that looked brand new.
“As I contemplated why I was the first to read the book, I felt that in the vault were two types of books—those so precious they needed to be protected and those the librarians felt should not be exposed to the public,” John told his daughter years later.
He was able to check out the book and stayed up all night reading it. It told of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the priesthood, the organization of the Church, and the Church’s expansion into England and Scandinavia.
“Immediately, I felt the joy of the Restoration of the gospel. … I was horrified as I read about the persecutions of the Saints in Jackson County, Missouri, and in Kirtland, Ohio, and then in Nauvoo, Illinois. My heart ached as I read about the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. … This book impressed me so deeply that I couldn’t wait to tell my girlfriend, Edna, about it,” John said.
He soon decided he wanted to be baptized and went to the branch president and told him of his desire. The branch president informed him that the pipes were frozen at their local meetinghouse, and he would have to wait for them to thaw to be baptized. After waiting two weeks, John decided to take matters into his own hands. He went to the church and began using boiling water and towels to thaw the pipes until he was able to fill the baptismal font. He was baptized on March 3, 1940.
Despite his determination to be baptized, when John walked into church the following Sunday, a group of men were gathered around a hot stove, and he heard one whisper, “He is the new member!” John then heard the district president reply, “He is not going to last long in the Church.”
But despite those comments, John remained an active, devoted member of the Church for the rest of his life. He was called shortly after his baptism to serve a mission during World War II, and when he returned home, he married Edna Fluge on April 9, 1943. In 1948, the couple sold everything they had, including Edna’s hand-sewn wedding dress, and immigrated by boat from Norway to the United States with their two young sons and hundreds of other Latter-day Saints. Later that year, they were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple by Elder Ezra Taft Benson.
Despite being the only member of the Church on his side of the family, John Langeland would go on to become a bishop, a stake president, a mission president, the first temple president of the Stockholm Sweden Temple, and a regional representative. Professionally, John went from having $2.50 to his name when they settled in the Salt Lake Valley and obtaining work as a bank teller to becoming president and director of Zion’s Bank. He was even knighted by the King of Norway.
Years later, John told one of his daughters that he returned to that library and tried to find Jenson’s book but the library had no record of it. "A distinct unseen power influenced me that evening in February 1940 at the public library in Bergen, Norway. ... Reading that book and partaking of the Holy Spirit made it clear to me that Joseph was and is a mighty prophet," John said in 2007.
Toward the end of his life, it was not uncommon for John to kiddingly tell his grandchildren that his first home was a covered wagon and that he crossed the plains with a handcart. As his biography relates, "After such a tall pioneer tale, one of the little ones usually turns to his or her mother, and asks, 'Is Grandpa really that old to have walked across the plains? Is he really that ancient?' 'Of course not, dear one,' their mother will often smile and reply. 'Your granddad is simply reminding us of our pioneer immigrant heritage.'"
And it's true, Anne Marie Værøy Fluge didn't push a handcart; John and Edna Langeland didn't walk a thousand miles but they are certainly pioneers.
Note: The author is married to John and Edna Langeland's grandson, Benjamin Pearson.