When Elder Neil L. Andersen was a young boy raising rabbits at his farm in Idaho in the United States, he never dreamed that one day his life would be forever tied to France and his admiration of the people and its culture.
Elder Andersen is one of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As an apostle he serves in the second-highest governing body of the Church and travels the world as a special witness of Jesus Christ.
As a youth, one of his first travels was to France, where he served as a missionary from 1970 to 1972. The prospect of leaving home at 19 years of age, traveling to an unfamiliar place and preaching the gospel for two years was intimidating. The teenaged Neil had always planned to serve a mission, but he wasn’t sure if he was prepared to do so.
At the time, Elder Andersen recalls praying to God, asking, “Heavenly Father, how can I serve a mission when I know so little?” and receiving the answer, “You don’t know everything, but you know enough.” With renewed faith, Neil set off for France and was such a hard-working missionary he literally wore holes in his shoes.
After completing his missionary service, Elder Andersen met his future wife, Kathy Williams, when he was campaigning for student government at Brigham Young University. When they started courting he wondered, “How could an insecure Idaho farm boy attract a beautiful, intelligent woman from Florida?” He need not have worried; Kathy says, “I thought he was the most remarkable man I had ever met, and that holds true to this day and forever.”
Years later, from 1989 to 1992, Elder and Sister Andersen and their family returned to supervise the France Bordeaux Mission, the very mission where he served as a young missionary. Elder Andersen continued his Church service as part of the Europe Area Presidency from 1994 to 1997.
Elder Andersen says one of his greatest memories at that time has come to be known as the “Christmas Eve miracle” in his family. He was traveling with Kathy, their four children and four missionaries to head back to Bordeaux the night before Christmas when all of the gears on their van stopped working.
There was no way to rent another vehicle or take a train because of the lateness of the hour and their location, far from a large city. The Andersens’ daughter, Kristen, suggested they pray, which is exactly what they did.
- Elder Neil L. Andersen, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
- Elder Andersen’s family serving in Bordeaux, France.
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The company pulled off the road at a small French village, where they stopped right in front of an inn. Elder Andersen asked the innkeeper if he would be willing to rent out rooms to 10 people. The innkeeper looked at Neil’s children and said, “Mr. Andersen, of course I have rooms that you can rent, but you do not want to spend Christmas Eve here in the inn. Children should be home as they await the excitement of Christmas morning. I will lend you my car and you can go to Bordeaux tonight.”
Elder Andersen said he was amazed at the kindness of the man, who would not accept money and trustingly gave him his van. On their way home that evening, the Andersens thanked God for the man’s kindness and for their Christmas miracle.
Because of experiences like these, Elder Andersen has developed a deep respect and appreciation for the French people and is anxious to take them through the new temple. “It’s a building unlike others, not only because of the high quality of materials used but because of its spiritual nature.”