As he grew older he became restless and decided to see the West. When he was 20 years old, he decided to head to California. He rode the train as far as his money would take him, washing dishes and doing other jobs along the way to earn more money. Eventually he made it to Ogden, Utah but upon realizing he only had 50 cents to his name, he was forced to come up with a different plan. He managed to convince the train conductor to let him ride up to Salt Lake City because he really wanted to meet some “Mormons”. I am sure his interest stemmed from some of the myths surrounding Mormons such as the rumor they had horns on their heads. When he arrived in Salt Lake City, he walked over to the Clift Hotel and sat at a table in the dining room where he could have a good view of the people entering and leaving the building. A waiter approached him several times to take his order and after a while Louis told him that he was waiting patiently because he really wanted to see a Mormon. To Louis’ surprise, the waiter announced, “I’m a Mormon”. The waiter talked to Louis about Mormonism and eventually invited him over to his house after his shift was over. I will be forever grateful for this wonderful waiter, Sam Donaldson, who took Louis in and let him stay with him, and helped him find a job.
One day while Sam was talking with a girl by the name of Rosalia Atwood, Louis became very interested in her and wanted to be introduced. Louis was convinced that he would marry her. Sam was pretty honest in telling Louis that he wouldn't be able to marry her because she was from a very firm Mormon family. This didn't stop Louis, though, and he visited Rose at her home with her family quite often. Rose's mother discovered that Louis knew the Bible front to back so she started reading the Book of Mormon to him, comparing it with the Bible. It was in this way that she was able to teach Louis the principles and doctrines of the Gospel and he was baptized in October 1876 at the age of 20. Two years later Louis was ordained an Elder and five days later he and Rosalia were married in the Salt Lake Endowment House.
At this point in Louis' story I can't help but be grateful for all those that were put in his path that allowed him to discover the gospel of Jesus Christ. You never know when a little act of service can change someone's life. Just like the train conductor and the waiter at the Clift Hotel, we can all do small acts of service to those we don't even know that could end up steering that person towards the gospel. We never know what kind of effect our actions will have on other people.
It truly is a miracle that a young boy from Germany with practically no parental upbringing could overcome all that he did just so that he could end up on that train heading to Utah. Is it a coincidence that he had only 50 cents to his name so that he was forced to stop in Utah and get a job? I am sure it is not.. Louis went on to serve many missions for the church before heading to Japan. He served missions in the Southern States, the Northern States, London, Bristol, and eventually back to his homeland of Germany. Louis was always preaching about the gospel. On his way to his first mission in the Southern States, he stopped in Nebraska to see his sister and his friends whom he had not seen for over seven years. After telling his sister and her husband that he was on his way to serve a mission for the Mormon Church, and how he wished to teach them about the gospel, they insisted they were Catholic. To this he responded that his mother would forgive them for joining the church. Several years before this visit, Louis' sister had a visit from two Mormon missionaries named Hunt and Morrison. Elder Hunt was very tall and Elder Morrison was very short. The night before their visit, Louis' sister saw in a dream two men, one tall and the other short, walking toward her house, each wearing long coats, high stiff hats and each carrying an umbrella and a small valise. The elders tried to preach to her with help from her daughter interpreting, but little progress was made because neither Louis' sister nor her husband spoke English. Louis' sister, having promised her mother on her death bed that she would always be a good Catholic, was embarrassed when Louis held a community meeting before his departure for his mission so that he could speak to his friends about the church. Louis was not afraid to share the gospel with anyone, including his family and friends, even though he knew they would probably not accept the truth. All these moments of missionary work in his sister's life ended up preparing both his sister and her husband to be baptized later on. The missionary work we do now may seem small and insignificant, but we must plant the seed before it can grow.
In March 1889, Louis was called to serve a mission in Turkey. Upon arriving in England he attempted to secure a passport for the remainder of his journey but was refused by the head of the American Delegation, saying, "No Mormon ever received a passport from me." Coincidence...I think not. He went on to serve a mission to London, became the mission president in Bristol and then finally made it to Germany to serve in the Swiss and German Mission. While he was in Germany he located his brother John, who is my great, great grandfather. He taught him the gospel and converted him. John and his family gathered to Zion and ended up settling in Murray, Utah. It's easy to get frustrated in our lives when things don't go as we planned. I am sure Louis, upon being rejected a passport, must have been frustrated. But, he pushed forward with faith in God and for that he and my family were both blessed. The Lord knew he needed to baptize his brother, and the obstacle he placed in his path led him to where he needed to be. The Lord watches over us and guides us even when we don't know what is going to happen next. He also provides countless opportunities for us to share the gospel wherever we are, we just need to accept the call. When we share the gospel we will undoubtedly bless not only one person's life, but many.
Before Louis' call to serve as one of the first four missionaries in Japan, Louis served faithfully for 20 years as a missionary in different parts of the world. Between 1881 and 1901 Louis stood as an example of faithfulness, diligence, persistence, courage, and readiness. I believe it was for those reasons, among others, that he was called to labor with Heber J. Grant, Alma O. Taylor, and Horace Ensign to open the Japan mission in 1901. Louis had originally read that Heber J. Grant had been called to the Japan mission in the newspaper, and immediately he felt he would be called to accompany him. With this spiritual confirmation, it was with great pleasure that he accepted a call to go to Japan with Elder Grant in March of 1901. The Deseret News on April 6, 1901 was quoted as saying, "Elder Louis A. Kelsch, who has been chosen to accompany Apostle Heber J. Grant on his mission to Japan, may be said to be almost constantly in the missionary field. With him such a work is a labor of love in the truest sense of the word, and to use one of his own phrases, he always has the 'harness on.'"
A farewell reception and dinner was given for the four missionaries. These men were going to Japan, not knowing what kind of field awaited them, as this was a new country for Mormon missionaries. President Lorenzo Snow made brief remarks, saying, "When the Lord first sent forth His elders in this generation, very little was known as to what their labors would be and what they could accomplish. They failed in some respects, but they did not fail in one thing; they did their duty. Apostle Orson Pratt and others were sent to Austria to open a mission there but by reason of rejection of their testimony, they did not succeed. Nevertheless, they did their duty and were blessed. Noah preached one hundred and twenty years. He was a grand man. He did his duty but failed and it is because the people rejected him. However, by doing his duty he secured himself exaltation and glory...As to these brethren who will shortly leave for Japan, the Lord has not revealed to me that they will succeed but he has shown me that it is their duty to go. They need not worry concerning the results, only be careful to search the spirit of the Lord to see what it indicates to them. Do not be governed by your own wisdom but by the wisdom of God..."
Upon arriving in Yokohama, the four missionaries began to seek a permanent place to stay and made tentative arrangements for translation and publication of some Church literature. They experienced a lot of opposition from other Christian sects but they were determined that the gospel would go forth. On September 1, 1901, all four missionaries found a secluded spot in the woods outside Yokohama where they knelt while Elder Grant offered up the dedicatory prayer. From Alma O. Taylor's reference to the Dedicatory Prayer he says, "His tongue was loosened and the Spirit rested mightily upon him; so much so that we felt the angels of God were near; for our hearts burned within us as the words fell from his lips. I never experienced such a peaceful influence or heard such a powerful prayer before. Every word penetrated into my very bones, and I could have wept for joy. He dedicated the land for the proclamation of the Truth and for the bringing to pass the purposes of the Lord concerning the gathering of Israel and the establishment of righteousness upon the earth. By the power of the priesthood and in the name of Jesus, he commanded Satan to release his hold upon the minds of the people and rebuked him in his efforts to overcome the work of the Lord in this land."
With determination, the four missionaries set out to preach the Gospel. However, the missionary work progressed slowly due to difficulty with the language and opposition from other Christian sects. After some time, more missionaries were sent over, but the conversion rate was slow and the missionaries grew discouraged despite some early success. Between 1901 and 1924 the mission in Japan yielded 174 converts. Despite the efforts and sacrifices made by the original four missionaries and those that followed, the missionary results were meager. In the face of growing militarism and anti-foreign sentiments, President Heber J. Grant who was by then President of the church sent instructions to temporarily close the mission in 1924. All was not lost, though, as those early missionaries paved the way for what we have today. Their early work produced the first translation of the Book of Mormon into Japanese and the small number of members who did convert remained faithful on their own until the work resumed in 1948 after the end of World War II. Without the early efforts of those pioneering missionaries and members, the church would not have been ready for the Gospel to go forth at that time and progress in Japan to what it is today. By1970, the first stake was organized in Tokyo. Today, the church is now solidly established in Japan with over one hundred thousand Japanese Saints committed to the truths and principles of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 1975, Gordon B. Hinckley spoke to the members of the church in Japan concerning their ongoing achievement. He said, "No one, seeing what I have seen transpire in this land, could deny the workings of the Almighty. He has laid His hand upon this nation. His spirit has brooded over the people. Their hearts have been touched as they have listened to the testimony of His witness...The achievements of the past are but a prologue to a greater future." Part of that great future was realized in 1980, when the Tokyo temple was dedicated, the same year I moved to Japan for the first time with my parents Franz and Anne Kelsch. Louis Kelsch may have wondered at the time of his mission to Japan if any of his efforts and sacrifices were worth it. It seems fitting that some of his family was present for the dedication of the first temple in the country he labored in so many years ago.
As it stands today, we are now living in a time where there is significant growth in the church and its members in Japan. There has never been a better time to be more excited about missionary work than right now. I was not in Japan by chance, but was given a unique opportunity to be there at that very moment. President Thomas S. Monson has said, "You may sometimes be tempted to say, ‘Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the work that dramatically?’ I testify to you that it will. You will never be able to measure your influence for good."
Could that waiter in Salt Lake have realized that from his one act of kindness, from his one moment of standing tall and declaring “I’m a Mormon”, could he have realized how untold generations would be blessed? Could Louis A. Kelsch have ever imagined that his great, great, grand niece would one day go to the Temple in Japan? Of course not, but this is how the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ unfolds. Each one of us has a place in this great story. The story we have to share as members of the church is the greatest one in the world. It is a message of hope, of peace, and of eternal happiness.
My heart is turned in thanks to Louis A. Kelsch and for all he did as the first in the Kelsch family to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He was a pioneer in his own way and he never stopped serving the Lord. I hope and pray that each one of us can have the 'harness on' at all times just like my ancestor Louis did. Let us be shining examples to our friends and neighbors. Let us push forward in the missionary work of the Lord and take our place in the great story of the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.