Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rigmor Heistø

I think a large portion of the LDS population has at some point encountered some form of misunderstanding or discrimination about what we believe (my personal favorite was being told "I know all about the Mormons, I've studied John Smith, and I think you're too nice a girl to wind up with all those husbands" - priceless). Rigmor Heistø, as a new convert to the church in Norway, decided to do something about it.

In 1967, three years after she joined the LDS church, Rigmor and her husband divorced. While their marriage had been troubled before she joined the church, her conversion increased the problems. She found herself for the first time in many years needing to find work to provide for herself. After stints as a clerk and a substitute teacher, Rigmor enrolled in college to become a full-time teacher.

After sharing with her ethics professor that the incorrect information about the LDS faith presented in a book published by Einar Molland, a leading theologian in Norway, had caused so many problems in her marriage, her professor arranged for a meeting between Rigmor and Professor Molland. Professor Molland told her that he could understand people converting from Lutheranism, the state religion, to Catholicism or the Methodist church, but not to Mormonism. Rigmor replied, "If I hadn’t known any more about the Church than you do, it would be the last thing I would have done," and proceeded to ask him where he found the "nonsense" he had published in his book. Love it. She told him that he could have talked to the LDS mission president (whose office was up the road) to find out more, and let him know about what his incorrect information had cost her. Professor Molland apologized, and when he published an updated version of his text, he allowed Rigmor, the mission president, and a few other Mormons to review and correct the section on Mormonism.

This was the first of many, many occasions that Sister Heistø used her courage and likability to promote understanding between the LDS faith and other religions. She arranged for a successful teaching exchange program between BYU and Universities in Norway. She compiled and edited a book, entitled This We Believe, where representatives from 37 faiths contributed chapters on their respective religions. She persuaded the appropriate individuals to remove a film that defamed the LDS religion to be removed from schools. She even contacted the Attorney General of Norway after he made comments about the erosion of family life in Norway to let him know about the church's efforts to improve family life (he called her personally and arranged a meeting with her to discuss it).

I thought this quote from Rigmor in the Ensign was priceless: "I think the Lord knows two things about me. He knows I am not afraid of other people. Why should I be? … And," she adds, smiling, "He knows I can talk."

I'm grateful for Rigmor Heistø's willingness to "talk" - to speak up about her beliefs, and encourage understanding.

The Power of One, Jan U. Pinborough and Marvin K. Gardner, Ensign Feb. 2000

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