During her 18-month mission to Bolivia, Marian Durtschi, a retired nurse, not only enriched the lives of many Bolivian members, but also sharply reduced health problems among missionaries.
Sister Durtschi of the Pratt Ward, Driggs Idaho Stake, a nurse practitioner with 25 years of experience, who was recently released from her mission, "didn't require special treatment, but she sure gave it," said one of her companions, Sister Dana Hunter.Sister Durtschi taught the gospel to many investigators, but it was her medical work that was particularly significant.
"I am trained to work under a doctor," she explained. But because there were no doctors available to give her instructions, "we had to learn to rely on the Lord." When missionaries were ill, they were first given a blessing and that helped her know what to do, she said.
"I relied heavily on the Lord, and He never, never failed."
She organized each of the missionary zones into medical self-help units with one missionary in each zone keeping track of illnesses of the elders and the sister missionaries. Immediate treatment was given when a missionary began to feel ill. If the illness progressed, Sister Durtschi would be called, and she would give additional care.
This system was very successful, said mission Pres. Harrell G. Fallis. "Missionaries were often sick before she came into the mission field," he said. "Now missionaries are hardly ever sick. Our mission is at its highest baptizing rate.
"She also did so much for mission morale," he said. "There are a number of missionaries who feel as though they wouldn't be in the mission field if it weren't for Sister Durtschi. She really kept us up emotionally, as well."
Once, she was summoned across the city to see an injured missionary. "A big, tall elder had dislocated his knee," she recalled. "It was so painful he couldn't move. We all knelt and prayed, and had the elders give him a blessing. In an hour the swelling was gone; this turned out to be a very slight injury."
Sister Durtschi encouraged Bolivian youths to serve full-time missions and helped by giving medical examinations, taking photos and providing haircuts, which reduced expenses and speeded up the time they could begin service.
Sister Durtschi began to study nursing at age 17, and completed training through the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1943. However, her career was put on hold when she married Arnold Durtschi, a son of Swiss immigrants and a returned missionary from Switzerland, in 1946. They became parents of nine children. Unfortunately, just after the last baby was born, her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He died in 1985. During the 26 years he was ill, she was mother and provider, and taught their children the responsibility of running the dairy farm where they lived.
After one hard day at the hospital, she remembered coming home very tired and feeling guilty that she could not stay home with the children. She entered their house to find that her 8-year-old daughter had baked 12 loaves of bread. She was so surprised she was almost moved to tears at the sight.
When her youngest son, Roger, graduated from a university in June 1987, she was free of the financial responsibility for her children and was called on a mission a few months later.
"I had a wonderful time," she said. "I have been ferried across jungle rivers, whisked around town on the back of a (two-wheeled) moto taxi, and waited for llamas to move out of the road. I have climbed the remote hills of Alalay in the rain to teach dear families who announced that they were ready for baptism.
"I have sat with sick elders until their symptoms abated. I have laughed and cried with these elders and sisters in a way that I would not have believed possible before my mission.
"I wish I could share with all older persons the great joy of missionary service."