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Witness to events that reshaped Poland

First missionaries worked and watched as Lord opened doors

There wasn't much missing from life for Juliusz and Dorothy Fussek. They were happy and content, and with Juliusz nearing retirement from years of employment with Deseret Press, they figured to spend their future evenings on the veranda of their condominium overlooking Salt Lake City.

All that changed one Monday after meeting with the bishop. "You're being released from the bishopric and called to serve as a missionary couple in Poland," the bishop said.

Brother and Sister Fussek were among the earliest missionaries called to serve in an Iron Curtain country. They became witnesses and participants in some of the monumental events that reshaped Poland. From the time they arrived in 1985 until they left in 1990, they watched as a country long covered with communism emerged with religious freedoms and began embracing the gospel.

"The Lord was working with us from the beginning," Brother Fussek said.

"Government officials were more than friendly to us. We were interviewed by the minister of religion when we arrived. We told him we were there to preach the gospel, and that those who joined the Church would be better citizens.

" 'That's a tall order,' the minister said. We told him the Lord would help us."

The Fusseks were initially granted a three-week visa but were not allowed to openly proselyte or wear name tags. They were required to report weekly to the government about those investigating the Church, and a guard was posted outside their apartment door under the pretense of their protection.

"We never felt afraid," Brother Fussek said. "We made a 6-foot by 4-foot plaque with a picture of the Angel Moroni and the name of the Church and hung it near the arched entrance to our apartment on Nowy Swiat. We were told to take it down, which we did the first time, but hung it again the next day. When they told us to take it down a second time, we said we would if they tore down all the other advertisements. We never heard from them again."

The Fusseks began spreading information about the Church by leaving brochures in shopping baskets at the baker or butcher shops. Their modest apartment had no bathroom and no cooking facilities. Still, the Fusseks had little difficulty adjusting.

Word soon spread about the Church and, before long, the Fusseks were teaching an average of four to five people a day. Interest in the Church continued to grow, and six months later, the Fusseks were interviewed by print, radio and television journalists.

"The media had to get permission to run our story, but they were curious about us. We were a novelty," Brother Fussek said.

Their reputation for honest living earned them extended visas. And each week, as Brother Fussek met with government leaders, a friendship of trust was being forged that would later open more doors.

When the Fusseks arrived in Poland there were four active members. During the next five years, another 230 were baptized. Of the 180 new members the Fusseks taught, "each had a miracle to tell," including the mother of a teenage boy who was teary-eyed as she witnessed her son's baptism.

"I can be at peace," she said, "knowing my son joined the right Church. He's already different."

On another occasion, Sister Fussek remembers many earnest prayers asking the Lord to send someone who could bring music into the meetings of the fledgling branch.

"One day a knock came at the door," said Sister Fussek. "A man whose car had broken down came seeking help. We talked with him and urged him to bring his wife and two daughters. We then walked outside to the car and it started by merely turning the key. The family returned a week later and after several discussions asked to be baptized. We drove all over Warsaw looking for a baptismal place. During Sunday meetings following the baptism, when the branch began to sing, the mother took a flute out of her handbag and began to accompany. We soon learned she was a concert pianist."

The crowning moment of their service came in 1986, a year after their arrival, when the government leaders "rolled out the red carpet" for President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elders Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy and Johann A. Wondra.

"We met in a large ornate hall in a castle where the kings of Poland once ruled," said Brother Fussek.

"The Polish minister was cordial, but with his communist face, asked, 'What do you really want?'

"President Monson said we wanted land for a chapel.

" 'You got it,' was the minister's reply. 'What else?'

" 'Permission to send missionaries,' said President Monson.

" 'If you can send people like the Fusseks you can send as many as you want,' the minister said."

The next year, three couple missionaries were sent. The first elders arrived in January 1988. The Poland Warsaw Mission was created in July 1990 after being part of the Austria Vienna East Mission. Today, it includes more than 1,000 members organized in 11 branches.

In June 1989, ground was broken for the new meetinghouse in Warsaw. Elder Nelson presided over the services that included more than 200 people, many of whom were government and religious leaders. The meetinghouse was dedicated in June 1991.

Brother Fussek's success in working with government officials came, in part, suggests Sister Fussek, because of his Polish ancestry and his amiable people skills. Born in 1922 on a wealthy Polish estate in Upper Slizaja, about 30 miles from the then Czechoslovakian border, Brother Fussek was "staunch in his religion and an active reader of the Bible."

He was 17 years old when Poland was invaded in 1939 at the beginning of World War II. He was forced to serve in the Nazi army to preserve the lives of his family. He was captured at one point, which eventually led to joining the Polish army. He was soon sent to England to help rebuild cities. There, he met and married his wife, Dorothy. They became acquainted with the Church while strolling past a new meetinghouse that was under construction.

Even though he said he'd never leave his religion, where he had once been an altar boy, Brother Fussek was baptized several weeks later. Dorothy was "cautious," but knew the gospel was true and joined soon after.

Years later, after moving to Salt Lake City, Brother Fussek was greeted by President Spencer W. Kimball during a social gathering. President Kimball recognized Brother Fussek's accent and "pulled me aside and told me of his experiences dedicating the land of Poland in 1976. I've sometimes thought he knew more than he told me."

"We went for 18 months and came back in five years," the Fusseks mused. "If we hadn't gone, we would've missed all these memories."