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Twila Van Leer: Old Friend magazine preserves family treasure

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a great resource in the church publications — newspapers and magazines that refresh our understanding of doctrine, share testimony-building stories and often preserve family history. And today, technology has multiplied the availability of the materials in the Church News, Ensign, New Era, Friend and others.

But I don't want to think about that. As a confirmed techno-dud, I prefer the feel and heft of the newspaper or magazine in my hand. Well, as my dad used to say, "Everyone to their own tastes, said the old lady as she kissed the cow."

What started me down this path was a visit last week with my sister-in-law Calene Peck, wife of Dave, my baby brother. (That's the baby brother who, with Calene, is now preparing to enlist for yet another mission. They've already served missions in Korea and Ghana on top of two stints volunteering with the BYU teaching program in China. They make me proud. Wonder where they'll be next year at this time?)

We got off on the subject of family history, and Calene volunteered that a story about one of her ancestors was printed in the Friend in 1971. My antenna went up directly. I pulled up the story (using technology, yet) and herewith share my version of "Madeline's Dream," in more adult language and with supplemental tidbits from Calene.

Madeline Cardon's family lived in Italy and were members of a Christian group called Waldensians, who had tried to build their sect as nearly as possible on the description of the early Christian Church as recorded in the New Testament. They even adhered to the call to send missionaries two by two into the world to share their beliefs.

When the growing sect came to the attention of Roman Catholic authorities in Rome, Pope Innocent VIII demanded that they give up their religion. When they refused, he called for the extermination of every member of the so-called Vaudois Church. Severe persecution eventually forced the group high into the north Italian Alps, where they scraped out a living, spending each spring bringing soil with baskets up the mountainside after winter storms had dredged it out and sent it downhill.

By the time Madeline came along, the group had been reduced to some 300 members who settled high into the Piedmont valleys of the Alps, their homes clinging precariously to the mountain crags.

Then one morning, according to the Friend version, Madeline came into the kitchen from her bedroom, looking pale and upset. Her parents asked if she was ill. She assured them that she was not, but said she had had a dream. Her family listened intently as she told them the details.

In the dream, she was a young lady, not a child, and was sitting on a small strip of meadow close to a vineyard, watching to ensure that goats didn't trample the vines. She was holding one of her church's Sunday School books. When she looked up from the book, she was startled to find three strange men who told her: "We have come from a place far from here to tell you about the true and everlasting gospel." They told her God had directed a young boy to find an important book of gold hidden in the earth. They told her that some day she would be able to read this book and that she would leave her home, cross the great ocean and go to America to live.

For eight years, she sometimes thought about the dream, but her father assured her that the Vaudois people already had the true gospel and that it was only a dream.

In 1849, Elder Lorenzo Snow, later to become the fifth president of the LDS Church, was called to open a mission in Italy. He and two companions tried to find listening ears in that country but had no success. On Sept. 18, 1850, the three climbed a high mountain in northern Italy and on a large projecting rock, they uttered a fervent prayer for guidance. They were inspired to dedicate the seemingly unfruitful land for the preaching of the gospel. They named the rock on which they stood "The Rock of Prophecy."

They then sang the song that the Vaudois had adopted as a rallying cry as they were hounded from the valley into the mountains. The words would be familiar to Latter-day Saints: "For the strength of the hills we bless thee/Our God, our fathers' God/Thou has made thy children mighty/By the touch of the mountain sod."

Shortly afterward, Madeline's father came home early on a Saturday after helping to build a chimney for a neighbor. He told his family that three men were coming to "bring an important message. I must dress in my best clothes and go welcome them." He didn't find the men until the following day, then invited them to his home. He told the visitors about the dream his daughter had had many years earlier.

When they arrived at the Cardon home, Madeline was sitting on a strip of meadow close to the vineyard, holding a Sunday School book. The men told her family that they had come to give them a message contained in a wonderful book of gold and that they could now read this book.

In October 1850, about 20 families from among the Vaudois adherents were baptized as Madeline's dream became a reality.

I would love this story for its own sake, and I love it even more because this faithful Christian family later came to Utah Territory and eventually gave our family Calene, whom we dearly love. Thanks, Friend, for preserving it so beautifully.

Twila Van Leer is a former Deseret News editor and staff writer who serves as a family history missionary.