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Utah artist serving families of deceased LDS missionaries

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SALT LAKE CITY — Families of deceased LDS missionaries have been invited to an event in September where artwork depicting of their loved ones will be on display.

At least 20 families of missionaries that died while serving missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been invited to gather at the Smoot Building at This Is The Place Monument on Friday, Sept. 15, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

In addition to associating with each other and other planned activities, Huntsville artist Harold "J.R." Johansen has painted portraits of the missionaries as a gift to each families to help them find peace in healing in their loss. He also hopes to find more families for whom to provide this service, he said.

"It's a self mission of mine. There is so much joy and happiness in it. I do paint for money on occasion, but I don't charge for missionaries. It brings more satisfaction (to paint missionaries)," Johansen said. "I look forward to meeting people, putting my arm around them and telling them I love them. I think it will be a great night."

Cindy Thredgold's son, Connor Thredgold, and his companion died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Taiwan in 2014. After seeing Johansen's first missionary portrait, she asked if he would paint one of her son. Johansen agreed. Since then Thredgold has used her skills as a genealogist to create list of deceased missionaries for Johansen. Being involved has been therapeutic, she said.

"Why does Elizabeth Smart do what she does? It's like therapy. Some people organize rallies, races or charity events when a child or family member dies. Helping J.R. has brought me a lot of joy," Thredgold said. "It's very comforting to know we aren't the only ones. We can also help others to navigate this unfortunate passing. This is another way to connect and feel the love and strength of others. There is something spiritual and magical about it, I don't know how to explain it. People can't say the words but can still come and give hugs."

Johansen's first missionary portrait was Elder Mason Bailey of Richfield, who was hit by a car while serving in Sweden. His goal is to do more.

"I feel I am being directed to do this," Johansen said. "But we need to find more families so I can make them the same offer. ... This is all about families and building relationships that will help and support one another. Losing a missionary is a tough assignment. Any support you can give that family is good stuff. ... It may not make sense to some people, but it makes sense to me and I think people are extremely happy about it."

Families of deceased missionaries are invited to contact Johansen by phone (385-244-7027) or email: jrjohansenart@yahoo.com. Thredgold has also set up a website, momonamission2017.wordpress.com.