Tyko

June 12, 2007 | 26 comments
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Everything changed when Tyko came to church.

Ours was an isolated branch. Just a handful of members met in this worn out rowhouse, a remnant of workmen’s poverty, on a street called Galgenberg – Gibbet’s Hill. The mission president, let alone visiting authorities, never made it to our tiny Mormon unit in Ghent. My college studies had brought me to this gray city, one of Flanders’ medieval townships.

In the branch I was the only one my age. The others were in their fifties and beyond, single women, retirees. We were all fairly recent converts, a cluster of inexperienced heiligen der laatste dagen – Latter-day saints, making the best of rainy Sundays which seemed all similar. A dozen chairs in front of the make-shift pulpit sufficed.

He entered when sacrament meeting was about to start. Rather small and lean, broadly smiling, he shook hands with each of us:
– I’m brother Tyko, a member from Finland!

He was a sailor working for a Dutch shipping company. The tanker he worked on was now docked in the harbor of Ostend, so he had come down to the closest branch to enjoy the fellowship of the Saints.

His twinkling eyes and colorful broken Dutch lifted our little group out of its seclusion – out of the tedium we had adopted as our fate. At the end of the meeting, during which he was asked to speak and bear his testimony, we gathered around him, thanked him for his visit, and wished him well on his next travel over the ocean.

He was back the next Sunday. He would be around for one or two more weeks, he said, as his ship needed repairs. In our corner at Gibbet’s Hill the sailor from Finland opened windows with ample views. He told us of places he had been, temples he had seen, church meetings he had attended in exotic harbors: Papeete, Valparaiso, Honolulu, Puerto Rico. Yes, there are Mormons in all those places!

Tyko conveyed to us the pride of the universality of the Church.

The repairs to his ship took longer than expected. The fortnight turned into weeks. A member arranged for lodging in Ghent, so Tyko wouldn’t have to travel back and forth to Ostend. No, of course he wouldn’t have to pay any rent. And would he please hop in for lunch or dinner with one or the other member?

He rewarded us. Tyko had been to Salt Lake City, the Rome and Mecca of our faith, the utopia at the other end of the world. He spoke of the broad streets laid out by Brigham Young, the tabernacle where a pin dropped in the pulpit can be heard at the back of the hall, the Seagull monument, the Mormon Handcart statue, the majestic temple. His hands drew sizes and shapes in the air, transforming our dim, moldy meeting room into Temple Square, where visitors from all nations walk between flowerbeds and listen in the sun to the message of the Restoration.

Weeks became months. Tyko told us he had been laid off as his shipping company was heading to bankruptcy.
– I’m trying to muster in with other companies. The prospects are good.

When it became clear he was low on cash, waiting for promised pay, the members chipped in with little loans.

At all times Tyko carried his sailor’s gear bag with him, medium size, sturdy.
– I must always be ready to go. A carrier may want me on a ship right away.
He added, whispering:
– Also, I never leave it alone. I have my temple clothing in there.
We looked at the bag with due respect. Most of us had not been to the temple yet.
– I hope my next ship takes me to a harbor close to the House of the Lord.

With Tyko around, Sunday school turned into a fest. He had a way of infusing into the lesson a doctrinal succulence. He would listen intently to the teacher, who did little more than reading from the book, would nod in encouraging approval and say:
– I’m sure you have also heard how the City of Enoch will return to the earth. There will be three great holy cities. The Old Jerusalem in Israel, the New Jerusalem to be built in Missouri, and then this City of Enoch. We don’t know where it will come down, but it might just as well be very close to our place here …

One fast Sunday, as he was giving his testimony, his voice cracked, and, unable to utter another word, he wept quietly. His quivering lip expressed a yearning unexplained. His emotion seemed to hid a deeper tale, an anguish from another life.

Tyko had settled in a routine of dinners at the homes of a few old sisters, widows who fed him, did his laundry, found better clothes for him. He made himself useful, painting a room, cleaning up a cellar, repairing a crumbling garden wall. His little loans started to add up.

Suspicion began to nag the branch president. He mentioned the case to someone in the district who contacted the mission president who enquired further. Information came back on a Saturday evening: Shiny blond hair? Athletic, but rather small and lean? Claims to be a sailor? Profiting from members’ hospitality? Used to be a member. Excommunicated. Has been spotted in a branch in England and also in Germany. Used different names. There’s an international warrant out on him for embezzlement. Now that you know, you should notify the police, otherwise you risk being viewed as an accomplice for harboring him.

Sorrow engulfed us. And resentment: all those times he had accepted the invitation to bless the sacrament!

But turn in Tyko? None of us could.

When he entered our building that Sunday, he understood at once, as he gauged the desolation of our group standing in the hall. The branch president intended to talk him into surrending, but he lifted his hands in a gesture of both refusal and apology, stepped backwards to the street, his eyes a blend of defiance and distress. On the threshold he turned around and walked away.

A few of us went out on the sidewalk to see him stroll down Gibbet’s Hill, his sailor’s bag wobbling on his side. Someone mumbled something about wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Sister D’Hooghe shouted his name and waved.
– Fare well, brother!
He disappeared behind the corner.

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26 Responses to Tyko

  1. paul f on June 12, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    haunting. moving. thank you for the story.

  2. David on June 12, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    I suppose you put a space between “Fare” and “well” for a reason. Maybe it means the same as “farewell” or did originally, but the way you wrote it has much more meaning to me.

    Sounds like the makings of a great LDS novel…

  3. Matt W. on June 12, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    I had a similar experience on my mission with a philippino who was not a member and had gotten out of jail for murder. We went on exchanges several times and he was kind until the day we found out he’d never been baptised, then he stole all the TVs from the church and ran for it.

    Personally, I’d rather be merciful and duped than unmerciful and turn away a potential save.

  4. Lupita on June 12, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Whoaaaa. Thanks for the fabulous story.

  5. John G. on June 12, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Was that supposed to be a true story or one based on fact or just made up? Was Tyko just too good to be true or did the branch president become suspicious by way of a spiritual prompting? Are members of the church unable to discern spirits or are we quick to see the good and slow to suspect? Is LDS life in Ghent as miserable as described?

  6. Wilfried on June 12, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Thank you for comments. Perhaps new readers are unaware that these stories, all based on true events, date back to the sixties, in small, primitive Mormon branches in Flanders. Some tell of joy in the overall sphere, some of quiet happenings like here or here. Some are situated in Antwerp, some in Ghent, some still elsewhere. Ghent, in those pioneer sixties, was not the place some of you knew decades later. But it was not miserable. Just rainy.

  7. Kaimi Wenger on June 12, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    John,

    To my knowledge, all of Wilfried’s posts are true stories, often based on his experiences as a long-time member and later branch president of his small branch in Belgium.

  8. Wilfried on June 12, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Thanks, Kaimi! You commented as I was typing mine.

  9. Wilfried on June 12, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    John G, let me try to answer your question “Are members of the church unable to discern spirits or are we quick to see the good and slow to suspect?” – but from another perspective.

    Reread the story carefully. So many questions. To what extent was Tyko all the time a deliberate deceiver? Was his conscience dead or tearing him apart? To what extent was he trying to relive spiritual highlights he lost? Was he lying or projecting in his imagination the desired travels to a different world? Did he really profit that much from the members? What was he trying to give in return, both spiritually and materially, while living on the edge, knowing what could happen to him any day?

    And so, what did those simple members in that little branch discern as his spirit?

    But more than that: Is his duplicity so rare among us? Of course, his case expands to extremes, but is he not a widening mirror of what perhaps reflects our own ambiguities, in small or not so small degrees?

  10. John G on June 12, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    It is an interesting story and I am not surprised that it has a basis in fact but, in a way, I am also sorry that it does. Having seen some serious deceptions in my own experience it is still my inclination to trust even when I have a feeling of concern. This is especially true where a member of the church is concerned. So, my question was really asking if I am failing to heed a voice of warning or am I being overly generous? Was the story about Tyko, the deceiver, or about a branch whose need left them vulnerable?

  11. Ardis Parshall on June 12, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    Wilfried’s stories move me in part because they are so subtle and complex. The accounts are often not what they first seem to be. Was Tyko a simple scammer, coldly mocking ordinances and testimony for gain? Apparently not, since Wilfried perceived “apology” and “distress” in his manner. Was he a true believer, only too weak to face the consequences of past sins? Not with his “defiance” and “refusal” to face the branch president. And then there’s the matter of his effect on the branch — John G., there isn’t an easy answer.

    A common distinction between pedestrian illustration and great art is whether the viewer understands the image at first glance, or whether he is drawn to repeated viewings and leaves with unanswered questions. If that applies to storytelling in words as well as image, Wilfried is a master artist.

  12. Tatiana on June 12, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    I love Wilfried’s stories. This one made me cry.

  13. rk on June 12, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    Wilfried,

    Am I correct in assuming that English is not your native language? If so, I would never know that by reading your stories. Of course your English is perfect, but in addition to that your writing has subtleties nuances that one almost never sees in a non-native speaker of English. You are a fabulous story teller. Keep that stories coming.

    I really wish Tyko could have understood the potential he had to honestly influence others for the better.

  14. Norbert on June 13, 2007 at 7:08 am

    There is this special feeling of the pioneer branches you describe with which members from beyond the reach of the diaspora can especially relate. As I’ve said before, remind me of the branches of Kortrijk and Turnout where I served in the late 1980s. (By then, Gent was a big branch, and the chapel where we had baptisms was in an office space above a shop that displayed dozens of naked mannequins.)

    Some of your other posts deal with the internationality of the church you attend now. Is there still a core of feeling from that earlier family of pioneers? Has something been lost, or is it just different?

  15. Wilfried on June 13, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Several questions and comments to discuss:

    John G – “Was the story about Tyko, the deceiver, or about a branch whose need left them vulnerable?” I wonder myself, John, what the experience taught me and others. Tyko was certainly not only a deceiver, but also a twisted soul in search of a solution. Did the branch members have needs that left them vulnerable? I don’t think one could say that, because any need for uplifting experiences implies some form of vulnerability, which one could also call openness. I like the way you helped nuance the various facets of this happening, John. As Ardis said, there isn’t an easy answer.

    rk, thank you for your compliment on my English. But I have someone reread my text and I do make occasional errors.

    Norbert – “Some of your other posts deal with the internationality of the church you attend now. Is there still a core of feeling from that earlier family of pioneers? Has something been lost, or is it just different?”
    In mission fields where stakes have emerged, things have evolved as you noticed. More mature leaders, more second and even third generation. Converts from 30 to 50 years ago, like myself, remember different times. But the “old” experiences I describe are now very much part of so many new Mormon units in Africa or former communist countries, where pioneer members, with many limitations and challenges, are struggling in little branches. But we know that those who remain faithful in such circumstances are forming the valuable basis for the future.

  16. manaen on June 13, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Someone has to say it: isn’t Tyko all of us just, in *some* ways, farther away from perfection on the spectrum? And maybe not as far away in other ways?

    Don’t/haven’t we all presented a better-than-true face to our fellow Saints? And even so, haven’t we all been helpful to our fellow Saints? And don’t we all hope for Sister D’Hooghe’s response if our deficiencies were to be uncovered?

    We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. (Rom 15:1-7)

  17. Wilfried on June 13, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you for that perspective, manaen. I’m sure you’re right. At first sight, one’s attention can focus on the deception of that man and then we feel scandalized. But one can also try to view the event as if we were Tyko, at least to some extent. What do we sometimes hide? How worthy are we to perform an ordinance? Is it possible to strengthen others through talks and lessons, and still fail personally in dark area’s? What do we hope from reactions if our failure comes to light?

    Tyko told us things that afterwards seemed part of the deception, but were perhaps infused with a possible different meaning: “I hope my next ship takes me to a harbor close to the House of the Lord”.

  18. Kevin Barney on June 13, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    Another terrific little essay, Wilfried.

  19. Razorfish on June 13, 2007 at 11:18 pm

    Beautifully written…another homerun!

    Many interesting threads to consider from this.

    “One fast Sunday, as he was giving his testimony, his voice cracked, and, unable to utter another word, he wept quietly. His quivering lip expressed a yearning unexplained. His emotion seemed to hid a deeper tale, an anguish from another life. ”

    Was he a simple charlatan? Or as suggested above perhaps a more complex individual who lived a lie for expediency and logistical reasons. He was perhaps (in part) geniune and yet a deceiver at the same time. In effect, he represented the hypocrite in all of us – we strive to live on a higher plane, but often fall seriously short of those proscribed ideals…

  20. Bookslinger on June 14, 2007 at 2:13 am

    The story reminds me of myself. As an ex-member, I’ve traveled a bit, and wondered how much I need to say when visitors are called upon to introduce themselves in Sunday School or in Priesthood. I changed wards last year, and introduced myself as an ex-member in my new Elders Quorum, and to the EQ Pres (and to the ward clerk when he asked me for full name, DoB, and address for records), but not in Sunday School nor in combined priesthood opening exercises. Well, I did inform the Sunday School teacher one day when she asked me right before class if I’d like to offer the opening prayer. And the bishop already knew me.

    In my travels I’ve had a couple of blind dates with members, and been in plenty of single adult group activities. With one blind date, she asked me out, and I told her I was an ex-mo at dinner. With another, I asked her out, and I think I told her over the phone before we met.

    On one trip, I had an extraordinary string of experiences in giving out copies of the Book of Mormon on Saturday, and during that ward’s fast and testimony meeting on Sunday, I had one of those last-minute “get up there and say something” promptings.

    I sometimes wonder if I’m acting too much like a member, but then how should an ex-member conduct himself? Obedience, attendance, and showing up at service projects are still called for as far as I know. As far as I know, ward dinners, quorum activities, and events for single adults are not off-limits to ex-members, as long as you behave yourself.

    I finally figured out that the best answer to “What’s your calling?” is “To get re-baptized.”

    Sometimes, when those who don’t know my status ask me to do something that requires membership or the priesthood, I reply “I’d love to, but ask me again after I’m re-baptized.”

    Tyko apparently lied about working on a ship, and likely committed a sin of omission by leaving relevant and important information unsaid. Yet I can concur that even an unworthy vessel may have precious cargo, such as testimony and other uplifting words that demand to be shared. “… But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” Jeremiah 20:9 http://scriptures.lds.org/en/jer/20/9#9

  21. Wilfried on June 14, 2007 at 11:06 am

    Thank you, Kevin & Razorfish.

    Bookslinger, these are indeed fascinating considerations. How do ex-members, who are still close to the church, identify themselves in the community? How are they accepted? How do they blend in without clumsy reactions from members? It must require a lot of courage and willingness to cope with sometimes painful situations. I guess comparable, to a certain extent, with long-time inactives who come back for the first time. I think we sometimes lack an invisible transit zone where people, whatever their background, can feel comfortable and welcome. Probably a good topic for a post in the future, unless we see more comments here on this.

  22. Chance on June 14, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Though my actions may not necessarily express it at times, I yearn for the spirit and I yearn to be among members. Even during the times of my life when my choices have been questionable or acutely defiant, it never failed that even though I wasn’t personally feeling the warmth of the spirit, every Sunday morning I felt a need to go to church and Sunday dinner at a family members home because I needed to feel the spirit, even if it was vicariously through others.

    I suspect that Tyko, and others drifters like him (we’ve all seen them), may have experienced those same feelings, hence the reason they are drawn to the church (besides the fact that we are an easy mark…). For lack of a better word, it’s parasitic, but as they have lost the gift, and refuse to abandon their ways and sin (I hate saying that, sounds so revivalist), they are left with no other option.

  23. manaen on June 14, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    I’ve been disfellowshipped for ~ 13 years. I’ve been counselled to downplay it, so I don’t announce it. However, it’s become an open secret after a while in my different wards as I decline invitations to pray and members discover that they can’t call me to positions.. I’ve consistently had support and comfort from Church leaders, although I sensed that some were growing into it as they gave it to me.

    Most members treat me well and some have told me they benefited from insights I shared, which came from working through repentance and feeling my soul healed. Some have gone to confess their own sins after our private conversations turned personal and open. Some members avoid me. Once a bishop warned off a member who couldn’t accept that I could repent and be healed — he knew well my victims. Last year, a member refused to rent a house to me because of my sin.

    Even so, I feel liberated and sustained by the love from God that I feel now. It helps me to look at those who object to my well-being with a desire to help them find the same peace I now have.

  24. Lisa F. on June 15, 2007 at 8:56 am

    I check this blog each day for Wilfried’s stories. Thanks, again.

  25. Bryan on June 18, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Wilfried,

    I’m a late responder your post, but having been a missionary in Gent, for about six months of my two year stay in the Amsterdam mission (86-87), I was very pleased to hear this story. Gent is one of my favorite places on earth. I’m sorry I’ve only been able to return there once since that time. Tyko seems to have been operating in space a few shades lighter than, say, John C. Bennett. As others have said, we all operate in that space–whatever the shade–from time to time. Perhaps by now Tyko has reached a port closer to the Lord’s House.

  26. Wilfried on June 18, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Chance (23) & Manaen (24), be assured that your heartfelt comments were read with much appreciation. Thanks for your continued participation.

    Lisa F, merci!

    Bryan, it’s always great to have RM’s from the NM visiting here! You were in Ghent twenty years after the events I describe took place. By then the branch had grown a lot — thanks to the continued efforts of so many missionaries.