Book Review: Francis M. Gibbons & Daniel Bay Gibbons, Nethermost: Missionary Miracles in Lowly Places (2014).
Daniel Bay Gibbons was my mission president when I served in the Russia Novosibirsk Mission. In July he returned home and co-authored this book together with his father—a former secretary to the First Presidency, an emeritus seventy, and a well known church historian. The book is a collection of more than sixty short chapters containing stories mostly focused on missionary work and the spread of the gospel throughout the world.
Some of the stories contained in the book are well known such as the story of Mary Fielding Smith and the miraculous healing power of her faith, while others are far more obscure. Some are contemporary and others historical. Some focus on small experiences involving deeply personal promptings while others focus on the opening of entire countries to missionary work. Throughout, the stories convey one singular doctrinal truth: Christ’s infinite love and condescension extends to all even in the nethermost places of the globe and the nethermost parts of the human soul.
The writing is powerful and expertly uses excerpts from journals and diaries to allow those being profiled to speak in their own words. The stories are loosely organized into six parts based on the lyrics of the hymn I’ll Go Where You Want me to Go, which added a thematic element to the pairings. If anything I wish the structure were somewhat more explicit, as the thematic connection between stories is not always clear.
The authors also intersperse personal spiritual experiences which I greatly enjoyed reading. I had heard many of these stories in district and zone conferences from President Gibbons, and was especially pleased to see them in written format. At first, some of the experiences of the authors seem slightly out of place given the volumes overall focus on missionary experiences. Nevertheless, by the end I felt that the authors had brought their personal stories into line with the overall theme. For instance, Francis Gibbons talks extensively about his time as secretary to the First Presidency, which was a fascinating look at those called of God and fit well with the overall focus on the Lord directing the work of his church.
I admit that I am biased, but some of the stories that touched me the most were those that looked at some of the incredible Saints I came to know in Novosibirsk. In particular, I love the conversion story of Elder Yuri Gushin who is now a member of the Third Quorum of the Seventy. The missionaries chose to go out and talk to people even though it was -40 degrees outside. Elder Gushin felt the warmth of the spirit even though the Elders could hardly speak due to the extreme cold. Another story that was meaningful to me was the conversion of Aleksandr Drachyov who is the President of the Russia Novosibirsk District. President Drachyov had grown up in a military family and had been taught to deeply dislike Americans. Yet, when the missionaries knocked on his door, something in their message and in the Book of Mormon touched his heart. President Drachyov today is a powerhouse in the church. He is an inspiration to the youth and to all around him. I am grateful that the spirit inspired the missionaries to find these two men who had been prepared to hear the Gospel message. I have a strong testimony that the Lord knows his sheep throughout the world and will gather all of them to his fold in time.
President Gibbon’s own story of his inspired call to lead the Novosibirsk Mission is also one of the most incredible and inspirational stories. In a way, it is a shame that it is broken up throughout the book. When a young missionary in Germany, President Gibbons taught a Russian speaking family and felt strongly prompted that he should learn Russian. He did so in college, but later neglected his Russian. Ten years before he ultimately received his mission call, he had a dream where he saw himself in a church building. He could hear the voice of Russell M. Nelson from the chapel, and then was approached by an elderly woman who spoke to him in Russian. After the dream, he began to study Russian again. He eventually received a call to serve in an American mission, and was surprised by the call, but prepared to serve. A few months before the start of his service, President Gibbons’s call was changed to Russia, and he was set apart by Elder Nelson. In his first weeks in Russia, he visited the church building in Krasnoyarsk and was strongly struck that it was the same building he saw in his dream. Serving under President Gibbons I strongly saw the hand of the lord at work. I knew that he was called there by God. He was truly a “visionary man” led by God to do his work in the nethermost part of the vineyard.
Ultimately, I highly recommend the book to any who wish to be inspired by powerful evidence of the condescension and love of God. The book can also be purchased on Amazon for only $5. Additionally, if you want to read more, President Gibbons has excerpts from the book on his website.