The Missionary, the Member and the Slop Bucket

by Mike Jones

Someone in our stake recently posed the question: What is it like to be a missionary during the lockdown? This prompted a memory of the story my Dad told me about ‘his missionaries’ in the 1930s.

To give the story some historical context, the Merthyr Tydfil of the 1930s, when my parents joined the Church, was very different to today. Over 80% of the men in nearby Dowlais were unemployed, 27,000 people emigrated from Merthyr in the 1920s and ‘30s, and mining in Wales had gone from 250,000 men to 100,000. The level of poverty and depravation was so stark, it prompted Edward, the Prince of Wales, on his visit in the early 1930s to say famously, ‘Something must be done’. In 1936 a viable plan, costed at £10 million, was prepared to close the town of Merthyr Tydfil and move the population to a location near Swansea.

Elder Marion J. Olsen, possibly in the very smart light suit which received the slops

This was the Merthyr where Elders Evan Arthur,  Marion J. Olsen, and Frank R. Miller were called to proselyte. Although poor in terms of wealth, there was a rich vein of the believing blood of Israel to be found and gathered in this impoverished little town. This was a period in the early 1930s, when missionaries came back to the town, from which so many faithful saints had left, to build Zion in the USA in the 19th Century.

The infamous story took place in Penydarren where my Dad was tracting with Elder Olsen. My parents and their first child, Derek, who had only just been born, lived in this area. So Dad was knocking on the doors of his neighbours. One particular door was opened by a woman and Elder Olsen made the door approach. Just to emphasise, my father told me Elder Olsen was dressed immaculately. He had on quite a light coloured suit, a bow tie, and a trilby type hat. Dad had on his Sunday best and starched white collar.

Elder Olsen told the woman they were from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He lifted his hat as a gesture of politeness. The woman said: ‘Oh you’re Mormons are you? Just hold on a minute.’ She went behind the front door and pulled out a large metal bucket, full of all the tea-leaf slops, and general kitchen waste in water. She threw it over Elder Olsen from his head to his feet. My father was horrified, embarrassed and ashamed.

When I heard this I said, ‘Dad what did you do?’ He replied: ‘I wanted to strangle her with my bare hands!!’. More particularly I said: ‘But Dad, what did Elder Olsen do?’  Dad replied, in almost a reverent tone: ‘Elder Olsen lifted his hat again, and said quietly and gently in his lovely accent...”Good-day Mam.” Then they walked on.

Elders Arthur, Olsen and Miller were legends in our home. My parents really loved them. Approximately 45 years after this event, Elder Olsen came back to Merthyr to visit a town and a people he loved very much. The Sunday he came, he chatted with Uncle Tommy Price, Aunty Florrie Jones, and the little boys he knew in the 1930s: Emlyn Davies, Ralph and Hubert Pulman. And people like us, descendants of those he had taught and loved. Can we just imagine how he felt seeing the chapel in Merthyr Tydfil? In his day there was no building to meet in at all. Their baptismal “font”, was in the river, under the railway arches in Cefn Coed. What joy he must have felt seeing the progress after so many years.

That same day, I took him to see my Mam and Dad. When my parents opened the door and saw Elder Olsen they hugged him, and cried and shouted for joy. It seemed all those years just melted away and great memories were recalled. But somehow, the woman with the slop bucket wasn’t mentioned.

This photograph shows the Merthyr Tydfil Branch circa 1932, meeting in the rented Independent Labour Party Hall, ‘our missionaries’ among them. This group built the foundation of faith in Christ which grew into the Merthyr Tydfil wards of the 21st Century. Thank-you Heavenly Father for these pioneers.

Merthyr Tydfil Branch 1932

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