When Elder L.E. “Gus” Hoffman, M.D. and his wife Sister Becky Hoffman, R.N., received their mission call to the Africa Southeast Area, they understood that they would be serving as medical advisors to missionaries. When they reported to Johannesburg in October of 2012, they again acknowledged it would be their primary responsibility. After all, they were a uniquely qualified husband-and-wife, doctor-and-nurse team, and were ready and willing to serve.
However, when Area leaders learned that Dr. Hoffman was also a patriarch who would be willing to give patriarchal blessings in the mission branches and districts, they moved quickly. President Renlund, well aware that there were many leaders, missionaries, and members who had never received their patriarchal blessings, got things in motion. Permission was granted by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who oversees the work of the patriarchs in the Church.
Throughout the approval process, the Hoffmans continued to deal with missionary medical issues, until Jan 26, 2013, when Elder Hoffman began to give patriarchal blessings. By the time the Hoffmans completed their mission in April of 2014, he had given 179 blessings. Elder Hoffman recalls, “Those blessings were given solely to members who generally did not have access to Stake patriarchs. Our medical travel allowed us to have contact with members from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to the cities along the southern coast of South Africa to give [members] their blessings. Many other members, who came to the temple for their temple blessings, were able to receive their patriarchal blessings at the same time.”
Sister Hoffman remembers the event that changed the way they conducted the blessings. One day, Elder Hoffman was prepared to give a blessing to a man who had ridden his bike many kilometres to receive it. To his surprise, the member asked Elder Hoffman if he could delay the blessing a bit longer, because his wife was on her way and he wanted her to be present. While they waited, Sister Hoffman started chatting with the man about his conversion to the gospel. His story was simply amazing. He had nine children, and when asked what he did for a living to support them, he replied, “I dig.” Puzzled, Sister Hoffman asked for more information. He explained that he went out every day with a pick and a shovel, and if somebody needed a hole dug, he offered his services. Sister Hoffman then turned her IPad tablet onto some Mormon Tabernacle Choir music, to help pass the time and invite the spirit.
This good brother cradled the tablet carefully in his hands, listening to the music with reverence. He asked Sister Hoffman, “Do you think I might ever hear this choir sing in person? That would be so wonderful.”
Then his wife arrived. She had paid for someone else to give her a ride on the back of a bike. Not only that, she had their eight-week-old baby with her. Sister Hoffman remarks, “Sometimes we forget the sacrifices people must make to simply get a blessing. We never wanted to forget these amazing people.”
Elder Hoffman points out that that from then on, their mission changed fundamentally, explaining, “… we decided to record [the conversion stories of the members] and take a picture of them to record the information for the Church as well as for our own history.” He uses the terms “we” and “our” frequently, because it was absolutely a joint effort.
He continues, “We…found that although the members were… being blessed, we received blessings by hearing their stories and feeling of their spirits. Our incidence of spiritual experiences went from an occasional one monthly, to several experiences a week, to several a day. We cannot describe the experience of seeing members come with grave concerns…and then leave with a smile, a spring to their step, and tears on their cheeks from the spirit speaking personally to them. There are simply no words to describe these feelings.”
Both Elder and Sister Hoffman also recognize the contributions of the senior missionary couples who were “angels” whose mission was to assist and to guide. They were often included in the blessings as they frequently lived within the branches and had spent uncounted hours helping the members.
“They deserve the blessings of heaven,” Elder Hoffman says firmly. “And lastly, please understand that these blessings, and the inspiration that attends them, come from Father in Heaven. [A patriarch] is simply a conduit for the light and inspiration which comes from above and nothing more.”
Excerpted from packet, ”Giving Blessings in Africa” by Elder L.E. and Sister Becky Hoffman as well as personal interview