Rugby-playing Mormon family from Zimbabwe relishes reunion in Utah

Published: Thursday, July 5 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

"It was very emotional, one of the Lord's tender mercies," Willem said. "He's played a huge role in our lives, and he loves our family like his own. It was a real privilege to meet the man who helped to convert my mom. He sent me on the path to a mission. If it wasn't for him, for his hard work and diligence, I wouldn't be where I am today. I told him I loved him for what he's done."

Kathleen Van Heerden also expressed her gratitude for the Ottleys. She said it hasn't been easy raising an LDS family in Zimbabwe, but she has tried to echo the example set forth in the Book of Mormon by the mothers of the 2,060 sons of Helaman. She said she is proud of her sons for being faithful to gospel teachings and never playing sports on the sabbath.

"You have to be obedient wherever you are, you have to follow the counsel of the prophet," she said. "We have been encouraged to pay our tithing, be self-sufficient and serve others. ... The church is growing in Africa."

Friends who knew the Van Heerdens by serving missions with their older children attended the rugby match at the Murray Park Rugby Stadium in order to have fun and bond with the family. Among them was Willem's girlfriend, Jenna Johnson, who supported Zimbabwe despite hailing from Canada.

Once Willem's parents return to Zimbabwe, he doesn't expect to see his family for about three years. He said he will miss his parents and siblings but knows the Lord is watching over them.

"The world has become so much smaller," Willem said. "But seeing everyone again, renewing those friendship through the church, maintains that brotherly love over international borders."

EMAIL: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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