Missionary letters returned after 50 years a ‘miracle’

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BYU students and alumni Austin and Elise Taylor had no idea they would be part of a miracle when they moved into their Provo, Utah house four months ago.

In mid-September, while a solar panel installer was working in the attic at the house, he found “boxes of letters and boxes of books,” according to Austin.

They were textbooks from the mid-1960s with BYU bookstore stamps on them, and the letters looked like missionary letters, Austin said.

“We saw a big folder full of envelopes,” Austin said. “They said they were from the Netherlands. My wife actually served her mission in the Netherlands, so she knew where they were coming from and knew what they said because they were in Dutch.”

Elise said it was fun to read through some of the letters in Dutch and understand them. She even recognized some of the same cities she and the missionary both served in.

Austin said he and his wife looked through the letters and found the name of the missionary: Steven Foster. They looked him up in an online phonebook and called to see if it was the right Steven Foster, and within 10 minutes he was at their house to pick up the letters.

Savannah Hopkinson
Steven did his undergrad at BYU in geography and cartography. He then went on to earn a master’s and a Ph.D. He and Peggy have 11 children and spent 21 years in the army before Steven retired in 1991 to work for the Boy Scouts of America. (Savannah Hopkinson)

“My wife got a call from Elise Taylor and Elise said, ‘I hope I have the right person; is this Steven Foster? Is this the Steven Foster that went to the Netherlands on his mission?'” Steven said.

Elise and Austin donated some of the other things they found in the attic, but they were hoping to find Steven and return the letters. Elise said those are the kinds of things they would hate to recycle.

“It was really crazy when we found out he lives near here and we could get a hold of him so quickly,” Elise said.

Steven Foster is a BYU alumnus who served his mission in the Netherlands from 1965 to 1967. The Taylor’s house used to be Steven’s father’s house until it was sold in April 2016. Steven and his wife, Peggy, said they thought they had cleared everything out of the house.

“(The letters) must have been hidden pretty good,” Peggy said.

The box included letters from Steven’s mother, letters from members he baptized on his mission, letters he wrote and other letters he received.

“I was extremely pleased to get the letters,” Steven said.

When Steven stopped by the house to pick up the letters, he and Elise conversed in Dutch. Peggy and Steven said it wasn’t a coincidence that the Taylors found the letters and that Elise happened to serve her mission in the Netherlands, as well.

Savannah Hopkinson
In the box that was returned to him, Steven found pictures and letters from his mission. The picture on the right is of Steven (left), his mother, and his brother. (Savannah Hopkinson)

The Taylors gave him the box and he looked through it, Steven said. Inside he found pictures of himself, his parents, his grandmother, his brother, his cousins and even pictures of people he didn’t recognize.

The letters from his mother were “garb” letters, not specifically sent to Steven but to his brother as well, updating them on everything the family was doing.

“I’ve had the chance to read through some of the (letters) my mother wrote,” Steven said.

Steven has been writing his life history for the last six months. He is currently up to 1996 in his history, which is already at 90 pages in length. His goal is to complete his life history like his father did.

“My dad did (his life history) about six years before he died, and his life history is about 200 pages,” Steven said. “That’s what I’m striving to do.”

Steven already has more than 10 typed pages of his history that document his mission, thanks to the journal he kept during those 30 months. Once he gets the chance to read all the letters, Steven thinks he will have much more to add to his history from family letters.

Peggy said she was excited for the letters to be returned.

“It was exciting because of all the memories from his mission,” Peggy said. “It brought such a big smile on his face.”

Even without receiving the letters, Peggy said it was a memorable experience for Steven to make the connection with Elise and reminisce about their missions together.

“It all sort of miraculously fit together and we were happy to make (Steven’s) day,” Elise said.

Savannah Hopkinson
Peggy said finding this box was exciting because of all the missionary memories it includes. Steven returned home from his mission to the Netherlands over 50 years ago. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Steven had no idea that seemingly normal day would turn out to be so special when he woke up. It’s been over 50 years since Steven returned home from his mission, and he was unaware that so many memories from his mission were still in that attic.

Steven said he is grateful the Taylors found him and didn’t dispose of the letters.

“Just to have them call and say that (the letters) were found is a miracle,” Steven said.

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