In John 21:15 Christ questioned Peter, “lovest thou me?” After which Christ pled, “Feed my lambs.” The message was important enough that Christ repeated it three times. At 91 years of age Dorothea Evans still feeds the Lord’s sheep in the form of His missionaries. That might seem remarkable in and of itself if not for the fact that, like her grandmother and mother before her, the family has fed missionaries for over 110 years and she’s got the pictures to prove it.
It all started years ago in England when at age 17 at Dorothea’s mother Esther Waters and her grandmother Emma Waters heard the message of the restored gospel from missionaries and joined the Church. Dorothea’s grandfather James worked as a signalman on the railway. “Every third week grandfather gave his wife 10 shillings, which was a lot in those days, she invited the whole of the Birmingham District missionaries over for a party at her house. She fed the whole lot of them every three weeks,” Dorothea says. “In those days the missionaries always gave their picture to the members. It’s fantastic to have these as a record.” Photos of moustache lipped missionaries from as early as 1904 fill the picture book Dorothea proudly displays. “Now days you have to take the pictures yourself if you want them,” She remarks.
Dorothea’s mother helped with the meals and soon became a missionary herself; in fact, she was the first lady missionary from the Church from England called to England. “She loved the little country place where she served in so much that when she married in 1913 she returned to Wombourne Common to live and raise a family,” Dorothea says. “That’s where I grew up ‘till I was 14”.
Born in 1924 Dorothea lived in Wombourne Common with her parents and a brother five years older than she. The family adopted an orphan after the war and then a little girl who died at three months. “We always had the missionaries over to eat or visit. In those days the missionaries could come for the whole week at Christmas and stay until New Years,” she says. “One of our missionaries was one of Brigham Young’s grandsons, another was Marvin J. Ashton and I used to sit on his knee and tell him that I was going to marry him when I grew up. I saw him in the Marriot Center once, years and years later after I’d immigrated to Canada and I asked him if he remembered me saying that to him and he said, ‘oh, yes I really love the English saints’.”
Dorothea married John Evans in 1947 and immigrated to Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1949. “We lived in a few rooms in an old barracks because we didn’t have a house. Once we had a house I started having the missionaries over again. I used to feed them two meals a day every day, lunch and supper. I never locked my door, so if I was not there the missionaries would come in and set the table because they knew I’d be right back to feed them,” she says. John and Dorothea had five children. “The missionaries came to our house on P-days to write their letters and play games with the kids. They could in those days. They used to do strength tests with each other to see who was strongest. I would arm wrestle the missionaries and I could beat every one of them every time. I’m sure that why my shoulder is bad. I always beat them,” she says with a gleam in her eye.
“Of all the members we’d visited that said they would come too church if we got a branch here, only one came, but we got four missionaries sent here. I kept feeding the missionaries one meal a day, even though John died 31 years ago. I’m 91 years old now, so I only feed the missionaries once a week these days,” she says. Every second Sunday senior couples come to dine.
Over the years Dorothea enjoyed the hijinks of the young visitors. She even learned to ride a triumph motorcycle from one missionary and a love of riding remained. After learning that one particularly mischievous missionary became a Zone Leader she joked, “if you make zone leader anybody can.” Dorothea’s care of the missionaries includes such special care as making a birthday cake between lunch and dinner, after finding out that one missionary hadn’t heard from his family on his birthday. She’s kept a picture of all that have visited her. “They call me Gramma now,” she says. Her own son served a mission in England.