SALT LAKE CITY — In the kitchen of their home in Florence, Italy, members of the David and Heather Evertsen family maintain a chart for tracking their missionary efforts.
On the chart, the Evertsens, American members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, record names of people they've met, invited to church and if they gave a Book of Mormon, as well as invitations to other faith-related events.
Their longest list features friends invited to the Rome Italy Temple open house, something they've been working on for years, Heather Evertsen said.
They Evertsens have invited more than 1,400 people by their count, ranging from hairdressers and café owners to associates at work and friends at school. As of Feb. 3, over 60 have already attended independently and another 200-plus are planning to board several buses rented by the family for a three-hour ride to the Rome Temple grounds in the coming days.
"If you're going to go, go big, that's how I look at it. Don't just invite one or two, invite everybody!" David Evertsen said. "We've had so many gospel discussions with thousands of people. We've given away hundreds of Books of Mormon, and it's just been cool. It's been cool to be in Italy and to be part of building the church there."
The family is offering people the chance to contribute to its missionary project through a GoFundMe campaign covering the bus rental fee.
Missionary efforts and inviting Italians to the Rome Temple open house is only part of the Evertsens' Latter-day Saint adventures in Italy. Since following a spiritual prompting to move to Italy in 2009, family members have learned languages, served in the church and discovered various talents that have blessed their lives. It hasn't been easy by any stretch, but it has been richly rewarding, they said.
The idea of living in a foreign country had always appealed to David and Heather Evertsen. They wanted to expose their children to cultures and different opportunities, Heather Evertsen said.
While living in Texas more than a decade ago, a series of subtle thoughts, feelings and prayers had the family pondering a life in Italy.
"We felt like we would be in Italy someday," Heather Evertsen said.
Heather Evertsen was in the Conference Center in October 2008 when President Thomas S. Monson announced a temple in Rome. She went home with the feeling her family should move to Italy.
The following year, David Evertsen was offered a job in Iraq. They decided a home in Italy could serve as a new home base for his international work and travel. Heather Evertsen orchestrated the move in 90 days.
"It was a whirlwind," said Heather Evertsen, who likened her life to the 1989 film "Field of Dreams," where a mysterious voice compels an Iowa farmer to build a baseball field in his corn crop with a series of one-line commands. "The things I'm doing seem crazy. People think I'm crazy. But we just keep doing it because we know it's right. We don't know why, frankly, but we get little clues and keep moving forward."
Carrara marble quarries
One of those inspirational clues led Heather to start a business as a trip planner and work with large group tours.
Perhaps the most important aspect of her business was connecting with people at the Carrara marble quarries, where marble for Michelangelo's "David" and the statues of the Christus and Twelve Apostles by Bertel Thorvaldsen was quarried. Replica statues of the Christus and Twelve Apostles are now on display in the Rome Temple Visitors' Center.
Heather Evertsen managed to secure exclusive rights to bring tour groups to the quarry, which in timing with the temple open house, has been a popular spot for tourists who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"There are so many interesting, incredible people that we've come in contact with," she said. "I would have never said as a child, when I grow up I want to live in Florence, Italy, and have a travel business. It’s amazing. I’m living a life many people would love to live. It’s very challenging but I live in my favorite city in the world. I feel really blessed. God had a plan for us for sure."
The Evertsen children, including Tianna, 23, Bronson, 21, London, 16, Kyleigh, 14, Kaisa, 12, and 10-year-old Malerie, adjusted well to the international move.
In addition to being member missionaries, their parents say the children are learning multiple languages, play musical instruments and compete in athletics.
The oldest daughter, Tianna, recently returned from serving a full-time mission in Rome.
"To walk in the footsteps of ancient apostles Peter and Paul, to see how the work is progressing and how our efforts have combined to prepare the people for the temple and the blessings of the gospel has been truly amazing," Tianna Evertsen said.
While attending high school in Italy, Bronson discovered a talent for art and sculpting. He was invited by artist Tom Holdman to collaborate on a special piece of stained-glass art depicting the Savior for the Rome Temple Visitors' Center, which Bronson said was a special experience.
Bronson Evertsen is also sculpting mini-replicas of the Rome Italy Temple to earn money for his own mission this year. Watching the construction and completion of the Rome Temple has strengthened his faith and fueled his wish to serve a mission, he said.
"Not only has it strengthened and motivated me spiritually … it also personally makes me so motivated and excited to search for those who don't know of the gospel or who have lost their way to find the pure joy and happiness that I've felt going to the temple."
Water and pasta
One challenge the Evertsens have faced over the last 10 years has been not having a temple nearby.
David Evertsen, whose government consulting work has taken him to nations in the Middle East, Europe and across the globe, can occasionally attend the temple during his travels. But if he wants to go with his wife, it means going to Madrid or London, he said.
"How excited am I for the temple?" David Evertsen said. "As excited as a man wandering in the desert and finding water. … It's an incredible blessing and really as essential as water."
Knowing how the temple has blessed their lives has motivated the family to invite others to the Rome temple open house. Among Italian nonmembers, they have found great interest in the temple. After taking the open house tour and meeting the temple president and his wife, one Italian nonmember described his feelings in a text to David Evertsen.
"David, I'm sorry for the late night message. I needed a little time to understand the sensations I felt Saturday before, during and after the visit to the temple," the man wrote. "I have absolutely not had the feeling of being out of place, but in a place where one can only feel good knowing new people, and having the feeling of knowing them already is not a sensation that happens every day. Thank you for this great opportunity."
There has also been interest in the surrounding countries, said David Evertsen, who has personally invited government officials, dignitaries and other diplomats to the open house through his work and travels.
"Since I work in the Middle East, North Africa, Croatia and Albania, which are all in the temple district and within one flight, (the Rome temple is) going to have a tremendous impact," David Evertsen said.
Heather Evertsen described the excitement among Italian church members through a story about Italian food.
She recalled her husband telling her about a restaurant in Rome that served the best Alfredo that was "so good, it will knock your socks off." He couldn't wait to take me there, Heather Evertsen said.
When he continued to rave about it, she said thought he was being overly dramatic.
"OK, listen, I believe you," she told him. "I'm sure it's great."
But when she finally tried it, she said she almost cried, her mouth was glued together with delicious cheese and she couldn't speak. "I finally understood where he was coming from," Heather Evertsen said.3 comments on this story
Having tasted the "pasta," the Evertsens can appreciate the blessings of having a temple close to home. It's a feeling they hope the Italian Saints will soon understand as well, she said.
"Until I tasted it, I didn’t understand either," Heather Evertsen said. "They haven’t yet been able to have a temple and see the blessings. With the anticipation and excitement of having a temple, we want to stand on the rooftops, shout for joy and tell everyone we know. Like the pasta, we know how powerful and incredible the blessing of regular temple attendance can be."