It was a week before Christmas and Elder Andy Herrmann, currently a senior studying exercise physiology at BYU-Idaho, was fresh out of the Missionary Training Center.
He was called to the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission and his mission president, Alvin F. Meredith, was interviewing the missionaries.
“While we were waiting to go in, Sister Meredith was there and just talking to everybody,” Herrmann said. “She just, like, immediately came up to you like a mom, loved you and genuinely wanted to talk to you and see how you were, especially with it being Christmas — especially being a new missionary. She just wanted to know how she could help in any way that she could, and she provided that light and love and comfort that you needed.”
Herrmann grew up in Oregon and was one of only three members of his faith in his high school. Serving in Utah led to his first exposure to antagonistic material about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
While testifying daily, Herrmann began questioning what he was teaching, as many missionaries and members do at some point in their lives.
“Everything I’ve ever known, I just, like, started to question,” Herrmann said. “I definitely had a testimony and I definitely felt like I had a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ, but I still, like, it just got in my head and it was really, really hard for me.”
Herrmann reached out to President Meredith and it felt like he dropped everything to meet with him.
“He met with me and just, like, talked me through everything,” he said. “He shared some things with me that he struggled with as a missionary. He shared ways that he went about it … it was, like, one of the most reassuring experiences that I’ve ever gone through.”
President Meredith continued to support Herrmann through difficult experiences later on. He recalled another instance in which they spoke.
“In that moment, he said exactly what I needed to hear,” Herrmann said. “And it has stuck with me literally every single day since then. I think about it every day. He helped me realize my worth — helped me realize how Heavenly Father felt about me. He helped me realize that I can rely on Jesus Christ for literally everything in my life.”
Jacob Villarreal, a sophomore studying musical arts at BYU-I, received a different kind of comfort from President and Sister Meredith when he discovered that the salad a church member served for dinner contained nuts — something he’s allergic to.
“They met us at the hospital and I really don’t remember much about what happened … because they had an IV with so many drugs pumping into my body,” Villarreal said. “I remember just their smile and they were just so happy and calm. And I remember joking around about something. And just the way he really ministered to me personally, in that moment, really meant a lot to me, especially because it was such a weird, kind of scary (experience).”
Missionaries often shared the tale of President and Sister Meredith’s first zone conference discussion. During a training on the importance of being bold as missionaries, President Meredith used the example of a hypothetical first date with Sister Meredith to demonstrate this principle.
In the first version of the role-play, President Meredith politely walked Sister Meredith back to her door, thanked her for the great time, got her number, and planned to do it again sometime.
In the second role play, he demonstrated overbearance.
“He just grabbed Sister Meredith by the shoulders and just went in for a smooch,” Villareal said. “Right there, in front of the entire mission. And that’s all the missionaries would talk about for the next several months.”
BYU-I students saw an example of this as the Merediths introduced themselves during devotional. Sister Meredith closed her remarks and headed back to her seat, at which point President Meredith arose to the pulpit. On his way, he kissed Sister Meredith.
“You will see much more of that,” President Meredith said when he arrived at the stand.
Ericka Cook, a senior studying communication, thinks this public demonstration of affection is especially important for BYU-I students.
“It’s hard to find examples in today’s world of a loving marriage, and a healthy one where they both push each other to be better,” Cook said. “I’ve never seen two people that respect and love each other the way that they do and seeing each other as equals, but also seeing each other as a little bit higher than the other or saying, ‘I want to reach where they are.’ … I think that is a great example for BYU-Idaho students to see as they’re making these decisions in life — to see to people who want to be like Christ, have a marriage between them and the Lord.”
President Meredith, after every phone call or interaction with his missionaries, reminded them of his love for them, according to Cook.
“Get ready to feel loved,” Cook said. “I’ve never met people who love so strongly and so genuinely.”