When I was serving as the mission president of the Idaho Pocatello Mission, I was introduced to Brother Clayton Bolander from Shelley, Idaho. During our first mission interview on August 24 2003, he told me of the health challenges that he had throughout his life. He was born with kidney and bladder problems. Just before his 11th birthday, he had a kidney transplant. A week after he had applied for a mission, it was discovered that he had Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. He also told me of his very sincere desire to serve a mission for the Lord.
My heart went out to this young man. I wanted to help him realize his desire to serve a mission. After his cancer had gone into remission, I contacted the Missionary Department as well as our Area President, Elder Lynn Mickelsen. They agreed he could serve a proselyting mission with the full-time missionaries in the Idaho Pocatello Mission as a “service missionary.” He was elated at the news; it was a dream come true for him! His stake president, President Cutler, set him apart as a “service missionary” and he reported to the mission home with the newly-arriving missionaries from the MTC on September 2, 2003.
I’ll never forget the day I saw him standing with his parents at the mission home. He was wearing his black name tag and a look of great happiness and excitement on his face. This was a lifelong desire being fulfilled. His parents said their goodbyes and took leave of him. They were also elated that their special son would now serve a mission.
He immediately integrated with the new missionaries. After the orientation meetings, interviews and dinner, we had a testimony meeting. It was all the more spiritual because of Elder Bolander. My journal entry noted, “There was a very special spirit in attendance when Elder Bolander bore his testimony.”
He continued to serve with faithful companions as selected by the Lord for about fourteen months. During this period, he would see the doctors and go down to the transplant unit in Salt Lake from time to time as needed.
I interviewed him every six weeks. On October 22, 2004, I noticed he was getting weaker and suggested he take the next transfer period (six weeks) and spend time at home to regain his strength. When he was stronger, he could come back into the field. He went to the doctor and was admitted to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Channing Way, Idaho Falls, for medical tests.
On November 11, 2004, while at a zone conference that we held in Sugar City, I received a call on my cell phone from Elder Bolander, who was in the hospital. He said through his tears, “President, the cancer is back.” He was devastated. I tried to console him the best I could. After the zone conference, my wife and I went to visit him in the hospital and I gave him a blessing. The whole mission fasted and prayed for him. He was in our prayers daily.
A few days later, we had another zone conference at the Lincoln Stake Center. After the conference, I had all three zones visit him in the hospital. It was a memorable occasion. Missionaries were lined up everywhere you looked: in the elevators, on the stairways, and in the hallways. One by one, they passed his bedside, shook his hand, gave him a hug and expressed their love and support for him.
Unfortunately, he took a turn for the worse. His physicians decided to life-flight him to the Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. While on the flight, his heart stopped beating twice and the paramedics had to resuscitate him. He spent the next few months undergoing further tests and chemotherapy. He finally had a bone-marrow transplant with bone marrow donated by his brother. His wonderful mother was at his bedside virtually 24 hours a day. She was a true Woman of Zion.
On April 10, Elder Richards presided at the Ucon Stake Conference. Afterwards, he followed us to Elder Bolander’s home to visit with him and his family. Elder Bolander was in bed and was very weak. In fact, he had deteriorated a lot since we had seen him on Thursday. The doctor told him there was nothing more he could do. I knelt beside his bed, held his hand and spoke to him. I told him what an inspiration he was to me. I also told him that dying is like being transferred and that he could carry on his mission on the other side.
On May 14 at the meal following the Blackfoot South Stake Conference, I received a call from President Cannon that Elder Bolander had passed away. His funeral was held on May 18 and the service was absolutely beautiful. The speakers were uplifting, comforting, and inspiring. The missionary choir sang “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” The Spirit was strong and powerful. As the pallbearers took Elder Bolander’s coffin out of the chapel, all the missionaries from the Idaho Pocatello Mission stood up in one accord and sang “Called to Serve.”
Neither my life, nor those of his fellow missionaries, will ever be the same. Many have since said how much Elder Bolander’s life and service have inspired them to do better. He was never released as a missionary. Instead, he was transferred by a Higher Authority to a new area and a new zone; one beyond the veil.