By Cecily Markland
During the Saturday afternoon session of April General Conference, with President Dieter F. Uchtdorf as mouthpiece, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced 53 new Area Seventies, including Karl M. Tilleman, 54, of Phoenix.
Elder Tilleman will replace Mesa-native Jim Lorezo Wright, 57, who has been called as mission president of the California Santa Rosa Mission, where he will serve with his wife, Christina. The Wrights are members of the Mesa 20th Ward, Mesa Arizona Maricopa North Stake. Prior to serving as an Area Seventy, Elder Wright was a stake president, bishop, high councilor and stake Young Men president. He served a fulltime mission to the Argentina Rosario Mission and later as a ward missionary.
The new Area Seventy and his wife, Holly Benson Walker Tilleman, served together in the Vancouver British Columbia Mission, where he was the mission president.
Members of the Mountain Park Ward, Tempe Arizona West Stake, they were several months into their mission, when, in 2012, Elder Tilleman suffered a serious injury that paralyzed him from the neck down.
President Tilleman had asked if he could pet an investigator’s dog, a Bullmastiff, which was on a leash. The dog attacked and got both of President Tilleman’s hands in its mouth.
“Miraculously, he got his hands free,” Sister Tilleman says. They washed the wounds and were heading to the hospital when “he passed out from the shock and loss of blood and fell extremely hard against a concrete wall,” she says.
The medical staff, told them he had “central spinal syndrome” and may never walk again.
Missionaries in British Colombia, members of the Tillemans’ home stake in Arizona, and family and friends across North and South America prayed and fasted for him.
“President Tilleman received a priesthood blessing that promised a full recovery at an accelerated rate,” adds Sister Tilleman. “He should have been in the hospital for two to three months and in the rehabilitation facility approximately nine months in order to re-learn how to move, walk and care for himself.”
Yet, he was hospitalized for only 17 days.
The healing started immediately, with the paralysis leaving bit by bit.
Elder Tilleman, who, prior to his mission, had served as stake president, bishop, bishopric counselor, Young Men president and high priest group leader, decided early on he wouldn’t complain and he would do what he could to continue the work, even though his spinal injuries were excruciating.
As a former two-time Olympian, representing Canada in basketball in the Los Angeles and Seoul Korea Olympics, and having played basketball for the University of Calgary before that, he is familiar with hard work and dedication.
This time, though, he seemed to have added incentive. Even while in the hospital, he had missionaries bring files to him and started making phone calls for the mission.
Daily he worked out, did missionary work, physical therapy and then took an evening walk. At one point, Sister Tilleman said, “You are the most amazing man ever,” President Tilleman quickly opposed, saying, “No, this is not about me. The Lord has been so kind to us.”
Sister Tilleman says, through it all, he showed “incredible patience” and “a submission to God’s will.”
“He knows it is truth what we read in the scriptures … all things shall be for our experience and good,” she says.