Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chapter 1

A Golden Contact

Elder Thomas woke up in a bad mood. He tried to remember why he was upset, but for a few minutes he couldn’t remember the reason. Everything was fuzzy, except for his mood. Oh, he hated mornings. At least he used to hate them, he reminded himself, before finally deciding several months ago to be completely obedient for the rest of his mission.

“If I’m going to be totally obedient,” he thought, “I need to get up.”

He rolled over with effort and slipped off the top bunk. As his foot came down, it landed on the edge of a shoe. “Ow!” he muttered grumpily, as his companion, Elder Edwards, moaned and rolled over, still asleep. The shoe and the moan from his companion brought the reasons for his bad mood flooding back.

First the argument. That was one reason. They used to get along well before they were companions. But things had been harder each day of their companionship. And Elder Thomas’s commitment to be totally obedient had caused a bit of a rift. To make matters worse, Elder Thomas hated the way Elder Edwards left things laying around--like the shoe.

He kicked it under the bed and heard it bump against the wall.

Elder Thomas turned away from the bed and stumbled into the bathroom. He splashed water on his face and felt himself slide into his morning routine. That made him feel a little less grumpy. He grinned at his missionary haircut. As short as it was, it still looked pretty unruly every morning.

As he looked at his face in the mirror he remembered that it was his birthday—21 years old. He had a couple of packages from home on the kitchen table to remind him. He hadn’t decided when he was going to open them. Maybe today. Maybe on p-day, when he had a little time to relax. He only had a couple of weeks left on his mission, and he wanted to stay focused. He wanted to give his absolute best in the short time he had left.

As he brushed his teeth he remembered another reason for his bad mood. The work had been really hard in the past few weeks. They were having little success. No one seemed to want to speak to them. All day long of door-after-door rejection was no fun. Elder Edwards was losing steam, which was understandable, but his slump was bad timing. Elder Thomas wanted to finish his mission strong. He had a lot he wanted to get done.

He went to get his scriptures and realized how tired he was. He sighed. It wasn’t just getting up early that tired him out. It was the argument, the friction with his companion.

“How can we have the help of the Lord if we’re fighting?” he wondered.

Elder Edwards wasn’t a bad missionary. He was normally hard working; he mostly followed the rules. They were both just frustrated right now. The big problem was resolving the argument.

“We’ve got to get on the same page,” he thought, “I got too angry and didn’t let him have his say. I need to let him lead out more.”

He thought about going back to bed for a few minutes. Maybe that would ease their conflict. Then they would get along better and maybe achieve something for once.

But then he remembered his commitment. He leaned forward on the table and opened up the Book of Mormon. It was worn and well used. As he turned the page, his eye caught passages that he had marked and thoughts and memories of what was written there sparked in his mind.

He had received his first copy of the Book of Mormon from his grandparents when was baptized at age 8. He remembered its blue cover, with the golden angel on front, awakening the world with his trumpeted call. He remembered the painted illustrations of stories from the book. He knew now that some of the paintings were a little exaggerated, unrealistic. But they had fired his imagination when he was boy. He used to leaf through the book and wonder what it would be like to live in Book of Mormon times, seeing visions with Nephi, joining Moroni in his battles, sitting with Mormon as he compiled the history of his people while they were self-destructing in their nearby cities.

He had read that copy of the Book of Mormon. He had read and marked the copy he had purchased for seminary. Now he had worn out another copy on his mission, reading it and rereading it, searching for better ways to teach the people he had come to love. Still he knew that with all this study, he didn’t understand the book well enough. Having never been without it, he felt he didn’t fully appreciate it. That frustrated him sometimes.

Slowly those thoughts faded as he settled into his reading.

Elder Edwards awoke with a start. A wave of guilt settled on him again. He hated that feeling.

“This isn’t going to make our argument yesterday any better,” he thought. “I’ve just shown Elder Thomas that he is right.”

He saw light coming under to door to Communications Central, or CC for short. That was their study room. It was the room where they had all their teaching supplies and a map of the city. “An empty map,” Elder Edwards told himself grimly. Since they weren’t teaching anyone and didn’t have any leads, all the little flags would still be huddled together off the edge of the map.

Elder Edwards checked the clock. 7:11. Elder Thomas would be sitting at the table studying his scriptures. He would want to start companionship study soon. A feeling of resentment surged up, diminishing his feelings of guilt and frustration.

“It’s not Elder T’s fault,” he reminded himself, fighting against the resentment. “He’s right. We should study together.”

Elder Edwards walked to the kitchen for a snack and caught sight of the packages on the table. Suddenly he remembered it was Elder Thomas’s birthday.

“Shoot!” he said. “I’ve got to do something. Where’s that recipe for waffles?”

By 7:30 everything was ready. He crept back to bed and pretended to be asleep.

A few minutes later, he heard Elder Thomas call from CC. “Hey, Elder, it’s time for companion study.”

Elder Edwards moaned and turned over.

“C’mon, Elder,” his companion urged from the doorway, a tightness sounding in his voice.

Elder Edwards laughed to himself a little at the sound of that tightness.

“Not today,” he told himself, “We’re not going to argue today.”

Out loud, he pleaded, trying to sound sleepy.

“Not today, Elder T. Man, I’m too tired. Can we may do it tomorrow? Or maybe at lunch?” He turned toward the wall and pulled up the blankets.

He heard Elder Thomas take a step into the room.

“C’mon, Elder,” he said again. The tightness was still there, but he was fighting it, trying to sound playful. “C’mon. Let’s do it now. Make it a present for my birthday.”

Elder Edwards laughed out loud this time and turned over.

“That’s what I’m talking about. Happy Birthday!” He got out of bed. “Let’s study in the kitchen today.”

With a bewildered shrug, Elder Thomas followed him in the kitchen. Breakfast was ready and set out on the table. Elder Thomas’s eyes flew open wide.

“This is great,” he said, looking at the hot waffle iron. “And I thought you were sleeping. I didn’t even hear anything.” He started to laugh. “So much for the argument,” he thought. “Today was going to be a good day.”

It didn’t turn out that way. The two elders had their companion study. It had been good. As they read together the familiar passages, they both renewed their commitment to work hard. They felt ready. They had even left their apartment on time.

Some days they were led in a certain direction, others they just started somewhere. Surprisingly Edwards said a little soberly, ”I think we had better pray hard about where to go today”.

They both had a silent prayer in their head, and then rode off, knowing that the spirit would somehow let them know where they needed to be. After riding in no particular direction, Elder Thomas suggested they just start anywhere.

But before long they had run into that old, familiar wall of rejection, rising up with the Texas heat. Door after door after door with no luck. Some people weren’t home. Some people clearly didn’t like to be disturbed. Some people were home but didn’t want to answer. Some people were rude. One or two screamed at them for the disturbance of a knock. One man followed them, shouting, down the sidewalk and slammed his fence gate behind them.

After four hours of that, they went home for lunch. His mouth full of sandwich, Elder Edwards said, “We need to pray harder and have more faith”. Elder Thomas looked at him and said, “What happened to you?” Elder Edwards shrugged, “I just feel that we need to keep going today, no matter what.” Elder Thomas laughed. This might just be a good birthday after all. His comp was not discouraged anymore.

After lunch and an earnest prayer, they again went out to their bikes.

“Too bad we don’t have a Liahona”, Elder Thomas joked, “Then we could just go straight to the place we need to be.”

As they rode they talked about how much easier it would have been in Nephi’s time, with Nephi around to get all the answers from the Lord. As they talked some more, they both agreed that eating raw meat, getting tied up and beaten and almost killed by your brothers would not necessarily be easy. And leading angry people through the wilderness….

A little later they realized they had been having too much fun debating Book of Mormon life versus life today, and not paying attention to the spirit. They stopped in front of a series of apartment buildings that they had tracted the day before. “We’ve already done this one Elder,” Edwards said. “Let’s go over to that one”, he pointed across the street. “We didn’t do the last building here. “ Elder Thomas said. “Let’s try that first and then go to the other side.”

“Fine” Elder Edwards groaned good-naturedly. “We had no success at all in these but lead on!”

They rode to the far end and began knocking.

When they rang the first bell an eye appeared at the peephole. “What do you want?” a gruff voice asked. “Can we talk to you for a minute?” Elder Thomas asked. “Not until you tell me what you want,” the voice said. “We are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and we have an important message to share.” “No thanks”, the voice growled, as the eye disappeared. At the next one an eye appeared and as quickly went away. Sometimes, when tracting apartments with peepholes, Elder Thomas was tempted to yell, “We see you!” or better yet, put a finger or some gum on the hole so that they could only see black when they looked out. No one home at the next three, eye again on the fourth, maybe they should try a fresh building. Although for some reason they just kept going. So long as Edwards wasn’t objecting, why not? They made their way slowly down the row talking as they went.

A woman answered at a door. She asked them if they wanted a drink, but sadly did not want to hear their message. They continued on. A few doors (and eyes) later, a woman actually let them in as soon as they told her who they were. She smiled at them and in a heavy Hispanic accent asked if they wanted a drink. They politely declined, and asked if they could share their message. She shrugged and said OK. The two missionaries looked at each other and smiled. They looked back at her. She was a small woman, probably in her thirties, very pretty and with a kind, pleasant face. She said her name was Concha Segovia. Elder Thomas signaled Elder Edwards to start the first discussion. As Edwards taught about the Plan of Salvation, the spirit was present and Elder Thomas basked in the familiar feeling. What a privilege it was to teach the gospel! As they were finishing up the discussion, Elder Edwards noticed Concha’s attention turning elsewhere.

“My husband is awake,” she said. “I’ll bring him in to meet you.”

She gracefully stood and went into another room. A minute and some murmurings later, she returned leading a blind man.

“This is my husband Chris. Chris, these boys are missionaries.”

The Elders introduced themselves. They quickly sized up Chris. He was Hispanic, in his late forties or early fifties, of average height, muscular and well built. A large dog trailed him in, apparently a seeing-eye dog. Chris seemed friendly, but wary as if he did not know what his wife had gotten him into.

After introductions he said in perfect English “It’s time for dinner. What are we having?” Concha smiled at the elders and said in her heavily accented English, “We’re having beans and rice, would you like some?” They looked hesitantly at Chris. He didn’t seem upset about it so they happily accepted. Elder Edwards offered to help set the table and soon they were ready to eat. The beans were delicious with just the right amount of seasoning and the corn tortillas were some of the best Elder Thomas had ever had. As they complimented Concha over and over, Chris started chuckling. “You boys must not get a home cooked meal very often,” he remarked. “No sir,” Elder Thomas replied. “We’re far from home. Elder Edwards is from Toronto, Ontario in Canada, and I’m from Richfield, Utah. We’re here in Texas to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone who is willing to listen.”

Chris smiled at them. He was not like other blind men they had met before with an unfocused, expressionless face. It was almost as if he could see them. He looked directly at them orienting himself by the sound of their voices.

“Well we are willing to listen to just about anything about Christ. I don’t know if you have all the truth, but who does?”

Elder Edwards answered immediately. “Actually sir we do believe that we have all the truth. It has been revealed to a prophet of God in our day!”

“A prophet huh?” Chris responded. “I wish I could believe that.”

“Well sir you can if you pray about what we have told you. I notice that you have a Book of Mormon on your shelf. If you would read it you would know the truth.”

“The Book of Mormon! So you’re Mormons? Why didn’t you say so? I thought you were just one of those other churches that come around all the time.”

“Well like I said, we represent the Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints. We’re commonly known as Mormons, which is the nickname for the church. I testify to you both that the book is true and that if you read it you can know that for yourself.” He started to feel a little emotional as the spirit flooded the room. He looked at Chris and his wife. Chris had tears running down his face. Concha looked stunned. Elder Edwards smiled at his companion, but they weren’t prepared for what came next.

Chris started laughing and crying at the same time. “Hand me that book Concha,” he demanded. As she handed it to him, he reverently touched it. He hugged it to himself. “Boys, he said, “let me tell you about this book of yours…”


  1. Jim,

    I read chapter 1, but it looks like I can't comment unless I have an
    account URL to refer to. So I'll just give you feedback here (if you are
    OK with my giving feedback).

    The ending of the chapter is nice. It provides a solid hook to move on
    to the next chapter. Details in the chapter are realistic and
    believable, but maybe in some cases they are not fully developed. Some
    of the material on this chapter is a little slow going, perhaps because
    it seems you include certain details just to fill in space until you get
    to the real point you are interested in. I also wondered how Elder
    Thomas is on fire one minute and crawling back into bed the next. I
    wondered about the change in Elder Edwards' attitude. I can understand
    shifts in attitude and mood over even a few minutes, but you may want to
    fill in a few details so that readers might understand these shifts.

    A possible title for the chapter might be something like "The Book." And
    you could point readers to the Book of Mormon in small ways as you
    develop the chapter to heighten interest in the book as a symbol. But
    maybe that's a bad suggestion.


  2. Loved this chapter! I feel like I am getting excited to read the chapters with Moroni, to cross reference with each other.

  3. Loved this chapter! I feel like I am getting excited to read the chapters with Moroni, to cross reference with each other.