(The following is adapted from a chapter in my book of personal essays What of the Night?, published by Zarahemla Books.)
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did many mighty works among the children of men.
But for my mother’s insistence, the above bit of scripture would have been engraved upon my missionary plaque and hung in our ward building’s foyer for all passersby to admire. It seemed appropriate to me. My name is Stephen, after all, and I was going on a mission where, if all went well, I too would be doing mighty works.
In a rare nod to humility, I let something less than memorable accompany my plaque’s picture and golden map of the Canada Toronto Mission. Still, I was off to a good start. It all began with a mission call signed by none other than the one and only President Ezra Taft Benson. Well, by a signature machine, as I found out later, but that wasn’t important. What mattered was that I had been called on my mission by God.
And when God calls, he ain’t just whistling Dixie.
Out of my MTC district, Elder C., Sister R., and I were the three going to Toronto, which had the distinction of being in a foreign country. But that kind of made us the outsiders, as the rest of the district was on its way to California. I admit, I wondered more than once whether the people of Toronto would provide us with enough “humble seekers” to compete with the Latin American folks in California, who were famous for being the most “open to the Spirit.”
Our aspirations were summed up by a picture someone had cut out of a church magazine and tacked to the wall. At any given time, you could find a group of missionaries crowded around it with their tongues hanging out. No, it wasn’t Pamela Anderson in a wet shirt; it was a missionary in a wet shirt. He was standing in the middle of an African jungle pond baptizing someone while another fifty grateful souls waited their turn.
Lo, the gates of paradise.
As the plane circled downtown Toronto, I watched the looming concrete apartment buildings go by, thinking that the city’s high-density housing was probably designed on the premise that in 1994, a nineteen-year-old kid from Spanish Fork, Utah, could perform his mighty works more efficiently.
After we landed, the mission president and his assistants took us into a meeting room in the president’s home and laid out the glorious plan by which Toronto would be redeemed. I was stunned to learn that here, north of the border—in the land of the Mounties, hockey, and the flag with a maple leaf on it—we were going to baptize weekly.
Take that, you Californians!
Elder G. laid out the plan in the indisputable language of statistics:
• Talk with three hundred people each week, and
• Twenty will listen to a first lesson, of whom
• Five will listen to the second, leading to
• Four who will commit to baptism
• Three of whom will drop out by the end of the six-lesson cycle, leaving us with
• One baptism each week!
This was truly the Lord’s work. Let’s see, two years at a clip of one baptism each week equals . . . 104 baptisms! I was filled with a sense of humility. No doubt I would be tested, but I was up to the task. “If you are obedient,” my mission president declared in his resonant voice, “I promise you will baptize weekly.”
And Stephen, full of faith and power!
(Hey, got $1.99 on ya? That’s how much the Kindle edition of What of the Night costs. Buy it and find out what happens to Elder Carter! Or, if you’ve been hit too hard by the rising cost of 3-D superhero movies, you can read the essay for free here. ) </shamelessselfpromotion>