Jake stubbornly resisted baptism.

Dear Sister Carter,

The television ads may say that it’s all about family, but any missionary will tell you that it’s actually all about smoking. Maybe it’s different in Spain, but in the rural parts of Ontario, smoking is practically a national sport. I don’t remember one person, age 12 and older, we committed to baptism that didn’t have a smoking habit.

It was inevitable; we’d present good old Discussion 4 and watch as the terror crept into the investigator’s eyes. It was like we were asking them to renounce the Toronto Leafs. But we did not fear; for we knew that God had a plan of salvation and a plan of cessation. And both of them were true.

The booklet we used to get our investigators off tobacco was probably the publication that inspired me most on my mission. With fist-pumpin’, you-can-do-it, super zone leader zest, it laid out a gospel so simple, Nephi would have dropped his plates in awe.

Smokers, it argued, are Pavlovian dogs. When they hear a bell, they light up. So if you want to quit sucking butts, you gotta get out of the belfry. For example, when you wake up from a night’s sleep, the taste of morning mouth is a cigarette bell. It makes you want to smoke because you have associated the taste of morning mouth with your evil habit.

So the first thing you do is jump out of bed and chug down a glass of cool, refreshing grapefruit juice. Bingo. The taste is gone. The bell is gone. The cigarette goes unsmoked. (Not that you have any cigarettes in the house. The missionaries took them all away.)

The booklet went through a bunch of other bells, too, breathlessly offering sure-fire methods of baffling them. The only bell it didn’t have a good answer for was … the reason I almost got beat up.

Jessie had committed to be baptized. She had come to church. She had withstood the anti-Mormon railings of family members and pastor. But she still couldn’t pass the Word of Wisdom question on the baptism interview. So we started her on the program.

Her husband, a tall, solid man with hard blue eyes and a handlebar mustache, scared me silly.  I didn’t need inspiration to know that angels would have a hard time protecting me from his fists. And he wasn’t really keen on these two handsome young men constantly talking with his wife and threatening to change the dynamics of the family–one of those dynamics being the one that helps make a family in the first place. Jessie was supposed to avoid all triggers, you see.

Soon, Jessie started calling us late at night, weeping and saying she couldn’t quit, saying she’d had another run-in with her pastor, saying tensions with her husband were getting higher. We sometimes spent an hour talking her down. All these obstacles to her baptism convinced us that Satan was working overtime trying to stop her baptism. We liked Jessie. We wanted her life to be better; we wanted her soul to be saved. So we were not going to give up.

One night, we received a frantic call from her: her husband had taken the children and left. She had no idea where they were. We threw on our suits, jumped into our red Cavalier, and tore down the streets of Belleville to her house.

We were in her kitchen trying to calm her when her husband threw open the back door. I have never seen such fire in a person’s eyes, and I was certain that my companion and I were about to be martyred. But instead of pummeling us, he turned around and punched a hole in a cupboard door.

It is with some pride–and some shame–that I admit to being the first out the door.

Maybe that booklet should have come with a warning. “May be hazardous to missionaries’ health.”

In retrospect, I think I understand and even sympathize with Jessie’s husband’s actions. They likely didn’t all have root in a frustrated libido; it was probably disconcerting for him to feel like his home was being taken over by these two young galoots. And, as later events would suggest, Jessie may not have been the most stable of people.

But that’s another story.