Toward the end of my mission, Sports Illustrated was preparing a cover story for its College Football Preview edition featuring BYU players around the globe serving missions. President Greenwood informed me that Church Public Affairs had cleared the story and though the reporter wouldn't visit South Dakota, a photographer would be dispatched from Denver to shoot me in a "day-in-the-life" of a missionary in the Dakotas. Naturally, I was thrilled. I had stayed in decent shape throughout my mission by running three to four miles nearly every morning, doing pushups, sit-ups and crunches when I awoke and before bed. My boxing training as a boy and two-a-day training camps at BYU had been great preparation for the rigors and regimen of missionary work.
The photographer would spend two days with us with the caveat that one of them would be preparation day, as SI was interested in what I did on my day off to prepare for my return to college football.
About this time, President Greenwood experimented with having us missionaries wear our suits on preparation day when we were out in public places — grocery shopping, errands to the bank, etc. President Greenwood felt we were squandering missionary opportunities whenever we were out publicly without our suits and nametags on p-day. Of course, as missionaries we were constantly debating and re-calibrating what constituted a "public" place — was the laundry mat a public place? The library? 7-Eleven? Post office? Still, we did our best to adhere to the spirit of the law.
The Greenwoods were very active people. They joined the local country club because they were golfers and loved to take us missionaries to the links and loved playing tennis with us on preparation day.
When the appointed day arrived, the SI photographer met us at our apartment to shadow us for a couple days. We wrote letters in the morning, cleaned our apartment and then we were to meet the Greenwoods after lunch to play tennis at a local park. President Greenwood called us to ask if we'd stop at a local sporting goods store by the mission office to buy a can of tennis balls before meeting them. Frankly, I wasn't fond of having to wear our suits to do our grocery shopping and I privately grumbled about the inconvenience of wearing our suits to buy tennis balls, only to return to the apartment to change into shorts and T-shirt to play tennis. But we did it.
National chains like "Dick's" and "Sports Authority" eventually killed local sporting goods stores like "Du-ell's" in Rapid City, which was a "mom and pop" business that serviced the town's two high schools, weekend warriors, golfers, hunters and anglers throughout the Black Hills.
In 1983, Bob Dull was in his late 20s, married with two little girls and running the family business, Du-ell Sporting Goods in Rapid City for his father, when my companion and I strolled in to buy a can of tennis balls for our p-day activity.
As I approached the counter with our purchase, Bob was sitting on a stool behind the cash register. As I placed the can on the counter, he glanced up at us and said, "Never met two guys named 'Elder' before."
I couldn't tell from his tone whether he was teasing or just making a wry observation, but I was already in a bad mood for having to wear a suit on p-day, so I regarded the comment as mocking us.
I shot back, "Yeah? Well if you had any sense, you'd have us to your home so we could tell you why these are titles, not our names."
To my utter amazement, he responded, "I'm free Thursday evening."
Realizing his sincerity, I quickly recovered and said, "These titles allow us to teach the greatest message on earth. What's your name and where do you live?"
The SI photographer missed this exchange at the counter but after we secured the appointment, he asked us to step outside of the store where the lighting was better so he could take a photo of us talking to Bob.
The photo never made SI's story the following fall but that simple exchange in Du-ell Sporting Goods store turned out to be THE reason, I believe, I was sent to South Dakota.
We taught Bob two lessons in his home before it became clear that his wife, Jackie, wasn't on board. We worried that without Jackie's support that Bob would eventually drop us, but he didn't. He explained that his wife didn't understand nor did she share his insatiable thirst for spiritual knowledge so he asked us to teach him at the store. As 6:30 a.m. was the only quiet time he had all day before he opened for business, he asked us to teach him then. I swallowed hard because I have never been a morning person and we weren't supposed to leave our apartment until 9:30. But President Greenwood instructed us that if that was the only time he could meet us, then that's when we should teach him.
Because of our early morning teaching appointment, we could never take a member with us, but by now, I had enough experience to incorporate our best members into the process knowing Bob's best chance was to have friends in the Church. Our ward mission leader was a salesman named Rick Gough and we had terrific member missionaries like popular LDS author Jack Weyland, who was teaching at a local college. They and others had Bob and Jackie to dinners in their homes and though their overtures were seemingly unsuccessful with Jackie, they did succeed in helping Bob assimilate into LDS culture.
We taught Bob for three months, twice a week before he was baptized.
As his baptism date drew closer, the pressure on Bob from his family pastor and his wife increased dramatically. But Bob also had support from an unlikely source. We learned early in the teaching process that Bob's older brother, Jim, was a convert and an active member who lived in nearby Gillette, Wyo., although they had never really discussed the Church in any detail.
Bob's interest in Mormonism and the two young missionaries with whom he met in the morning in his office created friction in his home life and marriage. Bob often shared with us how much he loved his family, his wife Jackie and how he adored his two little girls, Rachel and Erin, who were about three and a year-and-a-half, respectively. In one of our final visits before his baptism, Bob broke down and just wept. He told us that Jackie had given him the ultimatum that if he went through with the baptism, she would leave with the kids and they would be gone by the time he returned home.
My companion, Elder Daniel Pray and I cried with him. We fully expected Bob to call off the baptism. After all, who wouldn't understand his circumstances? But Bob comforted us by reading these verses from Matthew 10:
37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
38 And he that taketh not his cross , and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
Bob said to us, "Elders, I know what you've taught and bore witness to me is the truth. I cannot deny it. Jackie just doesn't understand right now but I pray that someday she will. But I know God will hold me accountable if I don't act on the truths you've taught me. I love my family as much as any man could, but the Book of Mormon teaches God will not abandon me but will provide a way for me to keep His commandments. Who would want to be in my position? But if that's my lot, then I am duty-bound to choose God and exercise faith that He'll keep His promises. Why don't we fast and pray together for the strength to do God's will and let the chips fall where they may?"
Elder Pray and I couldn't believe our ears. We had only heard of stories about people choosing God over family and we spoke of it in Sunday school lessons conceptually, but never about anyone that we actually knew. We were two young missionaries without enough life experience to know anybody who would risk losing his wife and two beautiful little girls for the Gospel. The experience would have a deep and profound effect on our young lives and certainly Bob's.
On the Sunday of Bob's baptism, the entire Rapid City Ward rallied around Bob. His brother Jim drove up from Gillette to perform the baptism.
I was in the dressing room with Jim and Bob when my companion, Elder Pray stormed in just before the two men were headed into the font to tell us, "Bob, Jackie just arrived with your daughters, Rachel and Erin, and I took the liberty of seating them in the front row."
Bob burst into tears and embraced Jim. We all huddled and thanked the Lord for His goodness before I followed Elder Pray out to serve as witnesses, while Jim and Bob descended into the font.
Following the baptism, I confirmed Bob with Elder Pray, Bob's brother Jim, President Greenwood, Jack Weyland and our ward mission leader Rick Gough at my side.Comment on this story
Last week, my former companion Daniel Pray tracked me down and called after following my blogs, and we spoke for the first time in 27 years after he was transferred following Bob's baptism. He's the father of three kids, the oldest a freshman at BYU-Idaho, and is the stake clerk in Nevada where he lives. Daniel told me that teaching Bob in those early-morning discussions was a seminal moment in his life and our companionship during that period is partly what bound him to the Church in his adult life. All these years, he wasn't aware of Bob's whereabouts and what had happened to him and his family after his baptism.
In my next installment, I'll share with you what I was privileged to share with my former companion, Daniel Pray, last week. Bob Dull's life is a testament that God does keep His promises and that He honors those who honor Him.