'The gospel is for everybody,' says former BYU basketball great Jeff Chatman

Published: Thursday, Aug. 23 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Off the court, Chatman continued to learn about the church in his classes and conversations, but he had several questions. The plan of salvation made sense to him, but little else did. Although he was constantly surrounded by returned missionary teammates, he didn’t feel comfortable asking them questions.

The turning point came when he met Wascar Cruz.

One day during the summer before his senior year, Chatman was driving south of campus and noticed a black man walking along the road. Chatman thought he knew all the African-Americans at BYU, but he didn’t recognize this guy. He pulled over and introduced himself. The friendly young man presented himself as Cruz, a native of the Dominican Republic from New York City who just finished serving in the Salt Lake City North mission. He was looking for a place to live. They visited for a few minutes and wished each other well.

The next day Chatman was at a baseball game when he bumped into Cruz again. He was still looking for an apartment. They became roommates and, with time, developed a bond.

“Thinking back now, it was really funny and crazy how this worked out. He was a total stranger, but I felt pretty good about this kid,” Chatman said. “After that we were inseparable.”

As Chatman came to trust Cruz, he started asking questions about the church. They often stayed up talking late into the night. It was during those gospel conversations that Chatman began to feel that same powerful feeling from his recruiting trip.

At one point he got emotional and called his mother to share what he was learning from Cruz.

“She wasn’t used to me calling and talking about religious stuff. She could tell I was looking at making a change and said, ‘What’s going on with you?’” Chatman said. “The only thing I could say is, ‘Mother, we are going to make it,’ then I started to cry and we hung up the phone.”

Seeing his friend’s growing interest, Cruz tried to set up meetings with the missionaries, but Chatman kept backing out because he worried how his family would react if he were baptized.

“I didn’t want to disappoint them,” he said.

But Cruz was persistent and Chatman finally relented as his senior season was about to get under way. Around October 1987, two sister missionaries — a black woman from Jamaica and a tall, former basketball player — were sent to teach Chatman.

“They were slick to send those sisters,” Chatman said. “They had me covered.”

Forever changed

With more than three years of religion classes and insight from Cruz, Chatman knew a fair amount about the church. When the missionaries mixed up their visual aids and asked Chatman to arrange them to show the different phases of the plan of salvation, he organized the pieces in less than 30 seconds.

“They were shocked,” Chatman said. “They asked what I thought and I told them I knew it was true. They said, ‘If you know it’s true, why don’t you get baptized?’ I said, ‘Because I don’t believe the rest of it.’”

Weeks later, when the missionaries finished teaching their athletic investigator the six discussions, they asked if Chatman believed the gospel was true. He replied that he did, but he couldn’t get baptized because of his family. The missionaries were at a loss, he said.

“They didn’t know what to do with me,” Chatman said. “I told them I didn’t have a strong testimony. I wasn’t looking for a sign, but I needed a strong assurance that it was true.”

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