BOSTON — It was underneath the lights of Broadway on Sept. 25, 2011, that Boston resident Liza Morong’s life changed forever. She just didn’t know it then.
The 21-year-old musical theater major was sitting in the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York City, watching “The Book of Mormon" musical.
Written by the creators of “South Park,” the edgy, irreverent but enormously popular musical is about two Mormon missionaries who try to share the Book of Mormon with the natives of northern Uganda.
“I laughed hysterically the entire show,” Morong said. “I thought, ‘Wow, these people are crazy. They must be brainwashed.’”
With her interest piqued, Morong, who was raised Congregationalist, found herself on the official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormon.org, simply to continue her amusement with this seemingly bizarre faith.
When she found a link for a live chat with missionaries, Morong felt like she had hit the jackpot. But what she found wasn’t what she expected.
It was when she started chatting with Elder Trevor Boardman, a missionary in the referral center at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, that everything changed.
“I thought, ‘These clowns are in for a treat with me,’ ” Morong said. “But (Elder Boardman) was so incredibly nice. I could not be mean to him.”
It was his genuine kindness, not his message, that caught Morong off guard.
Morong was able to ask sincere questions she had since attending the musical. After her questions, Elder Boardman invited her to chat again.
Her initial reaction was a resounding no.
“But then I thought, ‘You know, I do want to chat again.’ I caught myself by surprise,” she said.
The missionaries added Morong on Facebook and began teaching her the lessons through Facebook chat near the end of October. Not too long after this, Elder Boardman asked if he could send a copy of the Book of Mormon to her.
“'Here it comes,’ I thought,” Morong said.
But she agreed.
Elder Boardman sent her a hardback copy of the Book of Mormon. His testimony was written on the back cover, and with it was a reference to a passage from the book of Moroni inviting Morong to ponder and pray about the things she read.
On Nov. 3, 2011, Morong accepted the challenge and began to pray about the things the missionaries were teaching her, including the Book of Mormon. She started noticing a different kind of happiness come into her life, and an ability to make important changes.
Morong said the first time she recognized the feelings of the Spirit was after her first Skype lesson with the elders on Nov. 11.
“I was riding my bike to class one morning through some side streets in an older neighborhood in Boston. I remember the light was just passing through the branches of the trees. I felt this peace that I have never felt before. I thought to myself, ‘That just came from God.’”
Though she said it was a moment that lasted only for a few seconds, it was one that stayed with her.
Shortly after, Morong began attending a local singles ward. The first Sunday she went, she fortuitously sat behind two sister missionaries serving in the ward. Shortly after, Morong began meeting with the sisters, who taught her on campus at Suffolk University in Boston, where she is currently enrolled.
It was in a lesson with the sisters on Dec. 1, 2011, when Morong decided to be baptized. As the three of them sat around the table, Morong said she felt the Spirit strongly and knew that what she had learned was true.
“I looked at the sisters. They told me the next step was baptism, and I realized I wanted to do that," she said. "Suddenly all three of us were crying hysterically at my dining room table."
Morong's baptismal date was set for late December in Mapleton, Utah. Her one request — for Elder Boardman to baptize her.
Elder Boardman has muscular dystrophy, which made it a challenge for him to physically baptize Morong.
But on Dec. 31, 2011, three people dressed in white stood in a baptismal font in waist-high water. Elder Boardman offered the prayer, and with some help from his companion, Elder Ahlstrom, the two missionaries baptized their online investigator.
While her family doesn’t understand why she has made the choice to join the LDS Church, their relationship is still strong. Morong said she knows this is because the gospel blesses families.
“My mom will sometimes say, ‘I can’t believe I brought you to that show. None of this would have happened.’ I tell her that it still would have, just in a different way,” Morong said.
And while she is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when she returns home to Maine where she grew up, she attends church with her mom as well as her LDS congregation.
“I am a member of Christ’s true church, but the church I grew up in is still part of me,” she said.
While the musical has been called irreverent and crude, some of the lyrics still have special, sentimental value to Morong. The words, “If you believe, the Lord will reveal it. And you'll know it's all true — you'll just feel it,” from the show’s song “I Believe,” still resonate with Morong because she feels that’s what happened for her.
“My life has changed. I am so much happier,” Morong said. “It’s a happiness that stays with me if I make the right choices. I was an optimist anyway, but (the gospel) has made me even more optimistic.”
This fall, Morong, who is currently a sophomore, will begin classes at the University of Utah. She will declare a double major in musical theater and communication.
She hopes her dream will lead her right back to where she began — the lights of Broadway.
Emmilie Buchanan is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her at email@example.com