About two weeks later, as the Raiders played a road game, Todd’s wife, Kathy, invited Josie Owens to attend church with her. She accepted and came away impressed, especially with the Relief Society. She felt right at home and appreciated the information she received, her husband said.
Josie wanted her husband to attend church with her the following week, and with the team playing a rare home game on Monday night, he was able to go. He also had a positive experience.
“I left there with a feeling that I had learned something,” Owens said. “From that point, we were an elder’s dream because we said yes to almost everything.”
The Owenses began taking the missionary discussions and everything felt good, he said. A baptism date was set and then came a wall of doubt.
Proud of his black heritage, Owens’ main concern was that fact that blacks had not always held the priesthood. The LDS Church had only made the change a few years earlier in 1978.
“There were questions I didn’t have the answers to, and I was trying to figure it out,” Owens said. “I remember staying up until 4 a.m. reading the Bible and praying.”
As these concerns were shared with the Christensens, Todd tried to help by doing some deep research, but “after much discussion and study, Burgess simply looked at me and thanked me for my efforts,” Christensen said in an email. “It was clear that I had not reached him.”
An answer came the following day when the Owenses had dinner with the mission president. As they sat at a long table, the church leader said something that has always remained with Owens.
“He said it’s interesting how the Lord works,” Owens recalled. “He will give you enough to take the first step, then he’ll ask you to take the second step on faith. That was something that resonated with me. I needed to hear that. I had enough at that time to know it felt right. Todd and Kathy were great examples. We went on faith and got baptized.”
The Owenses were baptized on Dec. 31, 1982, around 10 p.m., so they could bring in the new year as members of the LDS Church.
He retired from the NFL the following April.
Christensen remembers Owens asking him if he should pay tithing retroactively for 1982, even though he wasn’t a member yet. Christensen said it wasn’t necessary, but Owens did it anyway.
“Great faith. Great integrity. Great people,” Christensen said.
Owens said his real conversion came after leaving Oakland. They returned to New York and were surprised when a home teacher showed up at their home to welcome them to the ward.
“To actually have someone come to your doorstep with knowledge of our membership records, to welcome you, that was quite unique for us,” Owens said. “There’s no telling, we might have just let it drop at that point. Don’t know if we would have searched the church out.”
The bishop called Owens to teach the 14-year-olds and the former football player was sure it was a mistake. He was still trying to learn and understand the gospel. How could he teach the gospel? But it turned out to be just what Owens needed, he said.
“That was really where I gained my testimony,” Owens said. “I gained so much knowledge as I would prepare and teach these kids, I began to understand so much myself. It was a process.”
As the years rolled by, the Owenses remained active in the church, serving while raising a family.
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