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A tale of two wards: Serving 'the least of these'

By Farid Rushdi

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, June 12 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

A man who sat next Farid Rushdi on a 90-minute bus ride shared with him a story of people at two churches.

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It was a wonderful weekend with my family and I didn’t want to leave. But my new job in Pocatello — a couple of hours away from my home in Logan — came quickly and it would be another month before I could move my family to the Gate City. I waved goodbye as my wife drove away from the bus station, my four young daughters blowing kisses through the rear window of our family car.

I looked away and saw the bus pull into the parking lot. The doors popped open and a group of weary-looking travelers stumbled off the bus, lighting cigarettes and stretching their legs. At that point, I didn't realize one of them would end up teaching me an important lesson.

A man around the age of 30 caught my eye. Puffing furiously on an already-smoked cigarette, he looked as if he had been on the road for a week or more. He was wearing torn blue jeans and a tattered, soiled Army jacket. One sandal was held together with duct tape. His hair was matted and had the texture of straw.

I grabbed my bag and boarded the bus. I did not want to sit next to this man and scanned the coach looking for a seat with no belongings near it. I found one, just a few rows behind the driver. I tossed my bag into the overhead bin and sat next to the window. I closed my eyes and reclined the seat.

It wasn’t long before the half-dozen or so passengers reboarded the bus. I felt the coach sway as they worked their way toward the back until getting settled in. But just as I began to relax again, my seat shook and an unpleasant smell surrounded me. I looked to my right and came nose-to-nose with my seatmate, the man in the Army jacket.

The bus lurched forward and the interior lights flickered off. Rather than acknowledge my fellow traveler, I let the darkness add to the silence and again closed my eyes.

But after a few minutes my seatmate began to fight with a duffel bag he had stuffed under his seat. After finally maneuvering the bag onto his lap, he began to rummage through it, seemingly looking for something important.

The contents were a microcosm of his unkempt world. Pushing an old yellowed T-shirt out of the way, he dug deep into the bag. He shoved past the unmated socks and empty cigarette packs before finally grabbing what he sought.

From among the unwashed laundry and empty plastic-foam cups and ripped-up comic books he found his prize: a brand-new, never-read Book of Mormon.

He threw his backpack on the floor and leaned back in the seat. He opened it to the first page and started to read. After a few moments, he held the book up to my face and asked, “You ever hear about this Nephi fellow? What’s his story?”

Startled, I started to explain the story of Nephi and then abruptly stopped to ask, “I’m sorry, but where did you get that book?” He raised his eyebrows and looked out the window for a moment. He then nodded his head as if to say, “OK, I’ll tell you my story.”

His mother had died in Seattle a few months earlier, after which he went to live with his sister in Thibodaux, La. But the relationship quickly soured and he came home one day to find his duffel bag on the porch and the door locked.

Heading back to Seattle, he had spent two weeks mostly walking and occasionally hitchhiking when he reached Salt Lake City. He was walking in the rain along I-15 in South Salt Lake when a state police officer pulled up behind him.

“I didn’t want to get arrested again, so I hopped the rail and slid down the grass and ran,” he said.

He walked for a couple of miles and came across a church. It was a Sunday and the parking lot was full and he decided to go in and ask God for help.

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