The story behind New York Mormon missionaries' viral chalk-art video

Published: Thursday, Oct. 24 2013 1:35 p.m. MDT

Elder Aaron Potter, left, and Elder Brad Witbeck, missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, created a project in Union Square, New York, where they preached through chalk art. Both missionaries expressed their gratitude for being involved.


MANHATTAN, N.Y. — It wasn't their first project in Union Square, but for Elder Brad Witbeck of Cottonwood Heights, Utah, and Elder Aaron Potter of Idaho Falls, Idaho, last Friday was a completely new experience.

Both Elder Witbeck and Elder Potter are serving as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the New York New York North Mission under President Tom Morgan. Both are close to the end of their two-year service and are in leadership positions. After they received a suggestion from a member of their local congregation assigned to help the missionaries, they invited several other missionaries to join them in preaching in a unique way.

"We came together for a brainstorm session, and we talked about different ideas that we could do," Elder Potter said about their meeting with the ward member. "He brought up that on his mission in Russia, they painted the plan of salvation on giant pieces of paper. And then from that, we decided we could do something similar, and that’s where the chalk-art idea came from."

The elders drew up their plans and distributed the idea to the other missionaries, deciding to illustrate each step in the plan of salvation. Days before the project was to take place, Elder Witbeck and Elder Potter scouted out different areas and concluded Union Square would work best.

"We made sure to talk to cops and make sure it was something we could do before we did it," Elder Witbeck said. "We were just looking forward to sharing the gospel in a way that people in New York probably hadn't seen too often. We thought it would be pretty refreshing."

A few days before, the two elders felt impressed to attend an institute class and encourage the young single adult members to participate in the chalk event. Lara Mayfield was one of many who decided to attend, and because of her idea to film the event with her iPhone, Elder Witbeck and Elder Potter have been able to share their activity with thousands.

"It was actually while I was on my way there, in the subway, when I had this thought, 'You know what would be cool ...' because I've put together little videos like that before," Mayfield said. "I just started filming. It still blows my mind, the way technology has progressed to the point that I could just have this random idea and throw together a video that has ended up being seen by thousands of people with what I had on hand."

After helping to draw some of the artwork, Mayfield began filming. Elder and sister missionaries spoke with those who passed by and showed interest in the project.

"There were a lot of people stopping and staring, and that brought up an opportunity for us to go up to them," Elder Potter said. "I think anyone walking through or around that area definitely noticed it because it was really large, especially the drawing of the Earth. ... We just had a lot of really great opportunities to teach people."

From Mayfield's perspective, it was an easy way to attract interest from a large number of people, and because there were several missionaries present, they were able to talk to anyone who was interested.

"It was a good way for the missionaries to casually strike up a conversation, and the people walking across Union Square aren't exactly in a hurry. ... I saw some really awesome discussions about the Book of Mormon and the plan of salvation," Mayfield said.

Although they hadn't planned to document the experience, the video has turned out to be the most effective missionary tool of all. It was posted to YouTube on Oct. 19 and has had more than 33,000 views as of Thursday afternoon, along with more than 14,000 views on Elder Potter and Elder Witbeck's blog, reachmygospel.blogspot.com.

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