“If they only knew what the Book of Mormon is really about.”
I remember the thought running through my mind back in 2011 when “The Book of Mormon” musical was first released.
The irreverent musical tells the story of two missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Uganda. While profane, it's also been popular, winning nine Tony Awards and being performed worldwide.
As a member of the LDS Church, I wasn't exactly offended by the production. I simply wished for the opportunity to tell those involved what I know to be the truth.
I never imagined the opportunity would present itself on my full-time mission.
In June 2012, I began serving in the New York Rochester Mission. I was assigned to the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center and sites, which included the Joseph Smith Farm, Peter Whitmer Farm and the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site. Part of my responsibility was to learn the history of the area, lead guests on tours and strengthen faith and understanding in the restoration of the gospel.
In March 2013, the site director of the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center received a phone call. It was a request to arrange a visit to the sites for members of "The Book of Mormon” musical cast while the show was on tour in Rochester. As with any other guests, the group was accommodated. When I found out my companion and I were scheduled to be at the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site during the visit, I couldn’t believe my wish was about to become a reality.
The day came. The group of approximately 30 cast members arrived, and my companion and I took half the tour group through the site while another set of missionaries took the other half. I was just shy of nine months into my mission and had directed many tours with many different types of people. I generally felt comfortable in these situations.
But I initially found myself flustered. After all, this was a big deal. I was bearing testimony to the cast, which was exactly what I wanted. Things had to be perfect.
From the introduction on the first floor through the original bookstore and on to the business office, I nervously regurgitated facts: the number of copies that were ordered, who painted the original portrait of print shop owner E.B. Grandin and where the King James Bible on display was printed.
By the time we reached the third floor, I still didn’t feel as confident as usual. But as I stood in front of the model of Joseph and Emma Smith’s home in Harmony, Pa., where the Book of Mormon was translated, I realized something. I wasn’t there to prove anything or persuade through logic and facts. All I needed to do is share what I know. It didn’t matter if I was speaking to "The Book of Mormon” musical cast, the president of the United States or a Sunbeam from Provo, I needed to just do one thing: speak from my heart by the Spirit.
The words flowed more naturally as my companion and I continued presenting the historical information about the site and bearing testimony. As my companion finished demonstrating the printing process and bore her testimony in the print shop, one man raised his hand and asked, “How does the Book of Mormon help you in your daily life?”
Immediately I thought, “How would I answer this question?” The answer that came to my mind was undeniable peace knowing that no matter what happens in life, the Book of Mormon anchors my life in Jesus Christ and brings me eternal peace.
The tour continued on. The cast was courteous, showed genuine interest and asked additional thought-provoking questions.
Although I’m not sure exactly what I expected, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience as a whole. The cast members were friendly and kind from the moment they stepped off the bus and through the doors of the site. A laid-back, but not disrespectful, attitude was common throughout the group. There was an obvious camaraderie as they teased one another and discussed shared experiences. Several of them took the time to get to know more about my companion and I, asking us about our families, things we missed from home and what we enjoyed most about New York.
I realized they were just like anyone else — trying to find happiness, make friends and provide for themselves and their families.
We ended in a gallery of paintings depicting events from the Book of Mormon. On one wall hangs Tom Lovell’s portrayal of Moroni hiding the plates in a snowy Hill Cumorah, his warm breath visible in the cold air as he offers a prayer. I had stared at that painting who knows how many times before, but that day it was different.
My companion asked a member of the group to read Moroni’s promise in Moroni 10:4: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
The words reverberated in my ears.
All Moroni wanted, all he was pleading us to do, was to simply read and ask. Written in the last chapter of the Book of Mormon, the words seemed to be Moroni’s dying words.
Before I knew it, I was punctuating my companion’s testimony — and Moroni’s — with my own. I can't recount exactly what I said, but I remember speaking more boldly than I ever had before. It felt as if the words coming out of my mouth weren’t mine at all, but were the Spirit’s.
I don't know if any of the cast members gave the experience a second thought. Perhaps they won’t remember a word my companion or I said.
What I do know, however, is the Spirit was there. I felt it, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to stand tall with conviction and declare, “I know the Book of Mormon is true."