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'Book of Mormon' soundtrack, Hill Cumorah Pageant lead to conversion

Published: Wednesday, July 10 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Casey Reichhart with a group of LDS missionaries in New York. (Provided by Casey Reichhart) Casey Reichhart with a group of LDS missionaries in New York. (Provided by Casey Reichhart)

Casey Reichhart was listening to the soundtrack of the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” when there was an unexpected knock at her door.

It was the missionaries.

Flustered, she let them in.

“I remember melting against my front door,” Reichhart, then 16 and a native of upstate New York, said. “I had seen videos of Mormon missionaries and now here were two actual ones at my door.”

The missionaries introduced themselves and gave Reichhart a copy of the Book of Mormon.

But she already had one.

Reichhart’s journey started long before the knock on her front door.

Casey Reichhart, right, Elder Keith Olsen, left, and Elder Ryan Swaner on a trip to Palmyra, N.Y. (Provided by Casey Reichhart) Casey Reichhart, right, Elder Keith Olsen, left, and Elder Ryan Swaner on a trip to Palmyra, N.Y. (Provided by Casey Reichhart)

In 2010, during her sophomore year of high school, after what Reichhart describes as a series of events, she found herself harboring great feelings of animosity toward organized religion.

“It wasn’t just Christianity,” she said. “It was any church. My mind was so angry that it twisted things, blaming all the problems of the world on religion.”

By the end of her sophomore year, Reichhart had become withdrawn and distant from her friends.

“I didn’t feel happy anymore and my friends didn’t want to be around me,” Reichhart said.

This “pit,” as she described it, left her in a place devoid of joy and laughter.

Casey Reichhart outside the Salt Lake Temple on a trip in 2012. (Provided byf Casey Reichhart) Casey Reichhart outside the Salt Lake Temple on a trip in 2012. (Provided byf Casey Reichhart)

On June 10, 2011, something struck a chord.

That something was a performance of the song “I Believe” from “The Book of Mormon” during a broadcast of the Tony Awards.

Reichhart said that while the song lists many beliefs held by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the beliefs are presented in a twisted, incorrect way.

“I was laughing my head off because who would believe in something so ridiculous as this?”

That night, Reichhart, who is an avid music fan, bought the whole soundtrack to the often profane and irreverent musical and started listening to it every day.

But one lyric that made reference to Rochester, N.Y., stuck out for Reichhart.

Casey Reichhart, middle, and the two LDS missionaries that taught her, Elder Ryan Swaner, left, and Elder Keith Olsen, at her baptism. (Provided by Casey Reichhart) Casey Reichhart, middle, and the two LDS missionaries that taught her, Elder Ryan Swaner, left, and Elder Keith Olsen, at her baptism. (Provided by Casey Reichhart)

Rochester is about 30 miles southeast of Reichhart’s hometown of Hamlin, N.Y.

Curious, Reichhart asked her mother if she knew anything about the formation of the Mormon religion. Her mother, Laura Heidrich, who was raised in upstate New York, had a small knowledge of the church and knew that it was started in Palmyra.

“Do you want to see what real Mormons believe in?” Heidrich asked her daughter.

Reichhart agreed, and Heidrich suggested a visit to the Hill Cumorah Pageant that summer. She also arranged for the two to visit other church historical sites, including the Sacred Grove.

While visiting Joseph Smith’s frame home historical site, Reichhart and her mother met two sister missionaries and filled out a card for a free copy of the Book of Mormon.

Sister Amberlee Lovell, right, and Sister Ashley McKenna with Casey Reichhart, center, at a historical site in Palmyra, N.Y., on Reichhart's first visit there. (Provided by Casey Reichhart) Sister Amberlee Lovell, right, and Sister Ashley McKenna with Casey Reichhart, center, at a historical site in Palmyra, N.Y., on Reichhart's first visit there. (Provided by Casey Reichhart)

“The sisters told me that representatives would come. I thought that meant members would come drop it off in the mailbox,” Reichhart said.

That night, mother and daughter attended the pageant. And while Reichhart said she enjoyed it, she admitted there were times when she didn’t understand what was going on.

“Is this in the Bible?” Reichhart asked.

“I don’t think so,” her mother responded.

The Hill Cumorah Pageant takes passages from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, with one of the culminating scenes being when Christ visits the people on the American continent, an event recorded in the Book of Mormon.

Casey Reichhart, in white, with some of her friends at her LDS baptism. (Provided by Casey Reichhart) Casey Reichhart, in white, with some of her friends at her LDS baptism. (Provided by Casey Reichhart)

“The biggest impression I had gotten that day was that this was the first time in a really long time I remember truly feeling happy,” Reichhart said.

As they were leaving, Heidrich picked up a copy of the Book of Mormon for her daughter at a booth.

A few days later, on July 23, 2011, came the knock at the door.

As Reichhart talked with the missionaries, she couldn’t deny that there was something special about them.

They asked if they could come back.

That’s where it got tricky, though.

“My mom is not a big socializer. If I wanted to have someone over, she would freak out,” Reichhart said. “My brain said you should say ‘no’ but my heart was telling me, ‘say yes.’ ”

Casey Reichhart and Ashley McKenna, right, a sister missionary who served in Palmyra, N.Y., when Reichhart first went to the Hill Cummorah Pageant. (Provided by Casey Reichhart) Casey Reichhart and Ashley McKenna, right, a sister missionary who served in Palmyra, N.Y., when Reichhart first went to the Hill Cummorah Pageant. (Provided by Casey Reichhart)

Reichhart invited them back, and to her surprise, her mother wasn’t upset.

As would come to be the tradition, Reichhart was ready with a list of questions when the missionaries returned. During the next few months, they met weekly.

During one of their first lessons, they invited her to pray.

Reichhart told them she would. Terrified that her mother would find her praying, Reichhart locked herself in her bathroom and kneeled down by the tub.

“I was there a long time and remember crying through most of it,” she said.

Reichhart asked for two things: financial stability for her and her mother, a single parent, and a sign to know that God was really listening to her.

A couple days later, her grandfather unexpectedly took Reichhart and her mother to a car dealership and bought Reichhart a car.

Casey Reichhart, left, and the actor who portrays Joseph Smith at the 2012 Hill Cummorah Pageant in Palmyra, N.Y. (Provided by Casey Reichhart) Casey Reichhart, left, and the actor who portrays Joseph Smith at the 2012 Hill Cummorah Pageant in Palmyra, N.Y. (Provided by Casey Reichhart)

“When we drove into the dealership, I looked up into the air and said, ‘I get it. I know you’re there.’ It was one of the best feelings in the world.”

As Reichhart continued to meet with the missionaries, her faith grew, as did her desire to be baptized.

Because Reichhart is a minor, the only thing that stood in her way was the consent of her mother.

The pair had fought for weeks about it, and Heidrich showed no sign of consenting.

During a lesson at the beginning of October, the missionaries looked at each other, then looked at Reichhart.

“We have a question for you,” one of them asked.

Suddenly, what Reichhart described as an intensity filled the room and she knew something was coming.

“Will you prepare to be baptized by a worthy priesthood holder on Oct. 29?” the missionary asked.

For Reichhart, time seemed to stop.

“It was like someone threw a baseball into my chest,” she said. “I was sitting there with my mouth agape. They stopped and asked me if I was OK. All I could do was nod my head. That’s the most powerful feeling I have ever gotten.”

As Reichhart remained speechless, the missionaries asked to speak with Reichhart’s mother.

After her initial protest at giving her consent, Heidrich agreed to think about it.

The missionaries returned the next week. This time, it was Heidrich who was waiting with a list of questions — a list of concerns she had about her daughter joining the LDS Church.

The missionaries answered her questions, her main concern being about not witnessing her daughter’s temple marriage, as only worthy members of the LDS Church are allowed inside.

When they assured her that her daughter could have an additional ceremony outside of the temple, Heidrich looked to Reichhart.

“Well OK. You’re good to go,” Heidrich said.

Reichhart was baptized a week and a half later on Oct. 29, 2011.

Since her baptism, Reichhart’s friends tell her that she has a special glow about her. “If I hadn’t joined this church, I can’t even think about where I would be right now. I was going down a slippery slope to nowhere. It saved my life.”

Reichhart was accepted to Brigham Young University and is headed west this fall to continue her studies.

Since her baptism, many of her friends have seen “The Book of Mormon.”

But not Reichhart.

Though it was the springboard to her testimony, now it hurts her to know that people find humor in the mockery of her faith.

But Reichhart said that thanks to a reminder from the missionaries who knocked on her door, the same thing that happened to her could happen to anyone else. All they have to do is believe, she added.

Emmilie Buchanan is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com Twitter: emmiliebuchanan

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