Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Don and Jerri Harwell have been married nearly 21 years and have six kids.

Don and Jerri Harwell could cite their desires to know God, their beliefs in prayer or even the Osmonds as reasons that led them to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and, eventually, to each other.

Jerri Harwell related an experience in her book, "Leaning on Prayer: A Story of Faith, Perseverance, and Conversion," about a time in 1976, when she was a freshman at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., and a huge fan of the Osmonds.

One evening, she read in TV Guide that the family would be appearing on a show titled "The Family and Other Living Things," produced by the LDS Church. Jerri never missed a chance to watch the Osmonds, so she tuned into the show, only to wait until the very end to see the family perform.

Nothing really impressed her about the show, except the phone number that came up at the end, inviting viewers to call to receive a free brochure explaining principles taught during the program.

"Being a freshman ... and living in a campus dormitory, I thought this would be a great way to get some mail," Jerri said.

When the brochure came, she thumbed through it, coming to a card she could send in to have more information about the LDS Church sent to her. Excited about another opportunity to get more mail, she sent it in. Not long after, the missionaries contacted her, taught her about the church and challenged her to pray to be able to know if God exists.

Jerri was baptized in September 1977, served in the Texas Houston Mission in 1980 and moved to Utah to attend graduate school at Brigham Young University in 1983.

This was about the time Don Harwell was visiting Salt Lake City for work. While having dinner one evening, he met a woman who invited him to attend the LDS Church with her.

"I said I had not been to church in forever, and she said that it was OK," Don said. So he attended, but sat "way in the back of the chapel, as close to the door as I could so when the lightning and thunder started I could make a quick exit."

When the sacrament portion of the meeting was over, Don was directed to the gospel doctrine class, but this time the only place to sit was on the front row, next to an elderly man.

"Within five minutes, boom, he fell asleep on my left shoulder, so I caught him and held him," said Don, who eventually found out this man had narcolepsy. "After the class, everyone patted me on the back and thought I was just great."

When Don returned to his home in Boulder, Colo., he contacted the church offices and asked to see the missionaries. Within weeks, Don was baptized in Salt Lake City. Soon after, he moved to Utah and started attending meetings for the Genesis Group, an auxiliary group of the LDS Church established to meet the needs of members of African descent. The group went to BYU's campus to put on a program, and Jerri attended and spotted Don for the first time.

"Don was sitting to the far left eating some pie," Jerri said. She went over to him, introduced herself and they ended up going out that night.

"The standard joke is now that everyone spends thousands of dollars to go to BYU and meet that 'one and only,' that eternal mate," Jerri said. "Don walks onto campus one night and meets his 'one and only' without paying a cent. Life's just not fair."

They married on July 20, 1987, have six children and reside in Cottonwood Heights.

Their lives are now busy with family, community service and work. Don is the vice president of sales at Powerstream Technology Inc., and Jerri works as a full-time instructor at Salt Lake Community College, a freelance writer and editor.

They also serve in many callings in the church. Don was set apart as president of the Genesis Group by President Merrill J. Bateman of the First Quorum of the Seventy on Aug. 3, 2003, and has served in that capacity since.

"We're a support group," Don said about the Genesis Group. And although the group's Web site — www.ldsgenesisgroup.org — says the group's purpose is to strengthen LDS members by "supporting and edifying Black members, their families and friends, and individuals interested in the Church," Don said that anyone can join Genesis. They just have to show up to a meeting.

"Our whole wish is to bring people to God," Don said. "We have to keep individuals coming ... obviously the Lord feels (the group) needs to be here."

Jerri noted that while members can serve callings in the Genesis Group, they should not use the meetings as a substitute for regular ward and stake meetings.

The group meets on the first Sunday of each month from 7 to 8 p.m. at the meetinghouse located at 6710 S. 1300 East in Salt Lake City. The meetings feature a fireside format with guest speakers, a black gospel song as a practice hymn, and testimonies. The organization operates with Relief Society, singles, youth and Primary auxiliaries.


E-mail: mwilson@desnews.com