How Could He Tell I Was a Mormon?
The tourist standing by the service station counter was obviously well-to-do and sophisticated. I had just filled his car with gas, washed the windshield, and checked the oil. Stan, the station manager, had completed the credit card form, and since it was a slack time of the day he began making small talk with the stranger.
The service station in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, opened early during tourist season, and if there was anything harder than getting to work by 6:30 A.M., I had not yet discovered it. After several hours of seeing to the needs of the steady stream of thirsty automobiles coming out of Yellowstone and Teton national parks, I was tired and settled comfortably into a daydream, sprawled in a lounge chair near the stack of oil cans.
“Mormon!” The word suddenly brought me out of my semiconscious state.
“Isn’t this Mormon country?” the tourist asked.
“I suppose so,” Stan halfheartedly replied.
“Are you a Mormon?”
“Nope. Not me.”
The stranger turned. Looking straight at me, he pointed his finger. “He is. Look at him. It’s written all over his face.”
I said nothing. As the tourist got into his car and drove away, Stan went off to inspect the lube room and I went straight to the cash register.
Who was this fellow? What was so graphic about my face that he could tell at a glance what my religion was?
I quickly opened the cash register and looked at the top credit card form. The man was a minister from somewhere in the East. To think that a perfect stranger from far away, a minister of another church, could discern without the slightest hesitation that I was a Mormon! The whole thing seemed even more strange since as an independent seventeen-year-old I was trying very hard to ignore everything I had been taught about my religion.
Growing up in an almost totally Latter-day Saint community on the other side of the Tetons had exposed me to many Primary, Sunday School, MIA, and seminary lessons about the gospel and the Church. My parents and brothers and sisters had set fine examples. Yet at this point in my life, worldly pleasures and pursuits not consistent with Mormon teachings seemed more glamorous and desirable. I even relished the fact that I was required to work at the station on Sunday—it provided me a summer’s vacation from Church attendance.
The remainder of the day I was quite oblivious to much of what was happening around me, but something deep within me began to stir. What the stranger had said that morning caused me to search my innermost feelings for an answer. What is so different about being a Mormon?
That day I began to discover that I really was different. I knew that Jesus Christ had restored his church and that that church was now presided over by a prophet of God. I knew that there was really only one way I wanted to live my life, and I began to see dangerous pitfalls in the route I was taking.
I had been identified that day, and the process I went through to unravel the mystery of it all sustained me in asking Stan if I might open the station at 5:30 Sunday mornings so I could attend sacrament meeting in the afternoon. It later sustained me in filling a mission to Denmark and in a variety of other Church callings, and it sustains me now as the head of a Latter-day Saint family striving to live the gospel.
I know nothing about the minister—and still don’t know exactly what it was that caused him to say what he did. But I do know that he knew who I was and did me a great favor by calling it to my attention.
I Remember Susan
She came through the door screaming and crying? “I want to go home.” Her sister pulled her over to me and left her there.
I was a substitute teacher at a military-base school and had received a call the night before from Mrs. Jensen, the regular teacher. “Remember Susan?” she had asked. I had taught for Mrs. Jensen several times that year and did remember Susan a child with a sweet round face, blue eyes, and pretty blond hair cut short.
Mrs. Jensen went on, “Susan has been coming to school crying every day this past week. Her mother insists she come, so her older sister brings her. You just mark her “present” on the roll, and then the secretary or principal will come and take her to the office for the day. I wanted you to know what to expect.”
“What’s making her act this way?” I asked. The last time I had taught in room P-3, Susan had seemed fine. She was a bright, clean, lovable child.
Mrs. Jensen explained, “Susan’s daddy is leaving for a military assignment overseas and will be gone for at least six months. We feel this must be the reason she is so upset.”
Teachers on a military base, where fathers are frequently away from home, often see cases similar to Susan’s, but this one seemed extreme. The teachers and principal try to counsel with a child to help him understand—if anyone can—why Daddy must be gone. But in Susan’s case it was to no avail.
“We’ve tried everything,” Mrs. Jensen added, “but we can’t seem to help her. Don’t let her ruin the class for you.”
After this call I knew I must be in school early enough to have everything ready for the earliest students. Then I’d be free to talk with Susan.
I awoke several times that night thinking of her and wondering how I could help. I asked our Father in heaven over and over again, “What can I do? Please help me to know.”
I was at school early the next morning, still not sure what to do. Susan came a little early too, and She was crying as her sister pulled her up the steps to our portable classroom. I went over to the door and said, “Susan, I’m so happy to see you! Come in. We have a fun day planned.”
Tears streaming from her reddened eyes, she came over to me. I took her over by the teacher’s desk and held her close to me. I asked the other children, who were quite used to this by now, to go to their desks and start on the work I had set out for them.
I held her close to me for a minute and then said, “Susan, do you believe in God?”
“Who?” she asked.
“Have you ever heard of God—our Father in heaven? Maybe in Sunday School?”
“Oh, yes,” her eyes brightened. “My Sunday School teacher told me about him.”
“Susan, look at me,” I went on. “I want to tell you something.” The words came out easily, as I prayed they would. “God loves me very much, and he loves you just as much as he loves me. He wants us to be happy, and he will help us if we just ask. I know how hard it is to let your daddy go away, but our Father in heaven will help you so you can still be happy while he is away.
“I’m going to sit here at my desk and say a prayer. I’ll close my eyes and say, ‘Please, Heavenly Father, help Susan so she can still be happy and stay in school with us today.’ And Susan, I want you to go to your desk and say the same prayer. Just close your eyes and talk to him. He will listen to you, and then you will be able to stay with us today, tomorrow, and the next day.”
As she walked back to her seat, the tears stopped, and I did say a silent prayer. Then we started school as usual.
“Good morning, boys and girls. I’m glad to be your teacher again today.” As I talked I couldn’t help but look at Susan, her head bowed as she prayed.
About five minutes later the secretary came to the door and asked softly, “Do you want me to take Susan?”
“Oh, no,” I answered. “She wants to stay here with us.”
The day went on as planned. As the children were doing their papers, I saw Mrs. Reidleback, the principal, at the door. She motioned for me to come outside. As I stepped out the door she said, “What did you do? How did you calm that child down? We’ve tried everything this past week and nothing would work.”
I really wondered if I should tell her, but I swallowed hard and said, “I know, Mrs. Reidleback, that we aren’t supposed to mention God in the classroom, but I felt that on an individual basis it would be okay. I know that when a person believes in a Supreme Being he can meet his everyday problems so much better.” Then I told her exactly what I had told Susan and what had taken place.
“Well, okay,” she said, as she walked away.
I truly expected that I’d never receive another call from that school to substitute; but instead I was offered a chance to fill a staff vacancy and teach full time. Although the offer was attractive, I chose to continue substituting; and every time I taught on the base I watched for Susan. I saw in her a happier, more contented child as she learned to communicate with her Heavenly Father.
I Couldn’t Afford Not to Pay Tithing
After completing basic training and special training as a surgical technician during World War II, I was assigned to the station hospital at an air base in Texas. There, following a little on-the-job training, I became a laboratory technician in charge of the blood chemistry section. It was interesting work and all went well until I was asked to sign an allotment form to authorize deductions from my pay for the purchase of war bonds. I refused to sign.
Soon I was summoned to company headquarters, where the commanding officer, a young captain, glared at me. In very crisp language he told me that I was the only man in the unit that hadn’t signed up to purchase war bonds and that anyone could afford a minimum deduction for this purpose. He thrust the papers and a pen across his desk and said, “Sign these.”
I had to defend my position. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, sir, but I simply cannot afford to purchase war bonds,” I said. “If the captain will just let me show him what my financial situation is, I believe he will agree with me.” I explained that as a private first class, after deductions for my wife’s allotment, government life insurance, laundry, and so forth, I only got $19.85 a month out of my base pay of $54.00.
The captain was listening. I told him that my wife also received an allotment of $50.00 for her, $12.00 for our little boy, and $10.00 for our baby girl—a total of $91.85 a month for the four of us. Then I listed our expenses in the order in which I paid them each month.
The first expense I listed was $9.20 tithing. The captain wanted to know what that was. When I explained it was a donation to our church, he told me I shouldn’t have to support the church while I was in military service. After all, I would have the rest of my life to contribute to the church. He thought I could eliminate that expense, leaving it to others who could afford it.
I looked him straight in the eye and said, “You might court-martial me for saying so, sir, but one of the reasons I am in the military service is to defend my right to religious freedom so I can worship whom, when, and where I please. Neither you nor anybody else has the right to deny me and my family the blessings that come from paying the Lord what we owe him. I have been paying tithing all my life, and I have the blessings and receipts to prove it. I know it doesn’t cost to pay tithing—it pays.”
The captain was surprised, but he didn’t say anything. Maybe I started putting down our other expenses before he had a chance. I listed a monthly rent of $28.75 on our two-bedroom apartment, which, I explained, was the cheapest thing we had been able to find and we were happy to have it. I listed food, clothing, automobile expenses, etc., and it added up to more than $91.85 a month. I explained that the only way we had been able to make ends meet was to use up our savings and borrow on our insurance, and in an emergency we would have to borrow from relatives. But we weren’t complaining; we were making out okay.
I told the captain that once we had gone to the base and seen a show for 15¢ each, and after the show we had gone to the post exchange for two ten-cent dishes of ice cream. A few times I had bought a 5¢ bunch of sweet peas from the little boy who sold flowers on the corner near our house, and once I had spent 10¢ for two gardenias. These were the only unnecessary expenses I could think of. Then I said, “If the captain will show me how to increase our income or eliminate some expenses, I will be glad to sign the allotment papers.”
His immediate reply was, “I don’t see how you live. Return to duty.”
I went back to the laboratory. I didn’t hear any more about signing up for war bonds; but the next time a promotion roster came out for the company, Private First Class Foutz was promoted to corporal, the only one in the company to be promoted to corporal at that time.
Immediately I went to headquarters and signed up for a monthly $3.75 allotment to purchase war bonds. The increase in pay still left us more to live on, after paying additional tithing.
Not too many months later, orders came through for me to attend Officers Candidate School. I was the only member of the company to be sent to OCS while I was there. Then, after seventeen weeks of grueling mental and physical training, I was commissioned a second lieutenant. Within a year I became the commanding officer of about 150 enlisted men, 5 officers, and 30 civilian employees at a station hospital on a big air base in Kansas.
I know these rapid promotions would not have come to me if I had not stood firm on the principle of tithing. Through obedience I truly found the meaning of the Lord’s promise, “I will … pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Mal. 3:10.)