99912_000_007The book my father found on the library shelf had been there for nearly 30 years. It opened the door to our most memorable Christmas ever.
The death of my grandfather deeply moved my father, Kenneth T. Evans, to learn more of religion, especially as it pertained to life and death. We were already attending a Protestant church regularly, so my father enrolled in a six-month course to prepare for confirmation. The classes were taught by the minister, but my father found that he had many questions that went unanswered. He began reading the Bible during his lunch breaks at a factory located in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where he worked as a machinist. While reading he discovered many concepts, such as baptism by immersion, that he felt were important yet were not part of the beliefs of his current church. Thus began a four-year search for truth that included trying out several neighborhood churches, attending Bible seminars, and engaging in earnest prayer.
I would sometimes awaken at night to see my father standing in the shadows of my doorway and hear him praying. I asked him once what he prayed about, and he replied, “I am praying that I can somehow teach you children the right things about God, but I am not sure what those things are.”
Searching for the Truth
About two years later my mother answered a knock at the door and found two well-dressed young men standing there. She’d had many salesmen stop by recently and had resolved to give them less of her time. Consequently, as soon as one of the young men began speaking of a church with a long name, she quickly said, “We have our own church, thank you,” and shut the door.
Something about the way the young men looked at her made her want to open the door and call them back. She fought off the feeling but couldn’t forget the incident. That night she mentioned it to my father. Unfortunately, she couldn’t remember the name of the church the two young men represented. In time it was all but forgotten, and my parents’ prayers continued for another two years.
One Sunday the minister of the church we attended announced that the meeting time would be changed to an hour earlier to leave families more time for recreation on Sunday. My parents were surprised to hear such an idea and wondered where they could find a church that believed in keeping the Sabbath day holy.
Mother, who had been content with her religion, now began to help my dad in his quest. She brought to his attention a newspaper notice about a Bible study group. Dad decided to attend and was considering baptism into this religion when he sensed Mother didn’t share his good feelings about it. “Eunice,” he said, “we’ve always done things together. I don’t want this religion if it’s only going to be for me.” Again they postponed joining a church.
A Door Opens
One day at work a co-worker named Ray got into a discussion with my father about the ancient ruins in Mexico and South America. Dad had a keen interest in archeology and often read books on the subject. Apparently Ray, though not a member of the Church, had once been taught all six missionary discussions. He told my father, from what he could remember, that a certain Joseph Smith had dug up a book that told about the ancient ruins and the civilizations that built them. It was called the Book of Mormon.
This sparked my father’s curiosity. He and my mother had been in the habit of taking our family to the library each Friday evening. On that particular Friday in December, we were just about to leave for home when Dad remembered his conversation with Ray. He decided to see if the library had any information on Joseph Smith or the Mormons. Since it was a small branch library, he found only one book: What of the Mormons? by someone named Gordon B. Hinckley. Dad started to leaf through it when Mother called, “Why don’t you just bring it home too?”
Well, the other books never got read that week. That one small book began a process that would change our lives. My parents read the entire book that very night. It gave an overview of the restoration of the gospel and described the present-day church. It told of a Primary organization for children, Mutual for the youth, Relief Society for the women, and a Sunday School where adults could be instructed. I remember Dad commenting, “This sounds like just the church we have been looking for! They have something for everyone in the family. Now we need to find a Book of Mormon.”
The next day Mother called a local Bible bookstore and asked if they had a Book of Mormon. The clerk seemed rather taken aback and firmly replied they did not have one. The following day, Saturday, Dad decided to try the main library downtown. He called first, and the librarian checked to see if they had a copy. They did, but only one. Dad was so excited to finally find a Book of Mormon that he worried someone else might beat him to it, so he anxiously asked, “Can you hold it for me?” He left in a hurry.
An Important Discovery
The day was cold, but the streets reflected a festive holiday mood as my father made his way to the library. I remember Dad soon returned, excited, with his treasured book. It was a small, black, hardcover book that had occupied a shelf in that library for over 30 years, mostly untouched. He opened the pages and marveled aloud, “Look, it’s just like a Bible inside.”
That day my parents began reading from the Book of Mormon and read until late at night. Someone had put an extra page inside listing interesting references to look up. My parents diligently went through each of these scriptures, and everything rang true to them.
Inside the front cover was a typed page that had been fastened there by one Victor E. F. Brown nearly 30 years before, while he was serving as a district missionary. It gave his name in case more information was desired. It appeared that he had returned to the library a number of times over the years to change his phone number, but when my father tried calling the number listed, he found no one by that name. We supposed that since no one had ever called, he had neglected to make a change after his last move. That posed a problem because there were several pages of Browns listed in the telephone directory. Luckily my mother was able to find his telephone number. Dad gave him a call.
When Brother Brown answered his phone that day, my father simply said, “Hello, I’d like you to tell me more about your church.” At first Brother Brown thought someone was playing a joke. Then my father mentioned the library copy of the Book of Mormon. Brother Brown’s voice shook with emotion, and he kept repeating, “It is true; I know it is true.”
Meanwhile, Sister Brown perceived the nature of the phone call and quickly reminded her husband that the ward was holding an open house the following Saturday, a Meet the Mormons night. The invitation to attend was extended to our family.
Our First Visit
We had the address of the chapel and couldn’t wait those few days to see the actual meetinghouse, so we took a family outing that very night just to drive by and have a look. Not knowing what to look for, we passed a large building belonging to another religion. We wondered at first if that was it. Then, farther down the street, we saw it: a humble little chapel. Light spilled from the windows, and it seemed to have a warm, homey atmosphere. We could hardly wait to go inside.
At the open house, the Brown family and two missionaries warmly greeted us, and we were given a tour of the meetinghouse. In each room a display had been set up, and a member waited to give an explanation. In the kitchen a sister was dipping Christmas chocolates and offered us a sample. Then we were invited to watch Man’s Search for Happiness. As people gathered to watch with us, we didn’t know we were the only nonmember family there that evening. After, as we stood chatting with the members, my 13-year-old brother came dashing up to Dad and said, “If you don’t come back here tomorrow, I’m coming on the bus by myself!” Dad smiled and assured him we would return.
The next day we attended our first Sunday meetings, and that evening the missionaries taught us the first discussion. We were surprised to learn that elders were not old men with long, white beards but young men, like the two my mother had once turned away. Even though I was only 10 years old at the time, I remember a wondrous feeling filled our home every time the missionaries came, and the feeling lingered after they left. My parents accepted everything they taught, even giving up their tea at the first mention of the Word of Wisdom.
As it became known that we were studying with the missionaries, friends, relatives, and even a former minister called to tell us terrible things they had heard about the Church. At these times my parents noticed a heavy, dark feeling in our home and felt discouraged to find out that others were not happy for us. Each time this happened, the missionaries would chance to call or stop by, and the good feelings would return. My parents became convinced where our source of truth and light was coming from.
We Reach a Decision
It seemed fitting that with Christmas approaching, our thoughts would turn more and more toward the Savior. As the wonders of revealed truth opened to us, my father’s interest deepened, and he began asking complex questions. Unlike his previous experiences in other churches, the elders always had answers for him. Two weeks later, we completed our discussions and were ready for baptism. Since it was only a few days until Christmas, the elders thought it might be appropriate to schedule our baptism on Christmas Day.
So it was that we left behind our turkey and gifts and drove to the chapel that beautiful, snowy Christmas night in 1967. When we arrived, we were deeply touched to find that most of the ward members had also left behind their Christmas festivities to witness our baptism into the Lord’s Church. The significance of the Savior’s birth and life’s mission seemed so much more poignant that Christmas Day when we entered the waters of baptism as a family.
After the service, the missionaries handed us a Christmas gift: the library’s copy of the small, black Book of Mormon. The elders had asked the librarian to give it to them in exchange for a new copy they provided. Eyes shining, Dad held it reverently in his hands. That small book had given us the best Christmas of our lives.