Missionary Challenge

By James Engberson

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    Yea, I will open the hearts of the people, and they will receive you (D&C 31:7).

    “But I don’t know anybody who wants to know about the Church,” I protested in family home evening. “My friends know that I’m a Latter-day Saint, and they don’t ever ask me to tell them anything.”

    “But, Aaron, you need to ask them,” Dad pointed out with a smile. “Nobody expects you to go around knocking on people’s doors, but you meet people every day who might be interested in listening to the gospel message. You have to have courage to ask them, though.” Dad thought for a moment, then added, “Aaron, you’re named after two great missionaries.”

    My full name is Aaron Ammon Anderson. Dad and Mom had named me after two of the missionary brothers in the Book of Mormon, and they didn’t want me to ever forget it.

    “Aaron and Ammon were willing to do anything to share the gospel. Nobody else thought the Lamanites were interested in the gospel, but because Aaron and Ammon had the courage to try, they had wonderful success. Surely you can think of someone who might want to know about the Church?”

    There were only a few Mormons in my school. Although I didn’t go around telling everybody that I was a Mormon, a lot of them knew. “I guess I could ask Bryan,” I muttered, figuring that he was the easiest guy in my whole class to ask.

    “Oh, he’s the one you took to Cub Scouts last month,” Mom said, pleased.

    I nodded, feeling that I was finally off the hook.

    “What about your teacher, Mr. Santos?” my sister, Karen, asked.

    “I’m not asking Mr. Santos anything,” I snapped. “He likes me. I don’t want to ruin anything. Besides, I already have my person.”

    Mr. Santos was the best teacher at school. Everybody liked him, and he liked everybody. Everything he did in class was exciting and fun. The last thing I wanted to do was ask him if he wanted the missionaries to show up at his house. I didn’t want him to think I was weird.

    “I think Mr. Santos would be a wonderful choice,” Mom spoke up. “Every time I’ve talked to him, I’ve been impressed by how kind and considerate he is. He has a wonderful wife and a darling little family. They need the gospel.”

    “Mom,” I grumbled, “I’m asking Bryan. If you want to talk to Mr. Santos, then go ahead.” I hesitated. “But wait till I’m out of fourth grade.”

    “Asking him about the Church won’t change how he feels about you, Aaron,” Dad said. “In fact, what you can do is give him a gift.” Dad handed me a Book of Mormon. “Take that to school with you. If everything is right and you feel prompted, give it to Mr. Santos and ask him to read it.”

    I took the book because I wanted everybody in the family to stop bugging me. But the next morning when Mom slipped it inside my backpack, I complained, “I don’t want to haul a Book of Mormon to school. People will think I’m weird!”

    “Take it. Just in case.”

    I was in luck—Bryan was the first guy I ran into at school. “Did you see the game between San Francisco and Denver last night?” he asked excitedly.

    I shook my head. “We were having family home evening.”

    “What’s that?”

    “It’s something the members of my church do every Monday night.” Then I figured that since I’d gone this far, I might as well take care of my home evening assignment and get it over with. “Are you interested in learning more about my church, Bryan?”

    “Huh? Why would I want to know anything about your church? I’m a Baptist. You should’ve seen the game, though. Denver almost squeaked out a win. If they had made the field goal at the end, they would have won by two.”

    I heaved a sigh of relief. That wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, and I was probably the first one in the family to complete my missionary assignment.

    As I sat down in class, I opened my backpack and saw the Book of Mormon. I pushed it to the bottom of my backpack and took out my other books. As I did, I looked up at Mr. Santos. He was at the front of the class, smiling and calling the roll. I shook my head. There was no way that I was going to talk to Mr. Santos about the Church. Besides, I had already asked Bryan.

    The rest of the day, I kept thinking of Mr. Santos and the Book of Mormon Mom had stuffed into my backpack. At the end of school that afternoon, I cleaned up after an art project. Before I knew it, I was alone with Mr. Santos. Gathering my things together, I started for the door. “See you tomorrow, Mr. Santos.”

    He looked up from his desk and smiled. “You take care of yourself, Aaron. You got another hundred percent on your English quiz.” He winked at me. “Keep up the good work.”

    As I pushed open the classroom door, I paused. “Do you need any help this afternoon, Mr. Santos?”

    He leaned back in his chair. “You don’t want to hang around here any longer, do you?”

    “I wouldn’t mind. I could run to the office and call Mom and let her know.”

    Mr. Santos grinned. “Well, I don’t ever turn down good help.”

    As I hurried down the hall, I thought about Aaron and Ammon in the Book of Mormon and about how their offering to help had led to the conversion of many Lamanites. I shook my head. All I was doing was giving Mr. Santos a hand, not preaching the gospel. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Ammon and Aaron.

    Mr. Santos had me clean out and straighten some cupboards, then put the books on the racks in the reading center in order. He had received an order of new social studies workbooks, and he asked me to stamp the school’s name on the inside cover of each. Then boards needed to be wiped down and the art materials organized.

    Mr. Santos was in the room only part of the time. When he returned, I was getting ready to leave. “Are you giving up on it?” he asked with a smile.

    “I’m finished.”

    “Finished?” He seemed surprised. “You’ve done everything?”

    I nodded.

    “You’re some worker, Aaron Anderson. I can go home before dark, thanks to you. I have a couple of boxes to carry out to the car; then I’m out of here.”

    “I’ll give you a hand. I’m heading out that way.”

    Mr. Santos grinned. “You’re going to spoil me, Aaron.”

    We both grabbed a box, Mr. Santos locked the door, and we started down the hall. “Are you a fisherman, Aaron?” he asked me.

    “Sure, I like to fish,” I answered, smiling. “Dad loves to fish, too, but we don’t get to go very often.”

    “I have the same problem.” Mr. Santos thought a moment. “You know, Aaron, we ought to make the time. I know a great place to fish not far from here. You, your dad, and I ought to pick a day and just go. What do you think?”

    “Sounds great! You name the time, and I’ll tell Dad that we just have to.”

    “That sounds like a solid yes.” Mr. Santos opened the trunk, and we set the boxes inside. He thought a moment, then asked, “How about this Sunday? We can get up early and make a day of it.”

    I looked away, suddenly feeling sick. Here I had a chance to go fishing with Dad and Mr. Santos, but I knew I could never do it on a Sunday. Would Mr. Santos ever ask me again? Strangely, I thought about when King Lamoni offered to give one of his daughters to Ammon for a wife.

    Mr. Santos saw me duck my head and look away. “Sunday isn’t a good day?”

    “I’d love to go with you, Mr. Santos. Honest. But Dad and I don’t fish on Sundays.”

    A knowing smile touched his lips. “I bet you’re a Latter-day Saint, aren’t you?” His question sounded like a compliment! “You’re just like Andy Frazier!” He glanced across the parking lot with a far-off look in his eyes. “Andy and I were in the Marines together. The first time I met him was a Sunday morning. We talked and hit it right off. I asked him if he wanted to drive into town and catch a movie. He turned me down. He said that he was headed for church. That’s when I found out that he was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

    Mr. Santos turned back to me. “We became good friends. He didn’t drink anything stronger than orange soda. He didn’t cuss. He didn’t smoke.” Mr. Santos smiled at me. “But there were a lot of things he did do. Nobody worked harder than Andy Frazier. And he could shoot!” Mr. Santos wagged his head. “Nobody in the whole battalion could shoot like him. I don’t think there was a better member of the entire Marine Corp. At first some of the guys kidded him about his religion, but he didn’t let it get to him.

    “One day we were on parade, marching around the parade field. When we marched, we sang out different cadences. Some of them are pretty funny. Some of them are …” He paused and shook his head. “Well, some of them have some pretty bad words in them. They aren’t the approved cadences, but at times we used them. Well, Andy had complained to the sergeant a number of times, but he just said that Andy needed to toughen up a bit.

    “One day we were using a cadence that was downright dirty. Andy broke ranks and headed right to the major, who was off to the side of the field. When I saw him go, I thought, Andy, you’re one dead duck. You’re going to get booted right out of the Marines.

    Mr. Santos smiled at the memory. “He didn’t get thrown out. He saluted the Major and told him that he was a Marine and proud of it but that he had been taught not to use filthy language and didn’t expect to have to use it or listen to it to be a good Marine.” Mr. Santos smiled again. “The major told the sergeant that from then on Andy was to choose the marching cadence. Now that took courage! I’ll never forget Andy Frazier. I think you’re like him.”

    I thought of the Book of Mormon in my backpack that I hadn’t wanted anybody to see. “Maybe you’d like to know … well, … what made Andy the way he was,” I ventured. I pulled out the Book of Mormon. “Would you like to have this?”

    Mr. Santos took the book. He brushed his hand across the cover. “I think I have one,” he said softly. “Andy gave it to me.”

    “Did you ever read it?”

    “I promised Andy that I’d read it, but I haven’t yet.” He handed back my Book of Mormon. “Thanks, Aaron, but I think I’ll look for Andy’s.”

    As I headed home, I felt great. Even though Mr. Santos hadn’t accepted my Book of Mormon, I was glad that Mom had stuck it into my backpack.

    The next day when the last bell rang, Mr. Santos called out to me. “Aaron, would you mind staying after school for a few minutes?”

    “Do you need more help?” I asked as the last of the other students left the room.

    “Not exactly. At least not the kind of help you gave me yesterday.” Mr. Santos opened one of the drawers, reached in, and pulled out a Book of Mormon. “I found Andy’s book. My wife and I read the first four chapters last night.”

    “You did?” I gasped. “Did you understand it?”

    He nodded slowly. “I think so. But if I get to something I don’t understand, do you think you can help me?”

    “Sure. And if I can’t, I can find someone who can.” I grinned, thinking of Aaron and Ammon, suddenly glad that I had been named after them.

    Illustrated by Scott Greer