Mary Connors wiped the sweat off her face with her forearm. Summer in the Oklahoma panhandle was hot. She knew Pa needed everyone’s help to chop weeds out of the corn.
Mary looked sideways to check on her brother James. He was eight years old, two years younger than she was. They had two older brothers and an older sister. Her two little sisters stayed back at the house with Ma and their older sister.
Pa came up the row. “Mary,” he said, “you and James take the pails and get water from the river.” Even at 10 years old, she knew how important it was to keep new corn watered.
She and James walked across the sloping field to the Cimarron River. It was shallow, and Mary knew that it wouldn’t be easy to dig a hole deep enough to fill their pails.
As they waded barefoot into the river, the water curled like bracelets around their ankles. They scooped the pails into the sandy riverbed. As soon as one small hole was made, sand quickly filled it in.
Hearing voices behind her on the bank, Mary turned and saw two young men approaching. They were dressed in white shirts and ties, even though it was only Wednesday. Each carried a small suitcase and a suit jacket.
“Hello!” they called, stopping near the edge of the river to watch Mary and James scooping sand.
“Hi.” Mary wasn’t sure they should be talking to these strangers.
“What are you doing?” asked the taller young man.
“Digging for water,” James said.
“Need some help?” asked the shorter young man.
Mary shrugged, but James stood up and held out his pail with a big smile on his face. “Sure!”
The shorter man pulled off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pant legs, and stepped into the river. He took James’s pail and quickly made a deep hole. His companion had also stepped barefoot into the river and was using Mary’s pail. The children dug with their hands. Finally, when both pails were full, the men asked if they could help further by carrying the water to the children’s home.
Mary nodded. “We’re supposed to water the corn.”
“We’d like to meet your pa and your ma,” the taller man said.
They walked back to the cornfield where Pa and the boys were still chopping weeds. Pa looked up in surprise when he saw that they had company.
The young men set down the pails of water and introduced themselves. “I’m Elder Watson,” the taller one said. “My companion is Elder Masters. We’re missionaries.”
Pa shook their hands. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” he asked.
The elders looked at each other and smiled. Elder Masters said, “The name of our church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A young prophet, Joseph Smith, talked to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”
Pa’s eyes met his children’s. He cleared his throat. “I’d like to hear more about this young prophet. How about having supper with us?”
Mary could tell that the elders were pleased with the invitation. James was sent to tell Ma that they had company. Then they all pitched in and finished hoeing and watering the corn. When they went to the house, Ma and Rachel were setting out bowls of mashed potatoes, fried squash, sliced tomatoes, and new peas. A stack of hot biscuits stood beside a dish of fresh-churned butter.
Pa gestured to Elder Watson. “We always say a blessing on the food. You probably ought to say it tonight, Elder.”
After supper, Pa showed the elders the hayloft, and James and Mary carried quilts and pillows out for them. Pa asked what the elders were doing in the Oklahoma panhandle.
Elder Watson explained. “We are walking missionaries. We walk through the area looking for people who want to know more about Jesus Christ and about the Book of Mormon.”
Pa nodded. “That’s me. I want to know more. What’s the Book of Mormon?”
The missionaries stayed until Saturday morning. In between helping Pa with the crops, they taught about the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and Jesus Christ.
On Saturday morning, Elder Masters asked, “Do you believe that Jesus said that we must be baptized to enter His kingdom?”
Mary nodded her head. She saw each person in her family nod in agreement.
“Do you want to be baptized?” Elder Masters asked.
A chorus of amens answered his question. Soon they were all headed toward the Cimarron River, carrying shovels, pails, and kettles. It would take a lot of digging to make the river deep enough.
They sang hymns as they dug. Mary could scarcely stand the excitement and joy that she felt inside. She was glad that she was 10 years old and could be baptized.
At last Elder Watson pronounced the hole deep enough.
One by one, starting with Pa, the whole family, except for the two little girls, were baptized in the Cimarron River.
Later, dressed in dry clothes, each sat on a kitchen chair while the elders confirmed them members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and gave them the gift of the Holy Ghost. Mary couldn’t remember seeing her parents cry before, but she knew that these were happy tears.
On Sunday, the family attended their first sacrament service out under the apple trees. The elders talked about all that they had learned and how it was now their turn to teach their neighbors.
On Monday morning, the walking missionaries set out to find others to teach.
Mary remained faithful throughout her life, and when she was an old woman, she told the story of how she had helped dig her own baptismal font with her bare hands in the Cimarron River of Oklahoma.
“Latter-day Saints accept baptism as an essential saving ordinance that is required of all people. Through baptism, we covenant to take upon us the Lord’s name and honor it by keeping His commandments. He, in turn, promises us the guiding and enlightening presence of His Spirit.”
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
From an October 1996 general conference address.