Restless and excited. Eager, yet uncertain. These were my feelings as the train sped closer to our destination.
It was June 1961, and I was journeying with sixteen other students on a Brigham Young University travel study tour to study French in Quebec, Canada. We would be there tomorrow, and it was natural that our anticipation was increasing.
As my anticipation grew, so did my apprehension: for I had two problems facing me. The first and most important was the challenge I felt to be a missionary, an exemplar of gospel living. Since the Church had begun stressing that every member should be a missionary, I had thought a great deal about it.
I had been brought up as a member of the Church in a small Idaho town where all the townspeople were Latter-day Saints. In fact, all of the surrounding communities were also predominantly Latter-day Saint, and most activity, social and civic as well as religious, centered around the Church. From there I went to the wholesome atmosphere of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The result was that at nineteen I had never really had any close associations with nonmembers.
On the few occasions when I had met nonmembers, I had wanted to tell them about the Church, but I would suddenly feel self-conscious and unable to speak, almost embarrassed to steer conversation in that direction. The Golden Questions “What do you know about the Mormon Church?” and “Would you like to know more?” would seem to lodge like a lump in my throat, and my voice would tremble when I wanted to speak with conviction. It was difficult to speak of what I felt so deeply, and I believed I was prying if I asked someone about his religion. Afterward, when the opportunity had passed, I would be angry with myself. If, like the apostle Paul, I was “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16), then why was it so difficult for me to tell others about this good news?
My second problem was a much simpler one. After we arrived in Quebec, Canada and registered at the Universite Laval, we would be expected to speak French for the duration of our summer-long stay. I had studied French only one year, and my command of the language was far from skillful. However, this problem was one that most of my fellow students shared, and I knew that one purpose of the travel study tour was to help us improve our French.
I was not the only restless one that day. Night had fallen, and the other occupants of the passenger car in which we rode were beginning to settle down for sleep; but our group was too full of expectation to think of sleep.
“Let’s go into the dome car and sing some French songs and practice our French,” someone suggested.
We filed out of our car and into the connecting dome car. A railway dome car consist of two levels: a lower level similar to a regular passenger car but with fewer seats, and a stairway leading to the upper level, or dome. The dome features a panoramic view through large curving windows from this lofty height. As we entered, we noticed that the lower level was completely empty. We climbed the steps into the dome and here found only two occupants, a young mother and her tearful little son.
After the mother assured us that our singing would not disturb them, we began to sing, hesitantly and with many misuses of French accents and stumbling over words. Quickly our meager repertoire of French songs was exhausted, and we drifted comfortably into the familiar music and language of our Latter-day Saint hymns.
It was comforting and strengthening to sing the hymns I’d sung since childhood, and I noticed the little boy stopped crying as we sang. Soon he fell asleep across his mother’s lap.
I don’t know how long we sang, but I recall the lifting of my spirit and the deepening of my conviction as we sang “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” and “O My Father,” and the happiness we felt as we sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Finally, we ended with “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” and as the last strains of “All is well” faded, we began to move quietly out of the dome.
I was first to leave the dome to descend to the lower level of the car, and I was unprepared for the sight that met my eyes. Dozens of upturned faces were looking toward us. Every seat, which had been vacant when we entered the dome car earlier, was now filled, and people were even standing and sitting in the aisles. Unknown to us, these people had gathered to listen as we sang.
A woman standing near the stairway touched my arm, and I saw that there were tears in her eyes. “You young people sing so beautifully,” she said, “because you sing from your hearts. Who are you, and where do you come from?”
“We’re Mormons, ma’am,” I replied. “We are students from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.”
“Mormons … ,” she murmured.
She was right. We had sung from our hearts, and my heart was still singing. I heard myself saying, “What do you know about the Mormons?”
“Well, I have heard your lovely Tabernacle Choir,” she replied.
“Would you like to know more about the Mormons?” I asked.
“Yes, I really would.”
“What do I do now?” I thought in panic. “I’ve finally asked the Golden Questions, but now where do I begin?”
Then a calm, sure voice behind me spoke, and I turned to see a returned missionary from our group reach out and take the woman’s hand in a warm, firm grasp.
“Perhaps you have heard of a man named Joseph Smith,” he said. “Let me tell you more about him.”
Soon he was telling of Joseph Smith’s first vision and explaining the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Several people who had listened to us sing stayed to hear what this earnest young member of our group had to say, and some left their names and addresses with requests for missionary contact or for copies of the Book of Mormon.
I was filled with peace and joy. I had asked the Golden Questions, and my friend, the returned missionary, had shown me where to go from there. Only a short while before, we had sung about Joseph Smith’s first vision in “Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning.” From their earliest years in Primary, children in the Church hear the story of “the boy’s first uttered prayer.” What better way to introduce the gospel than to relate that beautiful story? This experience was to guide me many times throughout the summer ahead.
In years to come I was to learn to follow up the Golden Questions with an invitation to my home to see a film and meet the missionaries. And I have learned that there are many other effective ways to introduce the gospel to others. But I like to remember that night on the train when we sang from our hearts, unaware of our listeners. We truly did have something to sing about, and our message had been heard.