In the summer of 1975 I was 25, and my father had just died. He had been involved in the Canadian oil and gas industry with business interests in other parts of the world. I traveled to Europe and spent a considerable amount of time settling his business dealings there for my mother.
After hours of business meetings each day, my colleagues would take me downtown to relax at a famous shopping and promenade area on one of the busiest streets in the city.
With one of the hottest summers on record, it seemed that all the tourists in Europe were on that street. You could see people of various nationalities strolling by, sometimes in native costume or scantily dressed because of the heat.
The street was lined with exclusive stores selling expensive products, but some of the sordid side of life was obvious there as well—pornographic theaters, so-called adult bookstores, and taverns. And, in direct contrast to everything around them, four Latter-day Saint missionaries with a missionary street display.
Their presence seemed amazing, even to a nonmember like me. On this street, where much of what is bad in society was represented, the missionaries were an island of spirituality.
Because I was still discussing business, I was unable to go talk with the missionaries, but I watched them. I noticed that none of the young men looked at the young ladies walking down the street no matter how scantily dressed the girls were. I was quite impressed with that. I decided that I would go back and meet them in the evening when I was free of work, but every time I went to find them, they were gone. I could never seem to find them.
I had to leave the city for a few days, but shortly after my return, I saw two missionaries walking down that same street. I later discovered it would have been their preparation day.
As they walked, they would look in the shop windows. I decided to follow and look in the windows that they looked into to see what interested them. I discovered that they were looking at shoes or coats, and when they did look into a bookstore, it was one that sold only text books. They did not stare into the wine shops or other shops that offered immoral literature or art.
I planned to meet the missionaries at their street display within the next day or two, but suddenly the business deal was completed, and I was on my way back to Canada.
When I got home, I forgot some of the feelings I had experienced watching the missionaries. However, through a friend’s referral, some missionaries made an appointment with me.
As I let the two young men into my apartment, I had the same feelings I felt on the street in Europe when I saw the missionaries there. I sat down and listened to the first discussion. I looked into the eyes of the elders, conscious of the sincerity of their testimonies, and felt that I had known them all my life. After several weeks of missionary discussions, I joined the Church.
I have often thought about the missionaries I saw in Europe. If the two missionaries I followed had stopped in front of a tavern and had been laughing and joking about beer, or if they had gone into some of the stores that you might expect young people to be curious about, the impact of their example on me would have been lost.
The world walked by those missionaries that summer. They never knew I was watching and that their presence bore testimony to me. They never knew that their example was what affected me and made me receptive to the gospel message. Although they never spoke to many of the people on that street, I wonder how many others were influenced as I was just by their example.