We moved from a large city with a large Latter-day Saint population to a town of 5,000 in the rural Deep South region of the United States, where we lived for more than seven years. As I was leaving the local hardware store our first day there, a teenage clerk said, “Have a good day, Mrs. Grant.”
I asked, “How do you know my name?”
He replied, “Y’all are the only new people in town.”
We found a house across the street from one Protestant church and a block from another, but we lived 45 minutes from the nearest LDS meetinghouse. Every Sunday, as well as a couple of times during the week, we made the trek to our meetinghouse. During those seven years, my husband served in the bishopric, and I served as Primary president and then as Young Women president.
We knew that the social life and heartbeat of small towns exist in the local churches. To be accepted, we knew we had to get involved. Our three young children soon bonded with other ward children, but we also wanted them to feel a sense of belonging to our neighborhood. We encouraged them to become involved during the week in local church activities, including family suppers on Wednesday nights at one church.
We put our son and our girls in local youth programs. Our children also attended Vacation Bible School at both nearby churches. Our girls sang in a local church youth choir; one daughter even became a soloist in the choir. Our son attended a local church youth group.
Often a visiting revival minister preached against the “Mormons,” but our neighbors knew we were nothing like the people the preachers warned them about.
Every summer the regional churches of one Protestant sect sponsored a youth camp on St. Simons Island, Georgia. After one such camp, the minister said from the pulpit, “The only youth to go to camp this summer was our good little Mormon girl, Kelly Grant.”
Our Protestant neighbors embraced us because we had embraced them. We never had to compromise our standards or principles.
As our children grew, so did their testimonies of the restored Church. What they learned from the other churches’ Bible stories enabled them to make a better correlation between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. In addition, they saw the priesthood’s vital role in our Church, and they could feel the difference.
When our children were approaching dating age, my husband’s company transferred him to Atlanta, Georgia. I wept as we signed our house deed over to the new owners. Our lawyer hugged me and tenderly said, “No one can ever say the Mormons haven’t been here.”
Our children’s small-town Protestant experience taught them tolerance, patience, and understanding. They found common ground with those of other faiths, which helped them serve as ambassadors for the Church. And they came to appreciate the value of the Holy Ghost, the priesthood, and the great love the Savior has for all of us.
We converted no one in those seven years, but we planted seeds. We are blessed today because the people in that small town came into our lives. I hope they are blessed because we came into theirs.