Elder Allen had been assigned to our ward for less than two weeks when he and his companion appeared in the front office of the Daily Press at the worst possible moment on the busiest day of the week. “There are a couple of young men here to see you,” the receptionist said over the intercom. That had to mean the missionaries.
I was frantically trying to meet the deadlines of two newspapers, but I tried to slow down to a glide as I flew into the reception area. Elder Allen towered six-feet-three-inches tall. His companion, Elder Shaum, peered out from behind him. With a firm handshake and a broad smile, Elder Allen pulled me from behind the counter and greeted me simultaneously:
“Hi, Brother Reddick. I just can’t wait to see the headlines when we get done with what we’re going to do in Paso Robles,” he bubbled nonstop.
My mind was already muttering, “Okay, Elder, what have you got in mind?” The word we appeared particularly ominous, but I was too preoccupied with all those deadlines to worry seriously about interrogating him. “How am I going to explain to him in two minutes that the story the paper did last week about his transfer into the city is all that the nonmembers will want to know about Mormons for the next three months?” I asked myself.
He obviously wasn’t listening in on my thoughts at all. He rambled on about displays, speakers, programs, and activities (always inserting that foreboding we everywhere) so rapidly and with such assurance that I wondered if he thought he would convert and baptize my entire office staff on the spot!
“And the mayor is going to proclaim ‘Mormon Days,’” he finished at last. “Aha!” I thought. “Now I see the pitch and I know the way out.” I tossed right back to him the project he had just hurled at me. “You get the mayor to proclaim ‘Mormon Days,’ and I’ll see to it that you get some coverage,” I promised, confident that I had issued an impossible challenge. In a town with 30 different congregations, I figured no politician would commit himself to any undertaking quite so bold and partisan. Besides, the city council would have to ratify the proclamation.
“How do we do it?” Elder Allen asked. (I should have known by now that I was somehow a part of that infamous we.)
“Draw up your proclamation, get an appointment with the mayor, pray a lot, go in, tell him what you plan to do, and ask him to sign the proclamation,” I rattled off like machine-gun fire.
“Okay. We’ll do that then,” Elder Allen affirmed. “Thank you, Brother Reddick, and have a good day.”
I was already back to my desk and deadlines as his cheery good-day bounced out onto the sidewalk. I knew the issue was settled; at least, I’d left him holding the ball.
Sunday. Not fast Sunday, but between racing to one meeting and another, solving a home teaching family’s problem, sprinting to choir practice, and listening to the fireside speaker, I hadn’t had time to eat. And was I ever hungry! Finally the fireside ended and I arrived home to greet my wife and children and relax with a lovingly reheated supper. It was dark outside, and peaceful.
I cut the enchilada eagerly and was just about to take the first delicious bite when, like the Cheshire cat in Through the Looking Glass, Elder Allen grinned at the window. “Hi, Sister Reddick!” he chimed to my wife; then he swung over to the front door and hammered on it.
I swallowed hard as my daughter let the missionaries in. Our seventies president, Larry Adams, was with them. “Go on eating,” he urged. “We’ll watch you.” I chewed on some salad.
“We’re here for some help with the proclamation,” he continued. I was still slow to catch on that that we included me, and that Elder Allen was just trying to magnify his calling. But I couldn’t ignore Elder Allen’s enthusiasm and determination, especially when he looked right at me and said, “Since you’re so good with words, and we don’t know much about proclamations,” and took a pen and piece of paper out of his pocket, ready to jot down notes.
“So, you want my help,” I said, setting down my fork. “Do you want me to write it?”
“That’s it!” all three cheered triumphantly. So we drew up a proclamation, with all the appropriate whereases in it, leading up to a “now therefore be it resolved” that such-and-such a series of days be proclaimed “Mormon Days” in Paso Robles. By the time we were done, it was almost curfew time for the elders. My half-eaten supper was stone cold. My salad was limp, my appetite gone. And I had to be at the office early in the morning.
Monday is supposed to be the elders’ preparation day. But first thing Monday morning Elders Allen and Shaum were in City Hall, setting up an appointment to see the mayor on Tuesday. I still don’t know exactly what went on in the mayor’s office. Not only did he agree to sign the proclamation, but he was enthusiastic about it! (“You Mormons do great things,” he told the elders.)
I had been humbled. These two young men had responded to the promptings of the Spirit in the face of odds that had seemed overwhelming to me. I worked with them on this project and others in the weeks to come, and I learned that they were not fearless. Rather, they subjected their fears to faith. And they moved mountains.
By the time “Mormon Days” actually got through planning and approval by stake authorities, it had become “Family Days,” and the proclamation had been altered slightly. More time had also been allowed for putting together the three-day “show.”
Elders Allen and Shaum assembled displays on boards and tables, and secured permission from the most patronized supermarket in town to set up their displays there for three days and to distribute handbills and tracts.
The highlight of the days was a Thursday evening presentation in a local school. We had a movie on family communications, and we had two families from our ward conduct a special family home evening. The missionaries had their displays out, and, yes, there was publicity—not only in the paper, but on the radio as well. Later, we put on the same program in Shandon, a small town east of Paso Robles. Through the two programs and the displays at the supermarket, more than 200 people came into a direct, one-on-one contact with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Who knows what fruit those seeds will bear?
The last week Elder Allen was in our ward, I had the privilege of being humbled again. I accompanied him on a teaching session. The lady of the household wanted to be baptized but was waiting for her husband, who seemed to be fighting his own better instincts. After a beautiful lesson on the plan of salvation, the husband’s heart had changed. He offered a plain, simple prayer that was truly inspired.
I don’t know who learns more from the elders in our ward, the investigators or the members. But I know they have taught me great lessons in faith and humility and action, and our family tries never to forget them in our prayers.