Missionary on Mars Hill

by Kirk P. Lovenbury

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    It was Sunday, July 5, 1964. I had climbed the Pyramids, touched the Wailing Wall, waded in the River Jordan, trod the ancient steps of Baalbek, and stood on the Mount of Olives. Now I was ending my tour in Athens, Greece, and by tomorrow night I would be with my family again.

    I dressed, had a late brunch, and, unable to find a branch of the Church in the phone book, decided to explore Athens on foot. I had taken a sightseeing tour the day before. Now I would visit the places that tourists didn’t usually see.

    Toward the afternoon I found myself in the agora, the great central marketplace of classical Athens. The entire agora complex seemed too large to view from the ground, so I decided to climb a steep hill toward the south where everything could be seen at once. It wasn’t until I reached the top and looked at my map of Athens that I realized this was Mars Hill, the site of Paul’s famous sermon to the Athenians.

    Sitting down on one of the outcroppings of rock with several other people who were already enjoying the view, I could easily see the ruined temples and fallen columns of the Agora below, the Acropolis on the neighboring hill, and seven miles away, the green Aegean Sea topped by a clear, blue, cloudless sky. It was a perfect day.

    Then my thoughts were jarred by the cheers of some English tourists. When I asked what had happened, I was told, “Our cricket team just made six points in the test match.” They turned their radio up so I could hear, and we got into a lively discussion. Looking around, I noticed about 30 visitors, half of them English and the others Greek, mostly young married couples.

    The radio station faded in and out, turned to static, and was switched off. Then a teenage girl observed, “You’re an American. How do you know so much about cricket?”

    I told her I had once been a missionary for the Mormon church in England and learned to like cricket then. Another person said, “Tell us how the Mormon church differs from other churches.”

    Suddenly a feeling came over me that I could not explain, one I had seldom experienced before in my life. Something told me, “Keep talking, and you’ll know what to say.” I began to speak and was asked to stand so everyone could hear.

    I began hesitantly. “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ as restored in these latter days.” Then I pointed out that the Church ought to be named for Christ, and I explained that the word Mormon is a nickname. Wondering what to say next, I looked out across Athens at the crosses on the many churches of the city, and I knew.

    “You asked how our church differs from others. When Paul came to this spot, he spoke of the ‘unknown god.’ In each of those churches is an altar dedicated to the ‘unknown god,’ because they believe the mystery of God makes him God. They say if we were to know him, he would cease to be God. Is that really any different from the people who worshipped the unknown god on this spot 1,900 years ago? The scriptures say it is life eternal to ‘know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.’” (John 17:3.)

    Then I told them the “unknown god” had made himself known again, restored his church, and called new apostles to testify of him. I quoted the Joseph Smith story with a fervor I had never felt before and testified that it was true. I pointed out that logically only one church could be right, discussed the need for authority, and explained how this authority had been restored in the priesthood. From my wallet I removed a picture of President David O. McKay and testified he was a prophet. They agreed that such spiritual guidance was certainly needed today.

    The hours flew by. They asked questions, and I explained doctrine with an enthusiasm I had never known before. It was overwhelming! The experience I had had with street meetings during my mission had convinced me that not many people were really interested in religion, and most walked away. But here were 30 people who sat, listened, and absorbed every word. They truly seemed interested in learning about the gospel.

    After three hours of talking, the cool evening air forced us to conclude. I bore my testimony to everything I had said and shook more than a dozen hands.

    I floated back to the hotel with tears in my eyes and opened my Bible to the 17th chapter of Acts.

    “And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?

    “For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.

    “(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new things.)

    “Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ Hill. …” (Acts 17:19–22.)

    I had been privileged to catch a glimpse of a personal experience of one of the greatest missionaries of all time.

    Illustrated by Warren Luch