Participatory Journalism:
One Small Voice

by Shirley Reay

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    Amid confusion, I clearly heard …

    My high school graduation was from a small Methodist boarding school in Thomasville, Georgia. I had enjoyed school very much and was hoping to continue my education at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. However, I was facing an uphill struggle to obtain the necessary funds for tuition, books, housing, and other expenses. My parents and family were not in a position to help me, and I made only a limited amount as a waitress during the summer. It was at this time that I received a surprising letter from the Women’s Division of Christian Service of the Methodist church. They offered to put me through college if I would fulfill a two-year mission for them as a teacher after graduation. I was deeply touched and astonished by their offer and wanted very much to accept. A few months earlier this would have seemed like an answer to my prayers, but now I wasn’t so sure.

    You see, I am a Mormon. When I was 13, I had lived with a foster family in Salt Lake City and, after receiving permission, had been baptized into the Church. Upon returning home I found my family very much against my new religion. They forbade me to attend or participate in Church activities, and I obeyed. During the last half of my senior year in high school, however, I was contacted by two missionaries, Elder Michael Morris and Elder Gene L. Peterson, and was retaught the gospel. They encouraged me to seek further education and even go on a mission if it was my desire. It was ironic that now these two options were being offered to me—but in a different way than I had expected.

    I thought of every reason why I should accept the offer. My future would be secure, my dreams of a master’s degree in art would be realized, and I could devote my time to studying without having to worry about working. Was there really a difference in serving a mission for the Methodist church instead of the Mormon church? Weren’t they both Christian churches? My friends and teachers were encouraging me to take the offer. Their concern for my future was genuine, and I appreciated their love—I didn’t want to disappoint them. My personal desire to say yes to the Methodist church was strengthened by my fear of facing my friends if I did not.

    “How could I turn down this offer?” I asked myself. But a still small voice, much quieter than the voices around me, whispered, “How can you accept it? How can you live a lie?” I realized then that if I accepted I would have to keep secret the fact that it was not the Methodist church I desired to serve. I could not use their support to achieve my goals. They were such wonderful people, so generous in their nature. The voice was right. How could I? I could not. My decision was made, and I had to find the strength to face it no matter how unrealistic it seemed to my friends. I wrote the council and explained that I was a Mormon, and though their offer was something I would never forget, I could not accept it. They answered my letter, expressing appreciation for my honesty with them, and wished me luck in my future endeavors.

    Since then, through a lot of hard work and help from many people, I have graduated from Brigham Young University with the art degree I so much wanted. I was privileged to enjoy several teaching assistantships there plus the companionship of some of the greatest people I’ve ever known. When faced with similar decisions since then, I’ve reflected back on this experience of standing against the advice of friends and loved ones and listening instead to the whispering of one small voice that only I could hear. I have learned that no matter how great the problems and pressures or how difficult the decisions, Heavenly Father is always there to guide us.

    Photo by Kori Clemmer