A Winning Season

by Samuel Hollinger

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    Turn to the righteousness section of your daily newspaper and read the lead story. “Elder Sargent won a big one today. When the Gomez family returned their Book of Mormon and asked him not to come anymore, he rebounded, said a quick prayer, hugged his companion, and decided to knock on a few more doors. ‘There’s a family waiting out there somewhere,’ he said. ‘We’re going to find them.’ The outstanding play brought the crowd to its feet.”

    If you’re having trouble finding the righteousness section or the story about Elder Sargent, no wonder. The most wonderful things people do in life seldom make the papers. The important victories are most often recorded only in human hearts. No crowds cheer and no cameras click, but the world is changed. The righteousness section is found in heaven, not in newspapers.

    Elder Stephen Sargent of the Uruguay Montevideo Mission doesn’t expect any stories like the one above. He is well accustomed to seeing his name in print, however. As an athletic star at Davis High School in Kaysville, Utah, he filled a whole scrapbook.

    “Sparked by senior quarterback Steve Sargent, the Darts went to the pass and came away with 236 yards through the air as Sargent silenced any critics of his passing ability with 13 completions in 20 attempts. That’s 65 percent. Not bad for a running quarterback.”

    This scrapbook clipping chronicles Steve’s greatest athletic thrill. The 1984 Davis Dart football team was undefeated. As quarterback, Steve had led the complex double wing attack skillfully, but he was seldom called on to pass. True, he had scored his share of points on the ground, but a quarterback likes to put it up sometimes too. Finally, in the semifinals of the state championships, the potent ground attack faltered. The coach reluctantly went to the air, and Steve flew high for the victory.

    A week later, the Darts lost the championship game, but Steve was already firmly established as one of the great stars in Utah high school history. He played on both sides of the ball and was named an all-state defensive back. In basketball he was equally skilled. As a 6-3 forward playing against 6-7 opponents, he notched a 16.5 point per game average. He was named second-team all-state. In the spring he played tennis on his school’s number one doubles team.

    Steve Sargent had the kind of high school career most of us can only dream about. In addition to his athletic accomplishments, he also maintained an A average in academics and earned his Eagle Scout Award.

    Before you decide that Steve is somebody you could learn to dislike, you should know that he worked hard for all his achievements. He spent hours practicing basketball and football on his own, endlessly repeating the same monotonous drills. He carried around a slip of paper which said, “Remember whenever you’re not practicing, that somewhere somebody else is, and when the two of you meet, he’s going to beat you.” He came home every night after school and disappeared until his studies were done. He paid the price, and he reaped the rewards.

    So when Steve Sargent failed to receive an athletic scholarship, his life came apart, right? Wrong. He had another dream beyond that of athletic stardom. He wanted to serve the Lord on a mission. He had already completed four years of seminary. He had read the scriptures, maintained his personal worthiness, and tried to save some money. Now he was ready to fine tune himself before the big event.

    Attending BYU on an academic scholarship, he took a missionary preparation class. His parents recall, “When he wrote home from the Y he would say, ‘I can hardly wait to get out. I wish I were in the mission field!’ That was six months ahead of time. When they extended missionary service from 18 months to two years, we thought he might be a little disappointed, but he just said, ‘Boy that’s great!’ There was also a lot of hard personal prayer. And a lot of discussion with his roommates and others who were preparing for missions.”

    Finally, his papers came. He went shopping, visited the doctor and dentist, spoke at a marvelous farewell, hugged his hugs, and said his goodbyes.

    The MTC was wonderful, all except for getting up at 6:30, but Steve mastered that as he had mastered the spiral pass and the jump shot. Then came the mission field and the realization that missionary work is tough. As tough as football or basketball.

    “I’d say it’s harder,” Elder Sargent insists. “Maybe not physically, although physically it wears you down sometimes too. But mentally it’s a lot tougher. You need to put out more effort to be a good missionary than to be a good quarterback.

    “Everybody says in their homecoming talk how great it was, so I always expected to spend 24 hours a day on a spiritual high. I soon found out that it isn’t like that. There’s a lot of hard work involved, but when you see the results it’s worth it.”

    And then, there was always the language barrier. “The first two weeks I thought they were speaking Chinese.” But his ear soon adjusted, and his tongue got used to its new assignment. “I feel that the Lord’s really helped me a lot in picking up the language.”

    The initial hard times brought Steve closer to his family. His dad says, “You suffer with him when he’s down, and you just want to be there and put your arms around him and say, ‘It’s okay.’ We’ve drawn closer to Steve through the hard times than through the good. We know that he has to go through the refiner’s fire in order to learn. We want him to learn to struggle and sacrifice, but at the same time, we pray that the Lord is gentle with him so that it’s a positive struggle after all is said and done, so that he progresses in his testimony and understanding of people and love and commitment to them.”

    Brother Sargent’s prayers have been answered. Steve found that every sacrifice was more than matched by a blessing. If the mission field was harder than he expected, it was more rewarding too. The letters he writes home make glad reading for his parents. “I’m really feeling a lot more love for my Father in Heaven and for Jesus Christ. I set a goal to focus my thoughts on Christ when I’m down and thinking about other things. I know that I will grow to love him even more as my mission goes on. When I think about it, I just get warm all over and feel great. There are still plenty of rough times, but I know whom I can always rely on.”

    But after all is said and done, there still aren’t any newspaper clippings. Isn’t missionary work a little boring after athletic stardom? “Missionary work is awesome! The rewards are far greater than the rewards of athletics. A touchdown is thrilling, but it doesn’t compare to a baptism.”

    There has been personal growth too. Some of it Steve probably can’t even see because he’s too close to himself. Some of it he can. “I can see life a lot clearer. I know why we’re here. I can see the plan that our Father in Heaven has given us in order to be able to live with him again and become like him. It’s neat to finally see that plan come into focus and really understand what he has done for us.

    “I’m a much different person than I was just a few months ago. If I hadn’t come on a mission I’d still be thinking sports were the most important thing in life. I might have learned this in time anyway, but it comes a lot faster on a mission.”

    Of course Steve still loves sports too. “I’m sure they’ll have athletics in the next life,” he says.

    Steve’s love has grown along with his understanding. He wrote home: “This last week I actually started to enjoy my mission. It happened after I got the tape from home. And I’d been praying quite a bit. I really realized how much my family means to me. I’m just overjoyed to be alive. Our family is so special, and I love you all so much. I realize that the love I feel for you is the thing I need to share with these people.”

    As an athlete, Steve prepared carefully for each game, and afterward he would evaluate his preparation so he could do better next time. How does he evaluate his mission preparation? “I think we should prepare when we’re younger. I thought I was pretty well prepared, but our preparation can never be equal to the importance of the task. I wish I had saved more money too, because I feel that I could have placed less of a burden on my parents. I especially wish I’d studied the scriptures more. They are so great.”

    Steve has expressed the bottom line on mission preparation. It’s impossible to prepare as well as the calling deserves. Still, mission president Eduardo Ayala is pretty pleased with Elder Sargent just as he is. “He’s one of the most impressive missionaries I’ve ever seen. He is always enthusiastic. He is an excellent companion. He works very hard. Nothing discourages him. And furthermore he lives the law of consecration in every sense. It’s a pleasure to work with him.”

    Nice words, but don’t look for them in the newspaper. Don’t look for any of Steve’s hard, wonderful mission in the newspaper. Look for it in the smiling faces of those to whom he brings the gospel. Look for it in the person he becomes. Look for it in all the good he does throughout his whole life and beyond. Look for it when the sports clippings have all turned to dust, and you will find it. Because it will be written in the hearts of people, and people last forever.

    Photography by Eldon Linschoten and courtesy of family

    There’s no special section in the newspaper that records righteousness, no photographers like there were at sports events to document every big play. But as a missionary Elder Sargent has discovered that the most wonderful things people do in life seldom make the papers. They are silent victories, recorded in heaven, in journals, and in the heart.