Missionary Focus:
The Last House

by Cynthia Pennell

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    As a child growing up in North Carolina, I developed a strong interest in religion at a very young age. I remember asking my mom, “Who made God?”

    And she would say, as is a common evangelistic answer, “God made himself.” I couldn’t comprehend that.

    I then remember asking other questions like, “Are Jesus and God the same person? How can they be the same person, Mama?”

    And she would just say, “But, honey, they are.” I couldn’t understand that either. It just did not make sense, because I thought that God and Jesus just had to be two different people. This concept was not taught me; it was innate.

    My other big question was, “Mama, if God loves us as much today as he did the people in the Bible, how come we don’t have a Moses today?”

    “Honey, that just isn’t done anymore,” was always the answer. But it never satisfied me.

    At age ten, I started going to a different church every Sunday. It was hard because I was shy. It was like when you go shopping, and you don’t know what you’re looking for, but you’ll know it when you find it. That’s what searching for the gospel was to me. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I knew I didn’t have it and would know it when I found it.

    Every Sunday, Mom would take me to a different church. She’d drop me off and then come back and get me. I usually sat on the back row. I went to each church only once except one. I was really impressed with that church because the people were very friendly, so I went twice. I did this for about a year and finally came to the conclusion that there was no true church.

    At 11, I started studying the scriptures. As I would sit down and study the scriptures, I came upon the command that you must be baptized. Even though my family would go to revivals or to church on Easter Sunday, I knew I had never been baptized and I felt I needed to be.

    I felt that when you were baptized, you were obliged to attend church with that specific congregation on Sixth Street or wherever. I had already visited all the churches in town, and there wasn’t one I wanted to belong to.

    My father died when I was young, so there were just my mother, my brother, and my granddaddy. We would go to revivals during the summer as they traveled through our town. Most of the preachers were very forceful and domineering, and I was often frightened, until one preacher came who was kind of funny and rather entertaining.

    I thought, “Well, if I have to be baptized to go to heaven, who would be better than this guy, because it’s a traveling revival and I won’t have to attend any church.” I had gone up and talked to the preacher, and he said he would baptize me on Saturday night.

    It was the Friday night before at 9:25 P.M. I remember the exact time because I looked at the clock. It is still vivid in my mind. At 9:25 it was storming with a humdinger of an electrical storm like we get in North Carolina. It was lightning and thundering and raining. The trees were bent over, and it was dark. There came a knock on the door.

    Mama, being a widow for so many years and very protective of her children, would never let strangers in the house. It was two young men in suits and trenchcoats, and she let them in. I remember it so distinctly, because I thought, “Who are these guys?” I thought Mama knew them.

    She is very respectful of other people’s religions, so she made us come in and listen to them. I had never heard of Mormons before. I had never even heard the word. They started teaching us.

    When I heard these two missionaries, I knew that what they were telling me was true. I had come to the conclusion that there was no true church and that’s why I was going to be baptized by the revival preacher. But after hearing the missionaries that Friday evening, I knew that they had something I was looking for, so I didn’t get baptized by the revival preacher the next day.

    They taught us for a few weeks, and I really believed what they told me. But Mom was brought up in her religion and thought she was sinful thinking any other way. I don’t know if Mama asked them not to come back, or if the missionaries felt like they shouldn’t baptize an 11-year-old girl without her family, but they stopped coming.

    I didn’t know where they had gone. I didn’t know where the church met or how to contact the missionaries. They had given me some books, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder and The Doctrine and Covenants. I sat down and studied these books carefully.

    By then I was in seventh grade. I remember my teacher wanted us to give a presentation on any subject we chose, and I picked Mormonism. I remember studying for it so hard. I then got up and gave my presentation in front of all the students and the faculty, and I wasn’t even a member of the Church. I think I answered every question correctly.

    About a year and a half after the first missionaries visited us, another set of missionaries knocked on the door. My family wasn’t home, but they gave me a Book of Mormon. They said they would be back in a couple of days to see what I thought about it. I was baptized the next week and have hardly missed a Sunday since.

    I remember that I wasn’t very comfortable at church for a while because I didn’t have my family to go with me. I knew the Church was true, so I gave myself a year to get comfortable and see how I fit. By the time that year was up, I never wanted to leave church. Mama used to say, “Honey, why don’t you come home once in a while.” Every opportunity I had, I was at church. I loved it there.

    A sister in the ward came up to me, just before I left on my mission, and asked me, “What kept you coming back to church, every Sunday all by yourself.” I really couldn’t give her a direct answer, but something pushed me toward church every Sunday.

    I don’t think it was coincidence that missionaries hocked on my door at 9:25 that night during a storm when missionaries are supposed to be in at 9:30. It was their last house, and with the storm they could have easily rationalized going home five minutes early. Those missionaries never knew that the 11-year-old girl listening in the background joined the Church and became a missionary herself.

    That thought made me a better missionary. I would say to myself, “One more door. I was the last door, so one more door.”

    Searching for the truth led Cynthia on a weekly trek from church to church to church. But it was the missionaries who found her, when they knocked on their last door one stormy night. (Illustrated by Lori Anderson.)