Hi. I’m Elder Sam Bracken, currently serving in the Canada Toronto Mission, but I used to be a “Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech.” While I was at school, I was inspired to do something that prepared me for the mission field, and I’ve been asked to tell you about it.
I’m originally from Las Vegas, Nevada. I was converted to the Church when I was 17 years old. I was an athlete and was fortunate enough to get a full scholarship to the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
I played football there for five years and made a lot of good friends. All that time I was very active in the Church. Sometimes I couldn’t walk very well on Sundays because of rough Saturdays, but I always made it to the meetings.
In my senior year I started every game. We went 9-2-1, were nationally ranked, and went to the All-American Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama.
Before the game in Birmingham they have lots of festivities for the players. One of the activities was a Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast that was open to the public, and there were several hundred—probably a thousand—people there.
The night before, as I was saying my prayers, I felt that somehow I was going to speak at that breakfast. I didn’t know anything about the program, but I prayed that if I was called on, the Lord would be with me and I would be able to share something that would uplift those in attendance.
We got up early and went to the breakfast, and I was really enjoying it. When Coach Hydrick came up to me with a big smile on his face, I knew exactly what he was going to ask.
“Sam,” he said, “I was wondering if you would give a brief talk about your testimony and your relationship with the Lord.”
I said, “I’d love to.” Then I looked at my buddies at the table and realized that I’d never spoken to an audience of non-Mormons before. I had this extreme paranoia come over me, and I wondered what I was going to say.
As they introduced me and I walked up there before all those people, I felt weak all over. I don’t remember what exactly I said. I know I told them about the Savior and how he’d taken upon himself the sins of all mankind. I was doing pretty well emotionally until I started talking about my teammates. Then I started to cry because I loved them. I closed in the sacred name of the Savior.
Suddenly, I heard people start saying, “Amen,” “Hallelujah,” “Praise the Lord!” I was a little shocked at first. But then I saw people were crying, and I was crying, and it was a wonderful experience. After the breakfast, many people told me what I had said impressed them. I was just grateful that the Lord was able to touch their hearts.
When I came back to Atlanta, some people were really excited about the way I had presented the gospel message, and because of that I was invited to speak at several churches in the Atlanta area—Methodist churches, Baptist churches, all sorts of Christian churches, and I did a lot of work with youth groups—firesides and everything. That’s how I got in the missionary mode.
I was soon to graduate, and a lot of my friends were interested in what I was going to do. I was grateful for my friends and their interest in me. I wanted to start my mission early and be the best missionary I could be.
One day I was sitting in sacrament meeting thinking about my friends when a forceful idea came into my mind. I knew what I had to do. I thought I’d put two pictures and my testimony in a Book of Mormon—one football picture of me after a great victory that they could all relate to, and one picture of me in my missionary suit. I’d get the hardback copies of the Book of Mormon, and I would engrave their names in each one so that it would be something nice.
I felt that the Spirit really helped me write my testimony. The first line says, “One can experience many victories in life, but no other experience can compare with the victories that come from obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Then I explained what the Book of Mormon is and that no man can get closer to God than by reading it.
I wrote down the names of some of my buddies and asked Heavenly Father to help me discern the people I should give these books to. I came up with a list of about 70 names and started getting real excited. I started buying copies of the Book of Mormon and having pictures made in mass quantities. I’d think up new names every day, and my list grew to a hundred, then 120, and after 140 I stopped counting.
I had a special fast and a blessing before distributing the books, and an interesting thing happened. The people I was giving the books to were touched.
I gave a Book of Mormon to my head coach, and he committed to me that he would read it and ask Heavenly Father if it is true. He embraced me as I left his office. We were both in tears, and he expressed an interest in helping to support me financially. He knew that a mission was financed by the individual, and he knew I didn’t have a lot of money.
I gave copies of the Book of Mormon to other members of the coaching staff, my teachers at school, to the athletic director, and to the president of our university. They were all very appreciative, and others offered me financial help too. It was unbelievable to see the receptiveness of these people. I knew the Holy Ghost was helping me.
And of all those people I gave copies of the Book of Mormon to, only one rejected the gift. He was a very good friend of mine, and I guess he had read some anti-Mormon literature. He told me he could not accept the book. I left feeling sorrowful, and I thought maybe I had a glimpse of what Heavenly Father might feel when his children don’t accept the gospel.
After I gave away all my copies of the Book of Mormon, the friends who hadn’t come to mind when I was making the list started asking, “What about me? How come I didn’t get one?” So why not? I went out and got some more.
One of my friends, Kris McKee, told me he started reading right away and that it felt good to him to know that God talks to man today through prophets. He said he felt impressed by the account of God the Father and Jesus Christ visiting Joseph Smith, and he promised me he would continue reading.
I had an open house before I left, and there I brought together my friends from school and friends from church. The missionaries were there, of course, and all my friends were eager to talk to them, to find out what I’d be doing for the next two years.
I left shortly after that, so I haven’t yet had any referrals or feedback. All I know is that my friends write me regularly and have an interest in the Church. And I pray the missionaries will one day teach them and that they’ll accept the restored gospel.