03465_000_006In a sea of degradation, I noticed an island of spirituality.
In the summer of 1975 I was 25, and my father had just passed away. He was a well-to-do businessman in oil and gas in Canada. I had traveled to Denmark to settle his business dealings for my mother, selling his mining company there and a lot of oil and mineral rights he had in Greenland. I wound up being in Copenhagen alone for quite some time.
After spending hours each day in business meetings discussing the arrangements of the deal, my business companions would take me downtown to the Stroet, a famous walking area lined with shops, in the busiest part of Copenhagen.
It was one of the hottest summers on record for northern Europe. The Europeans were traveling more than the Americans. On that street, you could sit in one spot and see some English, Israelis, Arabs, and Scandinavians strolling by, sometimes in native costume or scantily dressed because of the heat. The Stroet is lined with remarkable stores selling furs and expensive things. Some of the seamier side of the city was obvious there as well, with pornographic theaters, adult bookstores, and taverns offering their wares. And I noticed, in the middle of all this, four Mormon missionaries working a street display.
I was so astonished. Here on this one street, the whole world seemed represented. The degradations of humanity beside rampant materialism and in the midst of all this, an island of spirituality.
I was with my business companions still discussing the deal we were working on, so I was not able to go talk with the missionaries, but I watched them. I noticed that none of the young men followed the young ladies down the street with their eyes no matter how scantily dressed the girls were. I was quite impressed with that. I resolved that I would go back and meet them in the evening when I was free, but every time I went to find them, their display was folded up and put away. I could never seem to catch up with them.
I left Copenhagen on a business trip and returned a few days later. On this trip I had only a light overnight bag, so instead of taking a taxi, I started walking to my hotel. As I was walking down the Stroet, lo and behold, there were two missionaries on what I later learned would have been their preparation day.
Since the pair was not working by the street display, I set out to follow them. As they walked down the street, they would look in the shop windows. I would follow and look in the windows that they looked into to see what they were looking at. They would look at shoes or coats, and when they did look into a bookstore, it was a store that sold Danish history books. They did not stare into the wine shops or other shops that offered questionable literature or art.
I resolved to meet the missionaries at their street display, but suddenly the business deal was completed, and I was on my way back to Canada.
When I got home to Edmonton, I forgot some of the feelings I had experienced watching the missionaries in Copenhagen. However, through the referral of an acquaintance, some missionaries made an appointment with me.
I let the two missionaries into my apartment. I looked into the face of one of the elders, and it seemed as though I had known him all my life. I had immediately the feelings I had felt on the Stroet in Copenhagen. I sat down and listened to the first discussion. I looked into the eyes of the elders and saw the sincerity of the testimony they bore. After several weeks of being taught by the missionaries, I joined the Church.
I have often thought about those missionaries that I watched during those afternoons in Copenhagen. If the two missionaries I followed had stopped in front of a pub and had been laughing and joking about beer, or if they had gone into some of the stores that you might expect young people to be curious about, the impact of their example on me would have disappeared. If they were anything but what they were, representing precisely what they did, the testimony expressed by their actions would have been lost.
The world walked by those missionaries that summer on the Stroet in Denmark. They never knew I was watching and that their presence bore testimony to me. They never knew that their example was what touched me and made me receptive to the gospel message. Although they never spoke to many of the people on that street, I wonder how many others were influenced as I was just by their example.