Anything but Average


Craig Symes was just another locker-room attendant at the health spa I went to when my wife Sue and I lived in St. Petersburg, Florida. He looked like your average 16-year-old—average height, average brown hair. He had the typical teenager’s souped-up car and a nice girlfriend. But while he seemed like an average teenager in many respects, as I got to know him, I found that he was anything but average. And my relationship with him didn’t turn out to be quite what I expected.

There was something about Craig’s eyes and his smile that attracted people. I noticed how friendly and polite he was to everyone and that he never cursed. He always seemed to go out of his way to help people. I was attracted by his genuineness. We talked in the locker room about cars, his girlfriend, sports, our families, and religion. Here was an area where Craig wasn’t average. He wasn’t afraid to talk about religion as many people are.

One day we were discussing the importance of families, and I told him about the death of my father when I was 21. Craig told me a little about eternal life, which made sense to me because I had always hoped to be able to see my father again. I was surprised by Craig’s knowledge of religion and his willingness to talk about it.

I wanted my wife to get to know Craig, so I invited him to dinner. “If I go to your house for dinner will you come to church with me?” he asked. My wife and I were devout members of another faith, but I thought I’d accept his friendly gesture.

Two weeks later on a rainy Sunday morning, I attended church with Craig. I didn’t know anything about the LDS church at that time. Craig introduced me to a lot of “brothers” and to two missionaries who sat next to me during the meeting. The friendliness and warmth of those at the meeting made me feel comfortable. Many introduced themselves and welcomed me there. The lesson was on eternal life. I was impressed that the lesson was taught on a basic principle that I could follow.

Afterward we went to my house and had breakfast with Sue. We visited awhile and then Craig left. The rest of the day was a pretty average Sunday—the last one we’d have for quite a while. That evening the missionaries called and wanted to know when they could come by and share a special message about the Church with Sue and me. I asked them to come by on Tuesday evening.

When I hung up, Sue wanted to know what was going on. I told her that the missionaries were going to come visit us, and she was not very excited. But Tuesday, when she answered the door and let Elders Zaugg and Lewis in, along with Craig and his friend Steve, a good feeling came over her and she wanted to listen to what they had to say.

The missionaries taught us about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. We asked so many questions that the first discussion lasted four hours. We were interested in hearing more and set a date for another discussion. Craig and his friend Steve always came with the missionaries and joined in our discussions.

I still wanted to get to know Craig better, so a few days later as I was getting ready to leave the spa, I asked him to play tennis with me one morning. He said he couldn’t play in the mornings because he had seminary meetings at 5 A.M. I asked him what seminary was and he explained. I said, “Oh, you have to go.” He said, “No, I want to go.”

I wanted to know what made a class so interesting that a 16-year-old would get up at 4:30 in the morning to get there on time. It intrigued me that Craig would make such an effort to learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ. So I started going to seminary with him.

The seminary teacher wasn’t afraid to let a 28-year-old man get involved with the class right from the beginning. The first day I joined in the scripture chase, although I didn’t have any idea where the book of Alma was. By my second visit I knew most of the students by name. I started attending seminary with Craig every day. More than just learning, I was receiving of their great spirit. I couldn’t believe that youth were so excited about church. I caught their enthusiasm.

Sue and I continued our discussions with the missionaries, and six weeks later we decided to be baptized. Our families were against the decision. We received a letter from my brother trying to dissuade us. The local officials of the church we had attended called us, and my mother also called 15 minutes before we left for our baptism. But we were committed to our decision. We knew it was the right thing for us to do. Craig baptized us.

I am grateful that a 16-year-old member of the Church caught the vision of “every member a missionary.” Craig brought happiness and joy into our lives, mostly by setting a proper example among both his friends and those that came in contact with him. He wasn’t afraid to let others know that he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. He wasn’t afraid to be more than average and just a little out of the ordinary.

[photo] Photography by Steve Bunderson