I like to think Joseph and Craig would have been good friends—both athletic, fun-loving, and hard-working. One living on farm near Palmyra, the other living just a few miles to the west in the village of Shortsville, they might have become personally acquainted. That is, if they were not separated by more than 150 years.
I think, too, that Craig would have been one of those who believed Joseph Smith. Why not? He believes him now.
My first glimpse of Craig Record was from a distance. He was wearing a short-sleeved white shirt, leather breastplate and kilt, sandals and shin guards (also of leather), a blue cape, and a tall, white-plumed helmet. In any other crowd, he would have stood out just a little. But he was on stage at the Hill Cumorah Pageant, portraying Moroni. I watched quietly with thousands of others as he received the gold plates from Mormon (played by his own father) and carried them up and off the stage and into the darkness.
All day long, I had been looking for him among the crowd of cast members. “Sure, I know Craig. But I haven’t seen him today.” Everyone knew him. Nobody had seen him recently. Now he had disappeared again. And after the performance? Gone in the crowd of cast. Finally, late that night, I reached him by phone and we arranged to meet.
The next day, Saturday, last day of the performance, I met the Record family under a tree at the foot of the hill. Craig wasn’t there yet, so his dad and I talked for a while.
I started with one of the deep, probing questions for which I am famous: “So, what is Craig like?”
His answer reads like it was equally deep. But his tone of voice told me he actually meant it: “Craig’s just a real neat guy.”
We talk a lot about sons respecting fathers, but here is a son who has earned his father’s respect. As Craig’s dad talked, I learned something about how and why. For example, when the missionaries call, Craig drops what he’s doing and goes out with them. Then there’s the fact that by applying himself last year in school, Craig raised his grade point average one whole point.
But mainly, Craig’s dad respects him for what he is, for what he has become at a fairly young age. “He’s faithful; he’s honest; he’s true. He has good goals in life.” Then, like any dad, he has to add: “Of course, he’s an everyday guy, too. We still have to tell him to pick his shoes up. And his room looks like a hurricane hit it. He’s far from perfect,” Brother Record laughs. “But if I were like him, at that same age, I think I could be pretty well pleased with myself.”
We had been sitting on a bench at the foot of the Hill Cumorah. Pageant cast members were constantly streaming by on the asphalt path, coming back from lunch, going to a devotional, etc. When Craig arrived, the midday sun had grown too warm, and the background noise was too distracting. So we moved off the path to a shady patch of lawn beneath a tree.
Craig is tall—at least he’s taller than my six-foot-two height by a couple of inches. And he loves basketball. “It’s high on my list of priorities,” he admits with some understatement. His skills, honed by countless hours of practice, have earned him a spot in the starting lineup of his high school team. And he has gained some local notice as a valuable player. But he also reminds himself that he lives in a small town where there is less competition. “It keeps me humble,” he grins.
Another challenge to Craig’s humility might be the role he has played in the Hill Cumorah Pageant for the past several years. As Moroni, he is not on the stage very long. But when he is, there are just Craig and his father (playing Mormon) on that huge stage. And finally, there is just Craig/Moroni, carrying the gold plates upward from level to level and into the darkness beyond the spotlights. It’s an important moment.
“How do you like being in the pageant with your father?” I wanted to know.
“It’s super; it’s just great. I can’t often look him in the eye while we are on stage because I am supposed to be looking toward the audience. But when I do look him in the eye, the emotion is there and it’s hard to hold back. He’s saying that tomorrow will be the last battle of the Nephites and they’ll be destroyed. And when my father says that, I feel it. It’s like it’s real. And then I have to go and do my part as best I can.
“I wasn’t very confident with the part at first. I was very nervous. But after four rehearsals, and getting my lines and actions down, everything just worked out from there. Now it’s great. I can go up there and think about the audience and try my hardest to share my testimony—Moroni’s testimony—with them.”
As we talked, I couldn’t help but look around. This really was the Hill Cumorah looming behind me. Across the highway, just beyond the field and woods, were the Joseph Smith farmhouse and the Sacred Grove. To the right, just down the highway, was Palmyra, where the Book of Mormon was first printed. What would it be like to grow up in such a place? Craig had mentioned sharing his testimony. Had living here since he was seven made it easier to gain that testimony?
The following day, Sunday, Craig and I met at the Sacred Grove. There the thick canopy of trees keeps the grove in almost total shade, and we found some relief from the early afternoon sun as we walked and talked. The damp forest earth muffled our footsteps. The stillness was broken only by the whine of insects, bird calls, the occasional low voices of other visitors, and our own quiet conversation.
“Craig, do you remember the first time you came to this place as a young boy?”
“No. But I remember that when I was young, this was mainly a place to catch frogs and to look at the signs telling the ages of some of the trees. It started to make an impact on me when I was about 12. And then, when I hit 14, I realized that Joseph Smith had been my age when he had the First Vision.”
But living in the so-called cradle of the Restoration does not guarantee a testimony. “Before I reached out and made the effort, this was just another historical place,” Craig explains. “Before, I was going to go on a mission. But I was going to do it because everyone wanted me to go. I mean, I sort of wanted to go. But last year really decided it.”
Last year. It was during pageant time. Craig, as a cast member, had been assigned to one of the study groups. And in that same group was a young woman from Utah named Jana.
“We became great friends; there was kind of an automatic bond. I couldn’t believe she had such a strong testimony. To see how much she loved the Church, well, it just blew me away.” That level of spirituality became Craig’s goal, not only for himself but for the kind of woman he wanted eventually to marry.
One day, the study group went to the Sacred Grove. When they got there, they split up, and Craig went into the grove by himself.
“I was sitting there alone on one of the benches, thinking about what had happened here, and just started to cry. The Spirit witnessed to me that it was all true.”
The experiences of that summer were a turning point for Craig. For one thing, he saw the kind of young woman he would someday want to marry. And he realized that he would need to do better in school to prepare to someday support a family. He had always been able to do pretty well in school if he applied himself. Now he applied himself and raised his grades one full point.
His feelings toward his family were also affected. “It made me draw closer to my younger brothers and sisters. I had always considered them brats. Now I try to understand them a little more,” Craig says.
Does he have to work hard to maintain his testimony? Craig’s emphatic yes almost seemed out of place in our quiet surroundings. “You have to be active in the Church. It helps so much to be around other young people with the same standards. Reading the Book of Mormon is really important too. But you can’t just read it and then stop and say, ‘Okay, now I’ve read it.’ “ Craig is currently into his third reading. “And of course there’s prayer. You have to make a habit of it. Even on the nights when you are so tired you think you could just pass right out.”
One more question: “Craig, how do you feel about your priesthood now?”
“I believe in it a lot more. I believe in its power. The priesthood does work.”
We continued our walk, back out of the grove and down the path across the meadow toward the Joseph Smith home and the parking lot. The route to Craig’s house would take us within sight of the Hill Cumorah. His words came back to mind: “Before I reached out and made the effort, this was just another historical place.”
True. And before young Joseph Smith reached out and made the effort, he was just another young man. He was a young man of great promise, true, but he had to reach out. And it was the reaching out and the Spirit’s sweet answering witness that made the difference, not the place. That’s why it doesn’t matter if it’s a young man in Bangor, Maine, or a young woman in Bangkok, Thailand. The process is the same. And the effect.
And Craig Record in Upstate New York? In some ways, this article was about him because he is not unique. He is an average guy who loves basketball and motorcycles. Who is a pretty good student when he applies himself. Craig is just an example of what happens when you reach out for a testimony and then act on that witness. He’s an example of how a fairly average guy can also be pretty outstanding in the ways that matter most.
Wherever you live, live righteously.
Study the Book of Mormon.
Make a habit of prayer.
Gain a testimony and share it.
Associate with those who bring out the best in you.