Beginning with Joshua


First-Place Fiction
Joshua couldn’t rest while Paul was sleeping in. So Joshua made a phone call—and started a chain reaction with eternal consequences.

“Hey, Paul,” Joshua’s sunny voice came over the telephone. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing.”

Joshua paused. “Why aren’t you at church? Is something wrong?”

“No. I didn’t feel like getting up.”

“Well, do you want to come? My parents could come get you.”

There was a determined edge to Paul’s voice. “I’ve already missed sacrament meeting and part of Sunday School. I just need some time to relax, and it doesn’t really matter to anyone if I come or not. Maybe I’ll come some other time.”

“You could still come to teachers quorum today,” Joshua persisted. “Hey, we want you here. What’s the deal?”

“My mother says I’m old enough that if I don’t want to go to church I don’t have to.”

“So what do you do instead?”

“I don’t know. Watch TV, stuff like that. Sleep.” Paul laughed apologetically.

“Brother Powell says to tell you we’re going to have a really good lesson.”

“Oh. Did he make you call me?”

“No, no, I told him I was going to call you.”

Paul was quiet. “Why did you call me?” he asked finally.

“Well, ’cause I worry about you when you’re not at church. I wonder if you’re okay. You used to come all the time, till a couple of weeks ago.” His voice trailed off. “It’ll be a really cool lesson. I saw all this stuff that Brother Powell’s gonna show us. Want me to send someone to come get you?”

“Oh, I can just come on my bike, I guess.”

“You sure?”

“Sure.”

“Okay, see you in a few minutes.”

Two years later, Paul was called to be home-study seminary president. His new responsibilities were going smoothly until one day when Sister Yockstel asked to talk to him after class. She gave him a list of seminary-age youth who weren’t enrolled in seminary and instructed him to get with the rest of the presidency and contact everyone on the list.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Paul said weakly. “There are a lot of people on this list.”

“Yes. And every last one of them is missing the gospel in their lives. Seminary or some other contact with the Church could really help them. Remember how much staying close to the Lord has helped you,” Sister Yockstel replied.

After dividing the list with the rest of the presidency, the task didn’t seem so ominous. Audrey volunteered to print up letters to everyone on her computer, and one day after class they spent a few minutes addressing, stuffing, sealing, and stamping envelopes. The next week, it was time to make telephone calls.

“Amy Richards,” Paul read on his list after calling two others. “Well, here goes.” He gulped, dialed the number, and waited.

“Hello.”

“Hello, is Amy Richards there?”

“This is Amy.”

“Hi, Amy. This is Paul Oasman,” he began mechanically. “I’m seminary president at church. How are you?”

“Fine. Church? What church?”

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We sent you a letter. Did you get it?”

“I don’t know. I think I got something. I didn’t read it. Church of what?”

“Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormons. Did you … did you ever go there?”

“I think we used to go to some church when I was little. That must be what it was. They told us about Jesus and prophets and we sang a song about popcorn on the apricot tree.”

“Yeah. That’s right. So would you like to come to seminary sometime?”

“Seminary?”

“Yeah. It’s for youth our age and we study the scriptures.”

“The scriptures?”

“Like the Bible and the Book of Mormon.”

“Well … I don’t think so. I’m really busy with my job and keeping my grades up. I want to go to college, and this is the only way I can go. But thank you for calling me.”

“Well, let me know if you need anything.” He gave her his number and they hung up shortly.

The phone calls weren’t really that bad, Paul reported to Sister Yockstel the next week. On a whim, he called Amy and the other two people on his list again a couple of months later to invite them to the Harvest Ball at the stake center, and again to invite them to the ward Christmas social. Each time Amy said something about being too busy, but they did spend a few minutes talking before hanging up. When he invited Amy to come to the Sweetheart Dance in February with him and a couple of his friends and she declined again, she asked him, “Why don’t you ever give up on me, Paul?”

“I don’t know. I had a friend Joshua who never gave up on me. Do you think I should give up on you?”

“Well, no, I guess not. But I never come.”

“Maybe you’ll come sometime.”

“Maybe,” Amy sighed. “I’m just really busy. Hey, I gotta go so I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

Amy did finally come to the youth barbecue in the spring and joined in the volleyball game. Paul went to talk to her when she stepped out to get some punch.

“See, didn’t I tell you? It’s a great activity!”

“Yeah, it’s pretty fun! Everyone’s really nice and everything.”

“Well, you’ll have to come to these things more often.” Paul glanced sidewise at her.

Amy lowered her eyes. “Yeah, maybe, but I don’t need to get too involved with you guys. I’m just going to leave in the fall to go to college.”

“But, hey. It’s not the people that are the most important part here. It’s the Church—the gospel.”

Amy was silent. Paul began to blush.

She finally spoke. “I know that’s what you’ve been getting at. I’ve told you, I’m not a religious person. And why should you care whether I am or not?”

“The Church is true, Amy. It’s not just something you like if it’s convenient. It’s true and it’s real. Christ really exists, and he really wants you to return to him!” Paul’s face was turning a bright embarrassed red, but he plunged on as Amy replied to his boldness.

“How can anyone know that?”

“You can pray about it. God will tell you himself.”

Amy squirmed. “Well, thanks. I’m just so busy getting ready for college. I know that doesn’t change the reality of it all, but I don’t want to have to think about the Church right now. I’m really not good enough to be into religion anyway. I better get back to the game.” She got up and left.

During the summer, Amy came to church with Paul six times and read the Book of Mormon occasionally. It made sense, and she felt good about it when she prayed like Paul asked her to, but the good feelings scared her, especially since her parents weren’t interested in getting involved in the Church. “They just want you there to raise their numbers. They don’t really care about you,” her father told her. “After we moved here we went to church for two months and nobody really spoke to us. And nobody called when we quit coming.”

College started for Amy at the end of August. Dorm life was really exciting. It didn’t take Amy and her roommate Letitia long to discover that they could make new friends very easily by sitting downstairs in the lobby. Someone was bound to come up and introduce himself.

One evening during the first week, Amy was studying her Spanish when a tall blond boy in a sports coat seated himself on the couch across from her. “What are you reading?” he inquired.

Amy looked up and smiled. “Spanish,” she answered.

“Ahhh. Fun. I study French myself. You must be a freshman.”

“Because I’m studying Spanish?”

“No, because we’ve never met. My name is Rod. And you are?”

“Amy.”

“Hi, Amy. Do you know about the big rally with Dr. Reality tomorrow night? I’m on the publicity committee.”

“No. Who’s Dr. Reality?”

“The main thing Dr. Reality does is give some very, very good study tips. Just wonderful.” Rod shook his head and smiled.

Amy shrugged. “Sounds good. Where is it?”

Rod gave her directions and added, somewhat condescendingly, “I must warn you, his lead-in is about how God doesn’t exist and how prayers before tests don’t help, but his study tips will.”

Amy suddenly felt like she’d been sucked into something. “How much of that does he say?” she asked guardedly.

“Quite a bit. It’s sponsored by the Free-Thinking Student Association. But you don’t have to be an atheist or anything. The study tips are good for everyone. So, what religion are you? I could see you getting nervous when I talked about God not existing, so I assume you must believe in one.”

“Oh, I’m not a very religious person,” Amy faltered. “I was baptized a Mormon when I was little, and I’ve gone there a few times, but I’m not really into that sort of thing.”

Rod leaned back and put his hands behind his head. “Oh, good! A Mormon!”

“What? I didn’t say I was a good Mormon.”

Rod chuckled. “Mormons are so funny. They have so much faith.”

Amy was confused. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Look out there. Do you see God? Do you really have any concrete evidence that he exists?”

Amy suddenly found her tongue. “Why do you care whether or not I believe in a God I can’t see?”

“Oh, I don’t care,” Rod assured her. “Believe what you want.”

I’ve got to get out of here, Amy thought. “I just remembered some stuff I need to do upstairs.” She got up and left quickly.

As she went up the stairs she felt the warm calmness of love from her Heavenly Father enfolding her. It was a feeling she knew she could not be imagining.

When she rounded the corner into her hall she came face to face with a girl with glasses and long, dark hair. Amy smiled on reflex.

“Hi, you’re not Amy, are you? I’m looking for Amy Richards,” the girl said.

“That’s me.”

The girl twisted her hands back and forth nervously. “Well, my name’s Sophie Petrowsky and I just thought I’d come by and say hi because I hear we go to the same church.”

Not another one! Amy stiffened. “The only church I’ve gone to at all is the Mormon church and I don’t go there very much. I just got invited to become an atheist.” She laughed ruefully, not wanting to hurt Sophie’s feelings. “It’s been a long day.”

Sophie relaxed a little. “Yes, it has,” she agreed. “Well, the Mormon church is where I go, and I thought—How did you get invited to become an atheist?”

Amy explained to her about Rod and what he’d said. Sophie nodded. “That sounds like Rod. I lived here last year and got to talk to him. He’s really smart, and he can be nice, but he’s a little overbearing. There are a lot of kids around here who just want to argue and cause trouble. And of course you’ll get all kinds of invitations to join different student organizations.”

“Why does everyone care so much about gaining converts around here?” Amy asked bluntly.

Sophie thought for a minute. “Well, we do like new faces in our groups. We like to make new friends. But in the Church there’s more to it than that.” Sophie twisted her hands again. “We have a message that we want to share with you and with everyone, and it’s because we love you,” she said softly. “This guy named Paul called the Latter-day Saint Institute about you a couple days ago.”

Amy closed her eyes, then shook her head and smiled. “Paul, you idiot,” she whispered. “What did he say?”

“Oh, he said you were really neat and that you’d been studying the Church a little. Mostly he wanted to make sure that you’d have a friend here, and that you’d know we were here for you. I can tell you about the institute program and when church is and everything if you’d like. We have a really good singles’ group.”

“I don’t have a way to get there.”

“Oh, that’s okay. The institute’s just right down the street, and I can get you a ride to church. I don’t have a car either, but Sister Newell said she’d take us this week.”

“Us?”

“I asked her first to make sure she’d have room. We’d like you to come, but if you don’t want to …”

Amy thought for a minute. “I want to,” she said decisively. “At least once for Paul.”

Five years later, two young men in suits stood at Mark and Letitia Stoon’s front door. They wanted to come in and share a message about Christ, they said. “No, I don’t think so,” Mark began, but Letitia, who had come to see who was at the door, stopped him. “Wait, are you the people with the Book of Mormon?”

The young man smiled. “Yes, we are,” one of them answered.

“I have a friend, Amy Richards. She was my roommate at college for a couple of years. She gave me one of those before she left to be a missionary in Mexico.”

“Really? That’s great. Did you read it?”

“I read some of it. I thought it was interesting. Amy always seemed to care about it. And she still writes to me. She’s a good friend.”

“Do you mind if we come in and talk about it with you a little bit?”

“Not at all,” Letitia smiled. “Come on in.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann