Much of the news out of Missouri last year was about rivers washing away homes, hopes, and even lives. But now that the waters have subsided, Latter-day Saint youth in the St. Louis and St. Louis North stakes continue involvement in a different type of flood—saturating their community with the gospel and the Book of Mormon. Theirs is a flood of peace, leaving in its wake the promises of eternity.
For one week each year, LDS teenagers here concentrate on living like missionaries: get up early, study the scriptures, keep a journal, share the gospel. It’s Missionary Week. And it’s a four-year tradition.
“You concentrate on feeling the Spirit and understanding missionary rules, so there’s no music except Church music, no romantic stuff like holding hands,” youth chairman David Rees explains.
At a fireside President Wayne McGrath of the Missouri St. Louis Mission speaks about sharing your beliefs with your friends. The next day at early-morning seminary, two full-time missionaries review questions commonly asked about the Church.
Then the week begins.
“This is my first time,” says Aaron Ott. “But I’ve heard about good experiences from the older kids. I’ve already got people picked out I’m going to talk to.”
“Every year you find someone who’s curious,” says Aimée Sorenson. “Keep it light and friendly. Then it’s not threatening, just informative.”
Some of the most memorable experiences, of course, come while working with the full-time missionaries.
Ruben Tungate was with the elders when, without knowing in advance, they knocked on the door of a young man he had considered an enemy. “We ended up leaving a Book of Mormon there, and I’m on much better terms with him now.”
David Rees tells of feeling the Spirit while asking a man to read Moroni 10:3–5 [Moro. 10:3–5]. “It was so powerful. We all felt it. I don’t know if he went on to have the discussions or not, but it helped me feel what I’ll be feeling as a full-time missionary. I know I want to serve.”
“Over the years, we’ve had some people join the Church,” says David Christensen. “But that’s not the only reason we do this.”
Heidi Schultz clarifies: “The greatest thing that happens with Missionary Week is what happens inside of you. It strengthens your resolve to live righteously and to share your beliefs. It really bonds the LDS kids together.”
Tom Geffe wasn’t exactly “golden.” He called the missionaries names. He threw the Book of Mormon in the trash. He smoked. He drank. He swore.
All the more reason to love him. That was the attitude of his twin brother, Bill, and the members of the St. Peters Ward. Bill and Tom started the discussions at the same time. Tom dropped out but Bill got baptized.
“Bill would give me books and I wouldn’t read them,” Tom says now. “He would tell me he was learning about the priesthood, and I would think, Yeah, you’re crazy.”
Bill kept at it.
“I’d go to Church activities,” Tom says. “But I’d always be the rebel. I was just in it for the fun.”
Bill invited Tom to youth conference. Tom figured he’d skip the spiritual parts.
“But I ended up at this big testimony meeting. All of these kids were bearing their testimonies. One nonmember girl said she knew the Church was true and she was going to be baptized. Her testimony was so powerful I thought, Wow! I want to be a part of that!”
The change was immediate. Tom quit smoking, quit drinking, quit swearing. He started the discussions again, started reading the Book of Mormon. Tom discovered the gospel was setting him free. “I felt better about myself. I felt free to be the things I really wanted to be.”
The missionaries asked Tom to join the Church. He felt it was right, but wanted to be sure. They all prayed.
“I felt really warm inside, and a big smile came over my face,” Tom explains. “I knew I should be baptized.
“People who knew me before could not believe I was joining the Church,” Tom says. “But it was the best thing I ever did. It sticks with me every day, knowing Heavenly Father loves me.”
The story doesn’t end there. Bill, who was a year ahead in school, is serving in the Texas Houston East Mission. He relies a lot on Tom’s letters of encouragement. “He tells me the same things I used to tell him,” Bill says. “Keep on trying, even when it’s hard. Stay strong.
“I don’t know if I have more I-want-to-go-home days than other missionaries,” Bill says. “But when I have one I’ll reread a letter, or look at Tom’s picture, and think how we’ve been able to help each other. It gives me courage to go on.”
Tom also plans on a mission.
The first time Kirby Orme of the St. Charles Second Ward really talked to Brandy Easton, he told her the story of Helaman and the 2,000 warriors.
Interesting, she thought, but strange timing. For one thing, she didn’t know Kirby well. For another, she and some friends had just stopped by.
“Somebody asked him about the Book of Mormon,” Brandy says. “And he told us his favorite story. You can’t help but be drawn into it. I was really impressed with that.”
Brandy wanted to hear more. And she liked Kirby’s family. There was something different about them.
“They were so close and they did so many things together. I wanted that for me,” she says softly.
A short time later, Brandy heard some anti-Mormon statements. She went to the Ormes to ask if the things she had heard were true. They gave her a Book of Mormon and bore their testimonies. Kirby’s younger brother Jared also answered a lot of questions over the phone.
“Something was guiding me on. I knew I was doing something right for the first time in a long, long time,” Brandy explains. The Ormes could sense the Holy Ghost at work.
“I knew she was feeling the Spirit,” Jared says. “I knew she would be fine.”
Brandy started taking the discussions. “My parents raised me with strong values, so much of what I was learning was already familiar.” But some things “didn’t make sense at first. I would go home crying, go in my room and pray, trying to understand.”
Finally one night she re-read Moroni 10:4–5 [Moro. 10:4–5]. “I felt calm, though the world seemed in a whirl. The promise came true—the Lord told me the Book of Mormon is true.”
Brandy told her parents she wanted to be baptized. “They said if I felt it was right, I could be. I told them I knew it was right. Before, when I made a mistake, I’d think, oh well, that’s life. Now I try to be an example to others.”
And her example has helped bring one of her best friends, Brandee Carter, into the Church. But that’s another story.
For as long as anyone in the Maryland Heights Ward can remember, the Byrnes have arrived at church with a car full of friends.
“When one girl we picked up had trouble being on time,” Christina Byrne explains, “we started saying the Byrne Express was leaving, so she’d better be ready.”
The Byrnes—single mom Janet, and daughters Christina, Anna, and Josie—are simply responding to an invitation from missionaries to fellowship new and prospective members.
“We try to make people feel welcome,” Christina says. “If they feel needed, they keep coming.”
Stefany Richmond agrees.
“After my family started coming to church,” Stefany explains, “Anna offered to pick me up for Young Women. I had a lot of bad influences at school, so coming to church gave me a chance to make new friends. It helped to have somebody to talk to.”
Stefany is now a Latter-day Saint. So is Jason Barker, who first met Anna when sister missionaries brought her by. “I thought it was cool how young people in this church feel about dating and standards. My standards were pretty low, and I didn’t feel right about it. It was reassuring to find teenagers who thought high standards were important.”
But the biggest benefit of the Byrne Express may be what it has done for the Byrnes. “There’s been a lot of testimony building for me,” Anna says. “I had to be sure of what I was saying, because it was influencing people I really like. I spent a lot of time fasting and praying. It was like the missionaries found them to help me.”
The Spirit of St. Louis. At one time it was the name given to an airplane that flew nonstop across a dark and sullen sea. Today, it’s the spirit of LDS youth who fly on wings of faith, eager to share the gospel with others.