“Wow,” Danny Stevens said, just loud enough for those around him to hear. “My prayers have been answered.”
It was his first day at institute class. Most of the other LDS men on campus were enrolled in a missionary preparation class. By taking the Book of Mormon class scheduled at the same hour, he ended up as one of only three guys in a class full of girls.
“Maybe your prayers have been answered, but some of us are wondering about ours,” a green-eyed girl sitting in the back joked. She was cute, and he noticed the desk next to her was empty so he sat down and leaned toward her. “Hi, I’m Danny, and I think I’m the answer to your prayers.”
“I’m Alicia,” she said, “and I guess I’ll have to be more careful what I pray for.”
Danny didn’t know if he’d like having to read the Book of Mormon—he was still trying to decide how serious he was about all this religion stuff. But he definitely liked the idea of meeting girls.
“So what’s this teacher, Brother Spencer, like?” he asked. “Judging from all the sisters here he must be some kind of hunk or something, huh?”
“Well, I think he’s very handsome, and the best teacher I’ve ever had. But I also know that he’s happily married.”
Just then a tall, thin, balding man about 50 years old walked in. He was wearing an oversized suit and carried an old briefcase that looked more like a suitcase. It took him a while to get organized and he talked to himself as he went.
“Remind me to ask what his secret is,” Danny whispered.
“Shhh,” she said, obviously intent on hearing everything Brother Spencer said.
“Brothers and sisters,” he began, “I want you all to hold up your copies of the Book of Mormon. Come on, hold ’em high. Good, everyone has one. As you know, you are required to purchase an inexpensive copy just for this class. Now, I want you to look through them and notice how nice and white and clean they are.”
Danny leafed through his dark blue covered copy and came across one of the illustrations. He still couldn’t figure out how the Nephites developed those huge arms.
“Your grade this semester depends on three things: one, your performance on the Friday quizzes; two, your participation in our class discussions; and three, the degree to which your beautiful, white Book of Mormon has become used. I want you to study it thoroughly—to write in the margins, to underline important verses, to read and re-read and wear it out with your searching. Your Book of Mormon may look like this after you have completed your class with me.” He held up a book that had been used so much it was tattered.
“Now, the student who owned this Book of Mormon received an A for my class last year. I expect you to put the same kind of effort into your study—not to wear out the pages, but to read it, use it, and love it as I do. Oh, and no putting it in the dishwasher the last week of class and expecting that to fool me. I can tell the difference between a book that’s been used and one that’s been abused. Now let’s get to it. First Nephi, chapter one, verse one. ‘I Nephi …’”
After class, Danny turned to Alicia. “This Brother Spencer is a good teacher. I can see how he might be a favorite of yours, but I don’t know where you get the idea he’s handsome. He’s tall and skinny, and looks a lot like a bird, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know, maybe you’re right. I might be a bit biased. But I’ve got to talk with him for a second—come with me?”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” Danny said as he quickly gathered up his books.
Brother Spencer was putting his lesson manual and scriptures back into his briefcase. When he saw her, he broke into a big smile. “Hi, Alicia, how’d I do?”
“Perfect as always,” she said. “Dad, I’d like you to meet my newest friend, Danny. Danny, this is my dad.”
“Dad?” Danny nearly choked.
“We’re going to be study partners for this class, is that okay?”
“Sure,” Danny and Brother Spencer said in unison.
Brother Spencer paused, “I don’t know, Dan; she’s pretty sharp. Do you think you can keep up?”
“She’s sharp all right. She was just helping me understand the finer points of repentance and forgiveness, but I think I can keep up.”
“Then get to it, kids. Make it count.”
The next four months went by in a blur for Danny. Brother Spencer’s class was wonderful. Every class was filled with new information. His excitement was contagious, and the discussions were so engrossing he often forgot to give the promised Friday quizzes, which was fine with the members of the class. Danny learned a lot about the Book of Mormon in Brother Spencer’s class. Then there was Alicia’s class. At first he thought that the idea of studying with her was just a good excuse to spend time with a girl he liked, but she had different ideas. They would take turns reading the chapters aloud, several verses each. Then they would compare, cross-reference, research, and learn all the important points of the chapters they were assigned. He loved the class, and he loved being with Alicia. By the end of the semester, they had read to the end of Alma 30, and Danny was in love.
After Christmas vacation, Danny announced that during the holidays, he had met with his bishop and was preparing the paperwork for a mission call. Alicia threw her arms around him and gave him a big hug. “I’m so happy for you!” she said, then quickly pulled away and grabbed his hand in a formal missionary handshake. “Oops,” she said, “I forgot. Now that you’re going to be a missionary, I’ll have to keep my distance.”
“But I haven’t received my call yet,” he protested.
“I don’t know. We can’t be too careful,” she said with mock seriousness. “Oh, all right,” she smiled and hugged him again.
Winter semester was even better than the fall for Danny. He’d enrolled in a missionary preparation class, and Brother Spencer’s class on the second half of the Book of Mormon was just as good as the previous semester. But this time, when they would study together, instead of holding a highlighter, he and Alicia held hands.
Near the end of the school year, the class was discussing the last few chapters in Moroni. Brother Spencer made the comment that according to Moroni 7, verse 6 [Moro. 7:6], it’s not enough just to do something right; it’s important to do things for the right reason as well.
The comment struck a chord with Danny.
Since he met Alicia, he had read the Book of Mormon, eliminated some bad habits, and decided to serve a mission. But what if I did all those things just because I love Alicia, he thought. He thought about it for several days and finally went to speak with Brother Spencer.
“If I’ve done all these things just because I care for Alicia, what good are they?” he asked.
Brother Spencer thought for a moment and then replied, “Sometimes you have to do the right thing for a while before you begin to feel the right motivation. I know I’m always quoting scriptures to you, but remember Alma 32:27, where it says, ‘if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you?’ and then it goes on about planting the seed and testing it? And think about John 7:17: ‘If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine.’ The fact that you are struggling with this question demonstrates to me that your intent is righteous. Think about what your motivation is right now. Then you can decide if your intent is good and your actions will be accepted of the Lord. Tell me, Dan, do you love Alicia enough to spend two years in the Lord’s service to make yourself worthy of her?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“There is nothing wrong with your interest in Alicia leading you to do what is right. But I think your willingness to serve a mission comes from your testimony and faith.”
By the last day of class, Danny’s and Alicia’s books looked wonderfully worn. Nearly every page was painted in colorful highlighter with neat little notes and comments in ink jammed in the margins. The bindings were broken and tape kept the covers from falling off. Brother Spencer went to each student’s desk for an “inspection” of their copies of the Book of Mormon.
“Well done, Brother Stevens,” said Brother Spencer when Danny showed him his copy. “Do you think you deserve an A?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“I do too. Congratulations, and congratulations on your mission call. Where are you going?”
“The Netherlands. I enter the MTC in three weeks.”
“Wonderful. You’ll be a terrific missionary. I’ll look forward to seeing you in my classes in two years then.”
“Sure, Brother Spencer, I’ll be here. Thanks.”
After class, Alicia was waiting for him just outside the classroom. It was the last day of finals, and Danny had to leave to return to California that afternoon.
As soon as they got back to Danny’s apartment, his ride was waiting outside. Alicia helped him carry his things out to the car. After everything was loaded, Alicia handed him a package, gift wrapped and tied with a bow.
“This is a thank-you gift for being my study partner and making this year so wonderful. Promise me you’ll wait until you’re on the road before you open it,” she said.
“Sure. See you in two years.”
They gently kissed good-bye.
As soon as they were on the road outside of town, Danny opened his gift. Inside was a new copy of the Book of Mormon. On the first page was the inscription: Your grade, Elder Jones, depends on how much it looks used, worn, and marked up when you return. Now get to it. Make it count. I love you, Alicia.
He thought about her and the mission that would start in a few weeks as he turned the first few pages. He retrieved a highlighter from his backpack. “First Nephi, chapter one, verse one,” he said aloud.
“I Nephi …” and began reading again.