My turn in the line came, and the official-looking woman asked for my name. She looked at her list and said, “So you’re the young man from Utah.”
“You mean I’m the only one?” I asked.
“Yes, you’re our only student here from Utah.” She then handed me my nametag with a bold “Utah” printed below my name. As I clipped it on, I felt like I was being branded.
I walked to the hotel elevators with my luggage. Five other high school students with nametags like mine crowded into the elevator. “Hey, you’re from Utah. Are you a Mormon?” said a tall guy.
I felt out of place with all of these student leaders from all over the country. “Yes,” I hesitantly admitted.
“Yeah, my minister told me all about you. You’re the guys who believe in John Smith and his golden glasses, right?”
“I think you mean Joseph Smith,” I responded.
“Yeah, that’s right. He’s the one who said he saw all those angels and stuff. You don’t actually believe any of that, do you?”
I didn’t even know what to say. The other students in the elevator were all staring right at me. I had just arrived, and already everyone thought I was different. I became a little defensive and spoke up.
“I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.”
Where had that come from? I wondered. I didn’t know I had it in me. But the words felt true as they left my mouth.
“Yeah, my minister told me that you were all just a bunch of religious nuts,” he said.
With that, there was an uncomfortable pause as the elevator door opened to our floor. As we gathered our luggage, the tall student walked down the hall laughing to himself. I felt a little humiliated.
Right then, a voice from behind me asked, “Hey, don’t Mormons have some sort of another Bible?”
Oh no. Here we go again, I thought. I turned to see one of the students who had been in the elevator with me, a very tan guy named Christopher from California.
“It’s called the Book of Mormon,” I said, half wanting to drop the subject. I picked up my bags and started walking down the hall.
“Is that the book that Joseph Smith translated?” Christopher asked.
“Yeah, it is,” I answered. I kept on walking, not wanting to embarrass myself any more.
“Well, do you know how I could get one?”
A phrase from a scripture that had been taught to me by my ninth-grade seminary teacher suddenly came to my mind. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16). As this thought entered my mind, I felt ashamed that I had been so embarrassed.
For the rest of my week with all of the student leaders, that same scripture wouldn’t leave my mind. I was asked all sorts of questions about the Church, and I made many friends. As I answered the questions that I could, I discovered I was proud of my religion. I think I learned as much about myself as they did.
I gave Christopher a Book of Mormon, and he later wrote to me, telling me he had invited the missionaries to his home.
I learned that I don’t have to be embarrassed by my beliefs. I know this is the true gospel of Christ, and I am not ashamed of it.