When you meet Chris Jones, the first thing you’ll notice is how quick he is to smile.
And the second thing—which follows almost immediately—is how quickly he begins to treat you like a good friend.
As Chris’s new friend, you’ll be talking football—because Chris has been a football player since the age of seven—but you can’t help noticing that his conversation is full of references to the gospel. It soon becomes clear that he loves the Lord and the Church with all his heart.
Even though Chris has been home from serving in the Oregon Portland Mission for a couple of years, he still has the sure handshake of a missionary. A mission is something he had been planning for his whole life. And his missionary spirit certainly did not get left in the mission field when he returned.
Chris is from St. Mary’s, Georgia. His parents, Artie and Carolyn Jones, met the missionaries in 1978, when Chris was only two. Chris said, “The first time my dad went to church, he saw a lot of people that he recognized in the community that respected him. That was one thing he really noticed.”
The Jones family was baptized and, as Chris has been told, they received a lot of ridicule for joining the Church. When Chris looks back, he is so appreciative of the fact that his parents were able to raise him and his two brothers and one sister in a way consistent with the principles of the gospel. And Chris grew up knowing that someday he would serve a mission. “If it is part of the Church and the Church is true, then I’ll do it.”
In fact, Chris says his mother helped him keep that in mind. “My mom was the one that pulled us out of bed at 5:15 in the morning to go to seminary for four years. It was a struggle. I hated getting up at 5:15. But it was through a combination of my mother and going to seminary that I gained a testimony of the gospel. Up until then, I always knew the gospel was right. I just didn’t know why it was right.”
As Chris gained a testimony, he found that living the gospel principles helped him learn about prayer. “I can’t recall a prayer that I’ve never received an answer to. Receiving an answer is a matter of allowing the Lord to answer you and give you His answer. A lot of times if you pray with your own answer in mind, you look for that answer. If another answer comes, then you’re not ready to receive it.”
Chris loved playing football in grade school and junior high. He started at linebacker all during high school. And, as Chris points out, football in Georgia is serious business. His high school would have 10,000 fans attend its Friday night games. During his junior year, he began getting attention from college scouts. It was exciting, but his mom would remind him not to get too interested because he was going on a mission.
When the scouts showed up, that was the time Chris had to face the possibilities of playing football at the college level. His high school coach told the scouts that he was a hard-working player and was an honor student. Finally concrete offers started to come—full-ride scholarships through four years of college, worth thousands of dollars.
“I asked,” said Chris, “if they would hold a scholarship for two years. One coach was shocked. I told him I was going to go on a mission for my church. He just stared at me and said, ‘You’re going to give up 80 thousand dollars to serve a mission for two years?’ He got mad at me. But I didn’t get offended.” After that, his coach started turning away college recruiters interested in Chris.
Eventually, State University of West Georgia called. The school offered him a scholarship. It turned out that Chris would be able to play a year and a quarter, essentially two seasons, before turning 19 and receiving a mission call. “I knew that all things were possible with the Lord. There were people saying that I couldn’t serve a mission and play ball, yet the Lord provided a way to do both.”
Chris struggled at West Georgia, not on the field where he started as a true freshman but in the permissive atmosphere in the dorms. He didn’t like what was going on around him. He was more determined than ever to go on a mission. And it was on his mission that Chris put football behind him completely. He told his coaches that if they needed to talk to him, to go through his parents. He didn’t keep up on what the team was doing. He says that the only way to serve on a mission is completely and with total focus.
At the conclusion of his mission, Chris decided that he could not return to the atmosphere at his former college. He thought that was also a decision to give up football, and he was willing to do it.
Just as Chris was completing his mission, his mission president contacted BYU about Chris. At first, becoming a BYU football team member didn’t seem like a possibility, but he was invited to try out. He received a full-ride scholarship but was redshirted a year. Once Chris thought sitting out a year would be horrible, but now it was a blessing. He was able to concentrate on his major, a difficult one, in manufacturing engineering and technology. He feels that the Lord has guided his life because at BYU he has had the opportunity to continue missionary work as a ward mission leader. Football will fall by the wayside. That’s fine with Chris. It no longer has his heart.
There is, however, one thing Chris has always wanted—a championship ring. He just missed taking state in high school. And his college team won the conference the year he left on his mission. Knowing this, some friends on his mission got together and bought Chris a ring—a CTR ring that he wears continually. It’s become his championship ring.
Whenever Chris looks at it he is reminded of what he believes deep inside. “Right makes you happy. If you do what is right, everything will fall into place.”