“Stranded in a Strange Town,” Ensign, Sept. 1993, 49–50
During the Christmas vacation of 1976, I drove back to Ohio to visit my family. I was a high-spirited and optimistic college student, and while I was home, I went to see my high school buddy, Rick, who had just completed his term of service in the air force. I learned that Rick had been sitting at home for two months, listless, with no plans for the future.
I hated to see him so despondent, with no sense of direction. As we visited, many high school memories boosted our spirits. Our enthusiasm grew, and our friendship, which had languished from several years of separation, was rekindled. I talked Rick into coming out west with me, where we could share an apartment while he searched for a job.
In a few days we were on our way. Snowstorms followed us through Indiana. In Illinois, we noticed that the car’s heater was blowing cold air. The windshield kept frosting up, so I checked some auto parts stores for a thermostat, but with no success. We kept driving.
In Galesburg, Illinois, at two o’clock in the morning, the car overheated, quit, and would not start again. We dejectedly pushed it to the side and spent the night in a motel across the street.
The next day, I changed the thermostat and a radiator hose, but the car still would not start in the subzero weather, even when we used jumper cables. It was December 31, and businesses were closing early to prepare for New Year’s Eve.
That afternoon, I called the bishop of the local ward and found that a New Year’s Eve party was scheduled that evening. I went to try to boost my spirits, while Rick preferred to stay in the motel room and watch a movie.
At the party, the second counselor in the bishopric offered to tow my car to his business garage the next day. Perhaps the warmth in the garage would make it easier to start the car. The missionaries said they could make arrangements with their landlady to allow us to stay with them until the car was repaired.
Rick was pleased with the friendly people in the town and impressed with the missionaries. He said it was unusual to see young people so dedicated to their religion. Later that day, the missionaries told me they had given him the first discussion.
I thought the car would be patched up in a day, and we would be on our way. But the next morning, a red puddle of transmission fluid on the floor of the garage deflated my spirits. I could see that extensive repairs were needed.
With an outdoor temperature of about fifteen degrees below zero, the weather was almost too cold for the car to start, even inside the garage. Finally we got the car running, but the engine banged and shook violently. We had to keep the accelerator down to keep it going.
Meanwhile, Rick had received two more discussions. I began to fast and pray for him.
Someone in the ward recommended a good mechanic. As I drove across town, my car jumped and jerked all the way. Finally, I left the car at the recommended garage. It was three days before the mechanics even started work on the car. To our dismay, they discovered that the head had been cracked.
We found a used head in a salvage yard, had it planed at a machine shop, and returned to the mechanic. By that time, Rick had received a challenge to be baptized.
I remember walking with him in the evening, with the snow falling lightly and the wind howling steadily in the trees. We saw stars beyond the misty clouds. I explained to him that the priesthood I held, and which the missionaries held, was the same power that had enabled Christ to create the heavens and the earth. I sensed that the Spirit was working in him.
We were no longer merely stranded in a strange town in the dead of winter. That old lemon of a car had been a blessing. The mechanic promised completion of its repairs the same day Rick was to be baptized—exactly one week after the car had stalled in Galesburg.
I will be forever grateful to the helpful Church members in Galesburg and to those missionaries who recognized an opportunity to preach the gospel.