Music theory, my first class, got underway at eight the next morning. To my relief, I was on level ground with my LDS classmates in the study of harmony and melody. The professor, Brother Turner, was short, vigorous, and outgoing. In a charitable move toward his new freshmen, he didn't ask if there were any Gentiles in the class. I liked Brother Turner right away.
After class I went outside and sat beside a shimmering fountain. I couldn't get enough of the sunshine and the crisp mountain air. I watched hundreds of students walk past and wondered which one out of each hundred was not LDS.
"Wow," I thought. "I'm surrounded by Mormons. My roommate is Mormon, my classmates are Mormon, and my teachers are Mormon. I eat Mormon food and sleep in a Mormon bed. I am over my head in an ocean of Mormonism. I've got to get to that Baptist church."
That afternoon I called their number from the phone book. The pastor's wife answered and offered me a ride for Sunday morning. On Sunday, when we arrived at the Baptist church, she pointed me toward the college class, where a mere four people were seated. Two of them attended Utah Technical College, but John and Gary, the other two, were genuine BYU students. John was blond and short and Gary was tall and dark. I introduced myself calmly, using self-control to keep from hugging them.
The pastor himself, Don Plott, visited our class to talk about forming a Baptist Student Union at BYU. Pastor Don was sturdy but not fat, with a head full of curly brown hair. "In recent years, we've had so few students it was hard to begin student work. It looks like we might have more this year. Now is the time to get a BSU off the ground.
"After we submit names of student officers to the BYU Organizations Office, we will be recognized as an official club on campus. John, can I put you down as the president?"
Don turned to Gary. "Vice-president?"
"Now Carol," Don said, "we need one more name. How about secretary-treasurer?"
"Me?" I looked around.
"You're a Baptist, right? You're a BYU student?"
Always one to be helpful and rarely one to say no, I hardly even hesitated. "Okay. Put me down."
I sat with John and Gary in the small sanctuary. I found out that John Cole, a junior, and Gary Smith, a senior, shared a basement apartment off-campus. Both had survived their stay at BYU thus far without joining the Church. I counted about sixty people in the congregation, including the eight in the choir. I was thrilled to be with them.
Pastor Don invited us over the next week for a barbecue and planning meeting. Don had come to faith in Christ as an adult. He loved his ministry in Provo and preached with zeal against the errors of Mormon doctrine. While we were waiting for others to arrive, Don showed me a page in the back of his Bible with a collection of verses that contradicted Mormon doctrine.
"Hey, let me see that! I'm on Mormon doctrine overload." I craned to have a look at his Bible. "I've got to ask you about some verses. How about that 'baptism for the dead'? And what about that 'preaching to the spirits in prison' verse?"
Don laughed. "You haven't heard the end of those verses. But don't worry. The Apostle Paul wasn't teaching us to baptize for the dead. He was pointing out that even pagans of that day believed in the resurrection. Their practice of baptizing for the dead demonstrates their belief in life after death. Paul never said 'we' baptize for the dead; he said 'they' do. Christ Himself never mentioned it."
"As for 1 Peter 3, there are several possible explanations. Maybe Christ's spirit was upon Noah when he preached to the souls imprisoned by sin in the days of the flood. Maybe Christ did go and announce salvation to the faithful followers from the Old Testament era. It doesn't say Christ is still preaching to them. We don't know for sure, but you can't accept a whole doctrine built on that one puzzling verse. Mormons use all kinds of verses out of context to support their doctrines."
"Thanks, Don. Can I copy down this list? "
I eagerly introduced myself to everyone I hadn't met. I recognized Diane Cross as the church pianist. She was trim and peppy and looked about thirty years old.
"What brings you to BYU?" I asked her.
Diane's merry laugh rang out. "What brings anybody here! Divine providence? Insanity? I'm teaching piano on campus. And I get to be the faculty sponsor for the BSU."
"Wow. That's cool."
I met Victor Hogstrom, an international student from Liberia, one of the rare Blacks at BYU. Victor was a senior, majoring in communications and international relations. Ironically, he-a Christian-was the producer of a religious news program on KBYU-TV. I wondered if he ever stood in front of the camera with that loud shirt and that big Afro hairdo.
Then I met Dawnena Walkingstick, a Cherokee Native American from North Carolina, new to BYU as a transfer student. Dawnena's straight black hair and angular features gave her an elegant look. I understood why she had such a classy style when she told me she had traveled with "Up with People" for two years before going to college. I was pleased to learn that she lived in another building in Helaman Halls, my dormitory complex. We couldn't stop talking about our common experience thus far at the "Y."
I said, "By the way, did you know you are a Lamanite?"
Dawnena laughed. "Ha! A Lamanite! I've heard that about fifty times this week. You know that if I join the Church and obey the commandments, my skin will turn lighter? White skin is supposed to be a sign of holiness."
"Oh, brother." It was the sweet start of a lasting friendship.
After dinner, Don spoke. "As you know, John Cole agreed to be the president of the Baptist Student Union. This week he will submit our constitution and turn in some paperwork. Gary, Carol and Diane, you need to sign those forms, too."
"We'd like to hold BSU meetings every week. How about Monday nights? After we're registered, we can meet on campus, but Victor, could we meet at your place this week?"
"Okay, but my place is small," said Victor.
On Monday night Dawnena and I went together to Victor's small basement room. We sat on Victor's bed, which practically filled his room. The only other pieces of furniture were a small desk and a television.
John and Gary showed up and we made room for them on the bed. Victor put his studies aside and said, "Diane can't come tonight, so let's begin."
John handed me a form to sign. "Hey everybody, get this. No groups can meet on Monday nights because of Family Home Evening."
"Family Home Evening?" Dawnena and I said in unison.
"Right," said John. "Every Monday night, LDS families meet for a devotional lesson, prayer, an activity, and refreshments. It's an LDS family tradition."
"But we're not Mormon." Dawn said. "Last I checked."
"Oh, but every student is assigned to a 'family.' You are in a group, even if you're not LDS. They'll come find you. I hoped we might substitute BSU for Family Home Evening, but no such luck. Can we meet on Tuesday nights?"
John asked, "Does anyone know what a Baptist Student Union is supposed to do? It seems like we ought to make some plans, but I've never been in a BSU before."
"Me neither," I said. Neither had Victor or Gary or Dawnena.
John offered a suggestion. "Pastor Don said that a few years ago the students showed a filmstrip series called 'What Baptists Believe.' It was a good way to introduce ourselves to Mormons. We could do that sometime."
We sat around for a while and finally Victor turned on the television. At 11 p.m., John adjourned the first BSU meeting.
On Friday, John called. "Gary and I are going to the drive-in movie tonight. Wanna come? We're inviting everyone. We'll pick you up at eight."
John, Victor, Dawnena and I squeezed into Gary's car with our pillows and blankets. We ate popcorn and even drank Coca-Cola, an illegal beverage on campus because of the caffeine. It wasn't an official BSU meeting, but it was great camaraderie.
Sunday mornings became a highlight of my week because of these friends. The families in the church also loved the BYU students and prayed for us. They sometimes invited us to Sunday dinner or brought us sacks of fresh fruit.
Our Tuesday night meetings took shape too. Diane Cross regularly joined us on Tuesday nights, and we started studying the Bible during our meetings. Diane was a good sport and loved to laugh, so on Halloween night we decided to play a prank on her. She lived in an apartment, so we couldn't very well decorate her yard with toilet paper.
"What could we do to Diane's car?" John wondered.
"We could newspaper it," said Dawnena.
Late that night we sneaked out to Diane's parking lot with piles of newspapers and a hose. We soaked sheets of newspaper and plastered them all over her car. When the whole car was covered with newspaper, we soaked it again so it would stay wet until morning. I laughed myself to sleep that night, and could hardly wait for Diane's reaction.
I called Dawnena the next day. "Have you heard from Diane?"
"Nope. The guys haven't either."
We all waited several days. We were sure she knew who did it, but we began to wonder whether the whole prank had blown away during the night. When we saw Diane on Sunday, she still didn't mention anything about her car.
Finally, weeks later, John asked her about it. She laughed and said, "It was so hard to keep from telling you, but that next morning, I couldn't find my car! I looked and looked and finally recognized it by the shape. I couldn't stop laughing. Of course I knew who did it."
I had to ask, "Did it all come off okay?"
"Yeah, but it was frozen! Where were you guys when I needed someone to clean it off?"
What a difference a few weeks had made. I was no longer alone; I had found my little island in the vast ocean of Mormonism.
In the appendix you'll find these valuable resources:
Copyright © 2001-2003, Crossroads Press, Fort Collins, Colorado