The Shawshank Elder
Because of the warning I had I was expecting Peterlee to be a tough town, but as we proceeded with the work we found the people to be reasonably receptive.
Since Elder Huish wanted me to do most of the talking and teaching I had lots of opportunity to practice my newfound sensitivity. We did lots of tracting (knocking on doors) at first but it wasn’t long before we were teaching so much that this began to occupy most of our time. We were soon headed toward mission records in teaching hours and the number of prospects being taught. Because we were spending much more time teaching than tracting it looked like it would take several months to knock on all the doors in town instead of the several weeks the previous missionary indicated.
Our success made Elder Huish a little more optimistic and he seemed to enjoy the work more than he did in the past. The local members were happy that we were bringing more people to church and he enjoyed the appreciation and friendliness the members showed us.
All this did not convert him though. One family we were teaching did catch his interest. They were the Littles. They were just the type of family that the missionaries dream of converting. They were a young couple with three small children. They were both intelligent, good looking and would surely be leaders in the church if they joined.
There did seem to be a major hurdle though. Brother Little was an atheist. (Note: all prospects and members are addressed as brother or sister by missionaries.) He wasn’t even sure why he allowed us to start teaching him. It just seemed that we aroused his curiosity.
Now Elder Huish found a kindred spirit in Brother Little and was curious as to how far we could take him before he would give up on us because we could not prove that God existed. Fortunately, Elder Huish was supportive during the teaching process and never revealed to Brother Little his own non belief.
I encouraged Brother Little to read the Book of Mormon and told him that if he read it and prayed about it he could get a witness that God existed. I told him that if he applied himself this could happen within six weeks.
He was a little like Elder Huish in that he didn’t believe in God but if there was a way to discover he was wrong he would be happy to find it.
He and his wife were cooperative and applied themselves to the lessons we taught, but after about five weeks Brother Little was quite discouraged and felt like he would never be able to prove to himself that there was a God. I encouraged him to continue reading the Book of Mormon and praying and we ended the class with an earnest prayer for him to receive a witness. We then scheduled our next lesson with him a few days hence.
I felt a strong link with Brother Little and from the beginning I thought this was a sign that he would be converted. He seemed rather negative on our last meeting and for a few days it seemed as if we would lose him. Then on the day of our next appointment the link I had with him turned from despair to extreme joyousness. I realized that he had received a witness and was going to get baptized.
As Elder Huish and I departed to his residence I thought that I had an opportunity to provide Elder Huish with some hard evidence that there is a God.
I said to him: “Brother Little has received a witness and has decided to be baptized.”
“Yeah, right,” he said in disbelief.
We peddled our bikes to his house and knocked on the door. The door opened within seconds and I suspected that Brother Little had been waiting for us. He has the happiest look on his face I had seen on my mission and spoke:
“What?” I asked.
“I’ve got a witness and decided to be baptized.”
After spending some time with him and then leaving, Elder Huish looked at me and said, “I have to admit it. You were right on the mark on that one. How did you know he was going to get baptized?”
“God,” I said, hoping to instill some faith in him.
Unfortunately this and other extra sensory calls did not faze him and he didn’t seem to make any change in his belief system during our two months together.
My time with Elder Huish was much more productive than one would have guessed. We broke mission records in teaching, revitalized the local branch of the church and had a slew of people lined up to be baptized.
Then he was transferred to another town but I did my best to keep track of him. I heard through the grapevine that his next companion also did not take the church seriously. The mission home thought that since Huish did so well with me he must have turned into a good missionary – so they placed him with a slacker in hopes of motivating him. Instead, the two spent most of their time flying kites together.
Next they transferred him to a serious elder in hopes of whipping him back in shape as I seemed to have done. This didn’t work and their relationship became so strained they got in a fistfight. After this, President Payne didn’t seem to know what to do with him so brought him into the Mission Home and had him perform miscellaneous duties.
This fit right into his plan for I recalled that he told me he needed to get into the Mission Home and somehow retrieve his passport so he could go home. During our time together he saved every penny he could and had most of the money needed to pay his way home. Now that a few more months had passed I was sure he had saved enough for the trip.
After staying in the mission home a few weeks President Payne and his wife took all the local missionaries to visit the temple again in London similar to what they did when I first arrived. All went except one that is. They left Elder Huish as the only elder there to look after the Mission Home. I found this to be ironic – that Elder Huish had the same assignment as that dedicated Elder we first met who took us to a street meeting.
When the missionaries came back from the temple excursion they were in for a surprise indeed. Elder Huish was gone and the safe containing the passports had been opened. Only one thing was missing – Elder Huish’s passport.
No one ever figured out how Huish got the combination to the safe, but he did somehow and made his escape. He was the only missionary in memory to do such a thing. In a strange sort of way he kind of reminded me of Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption. He made a surprising escape and then followed his own path.
Even though I never converted him to God I had to smile every time I thought of his daring plan and execution and figured he was out there somewhere in the States living without guilt making an interesting life for himself.
A Modern Korihor
By the time Elder Huish was transferred we were teaching a record number of people. Our success surprised even me. I figured that it must be a rarity in the church that an atheist missionary participates in bringing so many people to God.
Since we had a large number of people ready for baptism I was hoping my next companion would be a little more believing to help nudge them onward into the church.
For one of the few times during my mission I did receive what I wanted. My next companion was Elder Ware. He believed in God and the Church and was supportive. He was an ex-Marine and since I was in charge he was good at following orders, which was fine with me. The only oddity about him, was he talked about the Marines as much or more than the church. To him the Marines were the one true branch of the military similar to the way missionaries seemed to feel about the church.
This idiosyncrasy didn’t interfere with anything as the people liked him and he did his best to support the work.
Shortly after we were working together we met an atheist that I’m sure Elder Huish would have liked to meet. He was friendly and invited us in and we gave him our presentation. He said that he did not believe in God but would be happy to be convinced otherwise. We spent some time discussing evidences for God and had a fairly intense discussion. I realized that this character was one of the most intelligent people I had met on my mission. We gave him a Book of Mormon and advised him to read it. He said he would and we made an appointment to come back the next day.
We returned as promised and he cordially invited us in. Now usually when we leave a Book of Mormon or any reading materials we were lucky if the prospect read more than three pages, but this guy surprised us. The conversation went something like this:
Atheist Guy “I had a couple hours free since I saw you last so I read your book.”
This shocked me beyond belief. I had never had a prospect read more than ten pages or so in such a short time and the entire Book of Mormon is 520 pages with some heavy reading that is difficult to speed through.
“What do you mean you read the book? Are you saying you read the whole book?”
“Yes,” he said. “I do a lot of reading and I read the whole thing. It was no big deal.”
“Well, that’s not an accomplishment we see every day,” I added. ”Did you understand what you read?”
“I think so. It’s a pretty simple book,” he said with an air of superiority.
I had difficulty in believing he read the whole thing so I decided to test him. ”Can you tell me something you read that you found interesting?” I asked.
To my surprise he did recount something that was in the book, and not the beginning either, but a story about half way through. It was about an atheist teacher named Korihor. He taught that God was a major fantasy of a “crazed mind” and alarmed the leaders of the church because many began to believe him. He was brought before the high priest and this was part of their conversation:
Alma 30:35 Then why sayest thou that we preach unto this people to get gain, when thou, of thyself, knowest that we receive no gain? And now, believest thou that we deceive this people, that causes such joy in their hearts?
36 And Korihor answered him, Yea.
37 And then Alma said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
38 And he answered, Nay.
39 Now Alma said unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.
40 And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.
41 But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?
42 Behold, I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and ye have put off the Spirit of God that it may have no place in you; but the devil has power over you, and he doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God.
43 And now Korihor said unto Alma: If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words.
44 But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and
also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.
45 And yet do ye go about, leading away the hearts of this people, testifying unto them there is no God? And yet will ye deny against all these witnesses? And he said: Yea, I will deny, except ye shall show me a sign.
46 And now it came to pass that Alma said unto him: Behold, I am grieved because of the hardness of your heart, yea, that ye will still resist the spirit of the truth, that thy soul may be destroyed.
47 But behold, it is better that thy soul should be lost than that thou shouldst be the means of bringing many souls down to destruction, by thy lying and by thy flattering words; therefore if thou shalt deny again, behold God shall smite thee, that thou shalt become dumb, that thou shalt never open thy mouth any more, that thou shalt not deceive this people any more.
48 Now Korihor said unto him: I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.
49 Now Alma said unto him: This will I give unto thee for a sign, that thou shalt be struck dumb, according to my words; and I say, that in the name of God, ye shall be struck dumb, that ye shall no more have utterance.
50 Now when Alma had said these words, Korihor was struck dumb, that he could not have utterance, according to the words of Alma.
51 And now when the chief judge saw this, he put forth his hand and wrote unto Korihor, saying: Art thou convinced of the power of God? In whom did ye desire that Alma should show forth his sign? Would ye that he should afflict others, to show unto thee a sign? Behold, he has showed unto you a sign; and now will ye dispute more?
52 And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.
53 But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.
Our prospect said he found this story interesting and said that he would be willing to be struck dumb to find proof there was a God. He felt that was a price he was willing to pay.
I told him that I doubted that he would want to go that far.
He then turned very serious and stated that he would be happy to pay the price of being struck dumb to make such a discovery.
Then he said to me, “Go ahead. Strike me dumb.”
“No thanks,” I said. ”I have no desire to strike you dumb.”
“Aren’t you a priest or an elder in the church with powers similar to Alma?”
“Yes, I suppose I am.”
Then suddenly his mild manner changed to being very antagonistic. He stood up and came within inches of my face and screamed at the top of his lungs, “If there is a God and you have authority then strike me dumb!!!”
We stared at each other in extreme tension for about a minute as Elder Ware looking on wondering what was going to happen next. At the time I fully believed I had the faith to strike him dumb. The question in my mind at the time was not whether such a thing could be done, but whether it should be done.
He shouted again, “What are you afraid of? You know that you have no power and there is no God to curse me. Go ahead! Prove there is a God! Strike me dumb!!!”
Then I thought to myself that this guy was indeed obnoxious and maybe he did deserve to be struck dumb if he had such nerve to insult God as well as asking for such a sign.
We stared at each other again in cold silence and this time I was truly considering giving him his desired sign. I came a hair’s breath from pronouncing on him the same curse as Alma did on Korihor. I rose to my feet knowing I was going to make some pronouncement when suddenly I was stopped by the inner voice which spoke to my mind and said, “Relax and do not tempt God.”
I then spoke, but different words came out than I had anticipated: ”It is written, thou shalt not tempt God and thus I will not give you the sign you want, but another sign I will give. When the time of your death draws near and you are ready to leave the body then you will have your sign and just before you pass you will know then that God lives.”
This statement seemed to have an impact on him and his facial muscles relaxed. He backed off and sat down. Again we had a moment or two of silence as he seemed to be digesting my response. Finally, he looked up and said, “I think we are done here.”
We told him we would be happy to return and give him the lessons. He politely refused and showed us out the door.
As we walked away Elder Ware said in a very excited voice, “Wow! I have never seen anything like that before. For a moment I could have sworn that you were going to strike him dumb.”
“For a moment I thought I was too,” I said, but the Spirit had other plans.
Copyright 2010 by J J Dewey