It’s July 3, 2009, and I’m in Wilmington, OH at about the halfway point of my mission. My new companion, Elder Remington, and I feel that change is in the air. Change for the better. At this time, I have been in Wilmington for six months and have been to pretty much every street and every door in the area. Well, all of them except the roads with houses few and far between, surrounded by endless miles of corn and soy bean fields that are nearly ripe at this time of year. With the nice weather, people are spending increasing amounts of time outside, and both Elder Remington and myself feel that we need to take a new approach to finding people to teach, and this is our opportunity.
“So, where should we start?” he asks me during our morning studies. I reply, “Well, I’ve always wanted to go to the local parks because there’s usually plenty of people there that we can talk to.”
“Yeah, that would definitely be a good place to start,” he responds. We decide to go to J.W. Denver Williams Park, the biggest one in the area. Being the middle of summer, it’s also very hot and humid out, but that obviously doesn’t keep us from doing our work. Despite it being ridiculously warm, Ohio is very green and has amazing scenery. The park is no exception: A bike trail wending its way through the park, a walking trail in a mini-forest, playgrounds, green baseball fields, basketball courts, and picnic tables. All of these surrounded by large, blooming trees and a pond filled with ducks. As we arrive at the park, we get the feeling that there’s someone here that we are supposed to talk to. The Lord has placed them here specifically for us. We walk past a dad and his son fishing in the pond, but don’t feel like we’re supposed to talk to them. Unfortunately, it seems as though they are the only ones in the park, which is unusual given the nice weather. However, we decide to walk through the park a couple of times before figuring out what to do next. On our first pass, we don’t see anyone besides the dad and son by the pond. Elder Remington suggests that we make a wider pass around the park rather than taking the trail that cuts through, in order to give potential contacts some time to get there. As we near the end of our second pass, we spot three people across the field on the basketball court. We glance at each other and the same thought crosses our mind: “This is our best chance, and I have a good feeling about it.” As we start walking towards them, we discover that it’s two guys and a girl, all of them around our age. This makes it easier to carry on a conversation. The two guys, named Ryan Starks and Britt Wells, are playing basketball, and the girl---Kim Wells, Ryan’s girlfriend and Britt’s older sister--- is sitting off to the side with a cigarette and a baby boy named Charlie next to her in a car-seat. We split up to teach them, Elder Remington taking Ryan and Britt and me teaching Kim. The first thing she asks me is why I’m wearing a white shirt and tie with dark pants in such hot weather. It’s a question I got asked quite a lot during the summers on my mission, but one that actually intrigued people when I answered that I was a missionary. Her next question showed me that much: “What is it about your message that makes you different from other churches?” A golden question, and the perfect introduction to first message that we share: The Restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. As I go through each principle, I stop occasionally to explain things she hasn’t heard before and answer other questions she has. Kim, and as I learn later, Ryan as well, ask great questions. It’s something that I saw a lot during my mission: College-age young adults asking deep and sincere questions. Like me, they are at the stage of life where they are mulling over life-changing decisions. Like Ryan and Kim, this makes them great prospects for the message of the restored gospel. As I finish up my message, Ryan and Britt come over with Elder Remington, having concluded their discussion. We both bore our testimonies, and were just about to finish with a prayer and leave when I get the strongest impression; in fact, it was one of the strongest that I received during my whole mission. I knew that Ryan and Kim were the people that the Lord had placed in our path that day. The impression I received further told me that I needed to give them a specific reading assignment in the Book of Mormon and some things to think about while they read it. I told them, “As you read, write down questions you have as well as things that you learn. By doing this, I promise that you will know what direction in life that God wants you to take.” The words just flowed out, without hesitation and without stuttering. I know that I couldn’t have spoken those words without help from above. We concluded with a prayer and set a return appointment for two days later.
When the day for our follow-up visit came, we headed to the address they gave us, and Ryan was there to greet us at the door. I’ll never forget what he said when he opened the door: “Hey Mormons, come right on in!” We sat down on the couch, with Ryan straight across from us in an armchair and Kim next to him on another couch. After a prayer, we asked them what questions they had and what they learned from their reading assignment. Ryan reached down and picked up a yellow note pad that had detailed notes on both sides. In addition to that, the pamphlet we gave them was heavily written on as well. Elder Remington and I had the biggest smiles. We went through and discussed each of the things they had learned and answered their questions the best we could. At the end, Ryan said to us: “Before we met you guys the other day, we had questions about what we should do with the spiritual aspect of our lives. Just this one reading answered some of those questions. We want to look into this some more.” For Ryan and Kim, this was the beginning of a new stage in their lives. Five or so months after we met them on that hot, humid day in a park in Wilmington, OH, they were baptized. I still keep in touch with them fairly regularly; they told me that even though they have had many different sets of missionaries since us, we will always be the ones they remember most, because we not only first taught them the gospel, but because we were friends to them at the same time. This is a key to being a successful missionary, and ultimately any calling in the Church: You have to be a friend to people or else you can’t teach them anything. However, the overall point I’m trying to make is this: What if Elder Remington and I had chosen not to go to the park? We never would’ve met Ryan and Kim, and therefore we would never have gotten the opportunity to teach them the gospel, and obviously we wouldn’t have had the chance to make a difference in their lives. Truly, listening to thoughts and impressions count. It can have eternal consequences for us and those around us. When promptings come, we should never postpone them for any reason. Nothing is worse than knowing what might have been had you listened.