“Saints in ‘the City without Limits’” Ensign, Dec. 1992, 70–71
Atlanta, Georgia, has come a long way since its beginnings as a southeastern United States railroad terminus town in 1837 and its devastation during the Civil War a quarter century later. The city’s metropolitan area of some three million people continues to grow and spill into the wooded hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
A major commercial and transportation hub, Atlanta is known as “The Gate City of the South.” The capital city’s steady growth and unbounded opportunities have earned it another nickname, given by the local chamber of commerce: “The City without Limits.”
Mirroring that evolution from rocky beginnings to prosperity is the Church in Atlanta. In 1879 the mission closed for a decade when Elder Joseph Standing died at the hands of a mob north of town. The persecution of Church members eased slowly in later years. A branch was created in 1908, and Elder LeGrand Richards organized Atlanta’s first stake in 1957.
When Atlanta native Evelyn Wooten Youngblood joined the Church in 1939, the Saints in Atlanta numbered about one hundred families, and prejudice in the town had softened considerably, she recalls.
Key to her conversion was the pamphlet “The Plan of Salvation,” by John Morgan, whose preaching in a nearby valley resulted in the conversion of nearly all twenty-six families who lived there. That tract answered questions about the purpose of life that had nagged her for years. “I knew it was positively true!” she says. “I could not hear enough. I was so excited to get baptized, and I have been excited ever since.”
Her husband, Earlton, Sr., was baptized nearly ten years later, the day his eight-year-old son was baptized. The couple are members of the Calhoun Branch, Marietta Georgia East Stake.
Since 1960, Church membership in Atlanta has grown from one stake of 3,200 members to six stakes of 23,000 members in the metro area, and Saints in Atlanta enjoy the blessings of a temple in their midst.
As a sixteen-year-old South Carolinan, Jack F. Joyner served in the Southern States Mission in 1945, a time when that mission had a dozen missionaries and extended to five states in the “Bible Belt.”
Since then he has served as a regional representative twice and is thrilled with Atlanta’s recent Church growth. One factor in that success is that people in the South today are more inclined to be disenchanted with their churches and drawn to the LDS concept of priesthood authority, he says. Brother Joyner is a recorder in the Atlanta Georgia Temple, where his wife, Margaret, has been a service worker since its opening in 1983.
Despite the Church’s improved image in Atlanta, its members are still viewed with mixed emotions, says Paul A. Snow, president of the Marietta Georgia East Stake. “Members are respected, but there are subtle prejudices against the Church that need to be, and are being, peeled away by members who get involved in the community.”
Atlanta’s large business community draws many middle-management personnel who stay a few years before their careers lead them to opportunities elsewhere. Many such members are “exemplary and respected in their circles,” President Snow says. It can be hard on family members when a parent’s career involves a lot of traveling, but “each ward is an instant family of acceptance and friends” that helps fill that void, he adds.
Jeanine Landrum, a single mother of four, echoes that sentiment: “My ward is my second family. There’s no way I could make it without them,” she says, recalling how ward members have helped her numerous times “at any time of day or night.”
In high school she wrote a term paper about the Church even though she feared ridicule. During her research she met an LDS bishop who discussed the gospel with her for three hours and gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon. Not only did her report receive an A grade, but years later, when she found she could not sleep at night until she had read from that book, she and her children joined the Church.
Although Atlanta’s thriving businesses are affected by periodic recessions, Church members remain upbeat and positive. “The gospel enables us to keep an eternal perspective and have faith that the Lord will watch over us,” says President Snow, a great-grandson of Elder Erastus Snow, an Apostle during the early days of the restored church.
Membership in the Church is a comfort to members who are oceans away from their families and homelands. Two years ago Lai Nguien of Vietnam immigrated to America and settled in Atlanta. He learned of the Church when he overheard LDS missionaries teaching the children of a family sharing his apartment.
“When I first came to America, I was bewildered,” he says. “I needed something beyond this life to guide me. Since I’ve been in the Church, there’s been direction in my life. There is no longer any anxiety and fear.”
He serves in the Sunday School presidency of the newly created Brookhaven Branch, a Vietnamese unit of about one hundred members. Four other inner-city branches in Atlanta have also been organized as part of a new missionary district designed to serve members who cannot easily travel to Church units in the suburbs.
“Through the gospel of Jesus and by studying the scriptures, I’ve learned to be happy even though my wife and children are ten thousand miles away,” Brother Nguien says. He works in an airplane factory and looks forward to being reunited with his family.
Now over a century old, the Church in Atlanta is flourishing, providing its members with rich opportunities for unlimited growth and happiness in the gospel.