“The Man in the Leather Coat,” Ensign, Dec. 2002, 42
Most of the people who stayed to speak to me after a stake conference in the south part of the Salt Lake Valley simply offered kind words of appreciation. But one sister added something more, pointing to the man a few people behind her in the line: “My husband—the man in the leather coat—is not a member.”
She left me wondering what her husband might say. I was intrigued when he confided, “I am closer to joining the LDS Church than I have ever been.”
That was the beginning of my acquaintance with Duane Marsala. “All we do is teach the gospel of Jesus Christ,” I assured him and invited him to call if there was anything I could do to help him make a decision.
Duane told me later that his heart had been changed that day. At the moment we spoke, he felt a strong outpouring of the love of his Heavenly Father. It struck him that there had been no attempt, no pressure to convert him, only an assurance that he was loved.
He would come to realize that this feeling was simply a more intense manifestation of the love he had long felt from family and friends.
For 20 years, friends, neighbors, and family had been trying to interest him in the gospel. He had shown little interest in the Church, though he would attend meetings when his children were participating. “Sunday was my day,” he said. Ordinarily, he could be found on the golf course. “I never saw myself joining the Church.”
Nevertheless, as a loving father, he often helped his children choose the right by asking them, “What does your religion stand for?” His wife and children dreamed that one day the family might be sealed in the temple, but they knew that if it were ever to happen, they would have to live as examples for him. His wife, Carolee, went to church without him for many years, offering countless prayers that someday he would be a member. She received her own temple endowment with Duane’s blessing.
Duane was proud of his children for the examples they set. He was proud of his son Nathan’s service as a missionary, so he was upset when Nathan had to come home for medical reasons. Why should this happen when his son was trying so hard to serve the Lord? “I was mad—real mad—at God and at the Church,” Duane says.
Then he met two missionaries with the knack of caring despite his anger. When Sisters Rachael Sites and Misty Still asked to hold family home evenings with the Marsalas, Duane let them because he could feel they cared about him as a person, not just a statistic. They invited Duane to the stake conference where he and I met.
The softening of his heart was not immediately visible, but things were beginning to come together in his life. From his family, the missionaries, and one Apostle fortunate enough to know him, “I felt more love than I could turn away from,” he says.
The intensity of those feelings surprised him. Uncertain what to make of them, Duane decided to talk with me. He made an appointment for a day when I would be in the office.
We visited for more than an hour. I tried to assure him that joining the Church was something he needed to do because he knew it was right and not just to please his wife. Later he told me that he left my office wondering again why I had not put pressure on him to be baptized. But then he understood: both of us knew what he needed to do, but he would have to make the decision.
The next night was the sister missionaries’ family home evening with the Marsalas. As part of their presentation on the Savior, they used the Special Witnesses of Christ video.1 Knowing that Duane and I had met at stake conference, the missionaries chose to play the portion of the videotape in which I bore my testimony. I told of my experience when President Spencer W. Kimball called me to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with, he had said to me, “all the love that I possess.” I explained: “He was teaching me that love is essential—the love that the Savior hopes that we will acquire—that we must show, that we must demonstrate, we must feel in our hearts and souls in order to teach the gospel properly.”2 As Duane listened, he understood the true source of the love he had been feeling from all of us.
After the video, the missionaries asked everyone to express their feelings about the Savior. When everyone else had spoken, Duane told his family of his meeting with me the day before. Then he told the missionaries that he would accept their discussions, but they would have only “one shot” to teach him.
On the day he was to have the first discussion, he called me to ask for my prayers in his behalf. I assured him that he would have them.
As the missionaries taught him that day, he found himself focusing only on the voice of the missionary speaking to him. “I felt warmth and peace,” he recalls. When Sister Still asked him about his feelings, he realized clearly what they indicated. Calmly he answered yes to the questions, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” “Do you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet?” “Do you believe the Church is true?” and, finally, “Will you be baptized?”
Brother Marsala entered the waters of baptism on Christmas Day 2000, with more than 250 of the people who love him in attendance. On 7 January 2001, his son Nathan conferred the priesthood on him. One year and one day later, the Marsalas were sealed as a family in the Salt Lake Temple.
Not long afterward, a large card arrived at my office with a picture of Duane and Carolee and their children, Nathan, Alyssa, Miles, and Quinten. On a separate sheet, in large type, were these words: “Prayers are answered. Dreams do come true. Families are forever.”
My friend Duane tells me that the year after his baptism was one of the hardest of his life. But along with the challenges, there were good things, including his daughter Alyssa’s wedding in the temple, which he was able to attend. Duane and Carolee regularly attend the temple together now.
“I am so blessed and thankful for the impressions and the witness of the Holy Spirit in my life,” Duane says. “When I hit obstacles in my path, I can draw on the strength of that witness. Because of it, I can continue to move forward and know that what I am doing is right.”