“And When the Night Came,” New Era, Dec. 1985, 36
And When the Night Came
Could flip-charts and bicycles win out over a blonde in a red Corvette?
It was eleven o’clock at night. Elder Todd Bradford lay in bed, listening to the slow, even breathing of his companion as he slept across the room.
What had gone wrong? For as long as he could remember, Todd had always known the right thing to say. “Polished” was the word people used when talking about Todd.
But even from the beginning of his mission, he’d felt as if he didn’t belong. As if he were just going through the motions, copying what the other missionaries did, pretending he was like them.
But he wasn’t, and he knew it.
They said they knew the Church was true. He said it too, but sometimes he wasn’t sure if he knew or not.
They said they knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, but sometimes he wondered if it was just because they’d been conditioned to say that since they were kids in Primary.
He was smart, he learned fast, he quickly learned to imitate the other missionaries. There’d even been some baptisms.
He’d gotten by all right for ten months.
Until today. When they’d been tracting door to door.
Todd’s companion was Elder Stewart, who’d been in the mission field for only two weeks.
Two doors that day had done Todd in.
The first door was opened by someone not much older than Todd, wearing blue cotton slacks, a short-sleeved sport shirt. He had a tanned face and athletic build and an easy, infectious smile.
They introduced themselves. His name was Devin Anderson.
“What do you do?” Todd asked.
“I’m at the university,” Devin answered.
“No,” Devin smiled. “Giving them.”
“You’re a professor?”
“That’s what they say.”
“You seem so young.”
“Well, I guess I’m what they call a child prodigy. I’m 20 and have a doctorate in philosophy.”
“Was that your car we saw coming in? The Corvette?”
“Yes, that’s mine. Why?”
“I always wanted to have a red Corvette.”
“Take it for a test ride if you want.”
“Really?” Todd said. And then he noticed his companion looking strangely at him. “Well, no, I guess not,” Todd continued. “We’d better just tell you why we’re here.”
Todd began to talk about their message. Devin listened with interest. When they finished, he asked with a smile, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
“It seems so bizarre, that’s all. Tell me, do you have any proof of what you say? Where are the gold plates these days?”
“The angel took them back.”
“Sure he did,” Devin laughed. “Really, guys, let’s be honest with each other. I don’t mind you going around looking for members, but no person with an education over the third grade could possibly swallow that story. Do you?” He was looking at Todd.
“I wouldn’t be here unless I believed it,” Todd said, mainly because he’d heard other missionaries say that.
Devin went to answer the door. A beautiful blonde stood there wearing a red jump suit that was so flashy it looked like it must be battery operated.
Devin introduced the elders. Her name was Brandi.
“Oh, how about that!” she chirped, “You both have the same first name.”
“Devin, let’s invite them to the party tonight,” Brandi said.
“Sounds like a good idea,” Devin said.
“It’s at a friend’s apartment, but they won’t mind a couple more coming along.” She gave the address.
“Hey, that’s just across from our apartment,” Todd said.
“Great, we’ll see you then. It’ll be a lot of fun,” Brandi said.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to go,” Elder Stewart said.
A few minutes later they left and continued tracting.
That was the first door.
Ten minutes later they met Sloan Thomas, a saintly looking elderly man who was the minister at a local congregation.
“How old do I look to you?” he asked them as he ushered them into his home.
“I don’t know. Maybe 45,” Elder Stewart said.
“I’m 64. God has been good to me. Now you boys just go ahead and present your message.”
When they finished, Reverend Thomas looked Todd in the eye. “I’ve spent my entire life preaching the gospel. Every waking hour I’ve had a prayer in my heart to be an instrument in God’s hand. He’s answered my prayers. I love Jesus with all my heart. And so what you say bothers me. Do you mean to tell me that what I’ve done my entire life is wrong?”
“Well, I’m sure you’ve done the best you could do,” Todd mumbled.
“Are you telling me that what I’ve said about Christ is wrong? For 40 years I’ve preached that if you’ll just accept Christ as your personal Savior, then you’ll be saved in the kingdom of God. What can possibly be wrong with that?”
“Nothing really,” Todd stammered.
“Except a person needs to be baptized by someone who has authority,” Elder Stewart said.
“And you’re saying that all these years I haven’t had any authority?”
“That’s right,” Elder Stewart said.
Reverend Thomas turned to Todd. “If God didn’t approve of what I was doing for the past 40 years, why wouldn’t he let me know?”
“He is now. That’s why we’re here,” Elder Stewart said. “We have more truth to tell you about.”
“More truth? What do you mean?”
“We have the Book of Mormon in addition to the Bible.”
“All a person needs is found in the Bible. We don’t need anything else.”
They discussed back and forth. Todd could see that Reverend Thomas was as good a man as anyone he’d ever met. How can you tell a man like that, with love and warmth in his eyes, and a face like a prophet, that he’s been wrong for 40 years of his life?
“Boys,” Reverend Thomas concluded, “I admire you for leaving your homes to come here to talk to people, but the truth is that the claims of your church are wrong. Mormons are simply not Christian. You are promoting lies by what you’re doing, and my advice to you is pack up and go home.”
For the first time in his life, Todd didn’t know what he was supposed to say.
They excused themselves and left.
After that, for the rest of the afternoon, Todd just went through the motions.
That night they had two appointments, but much to Todd’s relief, they both fell through.
He and Elder Stewart returned to their tiny apartment, got ready for bed, and said their prayers. Todd asked his companion to say the prayer.
And now Todd lay in bed and listened to his companion sleep.
He could hear music. He got up out of bed and looked out the window and across the street where the party was.
The people had left their curtains open, and he could see right into the room. They were not much older than he was. They looked like people he’d like.
A red Corvette pulled up. Devin and Brandi got out and went up the sidewalk to the apartment building where the party was. Brandi looked terrific even from across the street, and he could hear her laughter as they walked.
Todd had always hoped that someday he’d have a girl friend who looked like Brandi, except perhaps she could be a little more intelligent.
If I had a red Corvette, he thought, then girls like Brandi would go out with me too. Maybe someday, when I get off my mission. But if I’d just taken the money I’d saved for my mission, I could have put down a sizable down payment on a Corvette. Then, on a night like tonight, instead of standing here, I could be like Devin, at a party, talking with friends, with a girl like Brandi by my side.
What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. And what if Reverend Thomas is right. What if all that we tell people is wrong?
Suddenly it seemed to him that he’d spent his whole life living up to someone else’s expectations, doing what someone else wanted him to do.
Even when he was six years old, he got up month after month and bore his testimony in church, always saying that he knew the gospel was true.
What does it mean to say I know something is true? How can anyone know anything for sure? All this time I’ve been faking it. I don’t belong here. Not me. How can I convert someone when I’m not sure myself?
He closed his eyes. God, help me. I need help. Please help me, he began.
A few minutes passed. When he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was Devin and Brandi out on the veranda of the apartment across the way. They were in a deep, passionate embrace.
He felt that was an odd way for God to answer his prayer. Watching them carry on was more than Todd could stand, so he got up and went into the kitchen.
He looked up at the one overhead light on the ceiling. It made the room look like a morgue. He made himself a peanut butter sandwich and got a carton of milk and sat down at the table, but then he decided he wasn’t hungry.
I’ll go home, he thought, and take the money I have left and buy me a red Corvette, and then I’ll just be like Devin and find me a girl like Brandi too.
It was as if he were seeing everything for the first time, and everything was tinged with gray and dust. On the table was the jar of peanut butter, a knife still coated with peanut butter, and a sandwich made with the cheapest white bread that money could buy.
Near the middle of the table, off to one side, was a stack of mission newsletters that nobody had thrown out for months. And just to the right of that was a crumpled paperback copy of the Book of Mormon that some unknown elder in the past had read while eating breakfast.
Todd picked up the book and examined it. As he turned the pages, he noticed that because it had been read during meals, some of the pages were stuck together.
In a way the glue from the food made it more of a challenge to read. He found one section of the book that was stuck together. He pried open a page in 2 Nephi, chapter 33, and began reading. “And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good.
“And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day” (2 Ne. 33:10–11).
Todd stopped reading. How odd that the very page he picked was one that testified of Christ.
How could anyone reading that say that Mormons aren’t Christian, he thought.
He picked another page at random and found on that one page alone there were five references to the Savior. And on another page, eleven references. And on another page, exact quotes from the Savior in the New World after his resurrection.
A little later he pried open the part of the book containing 3 Nephi. He began reading in chapter 11 about the Savior’s appearance to the people in the New World. For the first time in his life, he could see it all in his mind. Jesus, gently coming down from heaven, his arms outstretched, the wound marks on his hands and feet. He speaks and his voice is gentle, but at the same time, it touches the very souls of those who hear him. “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world” (3 Ne. 11:10–11).
He continued to read through much of the night.
Suddenly passages seemed to jump out at him. Passages of scripture that answered the doubt and uncertainty of his heart.
He smiled a little when he read 3 Nephi 13:19–21 [3 Ne. 13:19–21]: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
He smiled about thinking that a red Corvette was more important than a mission. The Savior was talking about him all right.
It wasn’t the first time he’d read the scriptures. He’d read them in seminary, but mainly to find the answers to the teacher’s questions. He’d read them in missionary study class, but mainly to be doing the assignment so he could check it off as being done. This was the first time the scriptures had become his scriptures, advice for him.
It seemed that the more he read, the lighter and more cheery the room became, until for the first time in his life, he realized he knew for a certainty that what he’d read was true.
Now he knew that he’d stay on his mission and tell anyone, everyone who’d listen, about the truths found in the Book of Mormon.
He went into the bedroom and looked out the window. Across the street, the party was just now beginning to break up. Devin and Brandi slowly made their way to their car. Brandi lurched unsteadily, leaning precariously as Devin, not too steady himself, tried to help her.
Even so, Todd thought, she’s still very attractive. And he continued to think that until she bent over and vomited all over a rose bush.
A minute later they made it to the car. Devin got in and tried to start it up. After several tries, it became apparent the car was not going to start.
“Stupid idiotic car!” Devin raged, getting out and kicking the tires.
Todd started laughing. Strange, he thought, that Jesus would know so much about red Corvettes.
He lay down in bed and hoped he’d be able to get some sleep before the alarm went off.
It would be another full day for him and his companion.
“Father in Heaven,” he prayed silently, “thanks for giving us the scriptures.”