Change of Opinion

“Change of Opinion,” New Era, Jan. 1986, 10

Participatory Journalism:
Change of Opinion

She came to warn her sister about the Mormon church. Little did Joan realize she’d end up on quite a different mission.

We couldn’t help being a little nervous. Mrs. Hall was one of our strongest investigators. She already knew the Church was true, even though she was not a member. Other missionaries had initially contacted her, and as she had received the standard lessons and read the Book of Mormon, her inclination to believe had grown into a strong testimony. My companion and I had encouraged her continued study of the gospel.

But now her sister, Joan McArthur, was coming to visit. Mrs. Hall’s husband and all the relatives on both sides of the family were devoted to other churches, and she did not want to be baptized until her husband (who was, at least, friendly with the missionaries) would embrace the gospel with her. She was also concerned about antagonizing other family members, particularly her parents, by joining the Church before they fully understood what she was doing and why.

It was easy to imagine that Mrs. Hall’s sister was being sent to check up on her and to warn her to quit associating with Mormons. Still Joan was only 20, and it would be her first time away from home. She must have been as full of apprehension during her journey to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, as we were waiting for her to arrive.

Mrs. Hall, however, seemed unruffled. She simply invited us to dinner a few days later when Joan had had time to get settled. I think Joan was surprised when her sister greeted us at the door and ushered us into the living room. Maybe she had suspected that “missionaries” had to be middle-aged men or raving fanatics. We were happy and yet earnest; she, in turn, seemed at ease chatting with two young ladies approximately her own age. Following the meal, we showed a filmstrip. She had plenty of questions, and we promised to return.

At the next appointment, Joan nearly came dressed in armor. Every argument and falsehood she had ever heard about Mormons bristled. But she didn’t fling them at us. Rather, she laid them on the table and asked for an explanation. As she described her apprehensions, we responded as best we could. Our answers seemed to satisfy her. She knew her Bible well and referred to scripture after scripture. She seemed genuinely interested in the passages we quoted, and all of us looked them up and discussed them. From that day on, I was impressed with her deep spiritual insight. At the end of the conversation we all felt a little more at ease. We explained why we were called “sisters,” talked about our homes and families, and shared the convictions that had led us to our 18-month calls of service to the Lord. She told us about the excitement of her first cross-country train trip.

The next lesson was about the Apostasy. Joan desperately fought it, finally asking us to leave and not come back. She said she didn’t want to hear any more. She was upset; we were disappointed and frustrated. She later wrote in a letter, “I remember that after you left that evening, I cried bitterly because of the words in the Joseph Smith tract that said all of the other churches were ‘an abomination in my sight.’ That really hurt because my church meant something very special to me. I had believed all my life what my parents had taught me, and a statement like that dashed my whole world. How could Joseph Smith say something like that? But he had said the Lord had said it. That was the big difficulty.

“Jessie (Mrs. Hall) didn’t force me to continue studying, but she did encourage me. I don’t think I would have continued without her. But there was too much love between us as family members for me not to.

“I was angry and felt indignant, feelings I marvel at now. I wonder how I remained teachable, but the Lord was kind to me and patient. My problem was, I thought I could believe everything the sisters were teaching me and still remain a member of my church. I clung to that idea.”

But Joan was a truthseeker. After a week of prayer and soul-struggle, she called us back. She had changed her mind. When could we come teach her more? I noticed as we presented the next discussion, about the restoration of the gospel, that a change came over her. She stopped resisting. She seemed to be thirsting—eagerly asking questions as though the answers wouldn’t come quickly enough. She was understanding that Christ’s visit to Joseph Smith was an act of love; that the truth is on earth in its fulness, not for those who want to find fault, but for those yearning to fill in missing pieces.

The same spirit prevailed at the next lesson. Topic: the plan of salvation. I knew my companion and I weren’t alone doing the teaching. Words flowed freely. Scriptures were located without trouble. Spirit communed with spirit. Overcome with excitement, Joan exclaimed, “Now I see why Jessie wants to be baptized!”

Despite all her declarations that she would never join the Church, Joan was a different person than she had been when she first arrived to visit her sister. As we left the house, I felt inspired to turn to my companion and say, “I know that someday she will join the Church.”

We spent a few more visits with her, teaching a strong gospel lesson each time. Then I was transferred. I heard no more about this sincere young lady, or about the Hall family, until after I returned from my mission.

Then one day a letter with Canadian stamps was waiting in my mailbox. It had taken them a long time to track down my address and to write to me, the letter said, but Joan and Sister Hall wanted me to know that they had both been baptized two years before in a cold lake just outside the city!

It was the start of a string of surprise letters. Two years later one told me that Joan was on a mission in South Africa and that Sister Hall’s husband, Barry, though still not interested in studying about the Church, loved the missionaries and members as he always had and was taking the family to Sunday School. Later I received a wedding announcement from Joan. She was being married in the Salt Lake Temple to a returned missionary. Later that same year Sister Hall wrote that her husband had been baptized and loved working in the Church. The next year they brought their children with them to be sealed as a family in the Salt Lake Temple.

Since then Brother Hall has been a branch president, a member of a stake presidency, and is now a member of a stake high council. Joan’s husband, Dale J. Laub, became a bishop. Both sisters are active in their callings and have done genealogy that has allowed them to accomplish temple ordinances for several hundred ancestors.

As a young lady just out of her teens, Joan McArthur had come to Victoria determined that she would change her sister’s mind if necessary. Instead, she had the courage to change her own. Her sincerity in calling upon the Lord would not allow her to do otherwise. Her sister Jessie was wise enough to be patient while explaining the gospel, allowing the Lord’s Spirit to do the persuading.

Both of them learned to listen to their hearts, and many others will be eternally grateful that they did. Joan McArthur not only changed her opinion about the Church—she changed her life.

Photos by Grant Heaton