The Book in the Bag

“The Book in the Bag,” New Era, Jan. 1997, 8

The Book in the Bag

What Michelle said was quite nice, really. So why did it scare me?

The Lord tells us in Doctrine and Covenants 100:6 that “it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say.” [D&C 100:6] But I didn’t really believe him. That is, until I met Michelle.

Michelle and I worked together in a restaurant one summer. We were hired the same day, so we became acquainted at new-employee orientation. As time passed and we struggled through each day together—refilling glasses, clearing tables, and spilling on restaurant guests—we became good friends.

One day Michelle startled me by asking, “Marissa, are you a Mormon?”

I nodded my head sheepishly, not wanting to attract too much attention. I was content in being a quiet member missionary. If others were taught by my example that was fine, but I didn’t want to be known as the restaurant preacher.

“I thought so,” she continued. “All of the most sincere, kind people I’ve ever met are Mormon.”

I smiled at the indirect compliment, unsure of how I should respond. Luckily, the lunch-hour rush hit, and we were quickly put back to work.

As I left work that day, I couldn’t stop thinking about what Michelle had said. It had been a nice thing to say about Church members, but it was more than that—I felt as if she needed to hear the gospel. And this feeling frightened me.

That night the ward missionaries came to our house for dinner, and I told them about Michelle. I thought they would respond by commending me for being such a stalwart example, that they would tell me to keep up the good work. But instead they gave me a Book of Mormon to give to her. As I told the missionaries good-bye that night, I looked down at the book I was holding and wondered what I had gotten myself into.

After the missionaries left, I took the Book of Mormon downstairs to mark some key verses I had been studying in seminary. I then placed the book in my bag with my work clothes and vowed to bring it with me to work every day. I also promised myself that I would pray for the Lord’s help in giving me the opportunity to share the gospel with Michelle.

For the next few days, it seemed as if Michelle and I were scheduled to work different shifts. Instead of serving the same tables and having the same lunch hour as we usually did, I rarely saw her.

But I continued to pray and I kept the Book of Mormon in my bag. After about a week of not seeing each other, we finally had the same lunch hour. It was a little later than most of the other employees stayed, so Michelle and I were alone in the lunch room. We were talking and laughing as we usually did, but then she became quiet.

“Can I ask you something?” she said.

Suddenly every off-the-wall question people usually ask about the Church came whizzing through my head.

“Sure,” I said, praying that I would be able to answer her question.

“What’s a Book of Mormon?”

I couldn’t believe what she was asking. It was the exact question I had been praying for.

“It’s another testament of Jesus Christ written by prophets in the Americas,” I said, as my knees rattled against the table.

I then briefly explained Lehi’s journey from Jerusalem, Mormon’s compilation of the records, and finally, Joseph Smith’s experience in the Sacred Grove.

Michelle seemed interested in what I was saying, but she had a confused, pensive look on her face.

“I don’t know if this will make sense,” she began, “but I feel like I’m looking for something in my life right now. It’s like I’m walking around a pool of religions, dipping my foot in to test the waters of each one to see where I belong.”

It seemed as if time stopped; it was all too perfect. My thoughts raced. This can’t be happening, I thought. Things this perfect don’t happen in real life, only in Church videos. I wasn’t sure how I should respond, so I silently pleaded with the Lord to tell me what to say.

“You remind me of Joseph Smith,” I said. “He didn’t know which church to join either. Then he prayed and was told that none of the churches was true. Later on he received instructions from God about how to restore and organize the true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth. He also received the Book of Mormon, which contains the fulness of Christ’s gospel.”

As we walked to the elevator, I took out the Book of Mormon I had brought for her.

“After we talked the other day, I thought I should bring this for you,” I explained. “I marked some verses for you to read. Now you can see for yourself what the Book of Mormon is.”

She happily accepted it, and we said good-bye.

“Great,” I said to myself, relieved that all had gone well and that I had done my duty as a member missionary. “Mission accomplished.”

That night, whenever the phone rang, I expected it to be Michelle calling to say she wanted to join the Church. After all, the Lord had made everything else so easy. As far as I could tell, Michelle was as good as baptized.

But that’s not exactly what happened. In fact, I don’t know if she’ll ever join the Church. She quit her job a few weeks later, and then I went back to BYU.

For the longest time I thought my first attempt at missionary work had been a failure. I even questioned why the Lord would go through so much trouble, answer my prayers, and then let things turn out the way they did. But then I realized that there had already been one person converted during this “useless” attempt at proselyting—me.

It was because of my missionary efforts that I gained a testimony of prayer. I knew that my experience with Michelle in the lunchroom was not a coincidence; the Lord had prompted her to ask me about the Book of Mormon.

I also learned that the Lord does what he says he will do. He told me that he would fill my mouth with words; he told Michelle that she would be given the agency to make her own choices. And in the end, both promises were kept.

Illustrated by Scott Snow