Soapbox Convert
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“Soapbox Convert,” New Era, June 2004, 42

Soapbox Convert

Elder W. Rolfe Kerr

It was a cold winter night in London, England, and my first night in the British Mission. Our group of new missionaries was taken to Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park to experience our first “street meeting.” By the time we sang a hymn and heard a rousing speech by one of the more experienced missionaries, about 100 people had gathered to hear what we had to say. In this crowd were several hecklers with strong anti-Church and anti-American sentiments. The atmosphere was very hostile.

Each new missionary took his or her turn declaring the gospel, standing on a collapsible box, called a soapbox. As a new missionary, I was scared to take my turn. I was fresh off the farm in northern Utah and frightened by the hecklers in the crowd.

The missionary who spoke before me was a wonderful new sister missionary from England. She was verbally attacked by a heckler about a world event that affected the United States but had nothing to do with the Church. The crowd became quite inflamed and unruly.

As she stepped down, the atmosphere was electric. It was my turn to speak. I reluctantly took her place on the soapbox. There, in front of that large, agitated crowd in London, I bore my testimony of the gospel. I declared that God had spoken again and that there was a living prophet on the earth. I added a few other basics of my testimony, and in a state of shock, quickly stepped down before the hecklers could ask me any questions. I would not have dreamed that among that crowd was even one person who had listened to what I said, but I was soon to find out differently.

The Holy Ghost Shall Bear Record

A young man had been doing his school homework in his family’s apartment located not far from Hyde Park. For some reason, he felt prompted to go to Speakers’ Corner. This was not his usual hangout, so the feeling was a little surprising to him, but he went anyway. Once he got there, he was drawn immediately to our particular street meeting just as I began to speak. He listened to my simple testimony. As he explained later, “I felt something that I had never felt before in my life. I can only describe it as if I were floating about a foot off the ground. I didn’t know what it was, but I felt something, and I needed to know more.”

I was still recovering from my frightening experience when this young man came up to me and asked, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” I could hardly believe that he wanted to ask me, a brand-new missionary, a question. Of course I was more than happy to talk to him. We began a conversation that led to an invitation for him to come to the mission office and an opportunity for me to teach and ultimately baptize him.

I opened my mouth that night, and this young man felt something. The Spirit had touched his heart. This was evidence of the Lord’s promise in D&C 100:5–6 and D&C 100:8:

“Therefore, verily I say unto you, lift up your voices unto this people; speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men;

“For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say. …

“And I give unto you this promise, that inasmuch as ye do this the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say.”

The Power of Prayer

Probably the most significant thing I learned while on my mission, other than the gospel, is the importance and power of prayer in missionary work—prayer plus appropriate and timely fasting.

While serving in Edinburgh, Scotland, my companion and I had decided not to proselyte in a certain area of the city because we thought other areas would be more productive. There were only two missionaries in all of Edinburgh, a city of about a half a million people. We went about our work in other areas of the city, but we had a feeling that there may be someone we needed to teach who lived in the area in which we had chosen not to proselyte. We decided to set aside a certain day to fast and pray for that area and to proselyte there. We prayed that we would find someone who was prepared for the gospel.

On that day we knocked on the door of Alex and Lilly Clark, a young couple who invited us in right away. We taught them the first discussion and gave them a copy of the Book of Mormon. We asked them to read it and pray about it. We asked if we could return to share more of our message.

They told us that Alex was leaving the next day for a six-month military assignment. Feeling it inappropriate to meet with Lilly in Alex’s absence, we gave them each a copy of the Book of Mormon and repeated our challenge to read and pray about it. We also gave them the address of our chapel.

My companion and I were impressed by them and hopeful for them, but we were not optimistic, knowing what often happens when investigators go for such a long time without contact with the missionaries.

In the meantime I was transferred from Edinburgh to Nottingham, England. About six months after our visit with the Clarks, the mission president asked me to travel back to Edinburgh to handle some mission business. While there, my companion and I attended Sunday services at the Edinburgh branch. You can imagine my surprise and thrill when I saw Alex and Lilly Clark walk into the chapel.

Alex had just returned from his military assignment, and the two of them were soon on their way to baptism. The Clarks became active members of the Church in Edinburgh. When the Edinburgh Scotland Stake was created, Alex Clark was called to be its first stake president.

Forty-one years later, Lilly told my wife and me and two of our grown children that when my companion and I knocked on their door that day, she and Alex were busy getting him ready for his assignment. They didn’t think they had time for one more thing. But when she opened the door, she was overcome with the thought: “You’ve come! It’s you, and you’ve come.”

Alex and Lilly were not looking for religion that day, but when we knocked on their door, Lilly knew she had to let us in. Because she followed this prompting, her family’s lives were changed forever. And so was mine!

As the Lord states in D&C 31:7: “Yea, I will open the hearts of the people, and they will receive you. And I will establish a church by your hand.”

Truly the Clarks’ hearts were opened that day by the power of prayer in missionary work.

Out Doing the Work

There is no substitute for hard work on a mission, whether it means speaking at a street meeting, knocking on doors, or helping members to prepare friends to be taught. Nothing happens while sitting in an apartment. Missionaries have to be out doing the work.

I had a testimony before I went on a mission, but a greater spiritual witness and a greater grasp of the scriptures and the gospel came as a part of my missionary experiences. Those experiences shaped my testimony, my lasting commitment to the gospel, and my goal of an eternal family. Without my mission, my life would not be what it is today.

Extra! Extra!

To learn more about succeeding in missionary work, read these scriptures: D&C 43:15–16; D&C 50:13–14; D&C 100:4–8.

In site: Also read the following talks on this topic in the Gospel Library at “Realize Your Full Potential,” by Elder Richard G. Scott (Ensign, Nov. 2003), “Sharing the Gospel,” by Elder Dallin H. Oaks (Ensign, Nov. 2001), and “Young Men—Holders of Keys,” by Elder Monte J. Brough (Ensign, Nov. 2003).

Photographs courtesy of the Kerr family

Elder Kerr taught the gospel to many crowds in England, sometimes on a soapbox and sometimes just on a wall like this one in Nottingham (opposite page). During one of those outdoor meetings, a young man (below, center, with Elder Kerr, right) was touched, and he was baptized. Elder and Sister Kerr visited this man many years later in England (top).

Even though the street meetings Elder Kerr and his companions held were inspired and well received by some, the meetings usually drew hecklers (right). Elder Kerr found friendship, though, with the members in Edinburgh, Scotland (opposite page).