In the late 1970s, my wife and I lived in an area of Tunbridge Wells that would rarely be ‘tracked’ by full-time missionaries. Nevertheless, on Saturday 3rd February 1979, two sister missionaries came knocking. I went to the door and found myself caught up in a conversation about families. “Could we visit tomorrow evening to tell you about our Church’s programme for strengthening families?” At the time we had two young sons, aged two and four.
It so happened around Christmas of the previous year I had a work experience that caused me much reflection; I became preoccupied by concerns about purpose in life. I concluded that my priority was doing the best that I could for my family. So, I could not help being drawn in by the missionaries’ approach and acquiesced to their request.
Early in my conversations with the missionaries over the next four weeks, I explained that I did not believe in God. Jenny was of a similar view. But for God this was a triviality. Without going into the wonderful early-conversion experience of those weeks, I will just say I became absolutely convinced that I had a Heavenly Father. We were baptised early in March of that year.
But there is a little more to the story. I had first met representatives of the Church in the summer of 1966, a year before Jenny and I married. I had taken advantage of a cheap chartered flight and a $99 three-month Greyhound ticket to visit the USA (and Mexico) during that summer, between my second and third year at university in London. On the journey I chose to visit Salt Lake City; I remembered vaguely having watched, back in the mid-1950s, an old black-and-white film made in 1940 starring Dean Jagger as Brigham Young – the seagull event particularly came to my mind, and that sparked my interest in visiting. I did the customary visit to Temple Square and engaged in conversation with missionaries, who explained the origins of the Church. The subject came up of the Temple and the constraints, at the time, placed on people of with African ancestry.
This was a significant concern for me. Although born near London, I had gone to British-colonial Africa with my parents in 1950 (initially to Nigeria and then to Southern Rhodesia). All my school years were spent in Africa and I only returned to England in 1964 to attend university. One of my biggest concerns in moving out of then-colonial Africa was to make sure I did not carry any prejudice towards my fellow black Africans. Now, here I was in the summer of 1966 in Salt Lake City hearing something from the missionaries that jarred. I left Temple Square concluding that the Latter-day Saint Church could never be for me.
But, in September 1978, under the leadership of President Spencer W Kimball, the Church issued the proclamation announcing that every worthy member of the Church was entitled to the full blessings of the gospel. This was about half a year before the missionaries knocked on our door. “The rest is history”, so to speak. Without wanting to overstate it, I concluded that my Heavenly Father, back in 1966, had put me on his to-do list and caused me to be sought me out when the time was right. What love!