As a missionary, I was never a big “follow the Spirit” kind of guy. I was always more of a rationalist. But I had one experience that made me wonder whether there wasn’t more to the idea of following the Spirit wherever it listeth than I had previously considered. This happened in late May, 1978.
I’ll begin the story with a quote from my journal for 31 May 1978:
A few days ago we were going to see a referral or something, and Haynes [my companion] said “The Spirit says to go see Grubbs.” Well, I couldn’t figure out why the Spirit would want us to do a dumb thing like that, but we went anyway.
As I had guessed they would, the Grubbs (an elderly couple that really weren’t interested) “flaked out” [a journal quote] on us. But while we were there a member drove by and said to go to his house for cake and ice cream, as it was his daughter’s birthday. This member family was as poor as dirt, but were salt of the earth types and they happened to live just sort of kitty-corner from the Grubbs.
So we go to the family’s house, and the mother tells us we need to rush over to the VA hospital to give a man another blessing. This man had cancer, and we had given him a blessing previously, but they had isolated the cancer and were taking him into surgery again, so he wanted another blessing. So off we rushed to the VA hospital (sans cake and ice cream!) to visit with this man and give him the requested blessing, which we were glad to do.
After all of that, we were in the elevator and this man says to my companion, “What’s that on your shirt?” We had been babysitting a cockatiel for a part-member family we were teaching, and Perky had pooped on my companion’s shoulder, and neither of us had noticed it until now. So we started talking to this man, whose name was John, and he told us he had visited Temple Square, and we asked him if he would like to learn more, and he replied “Sure.” So we started to teach him. He attended Church and came to the investigators’ class, and during the course of the lesson, which I was teaching, he asked at what point one gets baptized, and so I gave him a baptismal challenge right there in class, and he said, “Where’s the water?” So he was baptized the following Saturday, which happened to be the day after the priesthood revelation was announced.
In my journal I effusively wrote after this experience “Now tell me the Holy Ghost doesn’t work!” Now I’m probably back to being more agnostic about whether we were given specific direction to go visit the Grubbs with the idea that this convoluted chain of events would necessarily unfold, or whether our good fortune in finding John was simply a product of being out and about doing the Lord’s service. But either way, it was quite a set of circumstances that led us to John.
What I didn’t go into in my journal, but remember vividly, was John’s appearance. I’d say he was in his late 20s, maybe 30 or so. He was a very handsome man, tall, with broad shoulders. But what was particularly distinctive about him was his hair. He had long, straight light-brown hair, which went at least half-way down his back, really almost to his waist, and also a nicely trimmed beard. I don’t recall whether I asked or he volunteered the information, but he informed me that he had striven to make the Savior his example in all things, even to the point of grooming himself the way he imagined (and popular contemporary culture confirmed) that Jesus himself did. And he really did look the part; he could have been the Greg Olsen Jesus had such a thing existed at that time. He was a military veteran (which is why he had been at the VA), but he was also a humble, sensitive man, physically beautiful with a beautiful spirit to match.
Which is why it was always painful for me to sit next to him when we took him to Church. I’m sure that if I could perceive the stares and hear the whispers, he could, too, although he never let on. My ward saw this man and saw a hippie, a druggie, and wondered what such a long-hair was doing in our church. (This was less than a decade removed from the sixties.) And yet his sole purpose in wearing his hair that way was to emulate the Savior. Which made me wonder–if the Savior himself walked in and sat down in one of our meetings, would we greet him warmly and embrace him as a brother, or would we eye him with suspicion and talk about his appearance behind his back?
I am confident that my ward today would warmly embrace a John/Jesus were he to appear, for which I am grateful. I’m less confident that that welcoming embrace would be universally received throughout the wards of the Church, however.