A week has passed since I spent five days camping in a small town in central Utah. The laundry has been done, the bags are unpacked, and the tent is stored back in the garage. But the impact has just begun.
I’ve attended the Manti pageant outreach for five years now, and every year, I become bolder and more serious about the missions work to which we are called there. In Manti, 200+ Christians gather at the only Christian church in the county with one mind and one purpose: to reach the LDS people for Jesus. These incredible, loving people are currently enslaved in a religion that leads them after a false Jesus, and we seek to shine His light into the darkness of this works-based religion.Our mission is to engage faithful Latter-day Saints in conversations about the Gospel in the few hours before the annual historical pageant.
That’s the concept behind it. This concept manifests itself during two weeks of beautiful fellowship and worship, strong teaching, and powerful conversation.
And on the other hand, the reality of it is cold nights in tents, rejection and mocking from hard-hearted people, and tears shed out of broken hearts for lost souls.
My week was a constant combination of high moments and deep lows. I struggled every night on the streets with pride and fear. Honestly, I was afraid to start conversations because of the fear of rejection or the self-glorifying fear of being viewed as foolish or strange. My flesh–the pride of life that comes from the world–was weak and unfit for the bold purpose that I was called to, but I find courage in what the Lord said to Paul in 2 Corinthians: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And indeed, in Manti, when I was weak, then He was strong. There is nothing more awesome (and I mean literally, awe-inspiring) than realizing that I don’t know what to say, but He does–and He will say it through me.
Not only that, but the God who commands the weather held away threatening rainclouds in response to our prayers, so that His people could share His Gospel. And He even used a former LDS Bishop to reach hundreds of people for Himself. His power is always so clearly evident in Manti!
On Tuesday, I was paralyzed with fear and didn’t speak to anyone. But after I overcame the initial unpreparedness and selfishness, I spoke to a wide range of Mormons (and non-Mormons) on the streets from Wednesday through Saturday night.
The Lord led me unexpectedly to talk to a gentle 16 year-old kid who was raised in a polygamist group, the True and Living Church (TLC), but lost his faith and grew wise beyond his years after deep tragedy struck his family. He’s now an atheist living in the dead-end town of Manti and desperate to get out. I talked to him for over an hour about his life, his beliefs, and Jesus while we sat on a curb outside of the temple grounds. I explained the entire biblical Gospel to him while he listened intently (as he had never heard it before), but I will never know this side of eternity if my words made a difference.
Over the course of the next few nights, I talked to a number of groups of teenage girls – my favorite demographic on the streets.
They’re fun, honest, and not afraid to talk to me. At one point, I struck up a conversation with a group of three wonderful girls who were killing time before the pageant. We laughed and connected well while I shared with them several tough verses from the Book of Mormon. By the end of the conversation 45 minutes later, I was addressing about 8-10 girls who migrated over to join their friends and wandered in and out of the conversation. The conversation ended tensely, however, when one of the girls grew agitated at my simple questions and said, “Please stop asking us so many questions. Read the Book of Mormon and pray about it, and then you’ll understand.” They were clearly done with me, so I hugged each of them, gave them my email address, and sent them on their way. Later, their group leader engaged in a conversation with two of my brothers in Christ, and my girls joined in. As I walked by, they waved at me and called me over, so I joined them again and spent another 20 minutes chatting about life with them. I am thankful for their time and the good conversation that we had.
These are a sampling of the dozen or more substantial conversations I had. Several of the encounters ended with Mormons refusing to think about their religion, instead telling me to stop questioning and have faith. (I addressed that phenomenon in this blog post.) Others allowed themselves to be logically critical of their church’s teachings and address life and philosophy with me on a deeper and more thoughtful level. I experienced a beautiful and overall refreshing range of conversations, all of which I believe were God-ordained.
As my dad says all the time, we may be in sales, but God is in production. We scattered thousands and thousands of seeds in Manti, and now we must pray that God sends other believers along to water, fertilize, and harvest. And He will. He is faithful and good.
That’s all for now… until next Manti time.