The missionaries are in a well-kept home in Alta Dena at the request of the mission president. He had called the young man to tell him that Kevin’s wife had asked for her husband to be taught, but he should not be pushed. The mission president had said, “It’s a delicate situation. Her husband is an interesting man. But I’m sure you will handle it well, Elder Laws.”
Kevin is a black man with an easy smile and a confident gait. Gail is a white woman raised in privilege who keeps an immaculate home, has been married and divorced once, and has married Kevin about three years previously. Her activity in church is moderate: the young man recognizes her, but doesn’t think she is there every Sunday.
Lesson 2 today, the baptismal challenge. This would be Elder Davis’s first baptismal challenge, and he has told him, “You will issue the challenge, but President says it’s delicate. So if anything goes sideways, I’ll take control.”
Through the first discussion and almost all of this second discussion, Kevin has betrayed very little about his past. He has felt the Spirit strongly, agreed to read the Book of Mormon, completed the whole reading assignment and more, and talked readily about the importance of repentance and forgiveness. The young man has done this enough to know that people like this generally agree on the need for baptism and almost always accept the challenge. Perfect training opportunity for Elder Davis.
The young man is comfortable as Elder Davis reaches the high point of the lesson and says, “Will you follow the example of Jesus Christ by being baptized?”
Kevin smiles. “I think that will work after some more study. I like it all so far.”
“We are holding a baptismal service three Sundays from now. Will you prepare to be baptized at that service?”
The young man studies Kevin and sees the subtle clench of the jaw and slight shift in his seat. Gail passes through the room but doesn’t sit down, just smiles at them.
“I think that is way too soon.”
“Do you have concerns about being baptized then?” Elder Davis says, trying to follow the Missionary Guide.
“I don’t want to be pushed about this,” says Kevin.
“We’re not going to push you,” the young man says, taking control from Elder Davis. “If you could just help us understand your context a bit, that would help. We can calibrate the lessons to your needs.”
Kevin crosses his legs and folds his hands on his legs. He looks intently at the young man. “I have a lot of things to work out and to get past. I don’t know when I’m going to be ready.”
“Okay. I appreciate your honesty,” says the young man.
“I have killed many men,” Kevin says.
“Okay,” the young man says without changing expression.
“I was an enforcer for a gang. I went to San Quentin for 23 years. I was an enforcer in prison, too. If you didn’t pay, you died. I done a lot of drugs. I’ve sat between two other men and mainlined the same dose of heroin from the same needle as those two, then watched those two die while I lived. I do not know why I wasn’t murdered. I do not know why I lived through the drugs when the other guys died.”
“You’ve been through a lot,” says the young man.
“I been through a lot and I done a lot. I done a lot of things that I can never make up for.”
“Yeah, that’s complicated. And you’re right. You couldn’t be baptized in three weeks even if you wanted to.”
“I’m going to therapy every week. And I go to group meetings. And I run my own halfway house, trying to help the type of men I used to hurt. But I can’t tell you when I will feel like I’m forgiven or ready. I have a lot of anger. I have always had a lot of anger. I got a lot to work on.”
“Understood. So let’s set our next appointment for a few weeks from now, and we’ll just keep chipping away it.”