Like many other Mormons I’ve been less than diligent about fulfilling my responsibility as a member missionary. My first attempt was over 40 years ago while teaching in Wyoming. A colleague from Chicago asked me about the Church. I leaped on this opportunity to present him with a Book of Mormon. He disappointed me by returning it a few days later saying he’d skimmed through it and saw a lot of repetition from the Bible—something I really hadn’t noticed when I’d dutifully plowed through it on my own.
The Church insistence on the Book of Mormon as a missionary tool seems odd considering the apparent number of members who find it less than a compelling read. If it’s really so fascinating and testimony building, why do members need to be continually exhorted to read it?
Shortly after my first bestowal of a Book of Mormon was returned, the Church encouraged members to send Books of Mormon (they were 50 cents then) instead of Christmas cards to nonmember friends. Statistics indicated that every Book of Mormon given out resulted in a baptism within 10 years, although not necessarily of the person to whom you gave the book. Mailing books intimidated me less than giving them face-to-face, so I sent them to four or five teacher friends, happy to know that church membership would be increased by four or five people within a decade. I really never felt comfortable about participating in more active missionary efforts because asking people to join my church was too much like asking them to be more like me.
The push to get members to give out Books of Mormon must have been effective; the Church grew rapidly throughout the 1960s and ‘70s even without further help from me. But the pressure increased. I finally salved my conscience before moving from Seattle by gifting neighbors with Books of Mormon. Knowing I was leaving made it easier.
That was 30 years ago and this time my efforts paid off. The Wrednekers were not my favorite neighbors. It wasn’t the marijuana growing in their garden or the parties with Mrs. Wredneker being chased around the house by drunken guests and Mr. Wredneker too stoned to care. It was the daughters telling about their activities with boy cousins that caused me to restrict our children’s association with theirs. At any rate more than ten years later, our daughter met someone at BYU who knew the Wrednekers. They had joined the church and were members of his ward. As far as I know, the Wrednekers were the only baptisms resulting from the Books of Mormon I’ve distributed.
Flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon was a Church theme throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. Our daughter who served a mission in France recalls handing out free Books of Mormon to uninterested people, then walking back through the streets and noticing the same books stacked on trash barrels. Except for a few highly motivated individuals, I don’t see a huge effort being made now to set the earth awash in copies of the Book of Mormon.