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The Saints Go Marching In
The missionaries open the hour with a discussion of faith. "God said, If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move a mountain," Severson says.
"My faith is much bigger than a mustard seed," Coppedge says. "It used to be the size of a mustard seed, but now it's the size of a watermelon."
Faith also, Severson says, leads to a desire to repent.
This reminds Coppedge of a recent incident. "I need to tell you something," she says to the missionaries, and launches into a story about being hassled by Baptist proselytizers at the Eastover Shopping Center. "They started asking me if I was a child of God," she says indignantly. "I said, 'I'm a Mormon!' They said, 'Do you know where they came from? Do you know about segregation?' I said, 'You know, they used to have slaves, too, and you don't see those anywhere today. Furthermore, right now you are not a child of God, because you wouldn't be judging!' I said, 'You are the devil!'" She stomps on the floor. " 'And I forgive you in the name of Jesus Christ!' Elders, tell me, was I right or wrong?" Coppedge sits back and watches them, a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth.
There is a pause. Severson and Nielsen appear to be biting back grins. "Well, let's break this down," says Severson, with an effort at solemnity. "You can take literature from others, but it's important to behave in a Christlike manner."
"I told her she was not a child of God," Coppedge says. She narrows her eyes at them. "You look like you're laughing. Elders, what did I do?"
"That might be a little far to go," Severson says, "because everyone is a child of God. And we shouldn't call anyone the devil."
"You know how I deal with it?" asks Wallace, from the kitchen door. "I just say, 'I love you' and walk away."
Next, Severson moves into a discussion of baptism, which, he says, is a form of repentance. Baptism into the Mormon church, he tells the group, is different from baptism in other churches, because the Mormon church is the one true church. To Coppedge, however, there are other important distinctions between her new church and the old ones. "When I got baptized," she says hotly, "they didn't teach me anything. No lessons, nothing like this. I went to Baptist, Muslim, Catholic, Jehovah, but never to a church where they didn't pass the offering around. I went to the Mormon church with my last $2.10 in my pocket, and I said, 'Lord, if I get to church, you can get me home.' And I got home. And more than that, I got Bible study, I got these guys coming over here to help me learn."
MALCOLM JORDAN, 33, A BIG, AFFABLE MAN WITH A DEEP VOICE, converted three years ago with his wife, Charlita, and their four children. Malcolm says he had been "in and out of trouble" since he was 12, supporting himself and his family in part, over the years, by dealing PCP.
"I was looking for something," he says, of the days in which he first made contact with the church. In 2000, he called to request an informational video about the church after seeing a commercial for it. The missionaries, when they delivered the video, persuaded Malcolm to come with them to a service at a ward in Northwest Washington, which happened to be predominantly white. For Malcolm, the feeling of belonging was immediate. "When I walked into the church," he says, "the spirit just hit me so hard. You know when you've been away from home for so long? I felt at home, despite the race of the people sitting there.
"When I decided to join the church, I thought I'd go out one last time, call up my boys and retire my ghetto pass. I had my brother's gun, which I was going to take down to the police station and turn in; we hid that on top of the engine." When one of the group attempted to rob someone, he says, the car was searched by the police, and Malcolm spent the next four years in and out of jail and court. Although the missionaries told Malcolm they could not allow him to be baptized until his legal troubles were resolved -- and his lifestyle was clean -- they continued to visit, studying the Bible and the Book of Mormon with him. Learning more about the church, Malcolm says, only spurred his desire to join. Among the people who worked with Malcolm and his wife was mission president Price, who, Malcolm says, encouraged him to get his high school diploma and to pursue a degree in public administration, and helped clear up Malcolm's lingering legal problems after he joined the church.