Sidewalk Salvation

Preach. Convert. Repeat.

Later on, Cacique and Bean drive to Luis and Brenda Salgado's apartment. They have been meeting the Honduran couple for the past two months. She is a Latter-Day Saint, but he is not. The elders and their students gather in the living room. Brenda is a chubby woman with a round, pudgy face and curly black hair. Her spouse is a towering individual with dark tan skin and jet-black hair parted on the right.

Cacique asks Luis how it feels to welcome the LDS church into his home. "It is a marvelous thing," he relays. "I've been feeling these sensations that can only be described as the Holy Spirit." The jubilant elders and the Salgados spend the next half-hour reading and discussing different chapters from the Book of Mormon.

Before leaving, Cacique asks Luis if he feels ready to be baptized May 21. Maria interjects, "Well, my birthday is on May 20." To which Cacique responds, "Well, then the 21st would be the perfect day."

Elders gather for a spirited game of soccer
Jacqueline Carini
Elders gather for a spirited game of soccer
On a recent Monday afternoon, Ademir Cacique gets in a game of soccer with a fellow elder
Jacqueline Carini
On a recent Monday afternoon, Ademir Cacique gets in a game of soccer with a fellow elder

On May 4, Dowse and Stevens are on their way to meet with a potential convert who lives off NW Seventh Avenue and 148th Street. The elders are reading downloaded speeches given by Hinckley and the Twelve Apostles during the LDS church's recent 176th annual general conference, the Mormon church's largest event. "It's held twice a year on a Saturday and Sunday," Stevens explains. "It's when we hear the Prophet and the Twelve Apostles speak. It takes place in Salt Lake City, but it's transmitted in different languages across the world."

According to Dowse, Mormons believe God chooses a Prophet and Twelve Apostles to lead the church's mission to introduce nonbelievers to the LDS "so that it continues to be a living church," Dowse says. "The conferences are way, way strong. Everyone looks forward to hear them speak. If you believe in prophets, it is like listening to the Word of God."

"You know what they are saying is coming straight from God," Stevens adds. "It is God's will."

Dowse fiddles with a postcard bearing an image of a Mormon temple in Utah. The temples are sacred buildings in the Mormon religion. Built with intricate and majestic detail, 122 such temples have been erected around the world, including one in Orlando. The purpose of the temple is for worthy church members to make covenants to serve Jesus Christ and their fellow man. In addition, they participate in ceremonies that reach beyond mortality, such as baptism on behalf of dead relatives. Yes, in the LDS church, even extinct nonbelievers can make it to Heaven.

"People think it's a big secret what goes on inside the temple," Dowse says. "But it's really a matter of worthiness. You just can't let anyone make ordinances with God. But it is probably the best place in the world. In order to go on a mission, you have to be sanctified in a temple."

Dowse pulls out his "temple recommend card" from his wallet. He explains that in order to receive the card, his ward bishop and his stake president interviewed him to determine his worthiness. "You show this at the front door and you are worthy to enter," Dowse says. "It is a pretty serious thing."

The pair's prospective recruit — a young, blithe 30-year-old Haitian named Hervé — is an hour late for the appointment. "It can be hard working around people's schedules," Stevens says. "But some people are holding two jobs, so sometimes they get held up."

Hervé leads the elders through the living room, past the kitchen, and onto the back stoop. The soft-spoken man calls his teenage cousin Katia to join them.

For about 45 minutes, Dowse and Stevens read and explain chapters from the Book of Mormon. Hervé listens intently, while his bewildered cousin stares at the two white boys preaching in Kreyol.

Hervé informs the missionaries that last week he prayed and asked God if the Book of Mormon was true. "I felt good when I did it," Hervé says. "I really want to feel it. And I do feel something coming that is going to change my life."

Stevens stresses to Hervé that he must continue praying and reading the book. "It is all true," Stevens says. (The elders meet with Hervé three more times in the following two weeks. During the last visit, Hervé tells them he wants to be baptized June 6.)

Before ending the evening, Stevens takes a tour of his ward's meeting hall on NE 85th Street. It's basically like any other Mormon building where members of branches and wards meet. It has a chapel where Mormons celebrate the sacrament of Communion. It is equipped with a gym housing a basketball half-court where members play pick-up games or hold dances for the young single adults. (Mormons are encouraged to date members of their own faith to build strong families and pass on Joseph Smith's legacy.) The building also contains several classrooms where they learn more about their faith and their founding father.

In one of the classrooms, double doors open to reveal the building's baptismal fount, a three-foot-deep pool in which converts are completely immersed. The mirror hanging over the pool casts a peaceful reflection.

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