Sidewalk Salvation

Preach. Convert. Repeat.

Another telltale sign it's a Mormon building: no crucifixes. "We don't focus on Jesus' death," Stevens says. "We celebrate Christ's resurrection and let his testimony be our symbol."

Around 9:45, Stevens takes in a quick round of jump-shooting on the half-court. He's a pretty good baller, but his main game is soccer. To help drum up funds for his mission, Stevens ran little-league camps in Portland. "I also did some landscaping," he says. Unfortunately he won't be able to watch the World Cup; Mormon rules prohibit missionaries from watching television. But he doesn't mind. "It's a minor sacrifice," he says. "But missionaries make a lot of sacrifices to get here."

A few minutes later, Stevens catches up to Dowse and the six other elders from the Haitian ward. They turn off the lights, exit the meeting hall, lock the doors, get in their church-provided cars, and head home for the evening.

Elders Matthew Bean (left) and Ademir Cacique stand 
outside a three-million-dollar Miami Beach Mormon 
Jacqueline Carini
Elders Matthew Bean (left) and Ademir Cacique stand outside a three-million-dollar Miami Beach Mormon sanctuary
Ben Stevens and Clinton Dowse (center) spread Mormon intelligence on the streets of North Miami
Jacqueline Carini
Ben Stevens and Clinton Dowse (center) spread Mormon intelligence on the streets of North Miami

This past May 10, Cacique and Bean take turns shooting a basketball inside the half-court of the Mormon building on Indian Creek Drive. "One thing I'll never get over is not being able to watch sports," Bean says. "It kills me to have missed March Madness." Bean takes the ball and from about eighteen feet away swishes it through the net.

The elders look at their watches and realize it is time for their next appointment. They turn the gym lights off and head down the stairs of the two-story building. On their way to the car, Bean reflects on his faith. "Everybody gets to a point in their lives and asks if this is really true or just another tradition being passed on to me," he says.

During his last year in high school, Bean says, he really concentrated on studying the Book of Mormon and applying its teachings to his life. He remembers reading the book from beginning to end one night. He did as Moroni instructs on page 639: He prayed to the Lord and asked him if the book was true. "The feeling that came over me was undeniable," Bean says. "It was a powerful feeling of love and peace that what I'm doing is what the Heavenly Father wants me to do."

That is a tremendous leap of faith, which Bean and Cacique acknowledge. "It is so hard to explain how the Holy Spirit works within you," Cacique says. The pair also defended the LDS founder, whose lasting legacy to the church was polygamy. "If you read the Old Testament and biblical Scripture, there were lots of prophets called by God to have more than one wife," Bean rationalizes. "Like Moses."

Either way, Bean says, there is no way he could live in polygamy. "Having many wives is difficult," he opines. "One will be plenty to deal with." Besides, Cacique adds, the church will always have its critics. "We know truth seekers will find our church," he says.

Two weeks later, on May 21, Bean and Cacique are dressed in immaculate white dress shirts, white ties, and white slacks. They are walking barefoot inside the Miami Beach building's first-floor classroom. The room is packed with ward members attending the baptism ceremony of Luis Salgado, Thais Montefusco, and Carlos Ramirez, who are dressed in white cotton jumpsuits.

One of the attendees, Liliana Ramirez, is handing out flyers to the women in the audience. The leaflets explain how to prepare an emergency three-day supply of food in case families must evacuate for an approaching hurricane. A devout Mormon, the Colombian-born Ramirez was baptized in the Sunny Isles ward more than seven years ago. Like her fellow LDS believers, she rigorously gives the church its ten-percent tithing and fasts the first Sunday of every month, among other traditional Mormon practices.

By divine revelation, Ramirez has been selected as the de facto hurricane preparedness coordinator. Her job: Make sure all the women in the Miami Beach ward are stocked and loaded for storm season. One of the sheets Ramirez is distributing is an order form for nonperishable items sold by a wholesale food warehouse in Davie. The company provides the Latter-Day Saints with a discount on foodstuffs such as canned beans, dry wheat, and other staples. Members can buy in bulk or individual items. "We are all called to perform for the church," Ramirez says.

The ceremony begins. The members sing the hymn "Come unto Me," orate an opening prayer, and hear testimony from two members. At 12:51 p.m., the moment of truth arrives. Two doors open to reveal the baptismal fount. Bean and Montefusco are waist-deep in the pool. The elder holds Montefusco's right hand with his left and extends his right hand into the air. He closes his eyes, says the baptismal prayer, and immerses Montefusco in the water. Bean repeats the process with Salgado. Cacique baptizes Ramirez.

While the elders and the newly baptized members change out of their wet clothes, Brother Luis Chavez pops in a DVD featuring the geriatric Hinckley and the Twelve Apostles. The piece is titled "Special Witnesses of Christ."

The ceremony concludes after Bean, Cacique, Montefusco, Ramirez, and Salgado return to the room in clean, dry clothes. Ramirez doesn't stop smiling. Her son Luis, she says, cried tears of joy following her Mormon plunge. "He was so happy for me," she says.

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