The next morning I was up, shaved, showered and ready to go by 6:30am. All of the missionaries were checking in from all over the world, getting as- signed to their groups and rooms according to where they were called to serve. It wasn’t until around noon time when things started to get organized and I got to meet all the other missionaries who were going to serve in the Columbus, Ohio Mission.
There were 9 missionaries total in our group and I remember all of us going and getting our Missionary Packet, Picture Flip Chart and Discussion Book. This had all 7 of our missionary discussions in them, which we were informed, we had to memorize . . . all of them, the entire book, all 10,000 words in two months! It was like a small book. I said to myself, “NO ONE can do this, period, let alone in two months, unless you had perfect memory recall.” I knew right then and there I was in big trouble and that this was going to be TOUGH!!!.
Next, we got our missionary name tag, that black little badge with the white letters that we were told we had to wear 24/7, 365 days a year for the next two years. Then we got this little plastic white rule book. This, we were informed, was our new 10 Commandments and all of the new rules we had to obey and follow. This was our code of conduct in public, around ladies, people in general. This also we were to keep on our person 24/7 and read it at least once a week; basically memorize this little booklet as well and with that little white book came our legal Ministerial Certificate, giving us authority to be missionaries in the United States. They fit perfectly into our little white plastic Rules Booklet which fit perfectly into our white shirt pocket or suit coat pocket. With all of this I was now feeling like an official missionary with my name tag on and all.
I then remember getting inspected to make sure our hair was short enough to meet missionary standards. I had just gotten a haircut a couple of days before I left for my mission so I knew I was good to go there, or so I thought. They thought different and said mine still needed some trimming, that it was still not short enough. I was blown away. I already felt like I was joining the military but as I look at my pictures today in comparison to what I looked like back then, it still needed to be trimmed up a little. It cost about three dollars and there was a line of us at this barber area in the MTC and I have never seen so many barbers in one place in my life. It looked like a barber school of 20 or more barbers. We were like sheep standing in this long line waiting to getting sheared. It was the same cut no matter what you looked like or what kind of hair you had. You could get it cut any way you wanted, as long as it was SHORT!!!.
To get over the new military hair cut we then got directed to the cafeteria and that was the BEST place I had seen so far! I ate up. It was good food and there was lots of it. You know you’re hungry when everything tastes good, right? We then headed to classes. For the rest of our two weeks there, that’s all we did was learn how to memorize our discussions and present the discussions with our flip charts. We also got to go to the Salt Lake City Temple one day and we did two endowment sessions back to back, which was really good since I had only been to the temple once before I came to SLC. (I went to the Los Angeles Temple to receive my endowments about three weeks before I left for my mission.) This was good to have some more time to digest all that is taught in the temple session. I was also interested to see and know that the entire temple session was acted out, live, not a film like I had seen in Los Angeles. That made it very interesting as well. There was a lot to take in.
The highlight for me during this two week period was having some of the apostles and general authorities of the church come and speak to all of us. This was very uplifting, motivating and encouraging. I loved it and it reconfirmed that I was at the right place doing the right thing.
The time soon came for us to pack our bags and take a shuttle to the Salt Lake City Airport to catch our plane to Columbus, Ohio. This would be only the second time in my life to fly on a commercial plane and this ride would be for about 4 hours. I still remember sitting, looking out the window, saying to myself, “You’re miles high and soon to be miles from home. This is finally it and you’re all in now, pal.”
When we landed, we were picked up by the mission president, President Paul Buehne, and his assistant. Back in those good old days, you were able to meet people at the gate as they got off the airplane. (That all changed after 9/11.) We all got our bags, loaded them in a van and a station wagon and we left for the mission home. We would have dinner that
evening in the mission home with President and Sister Buehner after which we all retired to the living room and we each took turns as missionaries sharing a little bit about ourselves; where we came from and what we were doing before our missions started and why we had made the decision to come on a mission.
This allowed the mission president to get to know us all a little better and help him decide who would be best to pair us up with in our first area as our first training companion. After these introductions, we all went to bed at the mission home and in the morning we had scripture study and break- fast. Then, they orientated us to the mission, showed us the mission boundaries, gave us some history about Ohio and reviewed the rules and guidelines for the mission. Sister Buehner gave us a special reading/studying challenge that she gave to all of the missionaries who came to serve in the Ohio mission for the next 18 months or 24 months. The reading goal challenge included reading the Book of Mormon four times, The Old Testament once, The New testament twice, The D&C four times and A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. It required reading several pages a day over the two year mission if you wanted to accomplish this goal. I felt prompted and inspired to accept this challenge. I had read the Book of Mormon once before my mission and the Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball, which we were told to do before our mission. I did that, so by now I had read two books in my life from cover to cover and I was four months away from my 20th birthday; pretty sad that that’s all I could account for.
This book challenge would turn out to be the thing that got me not only interested in studying the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but would get me hooked on reading in general. From that day forward, for the last 43 years I have read some form of scriptures or religious text every day, only missing when I was sick or on a few trips, I have read up to a book a month many times or more and now I am proud to say I have read several hundred books and it has been a real joy to me, most of which, I’d say have been religiously oriented.
After all our orientation to Ohio and our new mission, I was given my first call as a missionary to serve in my first area, Westerville, Ohio, about a 30 minute drive from the mission home. A pair of missionaries came and picked me up while the other missionaries headed to the bus station for their first areas of assignment. Westerville was a little town of 10,000 people in 1975. Today it has about 40,000 residents. Another thing I had never seen before is that many of the residential streets in Westerville were made of bricks and it’s still that way to this day. This was a biking and walking area I was to serve in and let me tell you, it is very interesting riding a bike on brick roads. The vibration is something else! You better make sure you don’t have to go to the bathroom and you better not have any loose teeth and you do most of your riding while standing on your bike peddles as you pump.
My first companion was Elder Hawkins, from Idaho. He had been out about 20 months on his mission so he only had about four months to go. He was a great guy. He wore metal rim glasses, his mother was a school teacher and he looked like a geeky teacher himself. He was a great person and 180 degrees different in personality from me. He played no sports and was fairly quiet. After being out knocking on doors for a couple of weeks with no success, he told me one day, “Elder Davis, I’m going to take you to a DA you will never forget. It will be the BEST MEAL you will ever receive on your entire two year mission! I promise you that.” I asked, “What’s a DA?” “Oh, that’s a dinner appointment. When members or people invite us over for dinner we call that a DA. I’ve been on my mission for almost two years and have NEVER seen a dinner like this!” I said, “Count me in!” After eating pot pies and boiling bags of rice for lunch and dinner for two weeks, I was ready for some REAL food.
Elder Hawkins said, “By the way, this family is a PI”. I asked, “What’s that?” He answered, “A Professional Investigator.” (I was learning the mission jargon for various things.) “He has had the missionary discussions several times over the years. His wife is a school teacher and they are the best people you will ever meet and they LOVE the missionaries, but are not interest in joining. So don’t pitch them on the church.” I said, “OK. I’ll follow your lead.”
Elder Hawkins was not exaggerating when he said it would be a dinner never to forget. I had no idea that steaks could be cut that BIG. It was 32oz. Plus, I kid you not, it hung over my large dinner plate. The baked potatoes where so big that they were put in a special side bowl, with so much butter and sour cream it looked like a small birthday cake. Salad was served in yet another bowl and the biggest glass of lemonade I had ever seen. I thought this was for giants and Harry was all of 5’6” with shoes on. Harry Dennis was this awesome short guy; loud, talkative, out-
going, and an Ohio Buckeye fan to the bone, with the legendary Woody Hayes as the Head Coach at that time.
Harry, I soon learned was an executive sales rep for one of, if not the largest paper company in America, Cop-Co Papers. His father was VP of the company and they were a very blue-blood family that belonged to the most prestigious country club and the Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio. This very successful man in his mid thirties, his wife, Alice, and their four year old daughter, Michelle, were all living the good life.
Well, after this enormous dinner, and YES, I ate every bite of it, then, I KID YOU NOT, he took a half a gallon of vanilla ice cream and put half of it in one bowl for me and half in another bowl for Elder Hawkins with some cookies stuck in it and gave it to Elder Hawkins and me. Elder Hawkins, you have to understand, was about 6 feet tall and about 140 pounds soaking wet with his clothes on, so he was already taking a doggie bag home with him. He barely touched his ice cream but me; I LOVE ice cream so I got mine all down somehow even though I was stuffed like I had never been before. Harry was VERY IMPRESSED and blown away that I downed everything he threw at me.
To back up a little, when he got us our ice cream he took us from the kitchen into the dining room. I grabbed a chair and turned it around, cowboy style, and sat facing the table with the back of the chair against the table. I look back on this now and I can’t believe how lacking I was in manners. Harry started laughing and said, “Well Elder Davis, I’m glad you’re feeling comfortable in my home. Ha ha!” I said, “Yes sir. Best dinner in my life and the biggest. Elder Hawkins said that I was in for a real treat and boy was he not kidding!” Harry laughed and said, “I’m glad you boys liked it.”
When I finished my ice cream, I felt like Harry and I had a connection, especially when I told him I played some football in California. So I thought I had nothing to lose; I’m going to ask him to take the discussions. So I did. Harry smiled and said, “How long have you been out on your mission Elder Davis?” I said, “About two weeks, sir.” He laughed and said, “I bet I can give the missionary discussions better than you.” I said, “You probably could,” and I didn’t know what else to say in response. Harry said, “Elder Davis, I have had the missionaries over for about 10 years now. I love you boys and you’re always welcome to a meal in my home but the church is not for us right now.” I thanked him very much for his incredible kindness and generosity and my companion and I departed. But this story is just getting started, for Harry and I would soon meet again. The next call would come from him though, when he invited me to an Ohio State football game against UCLA, which one of my friends was playing for from Santa Ana College, when he got a full ride scholarship. This I did not know at the time until I saw the game roster.
You won’t believe what happened next….