I have very few rules of social interaction, but one of them is “Never Play Scrabble With a Foreigner.” They will beat you at your own language every time. They’ll come up with some obscure word, like “tor” (a tall, craggy hill) that you never heard of, except around a Scrabble table.
You’ll tease them and say, “You didn’t learn that at Berlitz,” and they’ll come back with, “No, in an airplane. It was a long flight over.”
And now, I have decided that the only thing more humbling than a deficient command of the English language in the face of a new immigrant, is an incomplete grasp of gospel trivia in the face of a sharp, new convert.
No sooner are you spouting off about the 3,000-mile trek of the Mormon Battalion, than they are quietly tapping you on the shoulder and telling you it was 2,000 miles instead. Just when you’re saying how sad it is that we’ve never had a mission in such countries as Turkey , they’re reminding you that we did indeed have one there in the late 1800s. (How do they know this stuff?)
You’ll overhear them talking about Paul and Barnubus parting company over the disciple Mark, and you won’t have known there was ever a disagreement.
You’ll be almost through preparing a glowing talk about Solomon’s great spiritual wisdom, when one of them will tell you that Solomon worshipped the idol Molech. Great.
You’ll visit Israel and get up early one morning to see the famous “gier eagle” that was a forbidden food in the Old Testament, only to have a smiling convert (fully rested) mention later in the day that what you saw was a common vulture.
That’s the trouble with being a “lifer.” You get complacent and you think that just because you’ve always known about tithing and Primary, you can shift into a lower gear. But believe me, the minute you do that, some crackerjack convert will zoom past reciting The Articles of Faith in four languages, and there you’ll be, wondering if they’re in the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Pearl of Great Price.
It’s somewhat like teaching your kids to ski. You spend hours and hours and wait years and years until your kids can ski as well as you do, and finally they ski with you for one day. Then whoosh! They’re off to the face of Mount Dracula and you never see them on the Mom ‘n’ Pop slopes again.
New converts know there’s a mountain of material to conquer and they sign right up at the local Institute, purchase lifetime passes to all LDS seminars, buy all the BYU religion manuals, and fearlessly ask all the good questions in Gospel Doctrine class-the ones you never ask because you were born into the church and you’re supposed to know all this.
We lifetime members also glimpse the same mountain, but we sit on a rock and gasp at its immensity, rather than pick up our feet and climb the cliffs.
As a Californian, I run into this all the time. Just the other day a convert was telling me about the missionaries who were sent to the miners at the Gold Rush. Another new member chimed in about the Mormons who published the first two newspapers in San Francisco, and before we were out of the cultural hall a recently-baptized sister pointed out that the first English-speaking school in California was started by-you guessed it-Mormons.
Many of them know the Bible backwards and forwards, they read every church book imaginable, and they’ve memorized enough LDS leaders’ names to complete the genealogy of half the population of Utah . If a question arises about church administration or ordinance protocol, you can be a new member will have the answer.
And it’s good for us to see the new converts soaking up knowledge the way we ought to be; it makes us step up our game and realize there’s much more to learn than we absorbed just by attending seminary.
I tell you, at this rate, false doctrine hasn’t got a chance.
Listen to The Joni Hilton Show, live weekdays from 9:00 to 10:00am on AM950 KAHI Radio and streaming live at www.kahi.com