Enter Wain Myers and his book From Baptist Preacher to Mormon Teacher. I had seen this book several times, but had never bought it even though I knew I should. Two weeks ago while in Deseret Book I saw it again and purchased it, thinking I would read it in a few weeks. However, I had a prompting to read it sooner and I am glad that I did. While Bro. Myers is older and more mature than me, his story in many ways captures the essence of what it means to be a black member of the Church.
From Baptist Preacher to Mormon Teacher is basically a short biography of Wain Myers life, chronicling from his youth in Dayton, Ohio (which is ironically where my former pastor is from, small world) where he was called by God to be a preacher, to his time in the military, to his life as a what I often term as "hustler preaching, to meeting his wife as a bus driver, to taking the missionary discussions, and so forth. Throughout the book, Bro. Myers does not present himself as an academic; rather he presents himself as a normal man who people can relate to, and it comes through on every page. Even a stiff like me found himself smiling and almost driven to tears by passages in the book.
The most powerful chapter in the book is titled "The White Guys with the Name Tags", where as you might have guessed is where Myers talks about meeting the missionaries for the first time. He shares an experience where his not-then wife tells hims that prior to 1978 men of African descent were barred from holding the LDS priesthood. His reaction was not unlike many who hear that news for the first time. To quote him:
"I felt like someone had thrust a fist into my chest and ripped out my heart. It took all I had to keep from breaking down in tears right then and there. How could God have led me to his true Church only to find out it was a racist Church?How could anyone- a church much less- justify withholding such a power from a man because of the color of his skin?"Close quote. I, and other members of the Church have asked that question countless times. But maybe what is more important than learning something is what you did after you learned it. Myers was able to put the item on the shelf and join the Church and enjoy the blessings it brings, even if he thought the practice was not a Christlike one. I particular enjoyed later when he said that he hasn't come to terms with it because he doesn't believe it was a God-given mandate; I agree with that sentiment.
While you may think, as I mistakenly did, that this is where Myers story ends, you will pleasantly surprised that you are wrong. Myers talks about his early years in the Church as a struggle, not so much just as a black member, but just adjusting to LDS culture. He talks about burning out, but being told by a member of his bishopric that the reason was because he was not sharing the gospel; he had just been taking it to himself and keeping it. Once he started sharing it, things improved dramatically. Perhaps it was no surprise the Savior's great commission was to tell others what you had come to know for yourself.
The rest of the book shares episodes from Myers life, but it is truly a beautiful story in the end where Myers son decides to serve a mission after he had thought he would play football instead. A lesson from this is that we should allow young people to decide for themselves whether they will serve and stay out of the decision process; especially parents and relatives. If the Lord wants a person in the field, he will find a way to make his will come to pass.
Bro. Myers book is one for all members of the LDS Church, black, white, Asian, Arab, or anything else. There is something in this book for everyone. The book itself is shorter than 150 pages, so it is not a long read and can be finished in a few days. I encourage all to read it and to think about how they can better strengthen themselves and others as Bro. Myers did. 5 out of 5 stars.