By Rod Johnson

Rodric believes Moroni included special instruction for Modern times and wants to share his unique perspective the same way Moroni shared in The Book of Mormon.

MTC Christmas

Salt Lake Airport

I step off the airplane for the first time in Salt Lake City. I feel extremely nervous. It’s my first time so far away from home. It’s actually real! I actually am an ordained minister of Christ, a missionary!
"I can hardly believe it!” I say to myself.
The airport is busy and bustling with activity. It’s December 8, 1998, and travelers from all over are leaving and arriving—getting to their families. I spoke with Russell before I left Georgia and I know where he told me to meet him. I walk along looking around and marveling at how homogeneous the people are in Utah.
“There is no way that Russell will miss me in this crowd. I stand out,” I think as I arrive at the specified rendezvous point. Minutes seem like hours as I wait.
“Rodric,” I hear over the crowd. “Rodric, is that you?” I look
frantically through the throng and warmth and relief overcame me as I see Russell Sheridan and family hailing me. He baptized me only six years earlier and now I stood before him waiting to do the same to some other fortunate soul.
We hurry towards one another and embrace. He holds tightly and I return the embrace as I puzzle at the former Elder Sheridan. He is shorter now. He has little hair. This is not the picture I was expecting. Nevertheless, it is my missionary, I remember the smile I remember the voice. I remember him and tears start to form, but not fall.

I spend the rest of the day with Russell and his family. I sleep in one of my missionary's beds and I get to meet my missionary's parents. I am treated like royalty it seems--going to the restaurant atop the Joseph Smith building. I take pictures, but it is all too much for my simple brain.

Six of my Twelve District members in the MTC

The next day, Russell took me to the M.T.C.,Missionary Training Center after breakfast with his family. After the speech given by a leader there, we were instructed to  exit different sides of the room.

I looked at my missionary and began to cry. I felt so small and insignificant as Russell left me in that large meeting room with tears in his eyes. He seemed so happy that I, his “Golden Contact,” decided to serve the Lord as a missionary.
I did not want him to leave. I really discovered how alone I felt when he left. He was the last bit of family I had before turning completely to the mercy of the MTC. With my mind riddled with rumors of what returned missionaries told me about the MTC experience, I prepared for the worst. I thought the people in the MTC would revile me because of my race—based on other rumors I heard about Utah Mormons from Georgia Mormons.
My orange dork dot on my lapel informed every other missionary that I had just arrived. I was very conscious of my race as I looked around and saw no other person that looked like me. A rather tall missionary approached me. He must have seen my bewildered look. I assumed the harassment would begin when he reach out to me. He grabbed my bags and begin to help me get to my boarding!

I was extremely intimidated by my surrounds, but there was no reason for me to fear.  I could not have been in more error about my fear of hazing. As I walked the halls to receive the items for my stay at the MTC, I felt a spirit of good will, but still felt apprehensive. With an orange dork dot attached to my lapel, I received much positive attention. I was astonished by the help I received just with carrying my belongings to my boarding.
Once there, I was introduced to the other orange-dot-lapel wearers who were my district in the MTC. My district consisted of 12 elders. I was the only non-White or Black person. Being from the South, I felt awkward at the situation and assumed smug attitudes would abound. Boy was I ever wrong! Not only did smug attitudes not exist, but also the greatest filial love I could imagine prevailed!
As a district, we became acquainted. I felt particularly happy about my companion Elder Jenson. I thought of all, I had the best one. I was correct. Of all the people he encouraged me the most and provided the extra support, I needed to get over my fear of racism.

I needed to overcome some several other fears, so, I was placed in a situation that I feared the most, leadership. I was called as the district leader.
Bells went off in my head as I reluctantly accepted the assignment. I felt that since I was the only non-White and especially a  Black person this assignment would cause some problems. I knew that one of the other elders had his heart set on being the district leader. I stammered a bit as my answer was awaited.
My branch president told me, to say yes. I did, and Elder Jensen assured me that all would be well and that he would support me. He actually became my hero. The elder that wanted to become the District leader cornered me following the call and told me that I only received that assignment because I lacked proper leadership skills. He sat with a disappointed look on his face. He said that he already had leadership skills so he did not need the calling.
I felt a bit hurt by his remarks, but instead of insulting him, as I would have in the past, the Spirit led me to say, "Maybe you’re right.”
I walked away. His response to the assignment was expected, but not my response to him. For some reason, all I felt more love for him. I expected his sentiment to be mutual throughout the district. I, however, was incorrect. These brethren of mine loved me as before—and even more. That elder eventually warmed to the situation also.

I Told them To Close Their Eyes
Lights At Temple Square

Christmas was soon approaching, and packages and letters crowded the MTC. Celebrations and firesides filled the schedules. In our district meeting, a special thing occurred as I felt moved upon by the spirit. I spoke and words similar to these came out:
“2000 years ago, 12 men sat with the Savior at the last supper and listened to his words. We are 12 elders as they, and we sit here together to also hear his words."
I told them to close their eyes and continued, “Imagine that those 12 are us and that we sit in Christ’s presence hearing his words, and receiving his counsel.”
I went on to say more that I cannot write. Suffice it to say tears sprang from a few and the spirit edified us. I told them at the end of that meeting "that is what Christmas is really about." I could feel the love that these brethren had for God, for each other, and for me.
As Christmas approached and came, all the elders received gifts and postage from family. I did not. On Christmas day, I felt my spirit decline. I did not get to speak to my parents because as soon as I left for the MTC, they left on Christmas vacation to Miami. It was my first Christmas away from my family.
My companion and I went out and returned later that day from an errand. On my desk were almost a dozen gifts from my brethren. Each one of them gave me of the gifts their families had given them. I again felt the love of God in my heart, and the words “that is what Christmas is really about” returned to me.
We truly are the hands of Christ. Christmas means to give a gift out of love, as did Heavenly Father in giving his only begotten son. I may have asked my brethren to close their eyes to imagine being with Christ, but they helped me open mine to see He is here with us through our good works.
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