Prospectors in the middle of the 18th century were lured to California with enticing descriptions of gold nuggets as big as their fists lying open on the ground, ready to be picked up as easily as rocks or pine cones. To their dismay, these prospectors learned that gold was much more difficult to come by, and had to be sifted carefully out of riverbeds or extracted from deep in the earth. Simply put, there was a lot of dirt between them and the gold.
In the Church, we often hear stories of missionaries who run into “golden contacts.” That phrase can mean several things, but often it is used synonymously with “dry Mormon.” It refers to a person who already looks, talks, and acts like a member of the Church, but just hasn’t joined yet. Missionaries pray for the opportunity to run into such contacts, as the path to baptism often is short and smooth.
But what really makes a contact “golden?” My daughter, currently serving a full-time mission in Rome, Italy, recently described to me her efforts in teaching a homeless women who feels a strong attraction to the Church, but whose life is complicated by a number of personal issues. Her life, as my daughter described it, is a “mess.” Still, my daughter is thrilled by the opportunity to teach her and by the hope of what this woman might become.
I am grateful that my daughter is having this experience, because I think that it highlights what is wrong with our conception of the “golden contact.” In terms of missionary work, should our success be measured by the number of baptisms, or by how far people are lifted as a result of their contact with the gospel of Jesus Christ? I believe that the people in the deepest holes need the longest ladders, and the atonement of Christ is the longest ladder of all.
I suspect that the most golden of contacts are, like real gold, concealed from view until we have rolled up our sleeves and invested the time in digging, searching, and washing to separate them from the earth surrounding them. When brought to the light, such people are seen for the treasures that they really are. Sure, the “dry Mormons” need the gospel too, and when they join the Church it is cause for celebration. But at the same time, such people might not appreciate fully what the gospel offers them, because they already are in pretty good shape.
Some of the best members of the Church that I know have been “unearthed” from the darker recesses of the ground. I have been inspired by members who, when the gospel came into their lives, looked nothing like gold. They stubbed out their marijuana joints as the missionaries came to the door. The were addicted to alcohol or serious drugs. They were working their way back into society following prison. Their lives were upside-down because of a lapses in their moral judgment.
And then they were rescued.
A late patriarch of the stake in which I live used to say that the sweetest smell in a sacrament meeting was that of tobacco, because it meant that someone was there who needed to be. I think there is a great deal of truth in that. The ideal candidate for membership in the Church is anyone who needs the saving power of the atonement. That only includes everyone. The most golden of contacts might have sleeve tattoos or nose piercings or bear the distinctive odor of dope. As disciples of Christ, we should appreciate the “easy” conversions, but treasure the opportunities to bring light to those sitting in the greatest darkness.
There is gold in everyone, if we are willing to dig enough to find it.