In the spring of 1962, my missionary companion, Joel Orgil, and I visited a home in Innisfail, Alberta, a small farming community about 18 miles south of Red Deer. The home was located on several acres of land and had a picturesque living room view of groomed fields stretching endlessly in each direction.
Ted and Audrey Stevenett, in their early 30s, had three children: a daughter, Diane, 8 years old; a son, Daryl, 3; and a baby girl, Kathy, about 1. The Stevenett's were members of the local community church and considered stalwarts of the congregation. Audrey's sister and her husband had just joined the LDS Church in Red Deer and gave us the referral.Because of the spring work schedule on the farm, Ted could not find time to meet with us until about 9:30 or 10 at night. Audrey was very curious about the Church and had the time at home with the children to read and study the material we left. Ted had to rely on the Spirit because of his work load on the farm.
It was not easy. Ted's family were all long-time members of the local community church. His sister even played the organ for the services. Their friends were also members of the same church. However, after hearing that they were meeting with the Mormon missionaries; the pressure was on: the minister stopped by to counsel with them; family members expressed their disapproval; friends stopped inviting them over. It was easy to see Satan was working hard on this family. Several times the Stevenett's tried to tell us not to come back, but we always managed to return with what we considered an ingenuous excuse.
Slowly they began listening in earnest, praying after each discussion and attending Church and some of the activities of the ward located in nearby Red Deer. It was exciting to see confidence and conviction replace doubt and uneasiness.
A baptismal date was set in Edmonton, about 100 miles north of Innisfail. Three days before the baptism, Diane suddenly came down with a burning 104-degree fever. We received a call late at night asking that the baptism be postponed. We gave Diane a priesthood blessing and explained what it involved: the faith of the family and a blessing from our Heavenly Father. The next morning she was fine, with no fever, and excited to be baptized.
The day of the baptism, however, was a traumatic one. Ted's father met them as they were about to leave, complaining about their leaving when work needed to be done. In a cloud of unpleasant words and feelings, they left home and traveled to Edmonton.
They arrived at a church where a baptismal service was in process and waited for the missionaries. Things did not look or feel the same as an LDS Church. When they asked about the service they found they had stopped at another church a block or so from the LDS meetinghouse. By the time they found their way to the LDS chapel, they were discouraged, upset, and, of course, late for the baptism.
As the baptism proceeded, the Stevenett's feelings of doubt melted away, and the Holy Ghost filled their souls with comfort and an assurance that what they were doing was right. From that moment on, they have not looked back. Their family, once hostile, has mellowed; they have found new friends that only the binding influence of the gospel can bring.
Due to health problems, Audrey was operated on shortly after their baptism. Although the doctor told her she would probably not be able to have more children, she and Ted felt strongly that there were more spirits that were to come into their family. The Lord blessed them, as six more children were born into their home.
Ted was not only a good farmer in Canada, but also an excellent carpenter as well. However, after moving to Utah in 1979, the building industry went into a recession, and the family was at a major crossroads in finding work that could support nine children.
After much prayer and fasting, they decided to purchase a small root beer franchise, close to BYU, and turned it into a popular gathering spot. Each of their nine children has worked after school, in the evenings and on Saturdays to help the family business grow. As each member leaves to pursue his or her own career, a mission, or school, they take with them the knowledge that from hard work, love and sacrifice, comes a great feeling of closeness and understanding of what it means to be a child of God in an eternal family.
Joel Curtis Stevenett, their sixth child, named after my companion and me, left in April for a misison to Dallas, Texas. As I spoke at his farewell, I mentioned that he will meet families who need the gospel in their lives but do not recognize it at first. They will need his persistence and love. An important element of missionary work is not to be easily discouraged. I told him that each family he meets may be just like his own - 26 years ago.