It’s kind of weird to receive a feeling of “Hey! I know that guy,” during an LDS conference session.
That was my reaction a few weeks ago when the mug and voice of Elder Evan A. Schmutz flashed on the screen during the Sunday afternoon session of conference.
While serving in the North Carolina Greensboro Mission back in the mid-70s (think bell bottoms, disco, and platform shoes) Elder Schmutz and I became friends. He worked as a zone leader while I pounded away at mission president correspondence on a pre-correcting Selectric typewriter.
Since those days, he earned a juris doctorate, raised a family, and blossomed as a successful Utah attorney. He was a founding partner of his own law firm and later became a managing shareholder of another leading Utah-Nevada law firm.
On the religious side of life’s ledger, Elder Schmutz worked as an LDS youth leader, ward bishop, stake presidency member, and served as president of the Philippines Cebu Mission.
Just six months ago he was ordained a General Authority Seventy. Seventies are called to serve as special witnesses of Christ, proclaim the gospel and build up the Church throughout the world.
General Authority Seventies travel frequently to meet with and teach leaders, missionaries and members in local congregations throughout the world.
I surmise the top LDS decision makers like the substance and style of Elder Shmutz since he was placed in the podium spotlight at his first general conference since being called to this position.
I like him, too. Although our paths crossed only a handful of times since our Greensboro days, I know Elder Schmutz is a good man.
One of the experiences I remember sharing with him had nothing to do with knocking on doors, teaching families, or holding zone conferences.
It was baseball — and it’s fair to say we stepped outside the guidelines of our pocket-sized missionary rule book. Some classify it as a repentable offense.
On a crisp October night in 1975, Schmutz and I would periodically hustle from our apartment to the mission truck. The intended use of that blue Chevy pickup was to haul bikes and suitcases of arriving and departing missionaries, but it had a radio.
On this night, all the ingredients of mission rule breaking were well within our grasp: it was past 9:30 p.m., the other elders in our apartment were getting ready for bed, the Reds were battling the Red Sox in the sixth game of the World Series, and we had access to a radio.
As Flip Wilson’s Geraldine frequently spurted, “The devil made me do it.” That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.
What do you expect from a pair of 20-year-olds who were raised reading league standings, perusing box scores, and purchasing nickel packs of baseball cards in search of Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays?
On this night we were able to tune in to the sounds of the final innings of what is now a timeless 12-inning fall classic.
If you have been anywhere near an ESPN highlight film in the last decade, you certainly witnessed Carlton Fisk coaxing his towering left field home run into fair territory that gave Boston a 7-6 win over the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati.
Elder Schmutz will miss much — if not all — of this year’s major league baseball’s playoffs and World Series while he carries on the Lord’s work. But that memorable night 41 years ago is etched deep inside my memory bank.
Although I am highly biased, I loved Elder Schmutz’s conference address entitled “God Shall Wipe Away All Tears.”
He discussed that when we view difficult experiences through the lens of faith in Christ, we are able to see that there can be godly purpose in our suffering.
After quoting Peter’s counsel “If ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye,” Elder Schmutz advised that we can actually be refined by our trials.
“As we exercise our faith in the Savior, He will lift us up and carry us through all of our trials and, ultimately, save us in the celestial kingdom,” was his key message.
I believe Elder Schmutz hit a walk-off home run in his first conference address.
Roberts is a former LDS bishop of the Tooele 6th Ward.