The ’96 Olympics in Atlanta brought out crowds like we had never seen and we had to capitalize. We called our display “Big True”, an 8 foot tall display of Arnold Friberg’s illustrations of the Book of Mormon. We set up this wall of images and used it to strike up conversations with the crowds of revelers. We thought it a great tool.
A Black man wearing a tunic and kufi walked by, paused, and then began looking closely at each individual image. He stood back a moment, then turned and looked me in the eyes.
“Excuse me, but where are all the Black people? How do you have images of hundreds of biblical people and not one Black person?”
Every one of the other missionaries took a big step backwards. They all looked down at their feet. No one was prepared, nor wanted, to field this question or deal with this man. A crowd of Judases.
He was looking right at me. He wasn’t smiling. Why me? Judases.
“Um… Well… You see these are images from the book of Mormon which happened thousands of years ago in the ancient Americas. It’s the story of two groups of people, one brown and one white. The two groups found it hard to get along. Eventually the brown folks killed off all the white ones, because the white people were wicked, leaving only the ancestors of the American Indians. The Black people didn’t show up till a couple thousand years later when the Europeans brought them over against their will.”
My companions looked at me in terror. The man looked at me, back at the images, then smiled and asked, “How much to buy one of those books?”
The other missionaries told me it was the worst answer they had ever heard.
I’m not convinced it wasn’t the best answer I had ever given.