The store-lined corridors of the Bangor Mall hold special memories for Lawrence Lee. As director of maintenance, he makes sure that Maine's second largest mall is clean and comfortable for shop owners and customers.
But Brother Lee, now ward mission leader in the Bangor 2nd Ward, has memories in the mall more prized than those that come of employment. It was at the mall that he experienced his own "road to Damascus" 10 years ago. It was then that he stopped to help two Mormon missionaries set up a display booth.Setting up the booth was part of his job, but it seemed out of character for him to be helping Mormons, because for years it was also his assignment from his church to counter the local influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"It was my assignment to deal with the members of my church who had contact with the Mormons, and somehow set them straight," he said. "I was a `Mormon Basher.' "
He said his assignment wasn't satisfying, and "I became slightly disillusioned because I was reading some things that seemed to contradict the things I had been given about the validity of the [LDST Church," he explained. "I felt a different spirit with the missionaries in the mall. They were trying to help people. It was Elder Jonathan Hyde of Salt Lake City who asked if he could come to my home.
"I had just been married and when I told my wife that the Mormons were coming she was slightly upset because she had a pretty negative opinion. Well, we listened to the first discussion, continued with all six, and then for months, we went through a series of missionaries trying to deal with me. I just wouldn't join the Church.
"Actually I think the Lord converted me when I saw the film strip, `The First Vision,' which depicted the Sacred Grove and the personages that appeared to Joseph. I knew it was true, but I resisted it for months because I really didn't want to deal with it. I had too many friends that knew I was anti-LDS and somewhat an expert in the field. I couldn't deal with it.
"At the end of six months Elder Hyde came to my home with his companion, Elder Kitchen. They were sent by Pres. Bruce Olsen of the [MassachusettsT Boston Mission. He said they had come for one last talk and if I wasn't interested, the missionaries would stop."
They had an animated discussion over scriptures and Elder Hyde firmly challenged him to consider his ways. What Lawrence Lee saw in Elder Hyde's eyes was overpowering.
"Resistance faded. I couldn't resist any longer," he said. "A week later I was baptized. Pres. Olsen came to the baptism."
It was an exciting time, and for some time after Pres. Olsen asked Brother Lee to speak at firesides about his conversion.
"I told how the Lord was patient and understanding of my attacks on His Church. It was my road to Damascus, because the Lord actually, I feel, had to step in so I could understand that the Church is where He wanted me.
"I knew that the Church was true. After four years of anti-Mormon work, I was now working hard for it. My wife and three daughters have all been baptized. Our special daughter, Heidi Jo, a Down syndrome child, was just baptized last December. She is 15 years old and the bishop interviewed her and felt she should be baptized. It was a unique experience because as I pulled her out of the water I saw her as she actually is. The Lord allowed me to look beyond the veil for that moment and I saw my beautiful daughter. She is a very spiritual person. She does nothing but preach the gospel."
Brother Lee has had a life of challenges. He is a recovered alcoholic. "I think the Lord lead me out of my alcoholism. Three years before I joined the Church I was recovered and working at the mall. Later I worked for an auto dealership that closed. I was offered a position at the mall and returned.
"When I came I was the only one of 300 employees who was LDS. From the first day, I have had many inquiries. I have been faced with many of the things I once put forth. But what the good part is people ask, `What is it you really believe?' So I have a chance to answer.
"I enjoy home teaching. When I first came to the Church, President [Spencer W.T Kimball said that home teaching is the greatest calling any priesthood holder could have. For me it is. I have learned to have patience and obedience. I enjoy activation efforts because I have seen what the world can do to people who are not strong."