Baptist minister Lynn Ridenhour thought it was a joke when he picked up his phone one day and heard, "My name is Elder Robert Oaks," on the other end.
"I have a few buddies, and sometimes we do this to one another," Ridenhour chuckles. But rather than responding in kind like he would with one of his buddies, Lynn listened politely and soon found this was no joke. This really was the then-Elder Oaks and he was inviting Ridenhour, a Baptist minister, to meet with the prophet of the LDS Church.
While at an LDS fireside Wednesday night, Ridenhour explained how this invitation came to be.
It was 2005, and Ridenhour, a Southern Baptist minister, was preaching not just from the Bible, but from the Book of Mormon as well. Having grown up near Liberty, Missouri, Ridenhour was not unfamiliar with Mormons. He even remembers praying for God to save "those poor, deluded souls" as he passed tourists gathered at Church history sites.
But after a neighbor offered him a Book of Mormon, Ridenhour says he didn't make it past the first page before feeling the Spirit testify to him that it was true. A "Parley P. Pratt experience" followed, with Ridenhour reading the Book of Mormon day and night until he finished it.
Finding the Book of Mormon "more 'Baptist' than the Baptist hymnal in places," Ridenhour did not convert to the LDS Church but began preaching out of Book of Mormon alongside the Bible.
► You'll also like: Baptist Minister: "I Embrace and Believe the Book of Mormon"
Eventually, word got out about a Baptist minister preaching from the Book of Mormon, and three months before meeting with President Hinckley, Ridenhour was asked to speak to a group of LDS members. There was a problem, though. He had never spoken to a group of Mormons before. While thinking about this dilemma, Ridenhour said he received a distinct impression: "I want you to go and I want you to ask their forgiveness."
"That caught me off guard," Ridenhour said. "In fact, I immediately responded to the Lord. I think I said it out loud. I said, 'Lord, 'I've never harmed a Mormon,'" Ridenhour remembers.
But then, looking back in his family history, Ridenhour discovered something: one of his relatives on his mother's side had been a member of the Missouri mob.
"When I discovered that, that hurt," Ridenhour said, "I told the Lord 'I get it; I get it; you want me to go and ask their forgiveness for how one of my ancestors treated theirs.'"
And he did. On Jan. 22, 2005, Ridenhour appeared before more than 200 members and sisters with a prepared statement asking for forgiveness.
"I asked them would you please, first of all, please forgive my ancestor for what he did; please forgive him," Ridenhour said. "And then I said would you please forgive me as a Baptist minister for how I have misrepresented your faith. Please forgive and would you please forgive us Protestant ministers for how we misrepresented your faith."
He says he couldn't finish the statement before he was in tears.
Three months later, Ridenhour received the call from Elder Oaks, inviting him to visit with President Hinckley when he was in town. Not long after, Ridenhour found himself in Salt Lake having dinner with the prophet.
► You'll also like: What One Baptist Preacher Has to Say About Joseph Smith
"It was a marvelous, marvelous time together," Ridenhour shares, remembering President Hinckley, noting that there had never been a Baptist minister come to town asking for their forgiveness before.
Despite differences in religion and family history involving a Missouri mob member, Ridenhour, President Hinckley, and four other guests came to find commonalities not only in their love for the Book of Mormon but for the Mormon people.
Responding to a question and expressing that it was "his desire and his prayer" that there would never be any more anti-Mormon seminaries among Protestants, Ridenhour said he and the other guests found a sense of unity.
"No one said a word. We all began tearing up. It was as if we realized we are all in this together," he says.