R. William Bennett: The 7 People Who Led Me to the Gospel of Jesus Christ
From an ophthalmologist to a classmate’s scripture reference in a high school yearbook, and from a nanny’s gift to a Star Valley, Wyoming, information booth employee, R. William Bennett describes his path to finding the gospel of Jesus Christ as a relay race of sorts—a baton that was passed from one person to the next.
We were driving home, all of us packed in the car, and I was leaning against my mom in the front seat and this thought occurred to me, 'If this is all real, if Jesus really is the Son of God, if being a Christian is that important, there must be more . . . '
Find ways you can minister to "the one" this holiday season at LightTheWorld.org.
The Last Man at the Inn
Simon considers himself fortunate after securing the final room at the inn in Bethlehem. While eating his supper, he sees a younger man and his pregnant wife denied lodging at the door of the inn. Simon momentarily considers giving up his space, but he is weary from his travels as a spice merchant and turns away from the thought.
Over the ensuing years, Simon traverses the popular trade routes, and each time he passes Bethlehem, he is reminded of that evening and plagued by guilt.
In time, the Savior begins his ministry, and Simon begins the life-changing process of trying to understand and believe the teachings and miracles of this man called Jesus—said to be the promised Messiah.
The Last Man at the Inn is the story of a journey of conversion we all take in one form or another, told through the eyes and heart of a common man. It is written to affirm the believer, to lovingly beckon to the undecided and to call out to those who may not even know they are looking for something—only that there is a space in their soul that somehow needs to be filled.
Jacob T. Marley
“Marley was dead to begin with . . .”
These chillingly familiar words begin the classic Christmas tale of remorse and redemption in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Now R. William Bennett rewinds the story and focuses the spotlight on Scrooge’s miserly business partner, Jacob T. Marley, who was allowed to return as a ghost to warn Scrooge away from his ill-fated path. Why was Marley allowed to return? And why hadn’t he been given the same chance as Ebenezer Scrooge?
Or had he?
Written with a voice reminiscent of Dickens, Jacob T. Marley is a masterfully crafted story of remorse and redemption, sure to become a Christmas favorite.
2:35 - Growing Up
4:50 - Temple Square Tour
5:37 - Learning About the Church
9:43 - The Summer Road Trip
12:28 - Meeting Lori
15:30 - Visiting the Church
21:57 - Contacting the Missionaries
23:45 - Visiting Salt Lake City
27:19 - Fasting
28:56 - The Priesthood
32:51 - Bill’s Family’s Example
35:29 - Finding Those Who Played a Part in Bill’s Conversion
41:45 - How Christ Has Blessed Bill’s Life
43:20 - What Does It Mean To You To Be “All In?”
Morgan Jones 0:00
Like many of you listening to this podcast, Bill Bennett was not raised a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was, however, born into a strong Christian home and when you listen to him speak, it is clear that he has a tremendous amount of gratitude for parents who taught him of a Savior. However, one Christmas Eve as he drove home from a church service nestled between his parents with a heart full of joy, he felt a longing for something more.
R. William Bennett grew up on the Jersey Shore and in Connecticut. He previously worked as a consultant and division president for Franklin Covey and is now the CEO of Inside Out Development. He is the author of the best selling Christmas novel, "Jacob T. Marley," and this year releases his new Christmas book, "The Last Man At The Inn." In both instances, Bennett demonstrates a tremendous ability to get inside the head of characters we've heard of, but know little about. As an author, Bennett imagines what they must have been going through, what led to their actions and ultimately leads us to ponder what we can learn from them.
This is "All In" an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, "What does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so grateful to have Bill Bennett here with me today. Bill, welcome.
Bill Bennett 1:31
Morgan Jones 1:32
Well, so I'm going to give listeners a little bit of background on how this episode came to be. Bill and I were having a conversation about his upcoming book, which you'll find him in Deseret Book as R. William Bennett, not Bill, just FYI. So we were having this conversation about his book and Bill started to tell me his conversion story to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And as he talked, I just thought, "This is a podcast episode in and of itself." So here we are and Bill has been kind enough to go along with this crazy idea that I have to focus today on his conversion. So thank you for being willing to do that.
Bill Bennett 2:13
It's my pleasure. It's always an honor to be able to talk about it.
Morgan Jones 2:17
So, Bill, you told me that you first came in contact with the church—well, you first kind of started the search for truth for the gospel as a young boy. Can you kind of start there and tell us a little bit about how that started?
Bill Bennett 2:35
Sure. And a little bit of context, I grew up in this wonderful family. I had great parents, both of whom, by the way, passed away last year in their late 90s. Great lives, they loved each other, there were three children and we all got along well, I mean, it was really a home that I couldn't ask for anything else. We were Protestants. My grandfather, my father's father, was a Protestant minister and we were very active Protestants. And there was one particular moment, it was Christmas Eve 1968. I was 12-years-old. And in our church, our tradition was that we would go to church on Christmas Eve at 11 pm and have this Christmas Eve service and then the stroke of midnight, you'd sing "Joy To the World." And it was just this moving, powerful experience every year. And as we were sitting in church—I have two sisters and one sister's husband who was in his army uniform, he was potentially on his way to Vietnam in another month. And I had my other sister who had just ended a long-term relationship and was very broken-hearted over it and I was feeling hurt for her. But we were all together: my mom and my dad, my two sisters, my brother in law, and myself. And we were driving home, all of us packed in the car and I was leaning against my mom in the front seat, and this thought occurred to me, "if this is all real, if Jesus really is the Son of God, if being a Christian is that important, there must be more to it than going to church one hour a week." And I didn't decide at that moment that I'm going to look, but it just opened my mind up to start, you know, kind of the modern vernacular, we talked about them as seekers, you know, I started seeking to discover something else. So from there, the next summer—I was a boy scout, I was 13 years old—and I was going to the national Jamboree in Idaho. So 35,000 Boy Scouts from the U.S. gather for a week-long camp out. And part of our journey was we came to Salt Lake, I was living in New Jersey, and we flew to Utah, and we began a one week tour of the West before going to the Jamboree. And we started in Salt Lake and began with the tour of Temple Square. And I had no idea what a Mormon was, I didn't know what Temple Square was, we just started taking this tour, and we had this tour guide, who was fascinating. You know, I remember nothing that he taught us about doctrine. I remember that you could drop a needle in the front of the tabernacle, and you could hear it in the back. I don't know if they still do that on the tours, but they did that to show you—
Morgan Jones 5:13
A little demonstration.
Bill Bennett 5:13
Yeah, they show you the acoustics. I remembered that seagulls ate a bunch of crickets and I thought that was fascinating, and a couple of things like that. But the thing that stuck with me was at the end of the tour, he said, "I'm an ophthalmologist here in Salt Lake, and I donate my time two afternoons a week to give these tours." And I thought of my friends whose fathers were doctors or other professionals, and I thought, "I can't think of one of those men that could even make it to our baseball games, let alone give up two afternoons a week." So it just sort of lodged with me that this man who would give this service, how important this thing must be.
And then, a few years went by and I was in high school and to my knowledge, we had—I wouldn't even have known to look at the time—but looking back I don't think we had any, any members of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints in our high school. And I had a friend, a school friend—it wasn't an out of school friend, but a guy got to know pretty well who played in our football team. And we were in math class together and so I got to know him a little bit. And we were signing your books at the end of senior year and of course, everybody had their picture and had a bunch of stuff that they had printed beneath their picture that years later, they all wish they hadn't put in there.
Morgan Jones 6:32
Bill Bennett 6:32
Names of people they dated, and—
Morgan Jones 6:35
"Why did I put that quote as my favorite quote?"
Bill Bennett 6:37
Yeah. And under his, he had this reference it said "D&C" with a reference after it. And I've been looking at that and thinking, "Donna and Carol? I mean, I know who he dated, I can't think who that was." And so when we're signing I said, "Jim, what does that mean?"
And he said, "Oh that's from the scriptures in my church."
And I said, "What church is that?"
And he said, "Well, we're Mormon".
I said, "Oh, you're the seagull people, right?"
And he said, "Yeah, I guess you could look at it that way."
And I said, "Well, what does this mean?"
And he said, "Well, it's just about going on a mission, and I'm going to be going on a mission." My father had been an FBI agent so when he said that, I thought, "That's exciting. He's going to, you know, go to anti-terrorist work in some country." And I asked him what it was, and he said, "No, I'm going to go to some other place and teach the gospel for a couple of years." And, you know, kids our age, 18 years old, getting us to come out and do an hour of service in our church youth groups is hard. And this guy was going to go and give up two years of his life? I was blown away. So that just sort of added to this picture that's beginning to form. And it's now a few years later and I'm home from college and it's summertime and I had a job cleaning swimming pools. And so I was at this house, one of my spots I was supposed to go, and I'm cleaning this pool—and this is in Stamford, Connecticut now, my family had moved to Connecticut. And this young woman, about my age, comes out and is just being friendly and we got talking and found out she was a mother's helper who actually lived in Utah and was living with this family for the summer helping them with their children and they happened to be this LDS family. And so we were just chatting and then she sort of got a little nervous and she said, "Well, do you know anything about the Mormon church?"
I said, "Well, I do actually. I got this friend named Jim Clawson who's doing some mission for you guys someplace."
She said, "Oh, I know the Clawson's, they attend the ward I attend out here." And she asked me if I would like to know any more about it. You know, I didn't really give that a lot of thought and I said,"Yeah, sure, I guess." So she ran inside and got one of those old, light blue missionary copies of the Book of Mormon and opened it up and highlighted a few verses for me. And we had been talking about life and what people were like, and I was explaining how, you know, I just appreciated people that love life, that really, every day was a great experience, and you should be positive about every day. And she opened to the scripture said, "Men are that they might have joy." And, I thought, "Wow, that's what I feel, right in there on the page, whatever." And so I kept that Book of Mormon, she wrote her name in the front and I kept it.
Then, I guess it was the next summer, my best friend and I had been planning for several years to make a cross country trip in the summer between our junior and senior year. And I was the planner and so I had mapped this whole trip and I'd spent a few months with a U.S. map and different color pins meaning different color things, and plotted this entire journey. And I had things we had to see, things that we wanted to see, and things we'd see if we happen to be in the area. And I wanted to go see Temple Square again, I just remember that being fascinating. So, you know, we're 21 years old, and we drove pretty fast across the whole country and really began our tour in the West—our hiking and camping and driving around in the West. And we went to Temple Square, and we went on the tour. And this time it was very different. This time, as I started to hear about what their beliefs were, and about the fact that we existed before we came to earth and that, you know, we were supposed to learn and progress in this life, it started really touching me. And I picked up a pamphlet on the way out which was the testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which is basically what we have in Pearl of Great Price. So as we left Utah, and we were driving north to go to the Grand Tetons to see our fraternity buddies who were working there for the summer, I read this pamphlet, and I was absolutely engaged in the story of Joseph Smith. And for people who are active, longtime members of the church, this may seem bizarre to them. But for all the thinking I'd been doing over the years, and this is now eight years, since that moment on Christmas Eve, nine years. I'd never actually thought to ask God what I should do. You know, I thought about it, I read different things, I studied at times, but it never occurred to me to actually go to the source and ask Him what I should do with my life. And so when I read that Joseph Smith went out in the woods to pray, I thought, "That's amazing. Why didn't I ever think of that?" And I fell asleep as we're going, he was driving, not me. And I fell asleep and I don't know how to describe this rest other than I just had this utter peace descend on me. And as I woke up, I thought, "I'm going to ask. What a great idea." And right then, we were passing through Star Valley, Wyoming and we saw this Tourist Information booth and I said, "Stop!"
He said, "We can't stop, we're late."
And I said, "No, let's get a map."
He said, "Well, we know where we're going."
And I said, "Well, I don't know, stop anyway."
So he agrees, begrudgingly, to stop and we go into this Tourist Information booth. And you know, someplace in this story this has to occur—there's this girl, there's this young woman my age working in there. And I was, I mean, I was sort of smitten from about second number three. And she was, you know, she was attractive but more importantly, she was enthusiastic, bright-eyed. And we got talking and she wanted to know where we were from and we talked about that. And she asked about where we were going on our trip and then she asked if we'd come through Salt Lake. And I said "We did. We just came this morning."
And she said, "Did you see Temple Square?"
And I said, "We did, yeah, we actually took a tour."
She said, "Well, what did you think?" And unknown to me at the time, of course, is she was from a large family in Orem. They didn't have a lot of means. She had two brothers, one who was on a mission, one who had recently returned from a mission, a very expensive mission—this was before the church had equalized the cost. Her older brother had served in Japan, which I think at the time, was the most expensive mission. She really wanted to serve a mission and it just didn't look like financially it was going to work for them. So she had found this job working up here for the summer. And a friend said, "Hey, the people that own the Star Valley Ranch have this tourist information booth and we're allowed to do missionary work if we want." So she kind of called herself to a mission to come work here and to do missionary work. So we began talking, and we were there for two hours. And I would say some things and she'd asked more questions and more questions and just kept going. And finally, I said, "I don't understand, I mean, there's a lot of good religions in the world, why is it every time you meet people in your church, you want to convert them as opposed to just be friends with them?" And I wasn't offended by it, I was just intrigued because I didn't see that in the religion of any of my friends and I came from a very diverse area.
And she said, "Well, I guess it's just that when you find something that is so meaningful and makes such a profound difference in your life, you want to share it with people you love." And granted, "the people you love" part kind of got me too. I was like, "Am I in that category?"
But the meaning of that statement, I completely understood. We left, we exchanged addresses and I told her that you know, we were going to be going where we're going on a trip and I said, I'm desperately trying to find a way to stay in contact with her, and I said, "Hey, give me your address. Part of our trip is we're going to go to Hawaii for a week, and I'll send you a postcard!" Which is very lame, I recognize but I was searching for anything as quick as I could.
Morgan Jones 15:29
Hey, I'm impressed. I'm impressed by your game, Bill.
Bill Bennett 15:30
And so she gave us a little map of Star Valley and we wrote our names and addresses on the back and gave it to her and we exchanged them. I had the misfortune of this best friend of mine, back then, was the absolute spitting image of Robert Redford as a young man. And so everywhere we went, people would say, "Are you the guy that's with the guy that looks like Robert Redford?" So I was hoping that when we wrote, she wouldn't get confused who was who. So I put my name and I said, "The brunette one," hoping that wasn't going to be a disappointment. And then I gave her a couple of other addresses of places we were going to be along the way. So we were camping that night—well we went to the Grand Tetons, saw our friends then left and we were camping. And I had written in my—I always kept a journal because I always liked to write, I'd kept one my whole life—and I had just written in my journal that I'm going to be decisive about this. I'm going to start trying to really understand what this is all about. So we were camping in this nowheresville, Idaho. I mean, I'm not sure I can track today where the campground was, but there was a little teeny town and as we went in to try to find a convenience store to get some supplies for that day, we saw one of those signs that shows all the churches in town, and I see one of them is Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So I said to my buddy, "Hey, I'm going to leave you at the convenience store and I'm going to go over to that church and see if I can find a Book of Mormon,"
And of course, he says, "Don't do that. Don't do that. Once they get your name, they're never going to let go of you."
I said, "No, it's all right. So I left him at the store and I drove to this little teeny church.
Morgan Jones 17:07
Bill, had you ever read the Book of Mormon that the girl at the pool gave you?
Bill Bennett 17:10
Just a few page dog eared pages. But I decided I was gonna try to read it over the rest of my trip which is why I made the stop. Well, you know, we're just hiking and camping around here for the summer, so I had no idea it was Sunday. So I go walking into this little, teeny ward and there's a man who'd had a broken arm, he had a cast on but of course, all dressed up for Sunday in the foyer. And I walk in in my overalls, flip flops, no t-shirt under the overalls, that was kind of a look at the time. You know, my, what would be excessively long hair and everything. I walk in and he's very nice and he says, "Can I help you?" And I said, "Yeah, I was just seeing if I could find a Book of Mormon in here somewhere. And he lit up and opens the closet and starts moving stuff around, and then excitedly hands me this Book Mormon and then wants to shake my hand, and he'd broken his right hand. And so when I shake his hand, he goes, "Ow!"
I said, "Oh, I'm sorry!"
And he goes, "Oh, no, I just forget." And hands me this Book of Mormon and he says, "Open up to this page," I open up to this page. And he said, "Read this." And I said, "I can'." It was Spanish. He said, "Oh okay, sorry, wait, wait, wait," and he gets another one out. And he starts taking me through the Book of Mormon. And as we're doing this, more and more people start arriving for church. And they're just all standing in the foyer. And so there are 40 plus people standing around us in the foyer, me sitting there looking like I'd just come from a construction site, and him going through the Book of Mormon. And in the end, he just asked if I would promise him that I would try to read and I said I would. And then when I left it's like if you've ever seen "Sound of Music," you know the scene with the children are all going to bed.
"So Long, Farewell" as I walk out and all these people follow. Anyway, so I went and picked up my friend who was angry as heck at me because I'd left him there for an hour at the convenience store. And we, you know, we went through the rest of this trip, and I can't say I read it cover to cover, but I'd pick it up a little bit every day and thumb through, and I'd keep seeing these things that were meaningful to me. When we went to Hawaii, that was the first place we knew we'd be on our trip where I could give her an address. And so when we got to Hawaii, the charter group we went with had actually changed our hotel. And so as soon as we get there, I called the hotel we were supposed to be at, which was up a Diamond Head, and we were down now in downtown Honolulu. And I said, "Do you have any letters for Bill Bennett?"
And they said, "Yeah, actually, we have one here from,"
And I said, "Who's it from?"
And she said, "It's from somebody named Lori Bascum."
I said, "Okay!" So, you know, at the time, you had to be 25 to rent a car, and we couldn't rent a car. So I went down and my buddy and I rented mopeds and we went screaming across Honolulu up to Diamond Head and ran and got this letter. And I sat on the front lawn of this hotel and ripped this letter open and I had written her first and I'd said, "I'm really interested, thank you for everything you've told me. And I'd also like to see you again." And I wasn't sure how she was going to respond, but when I sent that letter to her on the trip, I just prayed, she'd kind of read between the lines, which is, "Oh, my gosh, I can't wait to see you again." And she wrote back and in this letter that I opened, she talked about what we talked about, about the church. And then she said, "I just need you to understand that my father always taught me that we marry those we date, and if you want to see me again, I assume there must be some interest. And I just want you to know I'm going to marry somebody who's a young man that's a member of my church and shares my beliefs. But as long as you understand that, I'd like to see you again."
Well, you know, we went back to school, we finished our senior year, I got a job with a company. I went to school in Pennsylvania, and I got a job with a company that moved me to California, to San Jose. And in the church I was in growing up, we had something called PYF, which was for graduated college students who were still single to get together. I thought, "They must have some sort of a youth thing at this church." So I decided I would call the Mormon church and see if they had a youth group and where I could meet people. So I opened the phone book, but if you know anything about San Jose, at the time, there were at least five stakes there. And there's just listing after listing in the phone book. I'm sure some of your younger listeners may not know what a phone book is, but there are all these listings saying "Ward" and "Stake" and "Mission" and I don't know what any of these things.
Morgan Jones 21:56
You're like, "I don't know who to call!"
Bill Bennett 21:57
So I literally just put my finger down on a phone number, this is the middle of the week, and I called it. Turned out it was a hall phone in one of the ward buildings on a mutual night. And so the phone rings and this young girl answers the phone, probably 14 years old or so. And she says, "Hello?" In this real silly voice.
And I said, "Is this the Mormon church?"
And all of a sudden she gets very quiet and serious says, "Uh, yeah."
And I said, "Well I'm new here, I just moved here, I'm 22 and I'm just trying to meet people my age. Do you guys have some kind of a youth group?" And she just went dead silent. And then I could hear the muffle from her covering the phone and she got really nervous. And she said, "We do. We have two guys who could come tell you about the youth group."
And I said, "Great! Can they come tonight?"
And the phone muffles again and she said, "I don't think they could come tonight, but they could probably come in the next few nights." She gets my name and address and of course, a couple of nights later. the two youth group representatives which were Elder somebody an Elder somebody show up to tell me about the youth group. And we begin this process of me being taught by the missionaries. And I don't remember the second one, but the first one was a wonderful guy named Elder Kirk Sutton. And Lori and I had been writing every couple of weeks, maybe two to three weeks ever since I'd gotten home from my trip. And so, you know, I'd gone to California, I'm having this experience with the missionaries and I had been writing her about that. And then my first business trip comes up, and my boss says, "Hey, you know, you're new in the work world. If you want to make like a triangular trip out of this, you know, just pay the difference, you could do that."
So I had to fly back to New York, I said, "Yeah, I'd like to stop in Salt Lake City on the way back and see this girl." I don't think I said, "see this girl," I said, "I'd like to start in Salt Lake City."
And they said, Sure! Just pay the difference." So she and I worked this out and I did and she picked me up at the airport and it had now been a year and a half since I'd seen her and met her that first time. And unbeknownst to me, her entire family had made this a matter of prayer that I would be, you know, prepared and ready, and had been fasting. And when she picked me up at the airport, it was very exciting to see her again and kind of give each other one of those funny pats on the back like "I'd really like to give you a big hug but this is about as far as I feel I can go right now." And she just said, "Here's what we're going to do. We're going to Temple Square." So we go take this tour at Temple Square, which was incredibly powerful. And all weekend we had these wonderful experiences. And at the end of the weekend, it was an evening before I went home, I said "Look, I really, really want to believe. I mean, I so badly want to believe and there are so many parts of this I do believe. But I don't get Priesthood. I don't see why I would have to have the priesthood to bless my children or to do all these things. And I hate hypocrites. And if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this all the way." And, you know, we obviously knew this relationship was beginning when I spent that weekend with her. I said, "I don't want to have this go somewhere and you know, maybe even, who knows, get married, spend 50 years together and you die first and then I find it was never really about religion for me, it was about you. I've got to know for sure." And so she ran and got her scriptures and she read from Alma 32:27 which says, I'm shortening it a little, "If ye so much just have a desire to believe, let this desire work in you till you can give a place for a portion of my words." And that just hit me like God had written that sentence for me. And he's saying, "It's okay that you don't believe all of it. Just take what you do believe and leave a space and let the rest of it come." And so that evening, you know, I went to sleep and I had a prayer that I would understand the things I didn't. And the thing that was remarkable, Morgan, is I woke up, and the second my eyes opened, I thought, "I get it, I completely get it. I completely understand the need for the Priesthood." I had no information that flowed into me that night, I didn't read anything else, I didn't even think about it anymore. But something just opened up my mind and I thought, "It's the authority. I understand why the authority has to be there." And so, you know, I told her and I told her parents and I asked her dad who I'd become friendly with over the weekend, I said, "Look, I'm obviously very interested in your daughter. I'm also very interested in the church and I feel like I've gotten a powerful answer. How do we know they're not connected? I gotta keep them separate."
He said, "Well, what we do is we fast. You know, when we have questions, we fast. In fact, we do this the first weekend of every month, is we will fast and pray for answers." And I thought, okay, I can do that. He said, "So when you go home today, just fast." And honestly, I thought what he meant is you fast so you get an answer. So I flew home on a Sunday evening and Monday morning, I woke up, I had breakfast and I had a prayer and I said—a very unsophisticated prayer—I said, "Heavenly Father, I think this about Lori, and I think this about the church, and I just got to make sure that they're separate. Can you help me?" I think that was how I ended it. And I began a fast and I didn't get any answers on Monday, so I drank water, but I didn't eat anything. And so I went Monday and all of Tuesday and all of Wednesday. And then Thursday
Morgan Jones 27:50
You're on the verge of death
Bill Bennett 27:52
Well, you know, what's funny is, Tuesday was hard. I mean, I'm working the whole time and I'm not sure. I got a little lost on the way to work and I couldn't remember. But Wednesday I was like, "I don't think I need food anymore." I mean once you kind of get past that moment you think, "I could do this." Of course, you couldn't indefinitely, but I just felt clear headed and strong. And Thursday morning I was sitting at work in the middle of the morning and I had this profound experience where my question was answered. And I wouldn't even share here because it's just so personal, but it was without a doubt, "Here's what you believe about the church, here's what you believe with her." And Heavenly Father speaking to me, "Bill, the're intermingled because it's such a part of her life too. But your testimony would stand alone." And that was it. I thought, "Wow, you know, this is gonna be fun being a Mormon having this experience every first weekend of the month." So I contacted her and then asked her dad if he'd baptize me and that was—this year it was 40 years ago, so 1979.
Morgan Jones 28:56
Wow, that's such an incredible story. I think that it's so neat because there are so many different aspects of it that I think will speak to people's hearts, depending on where they're at with regard to their own faith. I wanted to ask just to follow up really quickly. So you talked about the authority, and how initially, you didn't understand why that authority was important. Bill, what was the answer? What was it about the authority and needing to have that that made sense in regard to the Priesthood and how has your perspective of that been strengthened over the course of your membership in the church?
Bill Bennett 29:40
If I could add a little to the front of that?
Morgan Jones 29:42
Bill Bennett 29:42
Maybe the why it was such a problem for me. I had always believed and always felt that, you know, fatherhood and being a spouse was a divine station. I believed that God created marriage and I believed from the beginning of my life that God created families. And I felt it, I saw it in my father and I felt it in myself as a sibling and as a child. And I wouldn't have used the word authority, but there was something special there. And I didn't think you needed anything else. So it wasn't kind of a black and white, you have to you don't I felt like it was there. But what, of course, the church taught was something on a much different level than that, a very formal authority. And like I said, when I woke up that morning, I just believed it. And it was really, to me that that's the mark of when we have faith in something, is we stop demanding evidence, all the evidence, you know, we search for what evidence we can and then when we believe, as Paul says in Hebrews, "Faith is the evidence of things not seen." So after that point, it wasn't I'm searching to figure out if I believe. it was I believe. Now I'm just searching to enrich my knowledge. And as I went along, I began to see and understand that there's this order, order right from the creation of the world, up to this day in the way things work in God's kingdom. And that order was necessary, you know, in order to keep things properly aligned and clear, and you know, coming from a part of the religious world where there was church division after church division, and probably hundreds and hundreds of variations of what we believe. In fact, as a child, we moved from one Protestant church to a different religion because the minister was better. And it had nothing to do with doctrine, even though they each had different doctrinal beliefs. It made it clear to me that if you were going to have one church that truly followed what God was teaching us, you are going to have to have his authority to keep it in order. And then, of course, you are going to have his power, you know, he gave this power to us, and he's going to give it in an orderly way. And you know, since that time in the, 40 years I've been a member, you know, I've been a part of and seen Priesthood in action, you know, in giving blessings to my wife and my children. I don't think there's any more powerful experience where you feel that channel open. You know, I currently serve on the High Council and when we sit in disciplinary councils and we watch our loving, inspired stake president exercise his Priesthood authority to be a righteous judge, it just hits me again and again. And I almost shudder to think "What would we be without it?" And I feel a sense of duty, you know, God has entrusted us with this thing. And if you're going to be entrusted with it, you better know, you know, how to how to handle it and how to carry it, how to honor it.
Morgan Jones 32:49
Yeah, thank you.
Bill Bennett 32:51
Morgan Jones 32:51
Another question that I had. One thing that struck me both times you shared the story with me is the love and respect that you clearly have for the family in which you were raised.
Bill Bennett 33:04
Well, you know, as I said, my parents died, they were 95 and 96 when they died. And so if you do the math, you know, they were young children in the depression, when World War II came, Mom and Dad got married, and three days later dad left for the war. He was a navigator in the Pacific on a bomber. And they came through these difficult times that I think, you know, whether they realized it or not, caused them to just push away everything that really didn't matter because you really couldn't get to those other things. And they knew what really mattered. And what mattered was love and togetherness and forgiveness. And you know, they brought us up on those principles. Probably one of the greatest lessons my mother ever told me, who was this gentle Angel and never raised her voice, except once. And I was sitting in the living room with friends and we were putting down, I was like a freshman or sophomore in high school, and we were putting down kids that we didn't think were socially good enough. And we were just being really kind of nasty, young kids. My mom walked out with her sweet smile, and she could hear us talking. And she said, "Hey can I talk to you for a minute?" And I said, "Yeah." And we walked into her bedroom and she opened her Bible to the Sermon on the Mount.
She said, "You read this and you ask yourself, who you are, and who are the important people in life? And you whether it's the ones who are cool versus the ones who aren't cool. And until you can answer the question, don't come out." And that moment shaped my life, you know, and gave me, from that moment on, I can't look at somebody with a critical eye without hearing my mother behind me now kind of whispering from beyond the veil, "Who do you think you are anyway?" And it's that in a major way, but so many little things like that. And she was, both of them were forgiving and loving and that's why driving home in that car, just being together, it was the convergence of all of that history thing. This is the greatest place in the world for me.
Morgan Jones 35:29
I love that so much. So Bill, as you have, you know, grown in the Gospel, you obviously have an incredible testimony. At some point, remind me who it was that that said, you know, "That's an incredible story, have you tried contacting these different people that kind of shaped your journey?"
Bill Bennett 35:51
Yes. So I was asked to give a talk about my conversion by a member of our stake presidency who'd organized a pre-mission class for young men in our state quite a few years ago. And I gave a similar story that I just told you. And he said at the end, he said, "Have you ever tried to contact any of these people that helped you along the way?" And, of course, you know, one of them I married so she knows the story.
Morgan Jones 36:17
You're like, "I'm familiar with her."
Bill Bennett 36:19
But the fellow from my high school, soon after I joined the church, he had returned from his mission and he was at BYU, and I went and found him. And it turned out, it was a Sunday morning and he was married at this point living in student housing. And his wife, I don't think was super pleased to get a knock on the door at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, but I showed up and he comes to the door, and he kind of couldn't place me. You know, he knew who I was, but that was in high school in Connecticut and here we are in Provo, and—
Morgan Jones 36:45
Completely out of context.
Bill Bennett 36:47
He said, "What are you doing here?"
And I said, "I just want you to know, I'm now in the Elders Quorum." And we had this wonderful, tearful kind of reunion. But when I gave this talk to the pre-missionaries in our stake, and he asked me, I thought, "I'm gonna see what I can do to find these other people." I still had this Book of Mormon with the name on it. And I didn't even know where to begin because this girl was long since married. And all I knew is she was from Utah. And I just, you know, I tried different things. Of course, I didn't have the internet access we have today. So I tried a bunch of different things and I wasn't really getting any headway. And we were at a family reunion with my wife's family. And I was telling them this story and somebody, her sister, for some reason, asked: "Well what was her name?" And I told her name and she goes, "Oh, my gosh, I have somebody with that same first name, who I know was a mother's helper in Connecticut when she was younger, and she's two doors down from me and my Ward in Logan." And I got the contact information. And I call her and leave her a message and said, "Hey, you're not probably not gonna remember me," but I told her a little bit of the story and I got a call back a few weeks later. And she started to cry and I said, "Well, let me tell you what you did for me." And we had this wonderfully, emotional three-hour conversation. I was telling this story, I was asked to tell in the talk in the ward and how I was looking for these people. And as I sat down, a member of our bishopric stood up and said, "And I'll tell you who your tour guide was, it was a man named Douglas Bischoff, who was my mission president. And back then, you weren't called to be tour guides, you volunteered, it was literally volunteer work. And he used to volunteer to give tours he was an ophthalmologist. In fact, he was why I became an ophthalmologist. And he gave those tours on Temple Square right at that time, so I'm sure that's who it was." And he had passed away about two years prior, but I was able to reach out to his family and write a note and thank them. So the girl who answered the hall phone, I'm hoping someday maybe she'll hear your blog and you know, at this point, she's probably got a few grandchildren. But I'd love to hear from her someday and say, "Hey, I answered the phone." And I also was able to find the missionary Elder Sutton and my wife and I took he and his wife out to dinner and he had, through all these mission transfers, the mission president allowed him to stick with me. And he just shepherded me through this whole process until I was ready. So I just look back, Morgan, and I see it's like people handed me from one to the next, to the next. It's like this human baton saying, "Okay, here you go. You take him the next leg. Okay, you take him the next leg." And it was 10 years of that. In fact, when I wrote the book, that was part of trying to really describe the journey of this man who was trying to you know, as it says on the cover, a quest to believe, all those experience informed that journey for me.
Morgan Jones 40:05
So in this book Bill, you kind of tell this narrative—and it's obviously fictionalized—of the last man at the end. Can you give people just a little taste of kind of what that story is about?
Bill Bennett 40:23
Sure, yeah. So as the title says, he's a traveling merchant in that part of the world at the time that the Savior is born. And he gets space at an inn in Bethlehem and he's the last person to get space before Mary and Joseph arrive. And he sees them come to the door after he's sitting there and eating his dinner. And he can see that the woman is pregnant and that they look tired and he sees this dialogue going on between them and the innkeeper and sees the innkeeper say I'm sorry. And innkeeper even looks at him like, kind of a without saying anything, "Do you want to give up your space?" And he just looks down, he's tired, he doesn't want to give it up. And that evening, he goes out for a walk and he happens to pass by this cave and he sees these shepherd's gather around the cave. And of course, it is where the Savior was born. And he doesn't want to get too close, but he feels something and he doesn't understand what he feels and he's overcome with guilt. And the book is about the next 33 years. And he grows, you know, he's married, he has children, and his two sons actually become believers. His challenge is he's a good man, you know, and he's not a bad man. But it's the delta between good being a good man and being a true follower of the Savior, is what he's trying to figure out. And so that's stories about that journey.
Morgan Jones 41:45
Bill, for you, how has following Jesus Christ blessed your life?
Bill Bennett 41:53
Oh, my gosh, Morgan, I mean, would you like me to list the things that happened today as a result? And I mean it. I mean, it's my whole existence. Like everybody does, you know, I try to have my prayers but I also feel that, you know, he's just there all day every day. With His, via the Holy Ghost, I've had difficult decisions that I've had to make or my wife and I have had to make, informed and confirmed, sometimes had our direction changed. He's opened my eyes to things that I needed to see that I wasn't seeing, which usually is around the needs and people that I know or care about, or even sometimes people I don't know. It gives me a compass for the kind of person that I want to be and I'm a long way from that person, I'm really hoping I have sort of Methuselah-length opportunity to develop. But I'm further along the journey than you are, I'm at the other end of our life span. But it's everything to me. And there's nothing I've achieved that has come in the absence of that. I mean, and most mistakes I've made in my life that hurt came from when I didn't listen.
Morgan Jones 43:20
Thank you. Bill, I am so appreciative to you for sharing this story with us. As we come to a close here, can you answer one last question for me? What does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Bill Bennett 43:37
To me, it's deciding ahead of time, that whatever it is that's asked of you, that's required, that you receive a prompting for, that you will do it. That if you don't understand it, you will study it. If action is required, you'll do it. That you don't debate those things. And, you know, to me, that's the essence of true faith. These things are no longer evidence to give you faith, to prove faith, faith becomes the evidence of the things you're going to do. And it's to be the person that God can count on. That when He needs something, that if He sends me a prompting, I will listen, and I'll act, and that He can trust that I will do what he needs me to do.
Morgan Jones 44:24
I appreciate that answer so much, especially that last part that you said, because I think all of these people that you've touched on that were part of your journey, they were all doing just little things that they were being asked to do. Even the girl that answered the phone in the hallway, she was there at church. And because of that, she answered that call and then was able to send missionaries to you. So thank you so much. And I'm anxious for people to hear your story, so thank you.
Bill Bennett 44:53
Thank you for the opportunity to speak about it.
Morgan Jones 44:56
We are so grateful to Bill Bennett for being with us on today's episode. This Christmas, you can find The Last Man At the Inn, and Jacob T. Marley in Deseret Book stores. We hope that amidst the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, they will add meaning to your Christmas and will be influential in your own personal journey.