The following story originally appeared on the Magnify blog as part of its Mighty Women series. The series aims to tell the stories of Latter-day Saint women who are normal yet extraordinary. This profile piece is republished here with permission.
Willie Brown was a 12-year-old Black boy living in Kentucky when one evening in the early 1960s he was walking home and a White man asked if he needed a ride. He accepted, and as the young man began to exit the car upon arriving home, the older gentleman said, “I have something to give you.” It was a book the young man had never heard of before, but he never got rid of it. When he got married and moved into a home of his own, he put the book on the shelf next to his Bible. Years later, on a particularly dark night emotionally, his wife, Pauline, noticed the book on the shelf. The year was 1978 and Pauline was consumed by questions about God and religion—these questions led her to the bookshelf that night.
Her search had begun in 1969, when her 15-year-old brother was killed in a car accident. Pauline and her older sister watched in horror as the car they were following, carrying their brother, went over an embankment. Her brother had never been baptized and, over the course of their Methodist upbringing, Pauline had been taught that if someone wasn’t baptized or saved, they would go to hell.
Her brother was going to hell because he hadn’t been baptized. She was convinced.
Six years later, in March 1975, another brother was killed in a car accident. He was 23 years old and, once again, Pauline was pretty certain he had never been saved. This devastated the then-26-year-old Pauline. And the punches just kept on coming, as her father was diagnosed with cancer in October of the same year. He would pass away in February 1976.
“I began to have doubts and I was to the point of believing there was no God,” Pauline says. “If there was, why did He let this happen to my family?”
She began to spiral into serious depression and turned to the Bible for guidance. The words of 1 Peter 4:6 stood out to her: “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” She asked her pastor to explain what the verse meant and became even more frustrated when he responded, “It’s not for us to know.”
Just two years after her father’s passing, in August 1978, Pauline got a call from the hospital that her sister Ramona was going to have emergency surgery. After the surgery, doctors told Pauline that her sister should be able to go home in two to three days. Pauline left the hospital to pick up her own children, and as soon as she walked in the door of her home, she received another phone call: “Ramona is dead.”
Pauline remembers this as the lowest point in her life. A week later, she attended a Methodist revival in hopes of rekindling her faith in God. While there, she received a prompting to go home and read her Bible. She noticed an unusual book beside it that seemed to be jumping off the shelf. “It was like, ‘Read me! Read me!’” she recalls. She didn’t read it, but her mind kept returning to it over the course of the next week.
The following Tuesday, Pauline and Willie sat in their home listening to rain beat upon their roof. Their children were already in bed in their Virginia home. The television was on, but neither Pauline nor her husband were watching; suddenly there was a knock at their door.
They were surprised to open the door and see two young White men with name tags on in their all-Black neighborhood but invited them in out of the rain. The missionaries said they had a message to share and pulled out a copy of the Book of Mormon. “We have that book!” Pauline exclaimed. It was only then that Willie explained how the book had found its way to their shelf.
Pauline didn’t tell the missionaries anything about her questions about heaven, hell, and the dead, but the first lesson the missionaries taught was about the plan of salvation. All of Pauline’s questions were answered in the plan the missionaries spoke of. And, as they taught, one thing became very clear that rainy night for Pauline: “I knew our Heavenly Father was concerned about me and I knew that it was Him that ushered those elders to our home.”
To this day, Pauline says she “could’ve been baptized that night.” Teaching from the Book of Mormon, the missionaries had answered the questions Pauline’s pastor couldn’t answer. “Anyone who was in our home that night would’ve been touched. I just know it,” she says.
The missionaries came back the next evening, and at the end of the night Pauline and Willie asked if they could come to church on Sunday. The missionaries seemed hesitant, which Pauline now believes was due to the fact that she and her husband would be the only Black people in the congregation. But in the moment, she simply reassured them, “You don’t have to take us. My husband and I just need directions.”
They’ll never forget pulling up to the little storefront in Appalachia, Virginia, where a branch of about 30 people met. There was a familiar feeling in the little room where sacrament meeting was held—it was the same feeling she’d felt when the missionaries were in her home.
“’I know where we’re going to church from now on,’” Pauline told Willie on the way home. “’This is our church. This is it.’ And we’ve been going to church ever since without skipping a beat.”
The couple was baptized September 30, 1978, between the morning and afternoon sessions of the 148th Semiannual General Conference—the same general conference at which Elder N. Eldon Tanner read what is now Official Declaration 2, extending temple and priesthood blessings to all worthy male members of the Church. Pauline says she didn’t really understand the significance of that announcement for her family at the time, but months later when she approached the Lord in prayer to understand why Blacks had not received the priesthood sooner, she received a clear answer.
“It’s not an answer for the whole world, but it’s an answer for me and I’m good with it,” she says.
The Browns had three children between 9 months and 4 years old when they joined the Church, and the gospel gave them something to aim for as they raised their family.
“We tried to make our home, even back then, a gospel-centered home,” she says. “We wanted to have that same spirit that [we felt] when the missionaries knocked on our door that night.”
All three of her children remain faithful members of the Church.
“That one night blessed our lives. I can’t even tell you how much,” Pauline says of the fateful evening the missionaries knocked on their door. But she and her husband also recognize the importance of a night long before that when a kind man offered a boy a ride home.
“I wish I would’ve gotten his name; I wish I knew who he was,” Willie has often told her, to which she replies, with a confidence that comes from finding answers to questions that once consumed her, “You will someday.”
Read the profiles of other Mighty Women on the Magnify blog.