I treasure the old photographs of my parents, Larry and Molly Hamilton, sitting on Brighton beach in the middle of August about 70 years ago. They were on their belated honeymoon. It always amazed me how well dressed they were for the beach. I like the newspaper that remains at their feet of the fish-and-chip lunch they’d just had, and the 3d hire charge printed on the deckchairs. At first glance they look like any other 1950’s black-and-white holiday snaps taken with a Brownie box camera. But these images capture a very special occasion.
In the background of the same photograph is a figure standing on what looks like a chair, trying to talk to people as they walk past. My father recalled the actual day sitting in the deckchair hearing the words of an American missionary, speaking of a Joseph Smith and gold plates. My father was amazed how the missionary kept pointing to the sea, saying “… across the sea in America”. This was the English Channel, and “across the sea” was France. My parents did not speak to the missionary, but his words and the impression they left stayed with my father.
Fifteen years passed and then two missionary elders knocked at our door. My mother answered it and said, “No thank you”, and shut the door. When my mother told my father about the two American missionaries who had just called, my father responded in a surprising way. He jumped up and ran out of the house after them. The elders were knocking on our neighbour’s door and eagerly came back to our house at my father’s invitation.
This was 1966; the elders were dressed in dark suits and raincoats with trilby hats. They looked a bit like FBI agents. They introduced themselves as Elder Jackson and Elder Garlock. They were ushered into our front room, kept for special visitors. Elder Garlock had just come out on his mission and was suffering from jet lag. His companion kept nudging him to keep him awake. About four weeks later my parents and my older brother were baptised at Epsom chapel. My twin brother and I were too young and had to wait a year before we were baptised, at Reading chapel.
Why did my father react so eagerly to hear the missionaries? He remembered the words and feelings he had when he heard the missionary on Brighton beach in 1951. I believe that every testimony borne in faith can touch a heart. In Romans 10:7 we can read: “Faith cometh … by hearing the word of God”. Perhaps like Abinadi, whose words changed the heart of Alma, that missionary on Brighton beach never knew the powerful effect of his words on those who heard him. Many generations of members have served missions and received sacred temple blessings, because one elder had the courage to stand and declare his testimony of the restoration of Jesus Christ’s gospel – on the beach at Brighton.