With each succeeding Mormon missionary discussion with Ron Stewart's family over a three-week period, the family came with someone new. Our initial meeting, dubbed "Filipino Night," was with Ron and his wife, Angie. That was followed with a second meeting with Ron and his two sons, Ronaldo and Ronell. For our third meeting, they came with Ronell's girlfriend, Kristen Mayhand, but without Angie, who was under the weather, and Ronaldo, who is a freelance photographer and had a photo shoot.
The first two meetings went swimmingly. Dinner conversation was lively and fun. The missionary discussions that followed were even better.
Hence, I was somewhat worried that a girlfriend who wasn't a member of the family may have a different agenda or not have the same level of curiosity or religiosity. I've seen lessons torpedoed by cynicism and Bible-bashing, where the Spirit vanishes in a flash.
Turns out, I had no reason to fear.
Kristen Mayhand is bright, beautiful, religious and ambitious.
Recently graduated from Montclair State in northern New Jersey with a finance degree, she paid her own way through college as a bank teller.
That's how she met Ronell Stewart. He was a walk-in customer who let people go ahead of him in line just so he could be summoned to her window. He did it often enough that she noticed — nevermind that he's model handsome and is in great shape because he's a fitness fanatic. He slipped her a note asking for a date, careful to make sure she wouldn't think it was a holdup.
They've been an item ever since — almost five years now. Her African-American parents love him, and his Filipino parents adore her.
Kristen works as an auditor for the state of Delaware, and Ronell started a marketing company called Youth Noise that generates online traffic for his clients. Two months after he was hired by a commercial cleaning company to boost leads and promote traffic to its site, the client company landed a multimillion-dollar contract — all because Ronell got it to the first page of Google search results for its targeted keywords.
These are young people with bright futures, but would faith have a place in them?
Over dinner, Kristen acknowledged she had attended her Baptist church more frequently as a child with her family but less frequently in her teens. Ron and Ronell confessed that they were "Easter/Christmas Catholics" and sometimes not even that.
Our missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sister Jidileah Baluyot and Sister Brittany Daniels, had asked my sons, Trey and LJ, to teach the lesson. Since our last lesson, we took in a recent Brigham Young University graduate, Mont Toronto, who will live with us through the summer while he interns at NFL Films, which is located in our township. Mont served a Mormon mission in New York City.
The three RMs taught an amazing lesson, with all of us — sister missionaries included — helping out. As they reviewed the previous week's lesson and asked if they had read their assignments, it was Kristen who prompted Ronell to share what he learned.
"Ronell, tell them what you know about priesthood authority, the Apostasy and the Restoration," she said. Ronell dutifully recounted each principle with amazing detail and clarity.
Kristen asked honest and sincere questions about prophets, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
At the conclusion of our discussion, I asked Kristen to pray, prompting her to be specific in her questions and to listen with her heart and mind.
It was clear from her words that prayer was not new to her. She addressed Heavenly Father with humility and reverence. Her voice was soft, yet it penetrated our souls as she asked to know if what we taught was true and for courage to follow her conviction.
Before they left my home, we hugged and I made it clear that if at any time they chose to end our lessons, such a choice wouldn't have any bearing on our friendship. I've learned from experience to give friends an "out" so they aren't taking the missionary discussions simply to please me or so it doesn't jeopardize our friendship.
No, I want them to hear the message of the restored gospel because they see it has value for their lives and that it might soothe their troubled souls; strengthen their marriages or relationships; help them be better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters; and help them be a better friend, a better person or better at their jobs.
A day or two after our meeting, Ronell and Kristen each sent me a text (shared here with their permission):
"Hey Vai, thanks again for having us. Kristen and I had a great time. We appreciate the discussions and the sharing of wisdom. It's really wonderful to see the type of relationship you have with your family. Truly shows the positive impact of having faith and sharing that with your children."
"Hey Mr Sikahema! It's Kristen Mayhand. Thank you so much for having Ronell and I. It was a wonderful experience and I hope to see you and your family soon."
Vai Sikahema is the sports director and anchor for NBC10 Philadelphia and host of the "Vai & Gonzo Show" on ESPN Philadelphia Radio. He is a two-time All-Pro, two-time Emmy Award winner and was a member of BYU's 1984 national championship team.