Chapter 29: I Heard It Through the Grapevine


Several rather interesting things happened in the subsequent days. First, a letter arrived for me from Canada Immigration. I was summoned to attend an "immigration inquiry" on Tuesday, March 10—a hearing at which it would be determined whether or not, as a convicted felon and resident alien, I would be allowed to remain in Canada.

Next, I noticed an interesting letter printed on the editorial page of the Calgary Herald. It read as follows:

Re "Missionary guilty in bomb hoax," Herald, Feb. 26.
    Donald William Shunn is described by his father as an ideal son and by defence [sic] lawyer [Fred Harvey] as an outstanding student . . .
    There was no punishment by his church. Does [sic] President [Matheson Tuttle] and his religion condone such atrocious behavior?
    Shunn was sentenced to one day in jail (and fined $2,000). As an occasional passenger on airline trips, I deeply resent and abhor this sentence—anxiety in flying is severe enough for me without this . . .
Now, I dunno about you, but I'm rather suspicious of the name that was signed to the letter. I mean, Bob and Doug McKenzie—as played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas—were fictional characters from SCTV, Canada's answer to Saturday Night Live. (They even starred in their own marvelously awful movie, Strange Brew.) But Mr. MacKenzie's point is well taken—even if it made me want to spit nails when I first read it. The Church didn't issue so much as a one-paragraph statement saying that it does not condone lawbreaking. I received no ecclesiastical censure, not even as a perfunctory formality.

I don't know whether I should laugh or cry at that.

Well, the next interesting—and rather chilling—bit of news was a snatch of gossip I heard from my father, which had been passed along to him by President Tuttle. I forget whether my father told me this in a letter or in a phone call, but he stressed that he was only passing it along to me because he was afraid that I was taking the whole bomb-threat experience too lightly and that I wouldn't treat my deliverance from bondage seriously enough unless I knew the whole story.

I must admit that I can't vouch in any way for the veracity of what my father told me. I forget exactly how he said the story came to President Tuttle's ears, but it seems most probable to me that Fred Harvey passed it along to him. How Fred Harvey might have come by this information remains a complete mystery. (I hate to admit the possibility, but I suppose it's also possible that my father made the story up with the sole intention of frightening me into sobriety. I don't like the idea, but it's possible.)

Okay, you're saying, so quit with the disclaimers already and spill the beans!

As you wish. Here goes.

According to my (at best) third-hand information, Judge Josiah Fether picked up the phone on the evening of February 25th with the intention of seeking advice from another judge—a friend of his who lived somewhere in eastern Canada. "I have a problem," said Judge Fether. "I need to sentence a young man who phoned a false bomb threat in on an airliner."

"That's easy," said this anonymous other judge, whom I will call Judge M. "As a deterrent to similar crimes, you need to sentence him to five years in prison. Precedents in similar cases make this clear."

"I haven't told you everything, though," Fether said. "The young man in question is a Mormon missionary. He was trying to prevent a fellow missionary from abandoning his calling."

"Well, that certainly changes things," Judge M said. "Fine him, and give him time served."

(Five years! The heart quails at the thought! Where would I be now if . . . ? No, it simply doesn't bear thinking about.)

You may have guessed the punchline to the story by now—that Judge M was a member of the Church.

Again, I simply have no idea how much credence to lend to this story. I mean, the prosecutors were only asking for a two-month sentence. Was I really in danger of receiving a jail term fully thirty times longer than what the prosecution recommended? Do I really have an anonymous judicial savior dwelling somewhere in the vast reaches of eastern Canada? If so, was he really a Mormon? What are the chances of that?

I don't know. The way in which my father warned me never to repeat the story tends to make me suspicious.

If there's any grain of truth to it, though, I like to think that Judge M was a wise and rational fellow who recognized that I was the product of an environment of intense indoctrination, and who didn't believe that I should serve hard time for a crime that my church tacitly condoned.

But who really knows? Not I. God, maybe. If I ever meet him, you can be sure I'll ask.

The final interesting bit of news was related to me in a phone call from President Tuttle on Friday, March 6. He called to let me know that I would be having an interview first thing the next morning with Rex Reeve, administrative head of the Church's Missionary Department and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. Elder Reeve was to be in town the next few days for a local stake conference, and President Tuttle had (in his own humble words) sacrificed some of his own time with Elder Reeve in order to permit the great man to talk with me for a few minutes.

An audience with one of the Seventy is something of a rare thing. I was awed and frightened at the same time. What could Elder Reeve possibly want with me?

The next morning, Elder Snow and I traveled with President Tuttle to one of the local stake centers, where Elder Reeve awaited me in the stake president's office. President Tuttle had let me know that Elder Reeve was a very nice man and that I had nothing to worry about, and as the old man shook my hand, welcomed me into the office, and shut the door, I decided that President Tuttle had been correct. Elder Reeve was an extremely genial man of something below medium height. He must have been about—well, seventy years old, and he wore a benign, grandfatherly smile below his balding pate. He made me feel quite comfortable. He made me feel as if he were really and truly interested in me. He made me feel, somehow, as if he loved me. Nifty trick. "How are you, Elder?" he asked, inviting me to sit.

Genial as he was, Reeve was quite a busy man, and he came directly to the point. "Tell me in your own words about your experience last week, Elder," he said.

I did, very briefly.

Reeve listened attentively to my story. When I was finished, he nodded, as if I had confirmed something he had already expected. "You've lived through something remarkable, Elder," he said, "and you've been very blessed by the Lord. Tell me, do you want to finish your mission?"

"Yes, I do."

"Do you wish to stay in the Calgary Mission?"

I felt vaguely uneasy. I was finally beginning to enjoy being in the Calgary Mission. All my friends were there. It was becoming like home to me. "Yes, I do. Very much so."

Elder Reeve frowned. "Let me assure you that the Church has no plans to punish you in any way," he said, "but we feel that it will be best for you if you complete your mission for the Lord back in the United States."

It was funny. When I first received my mission call to Calgary, I was bitterly disappointed. I had hoped to be called to someplace exotic, like Greece or Thailand or Brazil or Australia. Now I would have given anything to stay in Calgary. But I merely nodded my head and acquiesced.

"I know it will be difficult for you, Elder," said Reeve, "but you'll be blessed for your acceptance of the Lord's will."

We knelt together and prayed, and then the interview was over.

That evening, Grant and Pamela Worthingtinn were baptized. Elder Snow dunked Grant and I dunked Pamela. It was a bittersweet evening. I knew those would probably be the last baptisms I racked up in Canada.

Canada's benefit, I guess.

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

About This Story

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

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