PROVO, Utah (BP)–Drive an hour south of Salt Lake City down Interstate 15 and you enter a different world, says North American Mission Board missionary Mickie Kelly.
“People think I’m exaggerating when I tell them the kinds of things that go on here,” said Kelly, a church planter in Payson, Utah, near Provo. “The spiritual darkness is like a blanket that you wear every day.”
Around the well-kept homes and clean-cut families of Payson, a spiritual drawstring tightens under the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
“Salt Lake City is 47 percent LDS,” Kelly said. But, he added, the number doubles to 95 percent for Provo, which is home to the LDS-funded Brigham Young University and the LDS Missionary Training Center.
“People have left Salt Lake to move here and get away from the infidel, non-members, or Gentiles as we might be called,” Kelly said. “In Utah County, the culture is Mormon — every news channel, every billboard, everything they do is done to promote the church.”
Originally from Oklahoma, Kelly and his wife Lorenda planted a church in Idaho, where they first experienced the grip the LDS has on its members.
“Out here it costs someone to come to Christ. It doesn’t just cost them a trip to the lake or a couple of beer drinking buddies or a card game,” Kelly said. “It costs them everything. They lose their families, they lose their homes, they lose their businesses, and so really at the same time that you invite someone to come to Christ you’re thinking, ‘Do I need to start a refugee ministry?'”
The Kellys say Utah is a daunting place to plant a church, but God has been faithful to bring several residents out of the LDS and into the Kellys’ new work — Crossings Church.
“I often pray asking God to take the word I’ve spoken and just seal it in their hearts, wake them up at night, don’t let them sleep for weeks until they get real with God,” Kelly said. “This whole thing is a testimony to God’s sovereignty. Prayer has taken on a whole new meaning to me. It’s my strategy.”
From front porch conversations at night to chats at the local Wal-mart, the Kellys are making the true Christ known and people are receiving Him. Crossings Church has grown from three members to nearly 80 in Sunday attendance.
Within the first few months of their arrival, the Kellys realized they were in another country with its own culture, customs and way of receiving outsiders. Within the first week, the couple was able to share Christ with 10 LDS members who had come to their house during the evening to ask them why they were there.
“Many of them were hearing for that first time that Jesus wasn’t just a man like them,” Kelly said.
And there were people like Aaron Vickery, a former high-ranking, lifelong member of the LDS whose family had fallen to pieces and who knew the LDS teaching was wrong.
“I knew what they believed was wrong, but I didn’t know what to believe,” Vickery said. “Mickie heard about me when he was in Idaho and when he moved down here he called me up.”
After several months, Kelly and Vickery spent all night talking about the Gospel. By morning Vickery had accepted Christ and wanted to join the church, which, at the time, met in Kelly’s basement.
“It took me a long time. We’d been through Bible studies, and week after week these spoke right to me,” Vickery said. “I finally decided it was time to accept the Lord.”
For many in the area, it’s still a long shot to get them on the front steps of a Christian church, but Kelly keeps praying and making Christ known.
“The whole thing makes me say ‘Wow,'” Kelly said. “It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done because you can’t just go invite people to church. It’s all been through prayer and conversations and watching God grow the church. It’s been a ‘wow’ just to see Him move.”
Adam Miller writes for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Mickie Kelly and other missionary and chaplain ministries through NAMB and its state partners, visit www.namb.net and click on the “Missionary Focus” gallery.