In the summer of 1948, two prisoners escaped from a work farm near Carey, Ohio. Somewhere they obtained business suits to replace their jail garb, then walked into a bank and robbed it. As soon as local police could be alerted by telephone, roadblocks were thrown up on all the country roads, and lawmen were told to be on the lookout for the two dangerous but well-dressed robbers: one, age 24, was fair-skinned and had light hair; the other, age 26, was darker. They would probably be carrying bags with the cash they had taken from the bank.
Completely oblivious to the drama swirling in their neighborhood, Elder John W. Campbell of La Mesa, California, age 24, fair, and his darker companion, Elder Vernon L. Tyler of Mesa, Arizona, age 25, both of them well dressed and carrying attache cases, strode along a road near Carey, Ohio, keeping an eye on the sky. They were traveling without purse or scrip, canvassing the countryside and leaving religious tracts at rural homes, planning on making a second circuit of the neighborhood later that summer to follow up on their first contacts. Traveling without purse or scrip meant not only that they were dependent on the kindness of strangers for daily food and nightly lodging, but also that they were exposed to weather, and today looked like rain.
The two elders were grateful when a car stopped and its driver asked if they needed a ride. They climbed in.
They had traveled scarcely a half a mile when they ran into a roadblock. Three state highway police officers, armed with rifles, halted the car and approached the driver. Keeping a wary eye on the passengers, the patrolman examined the driver’s identification, and asked him about the two elders. When the driver said he did not know his passengers, that he had offered them a lift only moments before after having come across them walking along the road, the patrolman, rifle at the ready, told the elders to get out of the car and ordered them to raise their hands above their heads. The elders of course complied.
Hands raised high, they stood by the roadside, being gawked at by other passers-by. The officers demanded, Who are you? Where are you going? Where are you from? One officer searched the elders themselves while another went through their briefcases. Finding only religious literature, they allowed the two men to lower their arms and show their own identification papers, which included their ministerial certificates. Finally convinced that the missionaries were who they said they were, the officers allowed them to go on their way.
Their driver had waited to see the outcome of the search, and when the elders were allowed to go was kind enough to wave them back into his car. Elder Campbell, perhaps understandably, or perhaps a little more insulted than he had a right to feel, noted with satisfaction that it began to rain as soon as they got into the car, quickly soaking the patrolmen on roadblock duty while the elders stayed dry. It continued to rain until the elders reached the junction where they wanted to go one way and the driver continued another; at that moment, the rain ceased.
When I was a missionary, my companions and I were often mistaken for Jehovah’s Witnesses, or in a few cases for habitless nuns. I was never mistaken for anyone worse, however – how about you?