President Charles A. Callis used to tell a story about the day missionary work went to the dogs, or at least to one dog. Unfortunately he doesn’t provide all the details historians would love to have – no date, for instance – but since it takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, we can assume it happened sometime between 1919 when he moved the mission headquarters to that city from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and early 1934 when his long tenure as mission president ended and President Callis returned to Salt Lake City.
“The winds and the waves obey His will,” President Callis wrote. “The ravens fed Elijah, the wonder-working prophet at the brook Cherith. While the English language stands the wonderful story of the seagulls saving the saints from possible starvation will be told.” And just as the other forces and creatures of Nature carried out the will of God, so, said President Callis, did an unknown dog.
I haven’t been able to find a photograph of the mission home in Atlanta. Apparently, though, it had a front porch, large enough and comfortable enough for the mission staff to use it as a study room, and where they apparently were in the habit of leaving their materials when they went indoors. This porch was open to the street, open to any passer-by … even four-legged passers-by.
One morning, unseen by the inhabitants of the mission home, a dog made his way onto the porch, where he found a copy of an LDS hymn book. Taking it in his mouth, he left the Mormon building and trotted down the street and up onto the porch of a Presbyterian family. Laying the hymnal at their door, the dog trotted back up the street to the mission home.
This time he found a copy of the Improvement Era, which he carried up the street to the home of a Methodist family. He left the magazine at their door, and returned again to the mission home.
On his third visit, he mouthed a copy of the missionary magazine The Liahona, and off he went. This time, it was a Baptist family who received delivery.
That was the extent of his canine calling. “The dog never came back,” Elder Callis said, “evidently being satisfied with his work.”
In all three cases, members of the households observed the silent missionary work of the unordained four-legged “elder.” All three families were amused by the deliveries and gave at least a cursory look at the materials the dog had left. Then they returned the materials to the Mormon elders, explaining how they had been received.
“As a result of this intelligent animal’s good work, homes were opened to the missionaries and opportunities given them to preach the gospel both privately and in large public gatherings. The Presbyterian lady was particularly impressed with the hymn, ‘In Our Lovely Deseret.’ She said she wished the Presbyterian children could have a similar song to sing. The beautiful truths of the gospel took root in many hearts and the fruits have been delightful and converting.”
That’s all. Elder Callis doesn’t give enough details to satisfy me, but I am tickled by imagining a testimony meeting sometime, somewhere. A Latter-day Saint stands and begins, “Let me tell you about my first contact with the Church …”