This is the first in a series of articles
A 16-year-old African American boy sits alone in the lobby of an LDS Church building in northern California, looking out the door, then back down to the floor. His large frame is barely contained by the chair he’s sitting on. It’s Sunday morning and he’s sure his friends haven’t stood him up. Then again, he sees no one.
With a nervous sigh he stands up and turns toward the chapel doors: he’s going in without them.
As he walks in, he sees young men in suits and ties walking around the room with tiny metal trays in hand, offering the sacrament to the congregation. The room is dead silent, outside of the occasional cry of an infant.
Two LDS missionaries — not much older than he — watch him enter. He shouldn’t have walked in. He should have waited. Not that he knew any better. The two jump up out of their seats and walk to him, escorting him back to the lobby.
One of those missionaries is Spencer Hadley. Hadley’s future, unbeknownst to him, will eventually include 149 total tackles at BYU as a linebacker. But right now, Hadley isn’t worried about football; he’s concerned with the 6-foot-3, 320-pound young man who interrupted a church meeting.
The three begin chatting, and Hadley can’t help but bring up the gridiron. Hadley gets the kid’s name: Denesheo Moore. The boy looks like a football player, and Hadley asks if he enjoys college football. Moore reminds Hadley that they’re in USC Trojans territory and says he’s a fan.
Hadley explains what Brigham Young University is, telling Moore about quarterback Max Hall and running back Harvey Unga. Hall was third in the nation in touchdown passes in 2009, while Unga had three straight 1,000-plus-yard seasons from 2007 to 2009.
Impressed, the teen would go on to binge-watch BYU football highlights online. Meanwhile, their football conversation is cut short as people begin pouring out of the chapel doors. Hadley leads Moore down the hallway to a Sunday School class.
As the teacher speaks about the Plan of Salvation, Moore unexpectedly begins answering questions. By the end of class, the teenager has an answer for nearly all of the teacher’s queries.
To close the meeting, the teacher asks where people go after judgment.
“Do you want all four (places)?” Moore says.
“If you know them,” the teacher responds.
“Celestial, terrestial, telestial kingdoms and outer darkness.”
Hadley is in awe; missionaries dream of meeting people like this.
Moore knew the answers because he’d read the LDS Church’s Gospel Principles handbook earlier that week.
He got it from two friends; one was investigating the church and his girlfriend was a less-active Mormon. The three spent a day talking about the ins and outs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“The most impactful thing wasn’t actually anything that was said,” Moore remembers. “It was like I had already known all this stuff and somehow I forgot it — like my memory had been erased somehow.”
The three agreed to go to church together that Sunday. Because his friends didn’t show up, “they probably thought I wasn’t serious about going,” Moore said.
Hadley — and the other missionaries who eventually baptized Moore — would learn just how serious a 16-year-old boy could be about finding God and how that budding belief would shape his dreams for the future.
Next week, senior reporter Kristen Kerr examines how Denesheo Moore’s conversion to the LDS faith was the unlikely outcome of a childhood growing up in a rough California neighborhood.