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Five years ago, Tanner Hutchens would never have dreamed “The Book of Mormon” musical would inspire him to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the very thing the musical openly mocks.
Now, a recently returned LDS missionary, Hutchens detailed his conversion story in a video published by Hi Five Live where he credits “The Book of Mormon” musical with introducing him to the church. During the clip, Hutchens spoke about his experiences in the Washington Kennewick Mission and how he returned home three times before completing his 24 month service. According to Hutchens, these setbacks ultimately strengthened his faith in Jesus Christ and solidified his testimony of the gospel.
Hutchens knew next to nothing about theater when he purchased a ticket to “The Book of Mormon” musical on Broadway. Cut from his high school basketball team due to misconduct, Hutchens was placed in a theater class his freshman year and participated begrudgingly, at first.
“I was going in with this big, bad, athlete attitude,” he admitted in the Hi Five Live video, which has more than 2,500 positive reactions on the site’s Facebook page. “And then I found out that I loved it. . . . I would wake up every single morning and love going to theater class.”
Still, Hutchens had never even heard the word “Mormon” before he saw the play in New York.
“I had no clue that this was a religion,” Hutchens said in the video. “But I can remember looking at the musical and watching it and thinking, ‘My goodness, this is the craziest thing I have ever heard of in my entire life.’”
“The Book of Mormon” musical, infamous for its profane, sacrilegious and sexual dialogue, has nonetheless attracted many theatergoers since its opening debut in 2011, said the Deseret News. A winner of nine Tony Awards, the musical, written by “South Park” creators Trey Parker, Matt Stone and songwriter Robert Lopez, ridicules two missionaries who leave Utah to preach the gospel in Uganda.
“At the time, I didn’t understand half the jokes that were going on in the music,” Hutchens told the Deseret News. “But near the end, you learn a really good lesson of how important it is to keep your faith and how important it is that when you fall down, you get back up. That God’s always on your side.”
Although the LDS faith was completely foreign to Hutchens at the time, he was no stranger to religion. He was raised Southern Baptist, but Methodists, Pentecostals, Quakers and Amish were all scattered throughout his home area in Yadkinville, North Carolina. Hutchens had been researching different faiths before he came across “The Book of Mormon” musical.
As the play unfolded, Hutchens was particularly impressed by the character Elder Price, an enthusiastic missionary in the story.
“I was very intrigued at how he had spent his whole life preparing for those two years. And he was very prepared,” Hutchens said. “You could just tell that he was ready for it, excited for it, and I’d never seen anyone or anything . . . that was so excited about doing something God-related.”
When he left the show that night, Hutchens was hooked. Obsessed with the thought that anyone could be so devoted to their beliefs, when he returned home, Hutchens researched everything that he could about Mormons.
“All I could think about was just learning more about the religion,” he said in the video. “That’s all I wanted to do.”
Tanner Hutchens was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after becoming interested in the church because of watching “The Book of Mormon” musical. | Photo courtesy of Tanner Hutchens
Hutchens even felt compelled to steal a book or two from the local library, since his librarian refused to let him check out any books on the subject.
“Anything related to Mormonism, she told me that I’d go to hell,” said Hutchens in the clip. “I walked in with a backpack on, and I put it in my backpack, and I left. . . . I have since repented, so don’t hold that against me.”
The nearest church building was approximately 30 miles from where Hutchens lived, but he persisted and attended services one Sunday with a friend.
After he was baptized, Hutchens knew he wanted to serve a mission and was eventually called to serve in Argentina. But when he arrived in South America, Hutchens found he still had a long way to go before he would feel fully converted to the gospel.
“Even though I was going off all this want to be a missionary, I realized I didn’t have a firm testimony,” he said in the video.
Returning home from Argentina to strengthen his faith, Hutchens was later reassigned to the Kennewick Washington Mission. When he had to leave two additional times, though, Hutchens nearly didn’t go back out to finish his service. It wasn’t until he received a call from his mission president that he began to reconsider.
Tanner Hutchens, left, serves a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. | Photo courtesy of Tanner Hutchens
“I had the clearest impression that I was to call him,” said Hutchens’ former mission president, Boyd Ware, who stayed in touch with Hutchens throughout the highs and lows of the convert’s mission. “As we talked on the phone that day, he told me that he wasn’t thinking he wanted to come back.”
But as they were speaking, a question popped into Ware’s mind that he felt prompted to ask:
“Elder Hutchens, is your faith sufficient in the eyes of the Lord to come back out on your mission?”
It was a restless night for Hutchens as he considered whether he had the faith to return to his mission for the fourth time. Once he felt sure about his decision, though, Hutchens called Ware back with an answer:
“President, I want you to know that I don’t think my faith is sufficient, but I know that the Lord’s grace, Jesus Christ’s grace, is sufficient enough to carry me where I need to be,” he said.
Four days later, Hutchens flew back to Kennewick, Washington and began preaching the gospel once more.
“Wherever he went as a missionary, he was honest and forthright with people,” said Ware. “He shared his testimony. He explained the gospel very clearly, in simple terms.”
Throughout the remaining 14 months of his mission, Hutchens brought many to the gospel, though he said one of the most important conversions was his own.
“I needed my mission much more than the mission needed me,” he said. “I think that I was my biggest change. I was my biggest convert.”
Recognizing that the content of “The Book of Mormon” musical can be offensive and blasphemous, Hutchens stated that he is nevertheless thankful for the show.
“It changed my life,” he said. “The origin of my membership is ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical and I’m very grateful that I watched it.”
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