Dallas members 'not fancy; just steady, sincere'

Mirrored skyscrapers dominating the downtown Dallas landscape reflect more than wealth and prosperity - they symbolize independent entrepreneurs who have come here to find the American dream.

But for many thousands of Latter-day Saints, a more apt symbol of their lives probably is the Dallas Texas Temple, located in a wooded residential area in North Dallas.Dedicated in 1984, the temple, with its gray-white marble veneer, represents the spiritual riches of Dallas' Latter-day Saints. When it was announced and built, the temple sparked a lot of opposition in this Bible Belt city. However, much of the negative feelings have mellowed, and some of the local religious leaders have re-evaluated their feelings about the Church because of the temple, said Pres. Douglas Brinley of the Texas Dallas Mission.

"We're not where we ought to be when it comes to missionary work," Pres. Brinley said. "But we're on the threshold."

Missionary work isn't easy, he said. Most of the people here attend churches and are content with their religions. In some of the businesses, it's not uncommon for employees to have an office prayer each day. Investigators mainly come from member referrals or among the large numbers of people moving into Dallas. The city's two Asian branches are among the fastest growing in the mission, Pres. Brinley reported.

For the Church to prosper in Dallas, said Elder Stephen Winn from Idaho Falls, Idaho, the missionaries need to understand the background of Texans - their independence and pride.

"To be successful here," added his companion, Elder Peter Samoona from Detroit, Mich., "you just have to think like a Texan."

Through the years, the Church's growth in Dallas has been steady, with strong LDS families moving in from other parts of the country and hundreds of converts joining the Church each year, local leaders report.

At the end of 1987, the three stakes within the city - Dallas, Dallas East and Plano - had nearly 11,000 members in 23 wards and six branches. In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the Church has two missions, 10 stakes and 31,583 members.

Of the Dallas stakes, Plano enjoyed the fastest growth rate last year at 8.2 percent. It also had the highest rate of attendance at sacrament meetings, at 56 percent.

"We try to follow the Church program," explained Pres. L. Hilton Kennedy of the Plano Texas Stake. "We don't try to do anything fancy or unusual. We just try to make an effort to give personal attention to individuals."

Two years ago, the stake was struggling to improve its home teaching, the stake president said. New elders quorum presidents were called, some of them recent converts, and more people began to be visited and attendance at meetings also improved.

Another area the stakes have emphasized has been public relations. In each ward, public communications directors have been called and trained. Last quarter, stake public communication specialists helped place 1,000 column inches of articles about the Church in the area's newspapers. These efforts have helped non-members gain a better perception of the Church, Pres. Kennedy said.

An engineer, the stake president works for a company that builds data-processing equipment. He moved to Dallas from the Southeast, where he grew up attending Church in a home Sunday School.

On Sundays, he prepared the sacrament, blessed it, often gave a 21/2-minute talk and taught a Sunday School lesson. He feels strongly about youth participating actively in their wards and stakes. One unit in his stake where the youth program is especially strong is the Plano 3rd Ward.

Recently, the ward had 30 members turn out to work at the stake welfare farm while another large group of adults and youths filled a temple assignment. During a three-month period, the ward's youth performed 3,500 baptisms for the dead.

"There's a tremendous amount of faith among the members in general, and that produces an environment for growth and learning," said Bishop Steven Passey of the Plano 3rd Ward. "They're a caring people. Sometimes the statistics don't always reflect the quality of the work that's going on in the ward."

After a successful youth conference in March, most of the ward's youth shared their testimonies at the next fast meeting.

"There was such an outpouring of appreciation and concern for one another that it was just an incredible experience," Bishop Passey said. "I had made several attempts to conclude the meeting, but the youths were so sincere and the spirit so strong, I just let it continue.

"Our youths aren't perfect by any means," he added. "But whenever they are involved in meaningful service activities, they respond."

A willingness of members to serve also is one of the strengths of the Dallas Texas East Stake, said Pres. Jerry Dean Tousa.

Pres. Tousa, an assistant high school football coach, joined the Church in 1965, largely because of the example of his wife, Mary Lynn. She was born and reared in the Church in St. George, Utah.

A pair of dedicated stake missionaries from the Dallas 1st Ward worked with him for a long time, but still he wouldn't commit to baptism. Finally, one of the missionaries asked him why he didn't just get down on his knees and pray.

"That was the turning point," he said. He has since served in several Church callings and now presides over a stake with 10 units and more than 3,500 members.

"We're very diverse, both ethnically and economically," he said. The stake has more than 250 members in a Spanish Branch and another 100 members in its Asian Branch.

He said being a football coach has helped him as stake president, and his Church job has helped him as a coach. The stake leader prefers working with high school-aged youths because they are still impressionable.

"The fact that I have a testimony of the gospel helps me keep things in proper perspective," he said. "They take football seriously in Texas, but it's still a game. There's no justification for athletics unless it's affecting young people for the better."

In the Dallas Texas Stake, Kathleen Shelley, Relief Society president of the Irving 2nd Ward, is an attorney who works with all ages from infants to the elderly. She handles immigration and adoption cases. She and her husband, John, who retired from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, work out of an office in their home.

"We found so many who needed help," she said. "The main thing I like about it is the different people we get to know."

She joined the Church while she was a law student at the University of Texas in the late 1950s. She and her sister studied together with the missionaries. The feisty law student, one of only four women in the law school, wanted to show "just how wrong these people are."

Though she debated with the missionaries, she found she already believed most of the things they were teaching. She was baptized Oct. 4, 1958.

Karl Kuby also was baptized in the late 1950s. An immigrant from Germany, Kuby and his wife, Ria, came to south Texas with little money.

"My wife and I were really humbled," he said. "I worked for nearly nothing. I mean we had to really struggle. It humbled me so much that my heart was opened when these missionaries came."

He gave two missionaries a ride while driving home from work one day in San Juan, Texas. If he had stayed in Germany, he believes, he probably never would have been ready to accept a new religion.

"I needed something," he said. "The pride was melted away."

After his baptism, Kuby moved to Dallas, opened his own cafe and delicatessen and has now built it into a thriving business, located near Southern Methodist University. Last year he fulfilled one of his long-time dreams and opened a first-class German restaurant.

"I work hard and work many, many hours," he said. "It's sometimes hard to converse and tell people about the gospel. So I think the number one thing we always need to emphasize is the temple."

The temple, for Kuby and other members here, is a symbol of the faith they want to share.

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