Burgess Owens now feels the only reason he played pro football was so he could meet Todd Christensen.
A defensive back for the Oakland Raiders in the late 1970s and early 80s, Owens knew teammates Todd Christensen and Marc Wilson were Latter-day Saints, but he avoided talking about religion with them. "I really never broached the question, because I had very negative impressions about Mormons," Owens said. "I heard Mormons were racist."Owens and Christensen had become friends because both were family oriented, and the two families began spending a lot of time together. In November of 1982, the Christensens invited the Owens family to have Thanksgiving dinner with them. "After dinner," Owens recalled, "we discussed families, the country, freedom and opportunities, but never religion. It was a positive discussion that opened me up to the fact that the Christensens were really good people."
Two weeks later, Todd's wife Kathy invited Josie Owens to attend Church with her. She accepted, went to Sunday meetings and came away impressed, especially with the Relief Society. When her husband arrived home from an away football game that night, she shared her feelings and persuaded him to attend with her the next Sunday. By coincidence, the Raiders were playing a Monday night game at home, freeing up the only Sunday of the season that he could have gone to Church. What he experienced that day started an investigation that changed his life.
"It was all new," recalled Owens of his first LDS meeting, "and absolutely nothing negative occurred."
He and his wife knew they had found the right Church for their family. They began taking the discussions, and were moving toward baptism when they hit a wall - the revelation opening the priesthood to all worthy males. Proud of his black heritage, Burgess Owens was bothered that blacks had not always held the priesthood.
"I stayed up until 4 a.m. reading the Bible and praying," he recalled. His faith wavered, and he felt unsure about the Church. But the next day, the mission president explained the way the Lord works. "He said the Lord would give me just enough to take the first step, and then the Lord wanted me to take the next step on faith," Owens said.
Burgess and Josie Owens resolved to go on faith and follow their feelings. They were baptized New Year's Eve, 1982. "It's amazing how once you take that first step, your faith just grows," said Owens. Sharing that faith, he was later influential in the baptism of nearly a dozen friends. One of those, Dana Kinlow, is now bishop of the Uniondale Ward in New York.
Owens and his wife and two daughters reside in the Plainview 2nd Ward. He was recently called as counselor in the New York New York Mission Presidency.