PROVO, Utah — A high-scoring basketball player as big and nimble as Yoeli Childs can, of course, create his own opportunities — but he’s still been on the business end of plenty of assists.
Brigham Young University’s star power forward — and a Latter-day Saint convert — said he’s always blessed by Christ-centered examples that help guide his young life.
• First, there is his mother, Kara Childs — a single parent who raised Yoeli and his younger brother, Masay, to be kind, hard-working young men.
“She was not a member of the Church, but she instilled in us great values … and taught us to go out of our way to help others,” he said.
• He’s quick to credit the examples of friends he competed with on youth teams and, later, at Utah’s Bingham High School. Most of them were Latter-day Saints. He was not. But they were never sanctimonious or preachy. They were regular, fun-loving guys.
Still, Childs quietly took note when he watched them rise early on Sundays and head to the local meetinghouse to perform their Aaronic Priesthood duties. He was always invited to join them at church. Sometimes he tagged along.
• Later, he found examples in his teammates and coaches at BYU. He becomes animated at the memory of former Cougar big man (and current NBA player) Eric Mika telling the young freshman that it was time to get serious about the Church and listen to the missionaries.
Childs agreed, and Mika was at his side for every missionary lesson.
• And finally, Child still leans on the day-to-day example of his high school sweetheart, Megan Boudreaux.
A fellow elite athlete who played volleyball at the University of Utah and Utah Valley University, Megan’s quiet testimony taught Childs that joy comes in gospel living. She told him early in their courtship that she planned to marry in the temple.
And Megan never wavered — marrying Yoeli in 2018 in the Payson Utah Temple.
A die-hard Cougar
Each year, many of Utah’s top high school recruits choose to wear Cougar blue. But they’re typically Latter-day Saints.
Given his length and athleticism, Childs could have played at a number of high-end D1 schools.
But he opted for BYU, just a short drive from his home in South Jordan.
He knew that the Church-owned school’s student body was well over 90 percent Latter-day Saints, but he wasn’t worried. He had grown up among members. They were his best friends. They were his teammates.
And, he added, the principles espoused at BYU were essentially identical to those his mother had taught him.
“I knew that just being a good person was really what the Church was all about,” he said.
While navigating the potentially rough waters of being a teenager, young Yoeli had been unknowingly guided by several of his Latter-day Saint teammates and friends.
“They were making great decisions in their lives. They were living right. They were following the commandments. They were doing great things. They just had a certain light about them … and I knew I wanted to be like them.”
After claiming Deseret News MVP honors during his senior year, he adhered to a simple college selection criterion: Attend a school “where my life would be elevated.”
In return, he hoped he could elevate others.
His official visit to BYU, he said, “was amazing — and I’ve been so blessed and fortunate to have the teammates that I have had over the last four years.”
His decision to become a Cougar paid off immediately. He was named to the West Coast Conference (WCC) All-Freshman team while earning a spot on the Commissioner’s Honor Roll. He later claimed all-conference honors following his sophomore and junior seasons.
Choosing BYU “was the best decision I’ve made in my life, besides marrying my wife.”
An eternal connection
Childs became acquainted with Megan at Bingham High. He was a junior and the anchor of the basketball team. She was a senior and the Miners’ star volleyball player. And both were members of the school’s unofficial “long and tall” club. Yoeli stood 6-foot-8-inches tall. Megan was 6-foot-2.
But Childs wasn’t drawn to his future wife because she was a first-rate athlete.
“I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight, but the first time I saw Megan I just knew that she was someone special. … My heart just started going crazy,” he said.
Megan, meanwhile, was drawn to her new friend’s generous personality. He was kind and outgoing, “and I thought he was different than a lot of guys his age. He was always very mature.”
The two began dating. Months later, they knew they were in love. “We sat down, and Megan told me, ‘Just so you know, Yoeli, I’m getting married in the temple.’”
Childs began attending Church meetings with Megan and her family. He wanted to share his life with Megan, but he also knew a true testimony was an individual matter. His decision to embrace the gospel would be between him and the Lord.
“And when I decide to investigate something, I’m all in,” he said.
He began reading the Book of Mormon and soon put Moroni’s promise (Moroni 10:3-5) to the test. He prayed for clarity.
“I could not put the book down. … I remember reading something in Alma one day and realizing, ‘Hey, this is true.’ I knew there was no way that an uneducated kid in New York could just make this up.”
He hoped to become a Latter-day Saint, but it was a big jump. He wasn’t quite ready in high school to be baptized.
In 2016, he began his BYU career. One day, the Cougar’s star center, Eric Mika, asked the young freshman how he felt about the Church. Childs told his teammate that he had read and prayed about the Book of Mormon. He knew that it was true.
“Then we need to get you with the missionaries,” said Mika, a returned missionary.
Soon Childs was meeting with a trio of sister missionaries. “And Eric was with me through that whole journey.”
A month after beginning the missionary discussions, Childs was baptized. Megan, of course, joined him at the ceremony.
Throughout his conversion, the young athlete was repeatedly reminded of the influencing power embodied by the Lord’s people.
“I’ve always thought the best way to spread the gospel is by spreading Christ’s love. You can talk doctrine all you want … but I think the best way to share Christ’s love is to be like Him.”
Two years later, Childs participated in another life-defining ordinance when he and Megan were married in the Payson Utah Temple. A game-winning shot in front of thousands at the Marriott Center, he said, can’t compete with kneeling at the temple altar with his eternal companion.
“Basketball is my passion — and I want to play it for a really long time. But nothing compares to how much I love my wife. Being sealed to her was so special.”
Gifts beyond the hardwood
Becoming a Latter-day Saint forever changed Childs’ personal life. But he’s quick to add his faith has also impacted his performance on the court.
“Being an athlete can be hard. There are so many ups and downs. You can do everything right and still fail. And without faith, it can sometimes feel hopeless. But being a member of Christ’s Church has given me that faith.
“I know I can lean on a power greater than myself.”
Christ-centered examples are self-perpetuating. They know no end. And just as young Yoeli once learned from the examples of his buddies on his youth basketball teams, he’s become an example to other young people.
Yoeli Childs and Megan Childs teach a Sunday School class of 14- and 15-year-olds in the Hillcrest 4th Ward, Orem Utah Hillcrest Stake. Besides being perhaps the most athletic teaching tandem in the Church, Yoeli Childs and Megan Childs are “great examples” to the kids they share the gospel with, said Bishop Douglas Ellis.
“They do a great job, and it’s good for the youth to see people who are excelling in different realms.”
Megan Childs enjoys watching her husband as he is teaching youth or interacting with Cougar fans. He remains her own gospel example.
“Yoeli has a gift for making people feel special,” she said. “He seems to be aware of their needs, and he makes time to do the little things, like taking a little more time to talk to someone.”
The immediate future promises to be exciting for the Childs family. March, of course, is college basketball’s biggest month. Childs and his Cougar teammates are hoping for a deep run in next month’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.
After that, it’s on to the professional ranks. Where Childs will be playing this time next year is anyone’s guess.
“It’s going to be crazy,” he said. “There will be ups and downs and highs and lows. But I’m excited that I get to experience all of it with Megan.”
Yoeli Childs added he finds comfort knowing that wherever he plays, he and his wife will likely find “a built-in community” of fellow Saints.
“And hopefully,” he added, “we will be somewhere near a temple. That would be great.”