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In the Book Episode 17: "One Book from Provo to Pakistan: Sean Dixon"

Episode Transcript

“One Book from Provo to Pakistan: Sean Dixon”

Rebecca: [00:00:00] It's the spring of 1989, and Sean Dixon's mom goes out to the mailbox in front of their yard in Provo, Utah to get the mail.

She comes inside and starts to sort the mail.

As she's doing so, she notices a small envelope.

Sean: It's got red ink on the front. It's addressed to me and then there's three big Pakistan stamps. And so she's looking at this letter thinking, Who in the world does my son Sean know in Pakistan?

Rebecca: Pakistan is a country bordered by India to the east, Afghanistan to the west, Iran to the southwest, and China to the northeast, and is the second largest country in South Asia.

Pakistan is the world's fifth most populous country with a population of 241. 5 million people and has the world's largest Muslim population as of [00:01:00] 2023. Roughly 96 percent of the population are Muslim, and the remaining 4 percent include Hindus, Christians, and others.

So what would an 18-year-old Latter-day Saint in Provo, Utah, have to do with Pakistan?

Sean: And so I came home that day from work or wherever I was. And my mom said, “Sean, you gotta check out this letter. You got this letter from Pakistan,” and then she asked me who I knew in Pakistan. I'm like, “Mom, I know nobody in Pakistan.” And she's like, “Well, let's see what this is!”

And so I sat down at the table and opened up the letter. And as I opened up the letter, I was introduced to my new friend, Stephen Anjum.

Rebecca: I'm Rebecca Devonas and you're listening to In The Book.

This is a podcast where we flood the earth with testimonies of the Book of Mormon.

Sean Dixon was raised in Provo, Utah, and has worked for the Church Education System for 29 years as a seminary and institute teacher and administrator.

He is currently the Institute Director of the Utah Valley Institute of Religion and served as the mission president of the California Redlands Mission from 2016 to 2019.

He likes many different sports, spending time with his family, reading good books, and loves being with the youth and young adults of the Church.

Sean is married to his wife, M’Shelle, and they have five children and three grandchildren.

When Sean opened the envelope addressed to him, he read the following letter:

Sean: Dear Sean, my name is Stephen Anjum and I am a Pakistani Christian.

Some times ago I came to know about you and the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ. I went through [00:03:00] this holy book and found that this is real book of God.

I believe that Mormon Church is true and I also believe that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. I believe that it is a gift of God. I hope that anyone who will read it and pray will get blessing of God.

Dear Sean, I wish to be preacher of Holy Mormon. I love that line. I want to get more knowledge about Mormon. Please send me some books in easy English related to Mormons. If you have any representative in Pakistan, then inform me so that I may get more information from him.

And then he gives his mailing address, and then he signs it, your brother in Christ, Stephen Anjum.

So I'm holding that letter in my hand and it still hasn't really clicked in my mind. Okay, how does this man, Stephen Anjum from Pakistan know about me and the Book of Mormon? And as I thought about it, my mind went back to something that I had participated in at my high school seminary, at the Timpview Seminary.

This was back in the late 80s when President Benson was the prophet. [00:04:00] He's known for a lot of things, but maybe most of all for his emphasis on flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon. He gave a great quote on this. I might just paraphrase from it, but he said, “We have the Book of Mormon. We have the members. We have the missionaries. We have the resources. And the world has the need. The time is now. Indeed, I have a vision of flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon.”

Rebecca: So the Timpview High School Seminary responded to that during a week dedicated to missionary work, and did so by participating in something called the Family to Family Book of Mormon Program, where the students would write their name, testimony and return address on a piece of paper and then glue it in a copy of the Book of Mormon.

Sean: I think we gave the seminary teachers $2 for the copy of the book, and then we dumped it in a bin. And then they told us they were going to take those books to Salt Lake and then Salt Lake would ship it out to all the missionaries. So the idea was that a missionary would give this to the people that they were teaching.

So it dawned on me that I had done that, and maybe a couple of [00:05:00] times in my young men's group I had participated in this family to family Book of Mormon activity. I don't know if it was the Book of Mormon at Tempview or it was one of the other times that I had done it, [but] it dawned on me, Okay, somehow one of my copies of the book has made it all the way to Pakistan and this man has it.

And my mom said, “Hey, [there’s a ] guy that works at the missionary department who lives down the street - Richard Millett. Go down to his house and show him this letter.” And so I ran down, knocked on his door. Brother Millett answered the door, invited me in, and I kind of just handed him the letter and I'm like, “Help! What do I do with this?” And he read the letter and he's like, “Wait a minute, how does someone in Pakistan know you?” And I kind of explained this might've been what happened. And he's like, “But there are no representatives of the Church in Pakistan.” And Stephen's letter had said that. It said, if you have any representative in [00:06:00] Pakistan, then inform me. He says, “Those books go out through missionaries. How would a missionary get it to someone in the Middle East?” And I'm like, “I have no clue. What do you want me to do?” And he's like, “Okay, let's do this. This might take a while, but I will contact the Missionary Department and they'll contact the Area Presidency over there,” which was in Hong Kong, so quite a ways from Pakistan. And he said, “In the meantime, you just become his pen pal and just strike up a relationship and teach him the gospel the best that you can. And those two things will hopefully help us to bring the gospel to him.”

So we both went our separate ways. I went back home eagerly; I was in a mission prep class, I was about to leave on my mission. And of course, the first thing I wanted to know is, “How did you get my book? Tell me your side of the story. Tell me all about yourself.” I told him about myself. We kind of introduced ourselves to [00:07:00] each other. And then I basically wrote down the first missionary lesson and just said, “There are no representatives in your country, but in the meantime, I'd love to teach you the gospel and answer your questions.”

So my big question was, “How did you get the book?” And he wrote me a quick answer then, later on he elaborated. So maybe I could read from Stephen's words and he can just tell the story.

He said, “It was summer holidays in 1988. One of my college friends visited me and during conversation, he told me that his elder brother has recently came from England and he has brought a very disgusting book. which is called the Book of Mormon. He invited me to attend his brother's church because his brother was going to deliver a lecture against the Book of Mormon in his church. I look at his face of my friend and asked him, did you or your brother have read the Book of Mormon? Like you're saying, you're telling me this is a disgusting book. Have you read it? He said, “No.” I asked him, can I borrow [00:08:00] that book from your brother? He said, yes, I will give you by tomorrow.

Next day, he sent the Book of Mormon to me and when I saw the book in its title, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, I heard the whisper of Holy Ghost in my heart, telling me that this is a very special book and inviting me to read this book.

For the next two months, June and July 1988, I was trying to find the purpose of the book. I had many questions in my mind but there was no one who could answer my questions except Holy Ghost.

I started research with prayer and one day I was praying at the night time and at once I understood the purpose of the book and it revealed to me that this book was true book. I found that it is a powerful witness of Jesus Christ and at the end of the page I found a brief testimony about the Book of Mormon and Prophet Joseph Smith with mailing address of you.

In 1989, I wrote first letter to you, brother, and I showed my great desire to become member of the Church and to serve the Lord and [00:09:00] to bring souls to Christ.

Rebecca: Sean was able to track down the story of how the book made its way to Pakistan.

In 1986 or 87, the pastor had been given Sean's copy of the Book of Mormon by two missionaries out on the streets preaching the gospel in Bristol, England.

Sean: He leaves Pakistan to go to England to study to be a minister, gets the Book of Mormon from the missionaries, goes back to his leaders in that ministry and said, “What do you think of this book?” And they told him, “It's an evil book. One of your purposes as a minister should be to warn the world about the evils of that and the church that it represents.”

So he decided, okay, great. That's his opinion of it. He puts it in his suitcase. And he flies that book to Pakistan in his suitcase, and I've often thought the Lord has a sense of humor. He brings the Book of Mormon to Pakistan in the suitcase of an antagonist of the Church, right?

And so then when he sets up [00:10:00] his church, one of his first sermons is to preach against that book and Stephen's there.

Stephen went back to the pastor. And he said, “Do you know what's in this book? This book is true. It's beautiful. Do you know where I can find the church that it belongs to?” And the pastor said, wait, wait a minute, [his goal was not] supposed to be to help this man become converted. And so he asked for the book back and Stephen said to him, “Hey, can I just see it for one more minute?” He took it back and that's when he wrote down my address.

So at that point, the book is gone from Stephen's life and all he has is my return address. So when he wrote me the letter, he's just basing it on this scribbled out address that he wrote on a piece of paper. But the pastor now has the book back. And so when Stephen wrote me, he said, “Could you please send me another copy of the book and any other books about Mormons that can teach me more about this religion?”

So I got my family and friends and we all personalized a [00:11:00] box full of copies of the Book of Mormon.

And that's when Stephen became a missionary.

Rebecca: Stephen first started to share the book with his study group of Christian men who would gather at his father's house to eat Pakistani food and talk about politics and religion.

Sean: And so these Christian men would sit around talking. And so Stephen had a place to start. And so he brought those copies of the Book of Mormon, handed them out to these people, his friends. He began to share copies with his friends and family in the area. And so he did this for a little while. And one day I got a letter from Stephen and he said, “Sean, where are the representatives? I have 32 families who take keen interest in this book.” That's how he worded it; “...who take keen interest in this book.” And I just said back to him, “Oh, Stephen, we are trying to get representatives to you. This may take a while. And in the meantime, you just keep teaching them.”

So he was teaching them out of the gospel principles manual. He was having his own little gospel class with this group. And [00:12:00] they became converted. And it was amazing that the far reach and the influence of his early missionary labors and what happened.

Rebecca: One of those people that Stephen reached was his uncle, who lived far away on Stephen's grandfather's farm.

Sean: So he got on a bus, rode eight hours to the nearest town.

And then from there, his grandfather's farm was way out in the desert. So he got on a camel and rode for half a day on a camel in the just blistering heat, arrives at the farm where his uncle lived, which was Stephen's grandfather's house. And the uncle was not there.

And so he didn't have a phone, couldn't call him, couldn't get in contact. So he stayed there for two days waiting for his uncle to get back. And he never came back. So he just left a copy of the Book of Mormon on his uncle's desk with a note. Then he rode the camel back and the eight hour bus ride back home.

And later on, his uncle contacts him, and he's read the Book of [00:13:00] Mormon, and he's converted. And later on, he would become a counselor in the first branch presidency in Karachi, Pakistan.

Rebecca: Eventually the Area Presidency in Hong Kong recognized that there were some expatriate members of the church working for the U. S. Embassy or other organizations who were living in Islamabad, the capital of the country.

They had a little branch of the church that met in one of their homes. Sean said that one Canadian family and two American families was the extent of the church in Pakistan at that time.

Then that little branch got a letter from the area presidency talking about one Stephen Anjum who lived out in Faisalabad.

Sean: So they wrote a letter back and forth to each other and the branch president there, and invited Stephen to come out to Islamabad to meet with them.

Rebecca: So Stephen traveled eight hours on a bus on rickety old roads to Islamabad and attempted to find them with no luck. On his second trip, he couldn't find them either.

Sean: The third time he comes back down to [00:14:00] Islamabad for a conference. It's like a Christian conference. And while he's there, he meets three of his old friends that he grew up with. They participated in kind of Christian youth groups together. And they all get together and they're like, “Oh, we're hungry. Let's go get some food together.”

And so one of them was named Razzaq Gill. And Razzaq Gill said, “I know the perfect spot. And he takes him to this five star hotel.” And Stephen's like looking at his money. He just has barely enough money to get back home.

But Razzaq said, “Don't worry about it.” And he brings him in and he disappears. And then he comes back in this fancy chef's uniform. And he's one of the chefs at the hotel, so he provides them with this beautiful meal. And then at the end of the meal, Stephen said to Razzaq, “You have given me a beautiful gift of this food. Now I want to give a gift to you.” And

he reaches in his bag and he gives Razzaq Gill a copy of the Book of Mormon. And he tells him about it and about the Church that it [00:15:00] represents. And he said, “There are members of that church that are here in this city. I need you to help me find them.”

So Razzaq was really savvy because he was from there. And he and Stephen end up showing up on the doorstep of the home of Robert Simmons, this man that worked for the U. S. Embassy.

They knock on his door and that's the first time Stephen meets a member of the Church. And he gets to attend that sacrament meeting there.

And some of those leaders of the Church decide to go out and see what's going on in Faisalabad because they hear the stories that there are people that are embracing and and so they go out there and a man named Niels L. Martin was the branch president. And here's a letter that he wrote back to the Area Presidency:

“Stephen Anjum's extended family and the families of a number of friends are ready to join the Church. They refer to themselves as members, and while I was there, someone said that there are a number of members out in one village who want to be baptized. I asked how many there are who want to be [00:16:00] baptized, and he said a total of about 100 limited to Faisalabad and the nearby villages, there are no less than 50 who are very serious and who have testimonies.”

Rebecca: The Faisalabad branch reached up to 400 members.

Sean: He gave me a picture once that had the little branch there in Faisalabad and he went through and he named nine people in that branch that had served full time missions for the Church. When he was branch president, he sent a lot of young people out as missionaries either locally or out to other countries.

Rebecca: Stephen's two sons were the first native born members of the church in Pakistan, and his first son, Sharoon, served a full time mission in London, England.

Sean: So it's cool that he's out there proselyting on the streets of England. I don't know how many years ago, 30 years later, something from those two missionaries that gave my copy of the Book of Mormon to that pastor in Bristol, England.

But interestingly enough, that was happening with Stephen and his little group in Faisalabad, but there were others emerging in different cities [00:17:00] of Pakistan with their own stories of how they'd maybe traveled outside of the country and found the Book of Mormon there. So branches just start to spring up through these early pioneers that were there. There's one in Lahore and Karachi as well, and so you start to see the gathering of Israel all happening at the same time. The Lord's just working upon the key people who had become the leaders of the church in the early days of Pakistan.

Rebecca: Sean had been writing to Stephen throughout his mission in Toronto, Canada from 1989 to 1991, and halfway through his mission, sent Stephen another box full of copies of the Book of Mormon.

During that time, the Church had given word authorizing baptism in Pakistan.

Sean: And so when I arrive home, about a week later in my mailbox comes another letter from him telling the story of how he got baptized. And so finally he, they were given that authorization.

The first baptism that took [00:18:00] place, Stephen was trying to get to it, but he wasn't able to because the bus system was down, but Razzaq Gill was part of that first baptism. I think there were about 25 members that were baptized. I have a beautiful picture of them on the beach all dressed in white and then a week or two later the branch leaders went up to Faisalabad and baptized Stephen. So he was just right there in that groundbreaking group, but Razzaq Gill later became the very first full time missionary called from Pakistan to serve abroad. And he up serving in Birmingham, England, and the stories about Razzaq Gill on his mission in England are just legendary. He is a man of so much faith. He's probably 5’1” or 5’2” and his spirit is like 6'8”. He's become a really dear friend of mine as well.

Rebecca: Currently there are thousands of members of the Church in Pakistan.

Senior couples and non proselytizing [00:19:00] native missionaries serve in the country as well.

Sean: And there's a document that I have that shows seven signatures of the first seven members in Pakistan, and Stephen's one of those signatures on that paper. So the Church is recognized, but there are limitations about sharing the gospel. It has to be Christian people coming to them, rather than them reaching out to other people.

Pakistani people just had such beautiful faith that they would read it and just would know. The Holy Ghost would testify to them that it was true, and it's Jesus Christ that's converting these souls, but the Book of Mormon is just helping to facilitate. It’s the instrument, and Jesus is the power, right? He's everything, and the Book of Mormon teaches Jesus Christ.

Rebecca: Sean and Stephen finally met after 17 years of communicating back and forth.

Sean: We got to fly to England and be there in the temple when Stephen and Thomsena were endowed. Wee [00:20:00] were their escorts through the temple, and it was unreal, this moment. WGo downstairs and we're in this lobby. And the first one to walk out is Thomsena. She comes around the corner and she sees us and she comes running and she hugs us. And we have this moment with Thomsena.

And then out of the door comes Stephen and he turns around the corner and me and him just see each other. And just embrace, and he just whispers in my ear, he's like, “My brother.”

It was the coolest moment. So that had been 17 years. Then we meet their little boys and have this moment, and the next morning they were endowed and then Stephen and Thomsena were sealed.

I’m sitting there in that sealing room as a witness thinking like, “What's this kid from Provo doing in England, witnessing the sealing of a Pakistani couple? You know, it was just so surreal. And then the door opens and Sharoon and Rochelle come in and they kneel around the altar. I watched this Pakistani family become sealed together forever.

Rebecca: [00:21:00] Years have gone by since then. Some things happened in their home country that caused Stephen and Thomsena and their boys to flee for their safety, and they became refugees in England.

They left a whole life behind. A life where they were leaders, were successful in their community and made such a difference to the growth of the Church in Pakistan.

The hardships they faced in England were real and now it's their home.  

But they would make a trip back to Pakistan that would bring them to the book that had started all of this.

Stephen reached out to Sean saying that they were flying back to Pakistan to attend a funeral. While there, they attended a family wedding as well, and while they were at the wedding, they looked across the aisle and Stephen noticed the pastor from 30 years earlier who had given him a [00:22:00] copy of the Book of Mormon, and then taken it back.

Sean: Stephen was curious. Like he wanted to know if the pastor still had that book. And so he approached the pastor. He went up to him after and he introduced himself and the pastor knew him. And he said, “I'd like to meet with you at my church and school tomorrow morning.”

So the next morning they show up bright and early at his church and he invites them into his office. So they're sitting in his office and the man is talking to them and Steven looks beyond him. He's at his desk, and he sees this blue paperback book in the library. And he's thinking, “Is that possibly the copy of the Book of Mormon?” The pastor excused himself. He went out for just a few minutes, and Stephen ran up, pulled it off, opened it up, and there's my testimony. It's for sure that actual copy of the book.

He doesn't know what to do. He said he felt a little bit like Nephi trying to get the plates from Laban, but he smartly went and put it back in and then sat back down.

[The pastor] took him on a little [00:23:00] walk around the streets. [They] noticed there were a lot of homeless people on the streets who were strung out on drugs and alcohol. He kind of showed him that, and then takes him back to his office, pulls the copy of the Book of Mormon down and says, “I have been waiting for you.” He said, “When I first had this book, my only introduction to it was that it was this disgusting, evil book. When I took it back from you, I saw the native missionaries out in the streets talking about this, and I would warn them. I would try to dissuade them.” And then he said, “but after a while, I couldn't do that anymore because I saw their lives were changing. In contrast to the people we just saw on the streets, these people were changing their lives. And I realized that book wasn't evil and the Holy Ghost told me to get it back to you. And so I've been waiting. I knew you would come and I've been waiting for this day for all these years.”

Rebecca: It came full circle for Sean, too. At age 52, [00:24:00] Sean held that original copy of the Book of Mormon that had made its journey in at least two airplanes, over one ocean and three or four seas, and across three continents to Stephen Anjum.

Sean: About a year later, we had an occasion to be able to get the Anjums to Utah.

And Stephen said, “Sean, do you want to hold the book?” And so just last year there I was with Steven Anjum in my basement in Spanish Fork, Utah holding that copy of the Book of Mormon that I hadn't seen for all of those years.

Rebecca: And I'm sure by now you're dying to know what Sean had written in that copy of the Book of Mormon.

Sean: It just says,

I know that this book is a true history.

I I know the Book of Mormon to be true.

I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of god.

I know that he translated this book.

I know that the Mormon Church is true.

I hope that you will read it and pray about it,

and the Lord will give you a feeling that it's true.

And then I have my [00:25:00] address, and then

P. S. I'm praying for you.

Rebecca: That's my favorite part!

Sean: It's interesting, now that I'm 52, my testimony is the same. It has many more layers to it. Much more depth to it. But that basic testimony that drove me as a teenager to go serve a mission, is the same testimony that drives me today as a former mission president and you know, in my work with seminaries and institutes now for about 30 years. All of those years of experience haven't really changed the simple testimony that I have there in a sense of it's layered, but it's still the same. It's true. I know that with all of my heart.

And maybe it's a little bit like Joseph Smith, like the Lord sometimes uses the most simple things to help bring about his great purposes.

The scripture that I think sums this up from the Book Mormon for me is Alma 37:6-7. It says, “Now you may suppose that this is foolishness in me, but behold, I say unto you that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass. And small means in many instances doth confound the wise, and the Lord God doth work by means to bring about His great and eternal purposes. By very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” (Alma 37:6-7)

And I have to say, that was such a simple testimony and such a simple act. Like I wasn't thinking I was doing anything special at all. It was merely just following the instructions, writing something out and dropping it in a bin.

And it really is the Book of Mormon that does all the heavy lifting in this story with Stephen. It's its own missionary. I just simply launched it out there into the world. Anybody could have done that.

And it's kind of come full circle because Elder Rasband reissued the same challenge to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon.

Rebecca: In that October 2022 [00:27:00] conference, elder Rasband had said, “As an Apostle of the Lord, I invite you to follow our beloved prophet, President Nelson, in flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon. The need is so great. We need to act now. I promise that you will be participating in the greatest work on earth, the gathering of Israel, as you are inspired to reach out to those who have been kept from the truth because they know not where to find it. They need your testimony. and witness of how this book has changed your life.”

Sean: The Book of Mormon has absolutely revolutionized my life. It is what has drawn me close to the Savior, Jesus Christ. It's what's helped me to want to live as the Savior does. It drives me to repent and change. And I've been a witness throughout my life of how reading the Book of Mormon has filled me with a desire to be a missionary and to share it with other people and that's a witness that nobody can ever [00:28:00] take away from me.

Rebecca: Along with Elder Rasband, and following Sean's example, I want to invite you who is listening to get a copy of the Book of Mormon and write your testimony in it. Give it to the missionaries to hand out or give it to someone yourself. If not a physical copy, send the Book of Mormon app to a friend with your testimony of it.

And who knows, it could make its way around the world.

Has the Book of Mormon changed your life? Send your story to inthebook@scripturecentral.org.

This is a Scripture Central podcast and I produced this episode with script contributions by Ryan Kunz. I'm Rebecca Devonas, and this is In The Book.[00:29:00]