On the desk were 40 books on religion and 30 tapes of religious speeches. Covey headed back to his car, where the trunk held a key ring packed with scriptures to memorize as he walked door to door, along with stacks of religious pamphlets, tapes, books and films. In the corner, almost hidden, lay a deflated football. Covey had thrown it three times in his first year in South Africa, winced at the wobbling results and then left it in the trunk to exhale quietly. He had written home and told his parents to stop sending articles about BYU's championship after receiving the first two or three.
Before the mission let him rent a Toyota Corolla for about $20 a month, he had worn out the seats of two pairs of pants going door-to-door on a bicycle. His thighs had become so thick from riding as many as 30 miles a day, he could no longer yank his Levi's over them. The brakes wore out on his bike, and then the soles of his shoes wore out from being dragged on the streets as brakes.
"Most missionaries work 60 hours a week," says G. Phillip Margetts, president of the 12,000-member South African mission. "Sean Covey works 70 to 80. He's the hardest-working missionary I've ever seen."
The more difficult his mission became, the more tightly Covey wrapped it around himself. Working mostly in white areas of South Africa his first year, he was bucking one of the most stubborn human clans on earth. The Afrikaners have all but welded church and state, interpreting the Bible to mean that God had tapped them as His chosen race to carve a civilization amid the black tribes of Africa and to propagate the Dutch Reformed Church. They quote verses from the Bible that they claim sanction apartheid. They stiffen at the sight of Mormon foreigners urging Afrikaners to defect. Funny, back in America it was the Mormons whom many considered racists, the church having forbidden blacks to be priests until its prophet received a divine message to the contrary in 1978.
On Dec. 21, the day his teammates played in the Holiday Bowl, Covey was teaching a woman about his church, despite her husband's threat to kill him if he continued. Some Dutch Reformed ministers told their congregations that the missionaries were Communists and spies and polygamists. (Actually, the Mormons stopped taking multiple wives nearly a century ago.) Ministers told people they would burn in hell if they converted.
"You're Mormons, aren't you?" one Afrikaner asked a pair of American missionaries as he watered his lawn.
"Yes, sir, we are."
"You believe in baptism by immersion, don't you?"
"That's right, sir."
"Good," he said, turning the nozzle and soaking them. For Mormons, a missionary's mission is converting souls, not feeding the hungry or winning voting rights. When Covey got into houses, he was under orders not to discuss apartheid or politics. But often he went days without getting past a single door, sometimes bicycling 10 miles back to his apartment through driving rain. The frustration drove him to work harder. Didn't the value of a thing come not from what you gained from it, but from what it cost you?