Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thank God for the People of the Light (AL)

Is the gospel really good news?

Yes, to me it was wonderful news, when I became a convert. You see, I had thought everything in the world was dirty and corrupt. I thought nobody was honorable, and me the lowest most despicable person of all. I had tried and tried to become the person I wanted to be, the person who lived up to all my ideals, and time and again I had fallen short, to the point that I had lost all hope. I was mired in disappointment and sorrow, seeing everything as bleak and cheerless in all the corridors of human discourse. I despaired of my species, and of myself. I wished for nothing so much as black nothingness forevermore. Anything to blot out this gray dreary horror of living. I collected up, like Vanya Karamazov, tales of the most brutal, evil, despicable deeds done against the innocent. I knew there could be no God, for how could he allow such things to happen? And if he did somehow allow them, then I cared nothing for any secret plan he might have to justify them. No conceivable plan could be worth such horrors. If God allowed those things then he was an evil God, and I wanted nothing to do with him.

But then I met some people who seemed unlike the rest of humanity. People who spread light wherever they went. Religious people. I had always thought people like that were rather simple minded or ignorant. Good people, but not very intelligent, maybe. I had always dismissed their fantastic tales, the wild theories with no hard evidence to back them. That was not a direction I had ever thought to consider seriously. I wasn’t like that, all pie-in-the-sky hopeful and willfully blind. I saw the truth, I thought. I faced grim reality, rather than making up pleasant fairy tales with which to comfort myself.

But the people of the light finally opened a tiny chink in my armor of cold rationality. I finally realized that I was hopeless and didn’t have a clue how to live. They seemed so happy and good, though humble and not at all pushy. They always had something to share, some joke or happy story of something that happened in their strong and loving families. My own family had been rather bitter and harsh, at times, and still was. Put-downs were the way it operated, with force and dominance games, and lots of mutual contempt. We constantly butted heads and wills. Not so these families of the light people. Everyone seemed to respect each other in their families and indeed loved each other, showing it constantly in numerous ways.

I was struggling, and they were praying for me. I was warmed by that, though I felt sure they were deluded. Deluded that anyone was listening to their prayers, and surely deluded that there was any hope for a sad case such as myself.

Finally at my darkest hour, I cried out for divine assistance, desperate enough and crazy enough to try, feeling silly and childish, but still calling with all my strength. Somehow it had dawned on me that it was just barely possible that those people were telling the simple truth about where all that power and joy they had was coming from. Somehow I hoped without hoping, believed without believing, enough to cry out for succor with all the energy of my soul.

An answer came instantly. I was calmed, and peace enveloped me. My mind eased. The situation suddenly became not so intolerable after all. I felt unaccountably sleepy. Drying my tears, I went to sleep. Since then the divine presence has never completely left me. I feel it more powerfully at some times than at others. It eventually led me to the church, and into the waters of baptism. From the day of my confirmation, my baptism by fire, the Holy Spirit has not left me entirely. If I ever start to stray or slack off, I know exactly what I need to do to get it back. I pray with my whole heart, read scriptures, strive to follow the commandments to the best of my ability, and I’m again made whole. I’m renewed. I’m healed in spirit and feel peace and that infinite love.

I’m a child again, and the whole world is bright and new, innocent and sweet as a newborn kitten, with all the promise of joy and beauty and solid contentment as that first day of summer back when we were small, when the days and weeks of careless play stretched into the future as far as we could imagine.

So yes, absolutely the gospel was and is unalloyed good news to me. I’m so lucky that I can never forget that truth now. I’m so blessed with this limitless faith. It’s a marvelous gift of life. A well that never goes dry. It’s all the metaphors in the bible, and more. It’s beautiful, plentiful, plain and precious good news.

Submitted by Sister B.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

If Someone As "Regular" As Sheila Could Be a Mormon (Scotland)

An atypically hot summer’s afternoon in a Scottish suburb found me looking curiously through the glass doors of a Mormon Church building. A kindly lady came out and asked if she could help me. I told her I wanted to join the Church, and, seeming a little taken aback (probably feeling a LOT taken aback), she invited me in and introduced me to a young man who she felt would be able to answer any questions I had.

His name was Jim, and he was preparing to serve a mission. His calling as ward librarian had fortuitously brought him to the meetinghouse that day, and he supplied me with copies of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, the last two of which I had been most curious to see for myself.

Some months before, I had started my own personal research project into “Mormonism,” using the resources of the public library system. Books such as The Mormon Story and Meet the Mormons, two publications geared towards nonmembers in the 1960s and ’70s, had given me a reasonable overview of the faith, and I yearned to know more. I consumed Talmage’s Articles of Faith and Jesus the Christ, borrowing every book on the Church that I could find. I was fascinated by the story of Joseph Smith, and unaccountably drawn to photographs of the temples published in some of these books.

My upbringing in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, while giving me a good grounding in Christianity, had not satisfied my spiritual seeking, nor had my investigations into the Baptist Church, or other world religions such as Judaism, although I identified very strongly with the Jewish faith.

That initial contact with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the direct result of the willingness of a family of members to be completely upfront and enthusiastic about sharing their beliefs with everybody they could. I had never met them, but they were a shining example of family life and clean living, excellent ambassadors for the Church and a byword for wholesome, American Mormonism. They were the Osmond family, and many years later I was able to meet their parents in person and thank them for helping me to change my life.

My parents, on the other hand, good, hardworking people, were completely thrown by my interest in this bizarre sect. They knew next to nothing about the Church, and while my father never did show any interest in learning more, my mother was anxious enough about what I was getting into to accompany me to a Sunday School service (yes, this was in the days before the block programme) to see for herself the kind of people that Mormons really were. She was astonished to meet a lady who worked across the street from her own workplace, and who through the years continued to demonstrate to my family everything that was good and positive about the Church. That encounter set my mother’s mind at rest to some degree; if somebody as “regular” as Sheila could be a Mormon, then it would very possibly be safe for me to have something to do with the Church, too.

However, this did not mean that my parents were willing to give their permission for me to be baptized. As I was only 14 at the time, they were naturally concerned for me, but I was equally concerned that here I was, trying to do the right thing and follow the Saviour, and it wasn’t happening. Several sets of missionaries and eighteen months later, the revelation broke upon me that this was, as Sister Dew so succinctly puts it, “only a test.” The Lord was allowing me to wait in order to prove I was sincere about joining his Church. Though countless attempts to persuade my parents to agree to my baptism had failed, I now walked through to the living room, asked them again, and after a short conversation, they signed the necessary paperwork. It was as simple as that.

That evening, a very wet, typically Scottish spring evening, I arrived late for sacrament meeting and was met by one of the missionaries. “How many people are getting baptized this Friday?” I asked him.

“Six,” he replied. (Those were the days, you British folk out there!)

“Make that seven,” I told him, and left him speechless as I went to wring out my raincoat.

That was thirty-three years ago last week, and not once, not even on the toughest of days on my mission in London, did I ever regret my decision to join the Church. From that has come all the things I hold most dear: the gospel of Jesus Christ and my testimony of it, my husband and son, my friends, my health and knowledge, and my understanding of what the Lord wants me to do in this life. The gospel has served as my bedrock, and like no other thing possibly could, it guides me and gives me hope. I love it!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

My life and everything has been changed. (India)

I grew up in a life-style that most non-members would consider ordinary. School was a great time that I will never forget and it gives me a different perspective on life having been on both sides of the fence. In high school (Intermediate) at age 16 was an interesting one. I was not much interested in going to church except for (to see) friends. I was attending a Baptist church and C.S.I. (Church of South India). It was the same thing over and over. So I was not very excited in going to any churches. My extended family are all Christians.

My friend from college was talking to me about her church. She had invited me to a Church and introduced me to missionaries. I attended the Church. Missionaries who were from India asked me “you seem very interested in the Church. Is it OK if missionaries come over to your house?” I replied with a yes. They had called me to set up a day and time to meet. There were some problems in the home with my parents, so I had told the Elders if it was OK to meet at the Church.
Few days later they told me to pray about getting baptized, and I did. I felt that good and peaceful feeling to be baptized. Before we did set up a date and time, I had to talk to my parents about it first.
I was talking to my parents about it and, it did not go as well as I hoped. But I felt I should be baptized on March 17 no matter what comes on way. I wanted my friends to be there and take a part of my baptism since my parents were not really happy with my decision.
Because of my friend, she has changed my life in so many ways. Because of her, I can return to my Heavenly Father. Because of her, I can serve my Heavenly Father. Because of her, I found the true Church. Because of her, I found the church that could answer all the questions to my prayers.
My friend met missionaries very interestingly. Her cousin’s brother was interested in collecting different types of dollars from foreigners around the world and they happened to meet the missionaries and my friend was interested to take the discussions. Her mother was Christian and her father was a Hindu so it was very hard on her to join the church. So she secretly joined the church but her parents came to know later.
It was definitely hard for me to be only church member from my family as I did not receive much support initially. But as I kept coming to church my testimony about the church and Book of Mormon was strengthened and was active ever since then. Then, after two years I met this wonderful young man (Praveen Sumarajan) who just returned from his mission. We got married and were sealed in the Hong Kong China temple.
We were sealed on September 20, 2006 in the Hong Kong China temple and it was just the two of us. As it very hard to afford to go we went alone, it was really very hard to save so much money and it required much sacrifice. But nothing is impossible if we have strong desire to go the temple and make covenants. But I am glad we made it. I know that nothing in this world would give so much peace than being in the temple.
My husband joined the LDS church when he was 12 years old. His elder brother joined the church first and then my husband and then his second brother joined. My husband’s parents were from Kerala and they are also Christians. He served his mission from 2001-2003 in India and all three brothers and their families are strong and sealed in temple.
There was one question which always bothered me before joining church. Why am I here? Why did I ever born on this earth? I am happy that the lord answered my questions through THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS.
Ever since that decision which I have taken, my life and everything has been changed. I can say I am truly converted. My attitude towards life has changed. I know the purpose of my life. The Lord has blessed me abundantly in all things and protected me from all dangers of this world for which I am ever grateful to my Heavenly Father. I know that this is the only true church and Jesus is my Savior.

Quoted from "New Author - Sangeetha from India: My Conversion Story" - (As If From the Dust)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gaining Insight Through Enduring to the End (WA)

My own "conversion" has been a process over time, including a long stretch of inactivity.

A couple years ago we bought a small business, left where we'd lived for about ten years, and moved into the boondocks. This was maybe two years after I returned to the church - after about thirteen years away. I wanted to know if buying the business was the right thing to do, so I took it to the temple. I got one of those clear as a bell answers: "This will be a blessing in the lives of your employees, business partners, and family." I recall thinking "nothing for me" at the time. But, in general, I thought this answer meant that we were going to be very successful, and that the Lord was now going to bless us materially for the changes I'd made in my spiritual life.

Move forward about eighteen months later: We have bled money, lost just about everything we have, put family money in jeopardy, and I have worked myself into total spiritual and emotional exhaustion. I'm constantly wondering, "Is this what the Lord had in mind, or have I screwed up somewhere." To say things have been trying and stressful would be an understatement. For several months I got less than three hours of sleep a night, not knowing how I was going to pay the thousands of dollars in bills we had coming in constantly above and beyond our revenue stream. And things just kept breaking. Throughout, I would get the comfort that comes from the companionship of the Holy Ghost, but nothing in terms of direction that I earnestly and constantly sought. We sold the business, and this year dealt with the aftermath.

All along I'm thinking, surely things will not get worse than they are now. Surely something will come along to save the day. Then about June (when we were in danger of losing the place we lived) I got an answer that said, "Things are going to get worse; you should find your strength in service in the church." And boy have things did get worse … but now it was expected. I began to see myself in a new way. I began asking myself, "When all the trapping are stripped away, who and what am I?" When I've got no peg to hang my ego on. Who am I when I have to basically beg for help? I never turned away from my rather stressful and time-consuming church calling, however much I had lost confidence in my own ability to act the leader, but I did begin to see that I had some substance without titles or ownership - and that has been an amazing blessing.

As for the answer to the earlier prayer, that has become so apparent. I'm in frequent communication with several of my old employees. They ask for advice, sound me out about things, tell me their news. One young girl tells me that they call the days when I owned the restaurant the "Golden Age of (Me)." I can't think about that conversation without weeping, if I'm alone. She told me how good it was, and what she learned about working and life. That makes me so happy - certainly not the blessing I had expected, but one that maybe runs deeper than the financial success I'd hoped for.

Now I'm living in the basement of a friend, saving money so we can get back into the mix. And that may turn out to be a blessing for him and for us, too.

One of the things that has nearly broken through this is my marriage. My wife is not a member. Very much not a member. In the past, she would even roll her eyes when we drove past a meeting house. We met when I was at my farthest point away from the church. She is an extremely bright, very unique woman. We've been friends, and have a lot of similar ways of viewing things. But as I've given up slowly on my old ways of living, some gaps have obviously emerged between us. This last year has certainly taken its toll on her. I can't tell you how many times I've pleaded with the Lord about what to say to help my wife, what to say to help my marriage. Never any answer. Pure silence. "Why," I ask, "can I so easily get answers to my prayers when I'm preparing to teach a lesson, but when it comes to this most important thing, silence?"

Recently, we had a fight about Proposition 8, and (I think) about how our attitudes and ideas about sex had changed over the last few years. She didn't speak to me for almost three weeks. Literally, didn't speak to me. Except when absolutely needed, and to let me know she had no idea what "an awful person you've become." I was vacillating between rage and acquiescence, trying to be kind followed by returning hurt for hurt. Then, while I was driving to work, praying and thinking, an idea, a sure idea, came into my head, about my wife - about who she is and some of things that make life difficult for her. I can't tell it, because this is a public forum. But it caused me to rethink our whole relationship, from day one, and to see her as so much more wonderful than who I'd seen before. I don't know if I'd have been open to this answer a year ago, but now I can see my way clearly. After that insight, we had a really great conversation, looking back over old ground with new eyes - and I feel like I'm her friend again, which is the absolute only thing that I care about.

Anyway, the whole thing can be hard. What we want and what God wants for us are rarely the same. Usually they aren't even in the same vicinity. He wants us to give up the world, and we want everything in the candy jar. We do not know where following His advice will lead us.

Submitted by Bro. P.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I Thank You for the Peace (California)

It was a normal November day on campus two years ago, when out of my PO Box I pulled a bubble-wrapped manila envelope, addressed in the neat, curly script of my former girlfriend. I don’t remember whether I saw her letter or the Book of Mormon first, but I’ll never forget her words. “I’m sure when you opened the package you saw what it contained,” she wrote. “I hope you don’t hate me for it.”

Then, I was confused. Why would I hate her?

Sure, I wasn’t religious, I was an agnostic. Maybe by default; religion was never really discussed in my house growing up. But though I was pretty doubtful about the prospects of God existing, I had long since passed the middle-school militant atheist phase. I looked upon religion with a sort of detached, bespectacled curiosity. “Why would people believe those things?” I wondered idly. My younger sister had become a nondenominational Christian a couple years earlier, but she rarely talked about it, and I didn’t ask.

The universe made sense to me without a God; so stepping my foot forward in faith felt like stepping into a chasm. The first big question I had was something along the lines of “This is interesting. So?”

Some of the passages in the Book of Mormon were inspiring and profound, but I wasn’t sure how to evaluate the church’s claims to truth – especially given the size of the worldview shift those claims represented. That same confusion carried me through several other brushes with the Church. Still, when we broke up again the next June, whatever I had learned about Mormonism wouldn’t be worth much, I thought then. Two experiences helped convince me otherwise.
The first experience was the next time I walked into a church: December 24, 2006. Our family goes to church every Christmas Eve; a weird tradition for a nonreligious family, I suppose. The church was Methodist, my mother’s childhood faith. I found the atmosphere odd: the pastor’s sermon was strong, yet somehow empty of passion, and moreover, she was overshadowed by a digital display screen. Now, I’d say the church felt empty of the Spirit. Then, it just didn’t feel right.

I left Christmas Eve services with a desire to go to a church that felt more real. So I went to the local Mormon ward on New Years’ Eve, and left with a much more positive impression. Then it was back to school.

I didn’t really know my roommate before we decided to room together. I had entered the draw with two girls, making me short a roommate. Scouting out the other males at the in-house draw, I noticed an older student I’d seen around at the student newspaper, where I worked as a copy editor. Two minutes’ awkward conversation followed: neither of us drank or partied, and we were both quiet studiers in search of a roommate. After choosing a room, he turned to me and said: “So, what was your name again?” Not that I knew his — or that he was a Mormon.

J. went to church every Sunday, leaving the room regularly around 1:15 p.m. for services starting at 1:00 p.m.. But he rarely mentioned his faith, and I was content to watch him come and go. That all changed one Sunday afternoon in February. An observer might have squinted in the bright sun to catch me walking down the steps of Ricker Dining, returning from a late brunch. But inside, I was nurturing only darkness.

Surges of self-contempt surrounded me, seemingly helpless in my battle against a persistent personal demon. I approached my room: there stood J., clad in suit and tie and heading out. Sensing it was now or never, I summoned my voice and my courage.“Could you wait a few minutes?” I asked him. “Sure,” he replied, looking surprised. Quickly throwing on shirt and tie, I ran out the door with him. To a new church. Towards a new life.

I don’t remember a lot specifically about what happened that day in church. I do remember that when I came back that afternoon, the demon was gone. It has since fled farther than I had thought possible.

At first, I only had one friend at church (Joseph) - two, when I saw my friend BJ there. And then, I suddenly had many, including the full-time missionaries, if they count: Elders P., Elder C., and Elder M. Other faces that float to mind, whose attached names escape me.

Knowing church members gave me the first inkling the Mormons had something to offer. I had watched and admired Amelia’s family; I knew Joseph as a good roommate and human being. But as I came Sunday after Sunday, I kept discovering good person after good person, all striving to improve themselves, to do better, to love more. Does that statement approach the clichĂ©? Yes. But it’s true.

Church lessons were interesting and powerful, reminding me of things I knew but too often forgot, and teaching me new things applicable to my life. Like in a lesson on service, when K. pointed out that listening to others is a form of service often overlooked. I kept coming, in short, because I felt uplifted. Meanwhile, around April, the missionaries started to visit me and teach me more about the gospel. And pieces fit together that never fit together for me when considering more mainstream Christian doctrine. To explain, let me repeat a story my mother told me.

When she was eighteen – though it’s weird to think of her at my age – she attended a Baptist church. Once, staying after church, she asked the minister’s wife why people of remote African tribes, who never heard the Gospel, still went to hell. The reply? “They should have known.”

They should have known? How, exactly? My mother didn’t think much of that answer. Neither do I.

I don’t remember exactly when I heard Church doctrine on this point, but it certainly made sense to me. “There are many,” wrote Joseph Smith, “who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.”

Through ordinances performed for the dead, I learned, everyone will get their chance to be taught the Gospel and accept it, or not. The missionaries taught me other Church doctrines and practices: no infant baptism, a lay ministry staffed by volunteers, a prophet and apostles in modern times as in old. And the teachings started to make sense, in that they were internally coherent. If I were a Christian, I thought, I’d be a Mormon.

If. I still lacked an essential element: belief.
As spring quarter ended, I moved to Florida for a summer newspaper internship. In Florida, I continued going to church at the local LDS ward. Their warmth overwhelmed me, and I quickly became friends with a mid-30s real estate agent and avid Lord of the Rings fan, Brother P. I kept meeting with the missionaries.

My friends multiplied one Sunday afternoon, when, hanging out at Bro. P's house after church, he got a call asking for help moving a ward family into their new house. Coming along with a Baptist friend of his, I met a host of other young families. Bro. P. soon had a family too — he married his wife in mid-July. A lot of names, a lot of faces, but one common attribute: in each, qualities I aspired to.

Simple charity. Bro. P. always had house-guests, friends in a hard spot he let sleep in a guest bedroom. While driving, he sang a love song into his then-fiance’s voicemail. Now, they drive ride-less teenagers to seminary class at 5:30 in the morning. Mixed worldly wisdom and childlike innocence. After church, I’d watch E. and D. attack each other with yardsticks, playfully jousting while shouting in mutually incomprehensible Chinese and Japanese at each other.

And seekers of truth. J., my friend from Michigan who clandestinely searched for a new religion through high school, disenchanted with the halfhearted Lutheranism she grew up in. C., an eighteen-year-old recent convert who told me, unprompted, of having the same doctrinal problem with the Baptists as my eighteen-year-old mother.

Church is far from the only place I’ve found good people. But goodness was almost commonplace there, and the depth and kindness I saw strengthened my testimony. This raises a question, articulated by my mother a couple months later when I told her I was going to be baptized.

Did I make my decision, my mom asked, just because I had found the Mormon church to be a “safe place”? They took me in at college and in Florida; made me feel welcome, made me feel I had a home. Wouldn’t that make me want to convert, even if I had doubts?Yes: the church being a “safe place” did make me more eager to convert.

Whenever I’ve been in a Mormon church, I’ve sensed genuine love and goodwill emanating from members. That’s a good thing, and evidence to me that the Church had something meaningful to say. Had I started coming to church and observed bickering, snobbery, or holier-than-thou-ness, I would have been much more reticent. I doubt I would have kept coming.
Not that I didn’t continue to have doubts. Still, through my lessons and learning, the sister missionaries and other members addressed one of my doubts after another. It was a simple problem that paralyzed me. At times I thought I was making spiritual headway, and other times was utterly convinced I was just wasting my energy. Shoving God and a plan for humanity into my previously non-theistic universe was, well, a bit much to swallow.

Resolving such intellectual doubts went hand-in-hand with more scripture study, and some prayer. I began to read the rest of the Book of Mormon and the New Testament and I devoured CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. Somewhere, things started to go beyond just making sense; they became real to me. As my knowledge expanded, the doctrinal paradigm fit the facts better. A seed grew in my heart.

On July 15, the missionaries, Sister S. and Sister R., asked me whether I would be baptized. I said no. “When is some amount of knowledge enough to make a decision?” I had written in my journal three weeks earlier, in reference to conversion. I didn’t know, but that meant my answer was no. Baptism isn’t something to undertake if unsure.

I was learning more, but it only made me more confused. A dog can only run into a forest halfway, as the saying goes: after that, it’s running out. I was nearing the turning point. A couple of Saturdays later, A. invited me over for a movie night, and drove me back. We got to my apartment around midnight. When I walked in the door, it was at least 1 a.m., and probably later. My body was ready to collapse onto the couch, but my mind buzzed with new thoughts and ideas from our discussion. I knelt down on the floor and prayed fervently for an answer. Is the Church true? Should I be baptized? Soon after, I fell asleep.

Like the first time I’d gone to church with my former girlfriend, that Sunday was fast and testimony meeting – open-ended, people just coming up and saying what came into their minds and hearts. As sacrament was being passed, I did something I hadn’t before: I ate of the bread and drank of the water.

Earlier, the Bishop’s counselor had taken the podium to remind us to remember Christ’s atoning sacrifice. I could barely sit still in my seat. After taking the sacrament, I finally knew what I had to do. “Dear Heavenly Father,” I scribbled on a piece of paper. “I thank you for the peace that came over my life when I decided to be baptized just now.”

I squeezed past A. and N., to sit in the front row. My hands were shaking uncontrollably. The last time I had borne my testimony I had said that I hoped but did not know. But now, I told the ward: “I think I know the Gospel is true.” I explained some background, and then, bubbling with a tremendous love towards all around, I concluded with a passage from Matthew I had just read.

“And whosoever doeth the will of God, the same is my mother, and my brother, and my sisters.” I couldn’t stop physically shaking for twenty minutes afterwards.

Written by Brother B. (full story can be read by clicking on this link) - posted today in honor of this being his last day at the Missionary Training Center, prior to leaving on his mission

Sunday, January 25, 2009

God Wouldn't Leave Me Alone (Washington)

My first memory of hearing about Jesus Christ, or God, or anything like that, was when I was 8 years old. My parents had just gotten a divorce, and my dad realized that he had to get me and my two brothers into a healthy environment. So he began taking us to church (Methodist, I think). The first time I heard about Jesus Christ, I immediately started asking questions about who he was. I remember the pastor saying, “Open the doors of your heart, and invite him in”. I remember saying that exact prayer at 8 years old. Up until the time I was in sixth grade, we went to church pretty regularly, and I was genuinely trying to be a good kid. I tried not to lie, steal, or be mean to any of the other kids, stuff like that. For some reason, I remember specifically praying “God, please don’t allow me to be caught up by Satan. Please forgive me for my sins. Please be patient with me. Please help me to learn the truth when I am ready." About the time I turned 13, we stopped going to church, and I just got distracted and fell away. I fell away for almost 10 years exactly.

I began to make some foolish choices. I messed around with things I shouldn’t have. By the time I was about 19, I began to realize that what I was doing was not good, and that I needed to quit it. I tried to make changes, but I kept falling back with the old crowd. The summer I turned 20, I was invited to go to Silverwood Theme Park with my Uncle and his fiancĂ©, who happened to be a Mormon. They were on their way to her family reunion in Idaho Falls, and somehow talked me into going with them after the water park. I had heard all these stories about the Mormons, and I was a little guarded. I was afraid I was going to get bombarded with their religious beliefs. But to my surprise, that wasn’t what happened at all. They immediately opened their arms to me, and accepted me as one of the family. I was with them for 2 weeks, and I got to see what a normal, healthy family environment was like. I can remember thinking, "These people are doing something right."

After I returned home, I fell into the same old habits. Right after I turned 21, I got a DUI. This was my low point, and I decided that I had to leave my mom. I love her, but she was not a good influence for me. I went to live with my dad in Oregon. I couldn’t find a job, so I took a job at McDonald’s as a cook. After the 6th day of work, I walked out. My pride had gotten the best of me. I knew my dad would be very upset, so I planned out how I was going to hide this from him. But when he showed up to pick me up, I realized that the manager had called him and told him that I had disappeared. He told me that I had to go back in and face the manager, and ask for my job back. I began to sob uncontrollably, begging that he wouldn’t make me go back in. But my dad, God bless his soul, knew that he couldn’t let me off the hook, but that I had to face my fears. I went in to talk to the manager, couldn’t make out a single word I was crying so bad, and eventually got my job back. The whole car ride home I cried uncontrollably, just ashamed that I lied to my dad, and I knew my dad was hurting worse than I was.

The next morning, I went for a walk. I began to pray, and just pour my heart out. I was saying terrible things about myself, saying that I was a mistake and that God must regret calling me His son. Then, this voice came into my head saying: “If you believe I am God, and that I am perfect, and created all things, then to say you are a mistake is to say that I made a mistake, because I created you in my own image.” And this sudden feeling of peace and absolute love came over me, unlike anything I had ever encountered.

Almost immediately, I asked my dad if we could start attending church. So we began attending the local Free Methodist Church. I attended that church for 4 years, and I am so grateful for my time there. I began to learn about Jesus Christ, and what exactly he did. I established a relationship with God, and began reading the New Testament. I had my ups and downs, but I had faith that God would get me through anything. After a few years, I began to feel like something was missing, although I had no idea what. I thought about attending other churches like the Baptist or Nazarene, but I knew they were pretty much the same. The only church that stood out to me was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I was scared to attend. I didn’t want to have the missionaries forced down my throat, plus my pastor had warned me to stay away from them. But I couldn’t deny the fact that I saw and recognized so many qualities that I termed as Christ-like. I really wanted to know more, but I was just too scared.

This last February, my grandfather passed away from heart congestion, and all my relatives came to Washington for the memorial service. My Aunt J. (the only member of my family on either side who is a Mormon) came down from Cincinnati. She also came down with 2 of my cousins. I hadn’t seen any of them for about 10 years. I always had fond memories of them, but I didn’t really remember anybody else. I didn’t have a way to get down there, but my brother called and offered to pick me up.

I wanted to ask so many questions, but they were there for only 2 days, and I really didn’t get the opportunity. But my cousin works for an airline, so they sent me tickets and invited me to come to Cincinnati in the summer time. I arrived in Cincinnati on a July 9th, a Wednesday, and the following Saturday night before church (around 10:00) I couldn’t hold back any longer. I began to ask my aunt just about every question in the book. She asked my cousin’s husband, who had gone on a mission, to come up and try to explain things to me. He asked me, “What do you want to know?” and I said, “Everything!”

He got out his scriptures, and started from the pre-mortal life down to who will inherit the different glories of heaven. My heart was absolutely stirring, and I didn’t know quite what to think. It all sounded so right, but I was a little nervous. He then read Moroni 10:3-5 and invited my to pray about it. Then he asked if I would be comfortable meeting with the missionaries. For the first time, I did. So I started attending church, and meeting with the missionaries regularly. I continued to pray, and my heart was telling me that this was true. But I didn’t have a testimony of Joseph Smith being a prophet. For some reason, I was having a hard time with that.

One day, as I was riding in the car with my cousin, I said how I thought it would be so cool to be able to go to Kirtland. She said, “Let’s go!”

I totally didn’t expect that, it was just a comment. But she insisted. So we went the following Thursday. I got to go to the Kirtland Temple, the visitor’s center, and on Friday, we went to the John Johnson Farm. It was in the bedroom where Joseph Smith received like 16 revelations that I received confirmation about him. I was emotionally overwhelmed, so I really couldn’t say too much.

The next night, Saturday, her husband must have known that something was troubling me. He asked me if there was anything I wanted to talk about. I told him that I believed everything. I believed The Book of Mormon, I believed the church, I believed in Joseph Smith, but I was feeling hesitant and scared. Mainly because I didn’t want to go home and tell everybody that in a 3 week time period, I had been converted to Mormonism. He told me that when you know you should do something because it is the right thing to do, and you feel fear, that that fear usually comes from Satan. The minute he said that, the fear left me, because I knew that is what it was. I asked him to baptize me then and there, and I haven’t had any doubts since then. I was baptized on August 2, 2008 and confirmed with the gift of the Holy Ghost on August 3.

The blessings that I have received since then have been astronomical, both temporal and spiritual. I am 26 years old, just met a wonderful girl, have quite a bit of student loans I am going to owe, but I am truly one of the happiest people to walk the earth.

I am so grateful to have a Heavenly Father who loves me so much, and who will never leave me alone, and who has a plan to help me return back to His presence to receive the fullness of His joy. I am so grateful for the missionaries, for the church, for the members of the church. I am grateful for the Prophet Joseph Smith, and for the Prophet Thomas S. Monson, the men that God has chosen to lead this church. And most of all, I am grateful for Jesus Christ and His atonement which makes this all possible.

Written by Bro. J.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I prayed. I cried. I knew. (Belgium)

In my Belgian environment, I’m an oddity. A university professor who is a Mormon. Colleagues and students whisper about it. They can’t place me in the normal spectrum of the centuries old allegiances to our society. They wonder: how can this scholar believe the rigmarole of that foreign cult?

Allow me to share on what my testimony is based.

First, and foremost, there is the spiritual witness. I had a strange, preliminary testimony of the Restoration before I ever heard the words Mormon or Joseph Smith.

Antwerp, June 1964. I was seventeen, raised in a Catholic family. That month I was studying for my finals for the last year in high school, one of those demanding European schools. I had had seven years of Latin, five years of old Greek. A mass of philosophy and religion.

That Saturday afternoon, the door bell rang. I went down and saw two young men.
- Hi, little guy, are your parents home?

I knew I looked like a lad of fourteen.

- No.
- OK, we’ll be back later.

They cracked a few jokes and left.

I hardly paid attention to the occurrence and went back to study for my finals. The evening set in. A feeling came over me. The excitement of something unknown, somehow tied to distant memories, but beyond my grasp. I realized it had to do with the visitors. Nothing should have impressed me about them, probably salesmen or sollicitors. But my agitation grew into a compulsion to meet them again. I spent a restless night, trying to imagine who they were. The next day was Sunday. I spent hours looking for them, riding my bike along the streets. I knew I had to find them, by all means. Nothing. I felt desperate. The next morning I kept watch from the window of my room. And then I saw them coming, ringing door bells at the other side of the street, slowly moving in my direction. I crossed the street and waited with a pounding heart.

- According to you, who is God?

It was their first, blunt question only seconds after they told me they were missionaries.

It was the perfect question to ask a young student studying for a Catholic religion final.

- Well, definitions of God have evolved over the centuries, from Augustine to Thomas Aquino, to modern interpretations. Nowadays God is defined as the Totally different, the immaterial perfection that fills the universe.

One of the elders looked at me and said: “Yes, but who is He really?”

I grasped, vaguely still, the massive dimension of that question. All I had been learning all those years were the projections and philosophies of men. And here was a 19-year old boy from America, unaware of the theories of theology, who scattered them with one simple question: But who is He really?

I asked for some literature. One rummaged in his bag and turned up a Doctrine & Covenants. That night I read, deeply impressed:

HEARKEN, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together.

Days later the brochure with Joseph Smith's history followed. It overwhelmed me. Then, finally, the Book of Mormon. Moroni’s promise, inasmuch as still needed, was put to the test.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

I prayed, I cried, I knew.

The opposition. 1964. I was seventeen, still a minor, in a period when 21 was the legal age. I wanted to be baptized, earnestly. My parents said no. The clash was profound. I was too young, too inexperienced to understand the depth of the breach my parents felt. My conversion was a betrayal of their holiest heritage. My father hauled books from the library, filled with (incorrect) tales of polygamous atrocities, of Danites murdering opponents, of tortured women thrown from the towers of the Salt Lake temple into the Great Salt Lake. I got to read the Catholic and Protestant theories elucidating the ‘real’ origin of the Book of Mormon, lists of ‘errors and changes’ in the Book, the psychology of Joseph Smith’s hallucinations, and all the inconsistencies in Mormon theology. And I was served some inflammatory exposures by ex-Mormons.

I would not change my mind. I could not. And somehow I was grateful for all the anti-Mormon literature poured over me. It gave me a feeling of confidence: no matter what enemies of the Church would be able to concoct to disprove Mormonism in the future, I felt assured I would be able to stand it. Of course there were disturbing data here and there. I never swept them aside as inexistant, but either their fallacy soon became apparent or the larger picture made them insignificant. The ex-Mormons filled me with sadness. Why such a desire to tarnish, to undermine, to justify, to rationalize? Could it ever happen to me since those people once had a testimony too? I vowed solemnly that I would never allow myself to forget the basis of my conviction.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?

My parents sent me to a Catholic monastery to be reconverted. It was their last hope to rinse my brain from Mormonism. It was the famous abbey of Tongerlo, founded in 1130, one of those stern monuments from ages past. The abbey’s father took it to heart to bring me back to the fold. We talked and talked. We talked about God. I asked him the missionary question: “But who is God really?” He said: “No man can know. God is invisible and beyond comprehension.” I opened the Bible and referred him to all these plain Scriptures that show us that God is a tangible, visible, glorified Being. He said it was all symbolic. I asked him if his presence as the abbey’s father was real or symbolic to the monastery. He called my parents: “Take him back. It’s a hopeless case.”

Two years later, my parents finally gave in and allowed me to be baptized. They refused to attend. It would take another ten years before they started to admit that my Church membership was a source of strength, opportunities, and blessings. But they never joined the Church.

I am grateful, immensely grateful that I could experience the conversion I had. I think my testimony, in its essence, has never changed over the years. The glow is sometimes radiant, sometimes quiet, but always there. Maturation, yes, and I hope, in the process, some wisdom.

Also, my testimony has never hindered me to look critically at some Church programs, to have mixed feelings over certain developments, to hope and plead for others, in the realization that building the Kingdom is a dynamic and complex challenge. And that we’re all humans in this endeavor.

I have tried to explain why I have a testimony. Each convert to Mormonism has to gain and keep his own, one way or another. Some testimonies are received easily, some are struggling over much time and anguish. Some remain intertwined with doubts. Some are submissive, others contesting. We help each other by accepting those varieties and growing together.

Written by Brother D. (Why I Have a Testimony)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I’m So Full of the Spirit Right Now, and I Don’t Know Why (SLC)

From my journal, shortly after my baptism:

Late this summer, I took my six year-old son Jeffrey on his first road trip. Headed to Salt Lake for a conference, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for bonding time before school started. It might have been quicker to fly, but seriously, road trips are a rite of passage I wanted to share with him. There would be other kids at the conference, and I would have plenty of free time. He was excited to go, and piled his pillows and toys in the backseat with puppy-like exuberance.

Ten hours and a ghastly amount of “Are we there yet?” later, we pulled into our Salt Lake City hotel. Our room was right off the pool, and I promised my tired boy we would hit the water as soon as we got dinner. We unpacked and decided to walk to a restaurant up the street.

Turns out those wacky addresses in SLC are a bit confusing for a stranger, and the restaurant was farther than I had imagined- oh yeah, and the air was like the inside of a furnace. The moisture was being sucked out of my body as I dragged my hot child through the arid desert, looking for something called the Blue Iguana. Who hides a restaurant underground anyway?

After a short wait, we got our food, but the look on my son’s face told me he was going to crash into the guacamole if he didn’t get some sleep. Chugging a pitcher of water while the waiter boxed our food, I temporarily hydrated my parched self and made ready to re-enter the blasted heat.

The shortest way back to our hotel was walking down West Temple, where we unexpectedly found ourselves at the Conference Center. Like most Mormons, we watch General Conference twice a year in our jammies while eating cinnamon rolls. We weren’t prepared for how huge and impressive the actual building is- and Jeffrey immediately recognized things he has seen in pictures.

“Can we go in, Mom?”

We were both so tired, but there were people milling around, so I thought I would ask. The doors were locked, and we couldn’t see anyone inside, but a guy on a Segway whizzed by, shouting over his shoulder that the doors on the other side were open.

Looking down at Jeffrey, I told him we could go in, but he had to understand this might take up our swimming time. Was he sure he wanted to do this?

“Yes, mom, I want to go inside” Wow. OK, what six year old boy chooses a big old building over splashing in a pool?

That building is big. Especially when you are hot, tired and don’t know where you are. We finally found an open door, and the blast of cold air was all I could focus on for a few seconds. There were scattered people, but no crowds. A kindly older gentleman approached us holding out a paper.

“Are you here to see the choir or for a tour?”

Choir? What? I was a little confused- we just came in to see the building- the cool air was a bonus. I looked at the paper in my hand, and back at the gentleman.

“Sister, the Choir is practicing here tonight, and you and your son are free to watch if you like. The orchestra is warming up right now, and you can go through those doors to your right.”

Jeffrey was jumping up and down, “Let’s go, mom! Let’s GO!” He was yanking my hand and flapping his own arms in excitement; I mumbled my thanks to the man and headed toward the doors.

Who knew the Choir was practicing, and that we would stumble in at the exact right time, on the exact right day?

Honestly, I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention. I had a hopping boy, I had been driving since before dawn, we still hadn’t eaten our dinner, and I was dizzy, parched and grumpy from our unexpected walk to dinner. I wasn’t thinking of anything spiritual, I wasn’t thinking much of anything at all. My son was yanking my arm, and I was distracted…

So when I walked through those doors and smashed completely unprepared into a wall of my own emotions, I couldn’t move. Standing there, looking out at the arc of seats and the smattering of people, there was nothing special happening- someone was folding some chairs, another was tuning a violin, the choir was on the stand in small groups, but there was no music yet. So why was I paralyzed? Why were my feet refusing to move as my eyes filled with tears and electricity rushed up and down my back?

“Mooooommm! Come on!” Jeffrey was yanking on me again, and I snapped out of it long enough to wipe the tears from my chin. Yes, my chin. “Why are you crying mom?”

“I don’t know…” Why was I crying? What was wrong with me? An empty building, a few people idly chatting, my son excited to hear some music… why was I crying?

Jeffrey skipped towards the front and I followed, searching my purse for a tissue. I just wanted to sit and feel what was happening inside me. There were thousands of empty chairs and I slumped into an aisle seat as Jeffrey bounced from chair to chair, seeing how close he could get to the organ and counting the pipes.

My body looked warm and solid, but things were stretching, moving, slowly leaning on the shelves inside my mind. How odd to be a spectator of my own life- Gently at first, like an oiled toggle on an old lock falling into place, then quicker and hotter, the ideas began to tip and slide- My breath caught in my chest as the channel opened and suddenly all the pieces shot home and everything fell off the shelf inside me.

Stunned, I sat there.

Holy crap. I’m a Mormon. This isn’t just an experiment. This isn’t something I’m just trying out, until the next interesting thing comes along. This isn’t something I can ever walk away from- Not ever. This Is Who I Am. This is right. This is what it claims to be. This is the rest of my life, and the life beyond. This is eternal progression. This is lead into gold. This is man into God.

Holy. Crap.

I was crying again. The music had started, but I hadn’t really noticed. Jeffrey snuggled into the crook of my arm, and I wiped at my eyes, for the first time turning my focus back outward. Everything looked the same- but I was not the same.

An hour later, we left the cool of the building and walked into the late blue twilight. The heat was abating and the sky showed only the last strands of color on the horizon. We were both quiet as we walked across the courtyard, lost in our own thoughts.

Jeffrey reached out and took my hand, “Mom?”

There was a hitch in his small voice, “What, sweetie?” We stopped on the sidewalk.

His voice was thick, emotional, and I could see his face full of concentration as he worked to find words for his feelings. “I’m so full of the Spirit right now, and I don’t know why.”

The breeze whispered across the empty shelf inside me. I squeezed my son’s hand, letting him know he was not alone.

Written by Sister. M. (Road Trip, or Conversion Happens at the Darnedest Times)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I Didn't Find Religion; It Found Me

I was raised in a very good, very normal, very happy family by a mother who was vaguely Catholic but only went to mass after natural disasters and an agnostic father. By age 14, I was a card-carrying atheist.

When I was in high school, I began dating a boy, Jonathan, who was a member of the Church. I would occasionally ask him questions, because I found it fascinating that an otherwise rational person could talk to me with a straight face about three parts of heaven, angels with gold plates, and the evils of drink. At this time, I was heavily involved in speech and debate and an important part of that little subculture is summer debate camp. I saved somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars from my after-school job at McDonald’s so that I could spend three weeks at the University of Michigan’s debate camp. At the airport, Jonathan gave me a gift. I unwrapped it on the plane and was disappointed to find a Book of Mormon. (Not a missionary edition, by the way, but a triple with his name embossed on the cover.) I stuffed it in my bag and went back to reading A Prayer for Owen Meany. I was excited about my cross-country adventure and a little nervous about my first major event away from home. I was a little disappointed that, out of the hundreds of debaters in three- or four-person dorm rooms, I had somehow been assgined a private room. No matter.

Debate camps are divided into working groups. I was pleased to find myself in the group led by the debate coach from none other than Harvard. (I had, at the time, the same starry-eyed awe of Harvard that I think most kids growing up in upper-middle class suburbs have.) I imagine that the Internet and the availability of laptops has changed everything that I remember about debate, but back in the olden days, debate camp meant lectures on theory and, mostly, time spent researching, making copies, and cutting and pasting briefs for use in competitions. Everyone in the group would get a copy of everyone else’s briefs to take home. Debaters would then lug file boxes full of these briefs to competitions to whip out in the heat of the contest. (To understand how important these things were, I will tell you that I, in all seriousness, asked my father if I could take six file boxes on our ski trip because I was afraid to leave them home alone.)

Anywho, one day found me with my fifteen or so group members–and the Harvard coach–happily cutting and pasting in a classroom. Two or three of the copies that I was working on had been incorrectly copied and were unreadable. I threw them away. A few days later, a member of our group found hundreds of pages of copies and briefs in the trash can. I was blamed, because I had been seen throwing some things away.

The debate coach from Harvard University wanted me sent home.

I was horrified. I was terrified. I was alone. It was Saturday. I didn’t know what to do. We had a group meeting the next morning. The only excuse for not being there was . . . if you were at church.

So it was obviously time for me to find religion. But which one? Seeing Jonathan’s triple, I decided the Mormons would be as useful as any for my purposes. Their address was listed in the welcome package. This could work.

So I went. I couldn’t believe that a normal-looking person was talking about Jesus spitting in mud. Whatever. By the time I got back, my fate had been decided: I was being demoted to a group run by some yahoo out of the University of Kansas or something, but at least I wasn’t being sent home in disgrace.

I puttered the rest of my time there, not really motivated to create the best briefs possible, not sure that I could salvage my reputation in the debating world once I got home anyway. I skipped meetings to sit on the grass and read Owen Meany.

One night, I was in my little hovel-room, watching lightning. I thought, “God’s power is amazing.”

I thought, "What the hell was that? I don’t think that way."

But I knew it was true. Right there. That God existed. (The rest–the mud on the eyes, the angel and the plates–took a little longer.) I started spending more time in the grass, alternating my reading between the Book of Mormon and Owen Meany. Will you think me disrespectful-bordering-on-blasphemous if I tell you that Owen was nearly as instrumental in my conversion as Nephi was? I started praying. I went back to the little emaciated branch that met at the Institute the next week. When I got home, I told Jonathan that I wanted him to baptize me. He said that I had to talk to the missionaries first. I went through several sets of sisters and was baptized in the Spring of 1992.

I think the only interesting thing about my story is that I wasn’t looking for anything. I could hardly have had worse motives for going to Church that morning if I had tried. And where exactly did that reaction to the lightning come from? I wasn’t responsible for that. I didn’t find religion; it found me. Why? And why doesn’t that happen to everyone else?

Written by Sister S. (My Conversion Story)