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)

1 comment:

RoAnn said...

Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful testimony, Brother D. As I read it, the Spirit bore witness again to me of the reality of the Restoration of the Gospel and Church of Jesus Christ through the prophet Joseph Smith.

Although I was born to parents who were members of the LDS Church, I went through an intense period of questioning at the age of 17, and finally received a spiritual witness which has sustained me ever since. I realized as I read your essay that your words described my feelings when you said, regarding your testimony, "The glow is sometimes radiant, sometimes quiet, but always there."

What a blessing it is that all who sincerely seek it may have that surety that can sustain us through all the challenges and trials of this mortal life.