This is my story as to how I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Growing up I wasn’t too exposed to a certain church or religion in general. I was always taught to believe in God and Jesus Christ, but never raised in a habit of attending church. The rare times my family would attend usually would fall on Christmas and Easter. Then from about age ten to about age sixteen, I don’t remember ever attending church. One day when I was sixteen, I recall feeling impressed to pick up a Bible and read. So I started from the beginning…literally, by reading the first chapter of Genesis. I remember keeping a binder with notebook paper. As I read, I would copy down scriptures I liked into the binder. After reading a few chapters, I felt like I needed to get in a habit of going to church again. That way I could possibly learn more about the scriptures I was reading. So I asked my mom if she would take my sister and I to church.
The next Sunday we attended the Presbyterian church that we used to attend on Christmas and Easter. It was a very traditional setting, and semi formal. One thing that stood out to me the most was that the congregation was made up mostly of people quite a bit older than I was. Because I was a minority due to my age, I felt a little uncomfortable. The sermons given by the pastor were mainly suggestions on how we can live a better life, defended by scripture. I felt I was hearing things I already knew. Things my parents had already taught me. My desired outcome in coming to church was to learn about my relationship with God, and my purpose and potential in life. I wasn’t learning that at the Presbyterian church. So after a couple of weekends of attendance, I decided that church was not the one to answer my questions.
Just down the street from where I grew up is a non-denominational Christian “mega-church.” When one first walks into the building, the first feeling that comes to mind is one of being lost, especially on a Sunday during services; literally hundreds of people walking in every direction. The church is very modern and casual. Most people attend in regular every-day clothes. The church also provided services on Saturday nights. The auditorium is of massive size, with seats for 3,000 people, a large stage, and with two big screens on each side of the stage, it’s not exactly comfortable. My favorite part about the worship services was the music. Church volunteers make up a very talented rock band that leads the congregation in singing and worship. I enjoyed the music a great deal. I did not however, find much interest in the sermons. Though creative and attention grabbing, just like the Presbyterian church, the pastor would talk about ways to better improve your life, and enforce these teachings with scripture. There would occasionally be guest speakers and celebrity speakers. The church also administers communion on the first Wednesday of every month, which is also the time of the month for baptismal services. ( Before witnessing a baptism at the non-denominational church, I had seen a Latter-day Saint baptism performed. One of my good friends that I had grown up with joined the church. It was a really special day. Watching her go down into the water, both her and the man baptizing her dressed in white, and the smile on her face throughout the service made me somewhat jealous. It seemed like such an easy process for her to join the church.) Anyways, behind one of the curtains on the stage was a baptismal font. The baptismal candidates wore black t-shirts with the word “FORGIVEN” on the back. The night I went there happened to be a female pastor performing the ceremony. When the candidate would come out of the water, the audience would applaud. It was a different experience compared to my friend’s.
During this time, I can remember one day at school, in between classes, one of my really good friends gave me a Book of Mormon with his testimony written on the inside, and invited me to come to church with him. I’ll never forget the first Sacrament Meeting I attended. The minute I sat down I felt different. I felt good. I was excited to see what would happen. The program included a returned missionary giving his homecoming talk. I remember him sharing his testimony, and realizing that he knew everything I wanted to know. He knew his relationship with God, he knew God’s plan. My interest level was to the maximum at this point. I continued to attend the church for a few weeks and read the Book of Mormon.
I had a feeling that joining the church was what I needed to do, but my parents had different feelings. When I asked permission to join the church, I was told no pretty quickly. They told me that the Mormons didn’t believe the same things as they did, and that they didn’t feel comfortable with me converting. My heart was crushed. One of the greatest desires of my heart at this point in my life, and there was no possible way of achieving it, at least at that time. Not only did they not feel comfortable with my desire to convert, they also weren’t comfortable with me attending the church, and they asked me to stop going. For a period of about three months, I didn’t go to the LDS church. Every so often I would go to the non-denominational church. In the meantime, I still had that copy of the Book of Mormon. I would hide it in my top dresser drawer, underneath my socks when I wasn’t reading it. My fear was of my parents throwing it away had they found it.
During this time I had some special and sacred experiences that I truly felt answered my prayers. With that I was determined to join the church. I asked my parents again about baptism. Again the answer was no. But, they said when I turned eighteen I would be old enough to make my own decisions. So for the next year and a half I was allowed to attend church, I just couldn’t join. Nearly every Sunday I was at church. I had a girlfriend at the time that would pick me up and bring me home.
I took great advantage of the time I had to wait to join the church. I read the scriptures often, studying and cross-referencing. Many, if not all of my questions were taken to a bishop in one of the other wards in my stake. Countless times we would sit at his kitchen table, and every time he would have answers to all of my questions. I was really glad, and impressed that I could get an answer to all of my questions. Little did I know at that time that this man would later give me the Aaronic Priesthood. Since then I’ve felt like a member of his incredible family.
Later on I had an opportunity to attend a Catholic church service. One of my close friends, and his dad asked me to go to California with them for a weekend to help them with a construction project. Sunday morning I went to church with them. It was a very interesting service. The service was about an hour in length, and there appeared to be no dress standard. Some showed up dressed nicely, and others wore casual clothes. Sometimes the priest would speak in Latin. There would also be times that the congregation would respond to a phrase the priest would say in unison. I found that interesting. When the time came for communion, each member of the congregation would go up, row by row, and form a line. Each person would then individually take a small cracker, and drink from a cup. After each sip, the priest would wipe the rim of the cup with a cloth before the next individual would drink. Also, like the non-denominational service, a series of collection trays would be past around throughout the congregation for tithes and offerings.
I experienced many trials as I awaited my eighteenth birthday. On two occasions my mom had asked some of her friends that I knew to invite me over for lunch, or take me out to dinner to discuss my newfound faith. My first experience was the most difficult. The discussion was over lunch with two music teachers, husband and wife, that I knew in my school district. They’ve always been good friends to me and my family, and very active Christians. The conversation we had was definitely a trial of my faith. I was still in my beginning stages of learning, so I didn’t posses enough knowledge about the restored gospel to hold an argument or to return with a strong rebuttal. After leaving my faith was low, and I felt upset. I knew the Book of Mormon was true. I had received an answer. I just couldn’t explain anything more than the little testimony I had at the time.
On another occasion one of the doctors that my mom worked for took me out to dinner one evening. He was a person of strong Christian faith, and was curious about my experiences with the LDS church, and my desires to join. After the meal we talked for at least an hour about the church. I still didn’t’ have much knowledge, but I knew enough to hold an argument. I actually felt good about myself afterward. I felt that I had proved my feelings and my testimony.
Not long after outside opposition began, I started receiving opposition from my own family. My grandfather sent me a ten-page letter in the mail expressing his feelings of concern about my decision to eventually convert. He felt that Mormons worshipped a different Jesus, and that the only reason I wanted to convert was because of my girlfriend at the time. I was also exposed to quite a bit of anti-Mormon literature. Not only did my mom purchase a couple of books on the subject, she found a website put together by ex-Mormons, either those who were excommunicated, or left the church. The website was full of stories about peoples’ experiences in the church, and why they left. They were also full of criticism. One night while I was in my bedroom, my mom came in and handed me a stack of about ten of these stories, and asked me to read them. The stories ranged in length from 5-10 pages. She told me if I wanted to get baptized I had to read all of them. Each was focused on a different subject, and was completely out of proportion and context. I remember as I read, and I only made it through about two of them, I felt extremely sick to my stomach. The sharp pains that entered my stomach seemed to be completely opposite of the feelings I felt as I read and prayed about the Book of Mormon, and attended church. To this day I haven’t finished all of those stories, and I never intend to.
Some nights, my mom and I would sit in my room for a couple of hours talking before we went to bed. There were good nights when I felt my testimony made an impact on her, and there were nights I would go to bed frustrated because she didn’t understand how I felt and what I believed. It was clearly obvious she cared for and loved me. I just wish she would understand the truthfulness of my testimony and feelings.
About two weeks after my eighteenth birthday, the missionaries were finally allowed to come over. My mom was present for the Restoration and Plan of Salvation discussions, but decided that she couldn’t continue after those. She said that she didn’t agree with some things, but I really feel there are deeper concerns that only time will surface. The most difficult lesson with the missionaries was the time they came over to watch the Restoration DVD. About ten minutes before the missionaries came, my grandmother showed up without notice. I knew this couldn’t be a good thing. She never approved in the first place, and my mom didn’t even expect her visit. When I saw the missionaries drive up I immediately went outside to tell them my grandma came over, and that things could get ugly. So before we went inside we said a prayer. Turned out I was right. Things got ugly pretty quick. At first my grandma was really quiet, and when asked by one of the missionaries why she was so quiet, her response was, “Well we both have a lot of things we want to say to each other, but no one is saying anything.” It was definitely a struggle to feel the Sprit. I remember my grandma scolding me as I was putting the DVD in the player. She asked, “Why is it that you can memorize all these scriptures, but you can’t pass math?” I was pretty upset about that comment. Eventually all hell broke loose, and all before the movie even started! I guess my grandma got up enough courage to voice her opinions and feelings that she’d been keeping to herself. She felt I was being completely brainwashed, and that the Church was destroying our family, pulling it apart, and creating problems. The missionaries handled the situation very well thankfully. They reminded my grandmother that they were not at my house to visit her, or to teach her, but for me, and if she wanted them to leave they would. So many feelings rushed through my soul as I sat through that exchange of words. First of all, I couldn’t believe my grandmother, the kindest, loving and charitable person I’ve ever known, would say such rude things. I thought the lesson would never end.
After the trials, the blessings began to flow. The day finally came that I was baptized; May 12, 2007 at 12 p.m. There are so many details that I can remember. Even though my parents weren’t present, it was still an unforgettable spiritual experience. The room was packed! There was barely enough room left for anyone else to come in. I was baptized by Elder Josh Marshall, in very warm water, and confirmed the next day by Elder Richard Weiland. I’ll never forget the feelings that I felt coming out of the water. As soon as I emerged from the water I felt as if all the weight had been taken off my shoulders. Two years of struggle, opposition, and patience finally came to an end. It was at this moment that I could begin a new life. Today I consider May 12 a second birthday. It was the most memorable experience of my life. Even though the hard times seemed impossible to endure, the experiences and the lessons learned are priceless. I’m grateful for those experiences, and will never forget them.
Since my baptism, my family has come a long way. Looking back, I am glad that they were so questioning about my decision to join the Church. They did it out of pure love and concern for my well-being. I would do the same with my own children. Though my parents are not members of the Church, I always have and will always love them the same. My relationship with them is stronger than ever. They are supportive of my life as a member of the Church, and have more than shown their support by attending my wedding, helping my wife and I move, and by being wonderful grandparents to our son.
Read my personal testimony here.