Friday, 14 April 2017

My Story of Conversion

It seems like I have always had religious questions.  In my teenage years I thought a lot about the truth when it comes to religion.  What is the real truth? Why do we have so many Churches?  Why are there no living Apostles? What is the significance of the Temple that is referenced and referred to so many times in the scriptures?  I believe these are fair questions are they not?  After all they came as I was making the most diligent effort of my life to study the Bible, particularly the New Testament.

In 1972, I inquired of the Lord, desiring that he would lead me in such a way that I might receive the answers to such questions.  My desire was to know from the source where the truth could be found. I sought to know whether there be a God or no.  I suspected if there were no God that I would know it was so when my petitions went unanswered. I believed that if there be a God and if he had his own mind with respect to the salvation of man that he would just as well answer my petition as an obscure boy of 18 as he would any man, if it be so that God is truly "no respecter of persons".

I suppose a lot of people never consider such things, accepting things as they are especially in the matter of religion.  I don't fault them for this, especially when it makes sense for many to believe that God doesn't really care about such things as long as you just believe, or so they say.  We have all sadly discovered what comes about when we have strong leanings when it comes to religion or politics. Nevertheless, I was young,  I didn't have much concern with that and I can say with confidence that I had as sincere a desire to know the truth at that time in my life as any man, indeed, I have never met anyone since that I felt outmatched me in that desire. 

I was ready to wipe the slate clean and abandoned every tradition and every notion that I had ever received regarding religion if only God would make known the truth unto me.  Be it among the Protestant Religions or Catholic, Buddhist or the religion of Islam, if God would make it known, I was prepared to follow.  In saying this I always expected that the truth would be found among those who professed to be Christian.  That should be evident as I was searching the Bible with great diligence to bring peace to my mind concerning the matter.

Like the man who smote his breast alongside the self-righteous Pharisee who declared, "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner."  So was my condition as I searched.  The course of my life was heading in the wrong direction, born more-so out of peer pressure than an evil nature.  Although I made many mistakes that caused me great grief and shame and much regret, still I was always of a religious nature in the core.  I knew for example that I was in violation of the commandments of God even in the very acts and yearned for the strength and faith to repent and make a reconciliation to my Father in Heaven. 

I spent much of my boyhood attending the Victory Baptist Church in Providence and had a great affection for Pastor E.M. Skinner.  I asked him on one occasion why we no longer had living apostles and prophets and particularly about the Temple and its purpose.  I am sure that he did his best to answer my sincere questions but I remember distinctly the feeling that penetrated my soul that the answer given was well intended but not correct.

With a desire to return to full devotion to God and abandon my sinful life I attended the First Baptist Church along with the girl I was dating at the time.  I fully expected that this would be my full return to the formal Church of Christ and that I would remain steady in this congregation for the remainder of my time in Providence. This however, was the turning point for me, I left the meeting disappointed, feeling nothing.  I concluded over time from this experience that it was not possible for all the various religious denominations to be right. I would later read these words which are attributed to Roger Williams (although in fairness that is up for debate) which reflects my sentiment after leaving that nights service from the 1st Baptist Church: "there (is) no regularly constituted church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any church ordinance, nor could there be, until new apostles should be sent by the Great Head of the church, for whose coming (I am) seeking."

I went on in this condition of feeling that "something was wrong in Denmark" when it comes to religion until my senior year in high school.  It was in the early part of that year that I along with Rodney Richardson decided to offer a verbal prayer to God on the hillside across from the home that I was raised in and overlooking the old laundromat with Patterson's grocery in the background. We took to our knees and I being the spokesman gave the prayer which as much as memory serves me went something like this:  "Oh God, if there be a God, and if thou art God, wouldst thou lead us to the people who know thee and they know that they know thee."

In September of 1972, while attending business college in Owensboro Kentucky, two young elders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knocked upon my door.  The approach was simple, said Elder William Mark Player, "we have come to teach you about a Prophet of God."  I wore the long hair of the day and had no shirt or shoes on and a guitar was strapped across my back.  My pants were full of holes but I said in reply, "come in and teach me about your Prophet!"

I could relate to the story of a young fourteen year old named Joseph Smith from upstate New York who desired to know which of all the sects was true and which he should join and that in answer to a simple prayer while in a grove of trees, in the year 1820, God the Father and his son Jesus Christ appeared to him.  Joseph Smith did not go into that grove to start a Church.  Like I had experienced, he simply wanted to know which of all the sects was God's own Church and which he should join. 

I have since learned that the Protestant movement as important as it was to pave the way for the free expression of religion could not bring about a restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth. Reformation of that which had be corrupted by centuries of apostasy could only preclude and set in motion the conditions for a full restoration of the Gospel and Church as organized by the Savior himself in the meridian of time.  None of the reformers professed to be Prophets or Apostles and most claimed no Priesthood Authority as given to the Apostles by the Savior.  For all the marvelous things that they did to bring the teachings of Jesus Christ into the hands of the common man even they were obliged to wait upon the God of Heaven to make all things aright.

The foretold time of Restoration would have to wait until the conditions which existed in the United States of America at the time of Joseph Smith were ready.  God would have to raise up a free nation which espoused freedom of religion as one of its fundamental tenants and it would be in these conditions, upon our great continent that the God of Heaven would part the veil and speak unto man as in ancient times and restore the full gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the prerogative of God to impart his mind and will concerning the salvation of man. It is his prerogative to establish his Church and Kingdom upon the earth and I declare with as much humility as I can muster, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that Kingdom.  He has called Apostles and Prophets anew.  He has revealed his everlasting Gospel. It is true.

In due course I would learn about the Book of Mormon which is a scriptural record of Gods dealings with the ancient inhabitants of America.  My conversion was perhaps complete as I read the account of Nephi's vision beginning in the 11th chapter of 1st Nephi and through the 14th.  As I read these verses particularly in chapter 13, I understood concerning the apostasy which had taken place and I understood fully why there were so many Churches and where I stood in relation to the history of its development.  I read the Book of Mormon, a second witness of Jesus Christ, in only a matter of weeks not being able to put it down even for my secular studies, for I was more concerned about knowing the truth of the matter of this first Church to be organized as a uniquely American Church than about gaining secular knowledge; nevertheless, I did do well in school.

As I prayed about this unique book and religion I in due time received a strong impression from the Spirit of the Lord that the Book of Mormon was indeed true and in October of that year I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

My story is perhaps unique and I share it because I feel to be as transparent and truly "real" about my life as I possibly can.  My story is not "the" story.  Like millions of others now know, I too know without one ounce of doubt that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored again in preparation for the Lord's return.  We know concerning what a man must do to "have peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come."  We know concerning the principles and ordinances of the Gospel.  We know what and whom we worship and how we are to worship Him because he has revealed it. 

We know concerning plain and precious doctrines which were lost to the earth during the dark ages of apostasy concerning us as his children; where we came from, why we are here and where we are going and we know that it is the destiny of families to be bound up and sealed together for eternity because of the ordinances of the Temple.  Yes my prayers concerning this sacred place where answered.  I now know the purpose for the Temple and why the Lord was so passionate about it.  

I do not expect that a single person who reads this account will feel disposed because of it to investigate the Church and espouse its doctrines.  It simply doesn't work that way.  To gain this same witness the earnest seeker of truth would have to do as I have done.  I prayed to be lead.  I accepted the servants of God young as they were and I applied the promise that I could know as I asked, seeked and knocked.  I was willing to receive whatever answer that I received and knew that I could not be presumptuous that I knew the mind and will of God unless he was willing to reveal it.

I have come to know fully what it means for me personally to accept such a bold and dramatic claim that this Church makes. Knowing important and significant truths can be very lonely. I have shared this knowledge with many of my friends and family.  Few have believed me sufficiently to act upon it and some that once received it have left it.  Notwithstanding this my dear friends, I do know and will know until my last breathe and the day will come when all of you will know as well. In that I take great comfort. 

I want you to know that the search and discovery is worth it. 

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