Friday, July 1, 2011

My Conversion Story

I finally got about to writing an "official" version of my conversion story. I've told it several times, but never written it in such detail. But anyway, I wanted to share this most special and personal of stories I could share about my life, so here it is:

First and foremost, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because the Holy Ghost gave me, and continues to give me, a powerful testimony that this Church is indeed what it claims to be—the Gospel of Jesus Christ restored again to the earth, complete with prophets and apostles with the authority to speak on behalf of the Lord.  But I was not always a member of this Church, so how did I come to obtain this testimony?

I was raised in a small town in Missouri, USA, with a good Protestant Christian upbringing.  Before sixth grade, I’d given little, if any, thought to the group known as the “Mormons”.  But in sixth grade, one of my classmates and I had a discussion about religion.  He was the only Mormon I knew, and I had no idea what Mormons believed before talking to him.  To be honest, I still did not have a good idea of his beliefs after talking to him, but nonetheless after that point I had been introduced to “Mormonism”.

Skip forward a couple of years, to high school. That same friend gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon, of which I read the first thirteen chapters before setting it aside and ignoring it for a while. At that time, it was too different for me to even want to read seriously.

In high school, my family left the Methodist church to which we had belonged for eight or so years, because of disagreements with the pastor. My mother wanted to seek out a church that held the gifts of the Spirit, so we attended a Pentecostal church for about a year, hoping to find that their services were really like the day of Pentecost, but eventually decided we did not agree with their dress code or their views about baptism. You see, they said we could not officially join their church because we had been baptized “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” when they believed one had to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ.” They did not claim any more authority to baptize than any other Protestant church, but only that their interpretation of the Bible was more correct. I’m grateful now to know that there really is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). Even with our disagreements, though, I did learn the importance of the Holy Ghost from this church, because they got me thinking about the biblical necessity for a “baptism of fire,” or the gift of the Holy Ghost, to follow the traditional baptism of water.

After leaving the Pentecostal church, we settled for a non-denominational church that was about as close to a “mega-church” as one could find in my town. The pastor would give a nice sermon every week, but the main draw was the performance. A rock band played the music, and that church went all out to make sure that they were entertaining the audience. A lot of money was spent on expensive sound equipment, a light show, instruments, stage decorations, etc. They also owned a building downtown dedicated to the youth, with another stage for the youth rock band (in which I played drums my whole Senior year), arcade games, pool tables, computers, and even a cafĂ© that sold several different kinds of beverages. It drew in many youth from the community who otherwise probably wouldn’t have gone to church at all, so I was glad to be a part of it. From this church I learned the importance of service and reaching out to the community, because they did have a lot of “outreach ministries,” such as clothing and food drives, etc., and they spent a lot of time trying to bring in others from outside the church. This prepared me to receive the extensive missionary program of the LDS Church. However, I found myself often missing the spiritual feasts of Sunday school and Bible study, where I could learn of biblical truths in a classroom-like setting. This had been one of my favorite aspects of both the Methodist and Pentecostal churches, but in this new church there was nothing of this sort to be found.

Skip forward again, to my first year of college. I had moved away from home and was now residing in Kansas City, MO. Immediately upon living on my own, I was faced with a predicament peculiar to the Protestant faith: which church to join? I considered myself a Christian, and yearned to go to church somewhere, but I didn’t know where to look. I investigated a couple of different campus groups, and was a part of a campus Bible study for a little while, but ultimately none were quite to my taste. I wanted to find a church that combined all the truths I had learned from my previous experiences with churches, as well as my own reading of the Bible, but got discouraged and for the most part just didn’t go to church, even though I still believed very much in Christ and His message of redemption.

It was at this time that I began seeing a girl I had met at the end of my Senior year. It sounds cheesy, but there was literally a light that rested on her countenance that caught my eye the first time I ever saw her. She seemed different from other women I knew in high school and college. Well, you could probably see this coming, but she was a Latter-day Saint. We starting dating, and from that moment I began an investigation of her Church. I did not do what I should have done, which is seeking out the missionaries, but I just began reading a lot of information about the Church online. At first, I was not investigating honestly, and only wanted to comfort myself and confirm that the Church was NOT true. Therefore, I read several anti-Mormon writings that made me think you’d have to be crazy to believe this Church. But then, I would read something from the official Church website or from the viewpoint of a Latter-day Saint, and would realize that it wasn’t crazy at all, but very logical and biblically founded. What I began to notice was that the anti-Mormon writings I encountered were very angry, with a lot of bitterness, sarcasm, and exclamation points in their writings, while the Latter-day Saint responses overall were calm, well-reasoned, and had a very good spirit about them. Because of this difference, and because I was noticing a lot of blatant lies and distortions from the anti-Mormon side, my investigation went in a different direction. I always made sure to get a pro-Mormon answer to every anti-Mormon allegation. And again, I always found the Mormon side to have such a better spirit. Also–and most importantly–I was reading the Book of Mormon.

Eventually, after about a year of investigating and reading to the point of obsession (I found it all VERY interesting), I had a sacred spiritual confirmation that the things I was learning were true. My first confirmation came as I was reading from the Book of Mormon one day. I had tried my hardest to brush that wonderful book aside, or to come up with excuses for how it couldn’t be true, but in the end, I just broke down. As I was reading out of the book of Alma, tears welled up in my eyes as I realized the power and truth I had been feeling–but ignoring–all along while reading the Book of Mormon. I felt a pang in my heart that I had been putting off accepting God’s truth for so long. I set the book down, drew my eyes heavenward, and humbly admitted, “It’s true, Father, isn’t it?” Immediately, in an experience I can’t adequately describe, the Holy Ghost filled me with a burning that felt like pure light, and I just knew that it was true. I had a true change of heart. For nearly a year I had doubted the claims of the Church, never quite able to come to a conclusion using my mind alone. But in an instant, my whole worldview changed to the point where I literally could not understand how I had not believed it before. That is the power of the Holy Ghost, and what is wonderful is that this power is available to all who humbly seek it (James 1:5, Moroni 10:4-5). My second experience with the Holy Ghost came a little while after the first, before I was baptized, when I was reading the inspired words of the Prophet Joseph Smith. From that point on, I knew there were prophets–Joseph Smith included–on the earth again.

Over Christmas break that year (my Sophomore year of college), I told my friend who I had the conversation with all the way back in sixth grade that I wanted to be baptized, and that I wanted him to do it. Of course, he was ecstatic. So, I was baptized on Jan. 10, 2010 and received the gift of the Holy Ghost that same day. I’ve loved being a part of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ ever since. I’m grateful to be a part of a Church with the same authority and organization present in New Testament times, and a Church that truly believes the Bible, and everything else that has been revealed by Heavenly Father. Also, I’m grateful to be surrounded by so many good, humble people who are just trying to follow their Savior. Whereas before I could not even be sure of the proper method of baptism, now I can understand many great things the Lord has revealed which before I did not even consider. These things revealed by God have been for our benefit, and have brought those who believe them together in unity, no more to dispute over the basics of the Savior’s Gospel. I know these things are true, and I say them in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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