My parents' conversion story: A gift to the generations

by Robert Preston

My father, Ernest Preston, was born at the end of the 1st World War in 1918. He was thankfully able to survive the 2nd World War and married my mum in 1943. In his own words he had no interest in religion until  fourteen years later when two missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints knocked on his door in 1957. Thankfully my mum answered the door when he was out and they obediently and dutifully arranged to return when he was home. As a result of this visit the lives of his posterity have been changed forever. It is impossible to count the number of “apples in this seed” as the generations continue to grow and multiply.

This is how it all began!

My story begins in April 1957, when I was 39 years old and living in Ashton-under-Lyne, happily married with two young sons Robert and David, working as a representative with a Rochdale firm of distributors for electrical and electronic components. I came home from work one night and was told by my wife, Doreen, that two young Ministers had called with a special message which they wanted to give to us both together, and seeking an appointment with us during the evening. She explained that I was attending night school; the examinations were the following month, and she was sure I could not spare any time at present, but would be more available in June. I gave this information only passing interest, since I never expected to hear anything further about it. However, one evening during June I answered the doorbell and was surprised to find two young Americans, who told me that they were Ministers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

After some discussion on the doorstep, I invited them in to give their message, which was that God and Jesus Christ had been back to the earth to give instructions to a boy, Joseph Smith, concerning the existing Christian churches, and the setting up of a new church in the latter days, which would never again be destroyed. They bore fervent testimony to the truthfulness of this message; asked us to pray about it to find out for ourselves whether it was true; and left various tracts and a Book of Mormon for us to read, and pray about also. Before leaving they made a further appointment for the following week. After several such weekly discussions, it occurred to me to wonder whether there was any connection between the Mormons whom I had read about as having several wives, and the name MORMON in the title of the book which I was now reading. On reading the dictionary definition of “Mormons” as “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” and telling my wife of this, she experienced a feeling of revulsion against having any further meetings with these young men – Elders Coltrin and Bowen, the original two Elders, Warner and Wimmer having been transferred elsewhere.


By this time I had become interested in their message, although I did not know that this was going to involve me in joining a Church, for I had not voluntarily attended a worship service in a Church since leaving school. So I tried to persuade Doreen to hear them out before taking a decision. The more persuasion I applied, the more she insisted that I tell them to cease calling, until she became very upset and emotional at my persistence. Wondering how I could persuade her, I decided to try vocal prayer, for the first real time, and so I went upstairs and knelt at the end of our bed. Feeling somewhat embarrassed and foolish I commenced, “Heavenly Father, I know not whether you exist or whether I am talking to myself, but many people believe in you, and I want to. Will you tell me how to persuade Doreen that if this message we have been listening to is true, then it is important that we hear it out to the end before taking a decision.” At this juncture I paused and waited for Him to answer, when a still small voice within me said – “You can find the answer in the scriptures.” I replied, “Yes, but if you know where to look you can find the answer to anything in the scriptures. Is the answer to be found in the Book of Mormon or the Bible?” The same still small voice said, “You will find the answer in the Bible.” At this stage, still considering I was talking or reasoning with myself, I said – “But if you are listening to me, and you are God, you can tell me the chapter and verse in the Bible where I can find the answer to my problem of what to do with my wife, who will not have the missionaries coming or accept the importance of their message,” and for the last time came the answer, “Look at John, chapter 12, verse 7.” I concluded my prayer and came downstairs to look at the Bible, which was virtually an unknown book to me at that time, and found the scripture, which reads – “THEN SAID JESUS, LET HER ALONE; AGAINST THE DAY OF MY BURYING HATH SHE KEPT THIS.”

This was enough of an answer for me. I learned not only the answer to the question which troubled me, but more important, that God lives, and hears and answers prayers. I went into the room where my wife was, and without telling her of my marvellous experience, I informed her that I would tell the missionaries they were not to call again. This I did that same night, relating to them the experience of that morning; asking them to leave the copy of the Book of Mormon so I could continue to study and pray about it, and telling them that if ever I was to join their Church it would have to be by my own efforts, for they were not to call again. Shortly after this I resumed my evening classes at the College. Three evenings per week, plus homework, and the usual jobs around the house, did not leave much time spare, but every evening, as we sat in the lounge having a snack supper, I picked up the Book of Mormon, uttered a silent prayer asking to know if it was true, and commenced reading where I had left off the previous night.

Whilst reading I saw references not only to the Bible but to other scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, etc., so I wrote to the Bookstore at the British Mission Headquarters in Exhibition Road, London, for copies of these, enclosing a signed blank cheque. These books duly came, and after completing my reading of the Book of Mormon, I read the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. I read books about the Dead Sea Scrolls and found that in many ways they corroborated these scriptures. I became more and more convinced that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was the true church restored to the earth, and of the need for repentance and baptism, but considered that I was both unworthy to belong to this marvellous organisation and would be unable to continue in its precepts, even if the authorities of the Church would be willing to admit me to membership. At this stage I decided to try to give up smoking - this would be approximately April/May 1958 - and after several attempts finally managed it; not helped by my wife, who resented what I was doing, since it was her wish that I have nothing more to do with the Mormons. In an effort to defeat me, during the summer of 1958, she called me in from the garden to have a discussion with two Jehovah Witnesses whom she had invited into the house. They came several times during successive weeks and left various pieces of literature attacking the teachings of the Mormons. After some weeks they brought their presiding elder, who also continued to call, until one night he said that he would not be coming again, and suggested that I ought to join the Mormon Church.

Once more September had come round, and I enrolled for my third year at night school. I felt a great yearning to become a Mormon. I read in the newspapers about a Temple in Surrey and longed to visit it. I was confused by some of the things the Jehovah Witnesses had told me, so during October 1958 I again sent a cheque to the Mission Bookstore, and asked them to send some books which would help me in my search for truth. I received two books, one of which made a great impression upon me because it was written by a non-member of the Church. The title was “Joseph Smith, an American Prophet”. On the receipt was scribbled a brief note to the effect that there was to be a District Conference at Copster Hall, Oldham, in November, and an invitation to attend. The writer wondered if I would remember him, as he was one of the missionaries who had first called on me – Clifford Terry Warner. Deciding to attend this Conference, I stopped drinking alcohol, tea and coffee, for during my studies I had learned that faithful members of the Church abstained from them. Upon telling Doreen that I was going, she again became very upset, but, nevertheless, I had to go. I had to find the truth. I could no longer hold back; if they would accept me with all my sins and weaknesses.

I went to the first session, and in between each session I came home to tell Doreen I was going to the next. I went to all three sessions. My tears never ceased. I had never before cried so much. Elder Warner wanted to fix a date for my baptism, but I was so emotional I wanted to calm down before taking the decision, and so would not give him an answer. As I went home and put the car away I prayed earnestly for strength to face the future and to repent of the past. I was afraid to tell Doreen that I had to join the Church. I could no longer investigate it from the outside. It was a terrible experience. Doreen was almost hysterical, “life wouldn’t be worth living”, “she would leave me and take the children.” “If I wanted to be religious why couldn’t I find what I was looking for in the Church of England?” The Tuesday evening after Conference I drove to the PSA rooms in Ashton-under-Lyne, where the LDS Church held its meetings, and with tears once more in my eyes made my way into the building, where I met a man I subsequently came to know, Branch President Benjamin Thorpe. Introducing myself, I asked if he could send someone to my home to find out if I was ready for baptism. Some days later two unknown missionaries came to my home to teach me about the Church, only to find that I knew far more about it than they did, after my extensive studies. They cleared up one major factor which was troubling me, for whilst reading the Doctrine and Covenants I had come across the Law of Consecration, and, believing that this still applied, was dreading the thought of telling Doreen that we had to give everything we owned to the Church. Tithing seemed trifling in comparison. Elder Warner obtained special permission to come and baptise me on the 7th December, 1958, at the Northenden Chapel, Manchester.

After baptism I set to, to convert all my relatives and friends; to stimulate the members, fellowship the investigators; reactivate those in-actives I could visit; and I had many wonderful experiences in my church life and many more, unhappy ones in my home life, as Doreen continued her opposition. As I worked in the Church and advanced in the Priesthood, I fasted and prayed constantly that she might come to a knowledge of the truth for herself, and share with me the joy and happiness of serving the Lord in his restored Church. I became an Elder and eligible for the Temple. As I visited it, each time I knelt in prayer and asked the Lord that Doreen might come to a knowledge of the truth.

When I joined the Church I explained to Doreen that, as it was against the teachings of the Lord as I had come to know them, I could no longer practice birth control to limit our family. She didn’t really object, and said she would like another child, particularly as it might be a girl, and so we prayed together for this blessing. Meanwhile she was attending Relief Society and also Sacrament Meeting with me, although she always came away with a headache. Early in 1960, as I was earnestly praying that she might know the truth and join the Church, the thought came to me that I might obtain permission from the Lord to bless Doreen to have a daughter, as an evidence of the truthfulness of the Church and the authority which I now held in the Priesthood. Despite our ceasing to take measures to limit our family, no further children showed signs of appearing, and she was beginning to think that at 39 she was too old to conceive. I was apprehensive of asking for this blessing for myself and also for what was really a sign for Doreen, but, in the way I had come to know from my first, and many subsequent experiences, I received the Lord’s permission. I hurried downstairs to tell my wife and asked her permission, only to get a refusal. “Who did I think I was? I wasn’t a minister, I was her husband.” “It wasn’t right to look for signs!” Somewhat abashed I asked her to think and pray about it, for I knew the Lord had authorised me to do it. Nothing further was said about it between us for some weeks, so finally I went to the Lord again and sought confirmation that I was still authorised to proceed, which he once more gave. Plucking up my courage, I again broached the subject with Doreen, only to be met with a similar reaction and refusal, whereupon I told her that the Lord had communicated with me, and that if she would not let me lay my hands on her head to give her this blessing, then He would take over, and she would still have a daughter, and that it would be the means of bringing her to a knowledge that the Church was true. She took no notice; she did not believe it possible.

Meanwhile, at the next Fast and Testimony Meeting I bore solemn testimony that she would have a daughter in 1961, as an evidence to get her to join the Church. When two months passed with no menstruation, Doreen decided to visit the doctor, who informed her that she was pregnant and a baby could be expected about March 18th. She was adamant that it was just a coincidence. Even if the baby proved to be a girl she said it would not make her join the Church. She continued to assert that it made no difference as I continued to bear testimony that she would have a daughter, would know the Church to be true, and be baptised. She ceased smoking so as not to harm the baby. Her desire for a daughter worked within her as I told all our relatives and friends that positively we would be having a girl.

March 18th came which was a Saturday and also a Stake Conference! It was important that I attend for I was a High Councilman and felt the responsibility of my calling. Doreen started with labour pains in the morning, and my sister Minnie came to be with her as I prepared to go to Conference. They both accused me of being “heartless” by leaving Doreen when she was so near to giving birth. I asked if she would believe the Church was true, if she gave birth to a daughter, to which she replied – “NO”. I told her that it must not be the time for the baby to be born then, and proceeded to Conference. When I returned home Doreen had had no further pains. Another week went by with Doreen losing hope for a daughter, until finally, the words I had been waiting for. “She knew the baby within her was formed and could not be changed at this late hour, and she was now sure it would not be a girl, but, if it was, she would believe the Church to be true and be baptised. She had prayed about it and told the Lord this also.” My heart jumped with joy, and I was full of emotion as I expressed my love to her and my gratitude to the Lord.

Two or three days later (Thursday, March 30th), I took her in to the hospital for them to bring the child. No birth Friday, so they broke her waters at 5:30pm. When I called at the hospital at 3pm on Saturday, my wife was in labour, and I waited until 4:30pm when she gave birth to our daughter Anne. The other visitors and the nursing staff watched my tears of gratitude and thought I was upset at Doreen having the baby. I could not enlighten them, nor could I explain that the day was significant. EASTER SATURDAY! The day that Christians everywhere associate with Jesus Christ being in the grave, prior to his resurrection: “…against the day of my burying hath she kept this.” John 12:7. Complete fulfilment of the verse of scripture given to me by the Lord, as an answer to my prayer four years before.

Since joining the Church I have served three times on the Stake High Council, twice as a Bishop and once as a Counsellor in the Stake Presidency. My wife is very active in the Church and has served in many capacities both at Ward and Stake level. We have both had tremendous growth, and many, many wonderful experiences whilst serving the Lord. Latter Day Saints are wonderful. The Church is true. I pray that we might endure to the end. In the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN.