When I was young, my oldest sister took me to a Christian church. I was given a picture of Jesus Christ, and a hand-sized New Testament, which I still possess. I cannot attest to knowing God or believing in Jesus Christ in those early years. I didn't understand who they were and why they were important. As an older child, I loved reading Old Testament stories from a set of picture books my father had bought. But the main characters in these stories, God and Jesus Christ, weren't in my mind.
In my teens, an older brother was conscripted into the US Army. He heard about the gospel as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from another soldier, and he brought it into the family home. My father was openly opposed.
I was 17 years old at the time and was curious about my brother's conversion and his enthusiasm about his new-found beliefs. He introduced a couple of missionaries to me and my sister. One of their lessons, about eternal families, grabbed my attention. This doctrine convinced me that this was the church for me—and the two young missionaries were so handsome, who could deny them? In due course I and my sister were baptised even though our father did not approve. As a Baptist, called to teach Japanese members in Japanese about the Holy Bible, my father had strong but narrow views about the teachings of Christ. But our mother attended our baptisms.
My testimony didn’t grow from strength to strength following my baptism, probably because I denied the Spirit that was prompting me to bear my testimony—but I was afraid to do it. My life would have been quite different had I borne my testimony regularly.
After graduating from high school, I went to the University of Hawaii, still an active member of the Church. During this time, I had an extraordinary experience for a few days. I was living in ‘heaven on earth’. I had never felt so happy in my life! I didn't share this with anyone at the time. As it turned out, this experience was an anchor point in my life.
Having successfully obtained a bachelor’s degree, I decided to enrol for a master's programme at Iowa State University. I met my future husband there; he was not a member of the Church. And as he was on a sabbatical from Oxford University in the UK, he had to return after being in Iowa for a year.
We were married the day we flew out to the UK. It wasn't easy in the UK to find a house that we could afford. House prices had nearly doubled in the year my husband was in Iowa, and obtaining a mortgage was difficult, carrying an interest rate near 15%. Eventually we bought a house in Headington, Oxford, and bought a car.
Up to this point, I hadn't attended church at all. Once settled, I discovered where the Church held its meetings and attended, but only twice. Although I could drive, I was afraid to do so in Britain. My husband had to drive me there and pick me up afterwards. It was easier not to go to church. Thus began my ‘wandering through the wilderness’.
I wasn't particularly happy in my first year of marriage, but not through any actions of my husband. I was simply lonely, without my family, my friends, my things, and my old familiar life and comforts. I couldn’t make new friends; I was completely reliant on my husband. I was isolated in a new country among strangers. My self-confidence began to wane. I started to question my identity. Was I American, Japanese, Hawaiian? Where did I belong – in Britain, America, Hawaii? I felt totally lost and wanted to go home. But where was home? I couldn't answer those questions. I was miserable.
Then a little miracle came into my life, my first born. People suddenly became friendlier, it seemed, because of this sweet jewel in my arms. My life began to settle down. A couple of years later, another bundle of joy. Then nine years later, a third jewel appeared. By this time, I was settled and relatively happy. I felt very much accepted by society. I had made friends, understood and accepted the British way of life, and was loving it.
But then cracks began to appear. As the children grew older and left the family nest, the cracks grew wider and deeper. I became unloving and deceitful. I was in deep misery. After a while, I started to reflect on the days at University in Hawaii, those days when I was in ‘heaven on earth’. I so desperately wanted to have that again, but I didn't know how to get it. (I probably knew but didn't want to go down that path.)
During one of my trips back to Hawaii to see my mother, I related my early ‘heaven on earth’ experience to the brother who had introduced me to the gospel many years ago. He simply said, 'It was the Holy Ghost.' It shocked me! It had never crossed my mind. His response helped me to put two and two together, but I was stubborn as a mule and would not turn to the Lord. I sought the ‘counsel of man' to help me deal with my problems, but soon realised that I was going around in circles. At least, it was a starting point to regaining a sense of self-worth. But it was not enough. I yearned to experience that ‘heaven on earth’ happiness.
It was plain to me what I needed to do, but I still hesitated to do the right thing—to turn my life over to God. I was hesitating because in my mind returning to Church had some negatives. The Lord would require a commitment that I wasn't ready to give. So, a few more years were lived in misery.
Finally, I was ready to change, to commit myself to God; I just couldn't continue as I was. I went to church, talked with my bishop, and took the painful step of repentance. I was afraid of going through this process. I didn't want to go through it again. It was too painful. It would be too easy to turn away from the Lord—I'd done it once before. Would my commitment stand firm?
But since making this momentous decision, I have learnt to love God and have gained a stronger testimony of the gospel of Christ. My ‘conversion’ didn't end there, it was just a starting point, albeit a momentous one. As I've attended church, studied the scriptures, and repented continually, I have become a happier person. I have learnt that accepting callings in the Church helps me grow stronger and become more faithful. It helps me develop character, but more importantly my relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, bringing me closer to them. Conversion is an ongoing process, continually trying to live in accordance with the love of God.