As a UK university student travelling around the USA in summer 1966, I first ‘met’ the Church in Salt Lake City. I accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon, which found its way back to my bookshelf unread.
My natural mother died when I was an infant. By the late 1970s, I was trying to live the principles of faith taught by a loving stepmother, a firm Anglican. She died when I was thirteen, and now I was only a nominal one. I was arrogant and competitive. But around that time I had been troubled by some humbling experiences at work. They disturbed me; I started to question the purpose of my life.
On February 10th, 1979, shortly after these musings, Sisters missionaries, Sister Banks and Sister Smith, came conducting a ‘family survey’. A series of visits followed, progressively revealing the Church’s teachings. The sisters marked and chained many scriptures in my copy of the Book of Mormon. I read all that they asked me to read, and more.
But early on I declared to them my disbelief in God. They asked, “Do you want proof that there is a God.” “Yes.” They responded, “Pray to God and ask him: ‘Are the things we’re teaching you true? Do you [God] exist?’” I rejected the idea, “I need faith first – it makes as much sense as talking to a brick wall.” They persisted, “If you are sincere, you’ll get answers.” Some days later I started.
After some further days, things happened. Wonderful warm feelings enveloped me – from head to toe. There was no turning back; I was keen to return home from work, pick up the scriptures and read, for I knew that I would have the same experiences – and I did. The Holy Ghost was surely witnessing to me: God existed; Joseph Smith was his Prophet; Jesus Christ was my Saviour.
It seemed that the Lord had intended to seek me out, once He knew that all obstacles had been removed and necessary humbling experiences delivered. Yet, I sought the views of two Anglican ministers. One refused to talk to me. The other heard me out, and finally said, “Chris, your mind is already resolved to join the Latter-day Saint Church. There’s nothing I can or would do to change that.”
The sisters set a date for baptism – March 16th – five weeks from the first contact! Yet, it happened. They fasted in support of their hopes. The Word of Wisdom was accepted, despite withdrawal symptoms – days of constant headaches. ‘Smoking’ became a thing of the past. But tithing was a problem – we were struggling to repay an expensive temporary mortgage. I rang the Bishop, whom I had yet to meet; he responded, “The Lord will bless you for your payment of a full tithe”. I prayed about the problem and decided to abandon an insurance-linked saving scheme. I never regretted the decision, for God more than repaid my faith.
My conversion experience remains clear in my memory – how could one forget it. How could Paul forget his experience on the road to Damascus. How could Joseph Smith forget his in the sacred grove. But I had been sought out, I had been called. I would never be the same again. And although I am blessed from time to time by spiritual experiences, my early witness of the Holy Spirit will stand supreme. It had to be strong to redirect me.
Today I am firm in my desire to stay in the fold. I am as sure now, as I was then, of the truths of the gospel, of the presence of holy men of God on the Earth today – prophets of the latter days, and of the special place that Christ has in my life.
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