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A few weeks ago I was asked by our local missionaries to find some people willing to share their conversion story with one of the people they were teaching. I knew of a lot of my friends from various walks of life who had converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) so I asked for their conversion stories.
I appreciate the responses and will have a little “series” of posts called Mormon Conversion Stories. Each person’s story is unique and very personal, but it illustrates just how personal our Heavenly Father is when we open our hearts up to Him.
The first story I would like to share is from one of my friends named Brandon. He is a gifted illustrator and has a website: http://www.drawingfaith.blogspot.com where he has drawn images from various stories in the scriptures.
Here’s his story:
Brandon’s Conversion Story: From Catholic to Mormon
I was born Catholic, to a great family. My dad is an incredibly family-centered man who has always sacrificed for our family. My mom (with Dad’s support) made sure that my brother and I got a traditional upbringing in our native faith, complete with us going through most (if not all) of the Catholic ordinances, and I remember Mom reading to us from the Bible a lot as we grew up. I believe this instruction helped prepare and build my faith in the Lord.
By the time I was 19, I was in art school and working at a local movie theater. It was a wonderful time of making new friends, learning, and growing. Somewhere around that time a young man completed his mission in South Africa, Johannesburg. He went by “Fritz” and came back to work at the theater. Being ignorant of what being “Mormon” was, I have to admit that when I heard Fritz was Mormon I thought it meant that he was Amish He was a very interesting and cool guy. My best pal from those days and I became fast friends with him. As we hung out, as recently-returned missionaries are wont to do, he shared with us about his faith. I can remember being at McDonald’s as he shared with us about the Plan of Salvation—God’s plan for us that includes our pre-mortal life and choice, as His spirit children, to come to earth. I can’t remember all the details of what he shared that night, but I can say that neither I nor my friend had ever heard anything religious that made so much stunning, intellectual sense as what we were told that evening. After that conversation both my friend and I expressed the sentiment that we were ready to “sign-up,” so to speak. But it would be some time before anything would truly gel for me about the faith.
Fritz also shared with us about the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Eventually I requested a copy from him. One day as my friend and I were working in the box office, Fritz came up to us with two copies of the Book of Mormon, and said, laying them at our stations, “Here’s two free tickets to Heaven.” That makes me chuckle to remember.
I began to read the book, every night going through a chapter or so. The book had been prepared with tabs to key chapters. There was a tab at Moroni 10:3-5, still a favorite for me. As I opened to the tab and read those yellow-highlighted verses, I understood I needed to pray to know if the book was true. (It is interesting to me just how much my faith was growing at this time. I was at a point where I feared that God would actually answer me. Funny, I know. But the gravity of actually connecting with the Divine was a very new and startling idea for me.) That scripture in Moroni promises that an answer will come to those who ask in sincerity of heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ—that the answer will come, “by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Now, over a decade later, I understand better how the manifestations of the Spirit can be sometimes subtle and small, or sometimes dramatic, warm, and unmistakeable. But as a younger man I didn’t know what it would mean to get an answer, or how it would come.
With the best faith that I had at that time (certainly like a grain of mustard seed), I began to pray and ask. I believe I had only (or very mostly) Catholic training regarding prayer, so each night I would pray the Our Father and then add some of my own words to ask for the truth of these things.
Nothing happened right away. I read through quite a bit of the Book of Mormon, night by night. Then, when I was somewhere into the Book of Alma, while reading one of the war chapters, I began to envision the armies, the scenery, as I read. When I finished reading, an overwhelming feeling of warmth and peace came upon me. It was a better feeling than I had ever had. I was by myself in my bedroom. I looked up at the ceiling and said something along the lines of, “Wow. There is a God.” The feeling was so wonderful that I did not want it to leave and it stayed with me for quite some time. It was enough for me to recognize not only the existence of God, but also the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
I learned that the next natural step, having received a witness that this is true, was to be baptized. My pal, Fritz, was at BYU during this time, so we would write letters to each other. I asked what I needed to do to be ready for baptism, and he helped to guide me (I wanted to be worthy of it and had some behavioral clean-up to do). I soon began to meet with the missionaries, got baptized, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience I do not regret. My membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been life-changing and so very positive.
I must add, among so very many other things I could share, that in recent years I have pondered why, though I was nightly praying and reading, I had to wait those many nights before I got an answer from God (I had made it into the chapters of Alma for Pete’s sake). And why was it that I was reading a war chapter on the night He gave to me to feel the Holy Spirit that first, dramatic time? As I pondered this while driving home from work on a wintry day, I received a distinct impression in my mind about how important it is to fight for those things that are best in life. Anything worth it is worth fighting to obtain. In fact, if you’re fighting through life to stay true and/or to gain truth then you’re on the right road. The things we struggle to obtain are often the things we treasure the most. To anyone who is pondering about the Book of Mormon, or wondering whether joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the right move, I say hold on. Seek the Lord about the truth of it. He will answer, in His time and way—in the best and most instructive way for your needs.
I also believe that John 7:17 shoots us straight, that the proof is in the pudding: “If any man will do (God’s) will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” We should try these things out, try to live what we’re reading in the Book of Mormon to know the truth of it. Walking the path of truth paves the way for the Holy Spirit to find us.
Illustration & Design
Recently I received some comments on an old article I wrote about Mormons being born again. I reached out to a friend of mine I met through this website who is a pastor at Addisville Reformed Church in Pennsylvania. I want to thank Doug Dwyer for taking the time to answer my questions and hope that it helps both Mormons and Christians from other faiths see where we have common ground.
Wind hit me and rain pelted down on my frozen skin like a pellet. Shivering and shaking like a leaf on a tree, I looked up and watched as all of the
people in my heat of the race continued on without me. My dream of finishing a triathlon seemed to diminish with every gust of wind and drop of rain. Minutes before, I had made the decision to swim to the side of the shore. The three foot waves may as well been a tsunami because with every breath I tried to breathe, I swallowed in more water. As I sat shaking on the rock I pondered 3 questions:
Who am I to think I could finish a triathlon, especially under these circumstances?
I could easily just climb up from the rock and walk back over to my car. Why am I still sitting here, and why am I even here in the first place?
Finally, questions such as where am I even going and why is it important to me? Lingered in my mind.
Six months prior to the race, I was a recent college graduate working a part-time job. I had an extra 20 hours per week on my hands and had started reading about triathlons. The event seemed like such a monstrous challenge, especially since I had never had swimming lessons and was a very poor swimmer. Furthermore, I hadn’t really pushed myself to the limits necessary to physically and mentally endure such a race. The more I read about it, the more I wanted to do it, so I set forth a game plan.
First, I purchased “The Triathletes Training Bible” and studied it religiously. I learned how to track my work-outs and eating. Part of this included getting rid of foods that were bad for me and wouldn’t give me proper energy like fatty and sugary foods. I cleared my house of bad foods and started keeping close watch over what I ate. I learned from expert athletes about how to mentally and physically prepare for the race. I put up charts to track my progress and stay focused and every day as I read, I would focus on my vision during each stage of the race. I could see myself confidently swimming gracefully through the water, churning 20 mph on the bike and running like the wind. Over time, I gained complete confidence that I could not only finish, but do well in the race.
Next, I assessed my weaknesses. I noticed an obvious flaw in my swimming and cycling abilities. I had participated in running races previously, and saw some slight areas of improvement there as well. After analyzing my weaknesses, I decided that I needed more hands-on guidance in swimming and cycling. I turned to two experts in each area: a girl in my church who was on the BYU swim team, and my roommate, who was on the BYU cycling team. As I approached them asking for help, they graciously obliged to coach me.
A few times each week, I would meet with my coaches and they would help me with technique and encourage me. Over time, I became much more efficient in both swimming and cycling. For example, when I first started swimming, I couldn’t even go for ½ a lap. By the end, I was swimming laps for 45 minutes without stopping.
Finally, I turned to other experts such as people at the pro-shops who were seasoned racers. I would ask them questions about the proper equipment, techniques, and strategies. I learned about how to properly eat before, during and after the race, what swimming, biking, and running gear are essential, and how to mentally prepare. One word of wisdom that I wished I would have heeded was that I should purchase a wetsuit for the race. The athlete who told me this strategy said it was helpful for a number of reasons: first, to provide buoyancy, and second to keep me warm in case of inclement weather.
As I sat shivering on the rock with my swim goggles pulled up over my head, watching as countless athletes swam past me with their wetsuits, I realized that I had made a serious mistake. However, I thought about all of the time and effort I had put into preparing as well as the time and effort my coaches had put into me. They believed in me, and I also believed in myself. I also envisioned how dejected I would feel by quitting without reaching my goal of finishing the race.
I realized that over the course of 6 months of training, I had become an athlete as well. I was in the best shape of my life and I was there to prove to myself and others that I could overcome a challenge and meet a goal I had set for myself.
A picture came to my mind that I had seen nearly every day for 6 months as I had trained. It was a picture of a strong athlete finishing the race with hands held high in triumph. As my mind caught hold of the vision of finishing the race, I pulled my goggles back down over my eyes and jumped back into the frigid water. I didn’t want to let myself down.
When I stumbled out of the water, I had only one focus and that was to get to my bike. However, I was very, very cold and shivering almost uncontrollably. My friend, who was waiting for me instantly ran over to me and helped warm me up, gave me some food for energy, and helped me get my shoes on and onto my bike. He gave me some words of encouragement and a big pat on the back as I started to ride.
I was so far behind that the next heat of racers was already getting onto their bikes. I was the very last one in my heat. Competition started to kick in and I pedaled as fast as I could. Within a few minutes, the blood was circulating and I was thinking clearly. I could clearly picture in my mind me running across the finish line. However, that event was another hour or so down the road. I realized that I needed to focus on a shorter goal. What I chose was targeting the racer right in front of me and trying to catch up and pass him. This strategy worked because I ended up gaining ground and finishing about in the middle of the pack once I ran across the finish line.
The Race of Life
When the huge and cold waves of the lake washed over me and I was overcome in the triathlon, I took time to swim over to a rock and re-focus on who I was and why I wanted to finish.
In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation—even thoughts of timeless truths?… when sickness enters the house of good health, when life’s candle dims and darkness threatens. Our thoughts become focused, and we are easily able to determine what is really important and what is merely trivial…In our times of deepest reflection or greatest need, the soul of man reaches heavenward, seeking a divine response to life’s greatest questions…
One of the main purposes for our life, if not the main purpose in life is to develop charity, or Christ-like love for ourselves and each other. In the Book of Mormon Moroni wrote:
And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
Clearly developing the gift of love is one of the greatest purposes we have in this life.
Whatever our situation in life is, if we pause to pray and reflect on how we can love more deeply, we will be blessed with a closer relationship with God and our fellow men. Like a triathlon, it takes patience and preparation and daily focus. As we read our scriptures, pray, and surround ourselves with things that will bring us closer to God, it is important to realize that we can not endure the journey to the end without the help of Jesus.
One thing to keep in mind as we do everything we can to develop the gift of Charity and endure to the end of our “race” is that were it not for Jesus there wouldn’t even be a race for us to run. If Jesus hadn’t already won the race by suffering for our sins and dying on the cross, we would be hopeless and unable to obtain eternal life.
Not only has Jesus provided us hope through the Atonement, but He is also there to help us in our daily walk with God. We need to realize that, like me stumbling out of the water, weak and exhausted and needing help to be lifted up onto my bike, we cannot move forward and be lifted up without Jesus. Daily, we need to call on him and He will provide us with the strength we need to continue on.
Whatever trial we are facing, I hope we can find the energy to reach within ourselves and get back into the race by calling out to our Father in Heaven for help. I know that if we do this, God will provide us support and strength to continue on and it is my hope that if we do this, we will eventually enter into His presence.
I just read the article and watched the videos on the news broadcast about my friend, John McDonald, who just lost his young daughter today. I can’t even fathom how painful it must be for them today as they remove her from life support.
After she is gone, they not only will have to deal with the loss of their precious daughter, but the financial burdens from the expensive medical costs as well.
Below are some of the ways that you can join me in helping this family out in time of need:
- Pray for them
- Pay for them: if you go to this website, you can donate some money to cover some costs. They need $50,000 and only have about $15,000 raised so far
- Encourage them: you can leave words of encouragement when you leave a donation. Even if they don’t know you, I’m sure they will appreciate your kindness
In closing, if you have ever lost a son or a daughter, there was a very good talk by a Mormon General Authority given this past week in the October 2012 General Conference. He shares a very touching story of losing his little son and sharing how he was able to rely on the Savior to help him through the trial. The video is in the link below:
One of my main purposes of this site is to unite people of all faiths into a common ground of understanding through uplifiting dialogue online. I feel that slowly and surely we’re all beginning to come together as people of faith. One example of this is the recent forum at Notre Dame entitled “Conviction and Compromise: Being a Person of Faith in a Liberal Democracy”. At this forum, they had a few Christian leaders from various denominations,including: Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville; Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Rick Warren, founding pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California; and Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, and a Mormon apostle (Dallin Oaks, pictured in the middle).
The discussion surrounded the role religion should play in our political decisions.
I thought it would be interesting to see how readers of this blog feel about the issue and thought we could have a panel of our own.
I will share the questions asked at the forum to each of the religious leaders. When you leave a comment, share with us your religious affiliation and then answer the questions.
Panel Discussion Questions (as taken from the Notre Dame forum)
- How can people of faith reconcile religious conviction with politics, which is often described as the “art of compromise”?
- Should voters take a candidate’s religion into account when casting their ballot?
- How should elected officials apply their faith when making policy?
- How does religious diversity affect our national understanding of religion’s role in both politics and government?
On Sundays we try and focus more on the Savior than we normally would during the week. By this I don’t mean that we forget about God during the week and then do a turn-around on the Sabbath, but we try and make Sundays a little more focused on Jesus and His gospel.
One example is that we try not to watch movies or TV shows that aren’t centered around the Savior or the Gospel.
Our little girl, who is 3 1/2 years old, loves her Disney cartoons, but on Sunday we typically have her watch cartoons about Jesus.
Recently, we watched a cartoon about Jesus titled “Jesus the Son of God” that has the story of him as a young boy going to the temple and being left behind by his family. It shows how his parents, Mary and Joseph searched all through the city and one of the last places they look was in the temple, where they find Jesus teaching the Jewish priests about fulfilling the Law of Moses.
As I watched the cartoon about Jesus, I thought about my own life and how many times I look for answers in many other places before going straight to a place (such as the scriptures, prayer, church, temple, etc) where I know I can find my answers from God. Generally, when I do this, I receive answers in the form of peace and guidance.
I also thought of how many people are out there struggling to find peace and light in their lives and they search in all the wrong places. It is my hope and prayer that I can be an instrument in God’s hand to help some people find Him. It is also my hope and prayer that all of you can do the same. I believe that as we do this together, many people will be blessed and find God.
P.S. for those of you with small children, or if you just like cartoons about Jesus, here’s a link to the video:
I received an email from a close family member of mine who is of a different Christian faith requesting that I listen to the sermon given by a former Muslim who had converted to Christianity.
In the sermon, the gentleman discusses the differences between Muslim and Christianity and basically (without saying it, but implying it) that all Muslims had better convert quickly or go to Hell. One of the reasons this man feels the Muslims are heading to Hell is because they do not accept the doctrine of the Trinity.
He goes on to quote Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on the Trinity as well, stating that a Muslim would say “Amen!” to Jefferson’s point of view on the Trinity.
Here are some of Jefferson’s thoughts:
—– To John Adams, 1813
It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three; and yet that the one is not three, and the three are not one . . .
—– To Van der Kemp, 1820
The genuine and simple religion of Jesus will one day be restored: such as it was preached and practised by himself. Very soon after his death it became muffled up in mysteries, and has been ever since kept in concealment from the vulgar eye. To penetrate and dissipate these clouds of darkness, the general mind must be strengthened by education.
I’ll have to admit that I also said “Amen!” when I heard the former Muslim-converted-to-Christian man share Jefferson’s quotes. It falls right in line with the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ as the Mormons believe.
Mormons believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the LDS or Mormon Church) is the restored church that Jefferson wished for. Personally, I feel that the LDS church probably isn’t an exact restoration of how it was when Jesus walked the earth, but it’s the closest one we have on the planet now. Also, I believe that the LDS view of the Trinity makes a lot more sense than what standard Christians believe.
Mormons believe that there is a God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit who make up the Godhead. Each one is an individual personage and makes a lot more sense than the more common explanations of the Trinity that are very complicated, as Jefferson points out.
So…what do you think? If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, would he have been a Mormon?
Baptisms for the Dead have been a part of the Mormon church almost from the beginning. For those who are not familiar with the Mormon view of baptisms for the dead feel free to review this link for articles and scriptural references on baptisms for the dead. Here is a very short history on where Baptisms for the Dead originated:
Joseph Smith had received a vision of the celestial kingdom in which he saw his brother Alvin, who had died before Joseph had received the gold plates (see D&C 137). Joseph was surprised to see Alvin in the celestial kingdom, because Alvin had not been baptized before he died. The Lord explained to Joseph that all people who would have received the gospel, been baptized, and lived righteously if they had been given the opportunity will be able to be in the celestial kingdom (see D&C 137:7). Joseph later learned that baptisms for the dead could be done vicariously, using people on the earth as proxies.
Recently there was an article that covered members of the Jewish community being upset with the LDS church because an LDS member had done what is called “baptisms for the dead” in a Mormon temple for a holocaust victim. According to the article the LDS member who did the baptisms had seriously violated the church’s policy on baptizing deceased members of the Jewish faith as there had been an agreement between top Jewish and Mormon leaders.
If this LDS member is like me, he never heard anything about an apparent agreement between the Jews and Mormons not to have deceased members of the Jewish faith get proxy baptisms.
Some members of the Jewish community were outraged and suggested that the Mormon church should do away with baptisms for the dead. This sentiment is also found within members of the Catholic church and other Evangelical churches.
Personally, I highly doubt that the Mormon church would do away with baptisms for the dead. It is one of the key aspects of the religion.
Furthermore, I don’t see the reason why members of other faiths are so opposed to baptisms for the dead. The way I see it, if they don’t believe in baptisms for the dead, then it is irrelevant if the Mormons do it in their temples.
What are your thoughts?
Last week’s article was about how to develop Charity (which we identified is the pure love of Christ) in one’s life. This week, I thought it would be appropriate to share how you can measure the extent that you have Christ’s love in your heart. These suggestions were given by members of our Stake Presidency on how to measure if one has pure love, or charity in their heart:
1. You feel a sincere desire to help others
2. Praying daily for charity
3. Looking for opportunities to serve, first within your own home and then with your neighbors
4. Being kind and patient in word and deed (even when it is hard)
5. Thinking about others’ needs
He had about 4-5 more that he discussed, but he talked so fast I couldn’t write them all down!
Some additional ideas I considered afterwards include:
1. Willingness to forgive
2. Not judging others
What other ways would you suggest as a good way to measure if on has the pure love of Jesus?