Not many years ago, in a small Colorado town, my Grandma T. was a senior in high school. Rumor has it, there was always 6 feet of snow and Grandma had to walk up hill in both directions everywhere she went (according to Grandpa).
My Grandma had been familiar with churches as she grew up. She attended various Sunday School meetings with friends who were part of a number of different congregations. Though she attended many meetings, she had not felt to join to any church.
One day, Grandma came home from school to what she remembers as an unpleasant surprise bit of news: Two young missionaries had stopped by her home teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her mom had invited them to come over later that day to teach them. At first she was not happy about this inconvenience and intrusion in her teenage life. However, when they began sharing their message, she felt it was familiar and right.
Grandma said she was baptized not to long after into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She knew she had made the right choice. However, their family, largely unnoticed by many in the community, became the target of persistent attempts to distract them from their newfound faith. This was a great trial for her brother and her mom. There were times when faith wavered. Not everything just fell into place. Through even ounces of faith at a time, my Grandma’s conversion to the restored Gospel took time to build a solid foundation.
Elder Richard G. Scott said, “Sometimes the word converted is used to describe when a sincere individual decides to be baptized. However, when properly used, conversion means far more than that, for the new convert as well as the long-term member.”
Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to serve a mission. I have learned that I need more than a desire – I need a testimony, I need to be converted.
Often times when we share personal experiences, there was someone else involved. Or – in case of my conversion – many, many someone’s involved. As my grandma said, it takes time. And I would add: it takes many.
My hope has been if I can recognize what truly made the difference for me, I will be able to help so many recognize their own conversion.
Before we moved to Saratoga Springs when I was 12, we lived in Syracuse, Utah. Our neighbors were the Gailey’s. All their kids were older than us, so usually as a little kid you wouldn’t expect the “cool big kids” to give you the time of day. But, I remember Michelle inviting me as a preschooler to be a part of one of her middle school classes. I remember Nate constantly teasing me, in a good way. He would also take me out for ice cream. I remember Jared smiling whenever he saw me and saying “I smell Turkey!” –which I thought was the funniest thing ever. And I remember Nicole always having a bright smile for us. Their parents were no different. Terry taught me piano and always had a yogurt snack for us. When I was older, Bishop Randy invited me to mow his lawn for him (at which I was not proficient). I can’t touch on a hundredth of what they did for us, but years later, no matter what I was struggling with or how things were at school, I remembered how important and loved they made me feel. They have been and continue to be a part of my conversion. As a missionary, I feel it essential that everyone I speak to feel how important they are to the Lord and that they feel his love for them.
In 3rd grade, I had a wonderful teacher. Mrs. Bowen. She was – and still is – lively, caring, and insightful. As a student, sometimes I struggled to get along with my peers or whatever it may have been. Mrs. Bowen saw this and she understood. She took the time to talk with my parents, to explain what she saw. Even when there were misunderstandings between students in the class, they were handled calmly and carefully. She helped me feel the complete understanding that God feels for each one of us, and that made me feel very safe. I want to make sure that to whomever I am talking (a person on the street, an investigator, or a member) they feel safe and that my mission is not one to condemn, but to understand, listen, and teach by the Spirit.
Ms. Jennings was my Middle School Theater Director. We had just moved to Saratoga Springs that year and I was feeling alone without friends. It seemed as if all the forces were against me. However, when I joined the Musical, she taught each of us something very important: all around us, we have friends. She showed me that there is goodness, I just have to look for it. This lesson has strengthened my conversion when times get tough, because I know that if I just look for Him, I will find God. I hope that the message I share as a missionary is that no matter who you are, if you just look for God you will find Him.
I joined Student Council my Sophomore year of High School as an Ambassador. Mr. Michael Dunn was our advisor. Conversations with him are among some of my favorite memories in high school. The topics varied from student council activities to politics and even to religion. It was a great time for me to reflect and to listen. When things have gotten crazy and I begin to question my testimony, I’ve remembered the clarity I felt when I took the time to stop and think. I will be serving in New York and from what I hear, it is a pretty busy place. With all the hustle and bustle, it will be a great place to help people sit back and reflect. Because in order for us to feel the Spirit I have noticed that I need to take some time out, put away those earbuds, my books, put away my computer. Hopefully, as a missionary I can help others slow down, stop, think, and feel the truth.
Mr. Openshaw, our high school principal was another figure of Christ. I remember many students my freshman year that didn’t like him because he was so stern, unforgiving and mean. In fact, I remember his wife once told me he was a big “teddy bear” and I just thought that was ridiculous. But, as we read in the scriptures, Christ said, “Be not afraid, only believe…” (Mark 5:36) and Mr. Openshaw led like a leader without fear. And it was quite evident in the things he said and the way he did things. I got to know who he is as a person and I saw Christ through him. I saw what a great man he really is and what he was able to accomplish. “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” (D&C 6:36) Truly, Christ was teaching me through him, that in order to get something done I need to not fear man. I need to know who God is.
My Junior year in high school, I joined Track and Cross Country. Coach Robison and Mr. Durham were our coaches. I ran distance, which meant I was all about endurance and that was tough sometimes. During our races, I would run passed coaches who were scolding, “Come on! What are you doing?! You can do better than this!” It didn’t sit well with me. However, when each runner on our team ran past our Coaches, whether ahead or behind, we heard encouraging words like “You can do this, pick up your pace!” or “You’ve got this!” or “You’re almost there!” This, during the race, spoke to me like Christ. Life is often like a race. It isn’t always easy and we must endure. They showed me there are better things ahead and that positivity trumps negativity. They showed me that Christ speaks when we’re listening and need Him the most. If I can share with those who are looking for God, who are looking for truth, I know that they will find God. In the beginning they may feel the truth and what is right but in order for them to stay and just push through when things are tough they will need to continually be listening for Christ’s encouragement.
Bishop Pickering, Bishop Monson, my scout leaders Brother Stevens, Brother Cozart, Brother Terry, and of course, President Willden, and all of my priesthood leaders have shown me what a testimony is: what it is and what it can do. As I have watched them fulfill their callings, they have shown me how to be a true servant of the Lord: through constant, selfless, humble service. I pray that I will emulate this as a missionary.
In middle school, high school, and college I have had wonderful, choice friends that have shown me the true meaning of friendship. Without realizing it, they were teaching me how to be a friend to Christ. These friendships have taught me how to love others. I hope that I can help others become a friend to Christ. If I can be the same friend to those I teach, I know they will feel the love God has for them.
And something would be amiss if I didn’t mention my family: Unwavering support, constant love, incredible examples, and dear friends. From my mom, I have learned to look for meaning in the scriptures; from my dad, how to work; from Abby, how to be selfless; from Madisen, how to laugh when things are hard; from Josh, how to feel the Spirit; from David, how to role with the punches; and from Enoch, how care for others. Each of them has been a little light of Christ. And even though I am the oldest brother, at times, I felt like I was they were the oldest.
Each of these people has helped me see different aspects of Christ. When He taught the people, He taught with pure love, with charity. While He did reprove and chastise, He never insulted. The love with which He taught helped people realize how important they were to Him. He tells us that His arms are outstretched towards us, and we can find Him if we just look for Him.
His Disciples immediately said that there was a large crowd and that it was probably someone just bumping into him. However, Christ took the time to stop and care for the woman, as if to say, ‘No, someone needs my help.’ Truly, he was an ultimate example of a leader. He showed us what it means to press onward through difficulty for better things through His atonement. It was extremely painful for Him. More than any of us can even fathom. But he pressed on. And he is my Savior, Redeemer, and friend. I pray that Christ will walk with me through the streets of New York and Bermuda. My entire life He has placed angels on my path so I can be prepared to serve Him on a mission and beyond. I am grateful to Him for His patience with me.
I have a strong testimony that this church is true. And I know that as I walk the streets of New York, the Spirit will be with me. I pray that many will find the Gospel through the Spirit that I carry. I am grateful for His patience with me and for the role that the Atonement has played in my life. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.