In relating how or why they believe, people sometimes recount stories of God’s direct intervention in their lives. Perhaps they witnessed a miraculous healing. Perhaps they saw a light and heard a voice. I have never experienced any such things, as my testimony of God and Jesus Christ has come through more subtle and gradual experiences. However, I have been a first-hand witness to other people’s sudden conversions a number of times. These are very sacred memories for me, and I would like to share a few of them here.
In February 2004, I reported to the MTC (Missionary Training Center) in Provo, Utah to prepare for my mission to Taiwan. The MTC campus is similar to that of a small college, with the offices, dormitories, and classrooms that you might expect. While many missionaries stay there for three weeks or less, because I needed to learn Mandarin, I was there for 11 weeks.
In addition to the time we spent in classrooms learning the language and studying Gospel topics, we also frequently went to a call center to talk to people responding to various media campaigns the Church runs. Some of the people calling in were members of the Church, but most were not. Some had some idea of what the Church was all about, while some did not. Some called in to argue, while others just desperately needed someone to talk to.
Joe’s Northeastern accent was apparent immediately. He related to me the story of his experiences with religion from childhood. Raised a Catholic, he had become somewhat disaffected with the faith as a young man. This had sent him looking for truth in a number of different places, from “high-church” Protestant denominations to more obscure and unorthodox groups, including bona fide snake handlers. He explained how, while his relationship with God was important to him, and while his search for truth had been enlightening, he was still in a state of struggle and doubt. Not finding what he had been looking for in Protestantism, he had recently been considering a return to Catholicism. He was even thinking of becoming a priest, but he still had significant doubts.
Unexpectedly, life had taken him away from the Northeast to Nevada. Soon after Joe arrived there, a girl outside Walmart had given him a pass-along card. Intrigued, he had called the number on the card and gotten me. “So, I never heard of Mormons before I came to Nevada,” he said. “What’s this all about?” I gave him a brief rundown of the Restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith. As it had been a Book of Mormon pass-along card that had initiated this discussion, I explained what the Book of Mormon was.
“Now,” I asked, “if the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, don’t you think that would be important?”
“Oh, yeah, definitely,” he replied. “If there’s another book out there like the Bible…yeah, that would be really important to know.”
“Well, it is. And you can know that it is by reading it and asking God.”
I entered his information so the local missionaries could go see him, and I was about to end the call.
“Hey,” he said, “could you pray for me?”
“Of course!” Pause. “What, now?”
“Yeah, right now.”
So I did. We prayed together over the telephone. I do not remember what I said in any detail; I only remember that I could feel him listening intently, and I remember asking God to guide him in his search for truth.
When I said “Amen,” there was a long pause. And then, suddenly, I heard this:
His neighbors probably heard it too.
“What is this FEELING? I feel like I just got out of the shower!”
“That’s the Holy Spirit,” I said.
“I love Jesus! I love Jesus!”
He had searched for years and attended many different churches, but he had never really felt the influence of the Holy Spirit until that day. I do not know what happened to him after that, but I imagine that he is doing well.
Months later, I was riding around on my bicycle in the Hengchun/Kending area, at the southern tip of Taiwan. Outside of the city, rice paddies were common, and we would ride the roads that cut through them to talk to people in the small groups of houses that dotted the countryside.
As Taiwan’s economy is considerably stronger than those of most East Asian countries, it is quite common to find people who have gone there from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, mainland China, and other places to find work. Many of the Filipinos I met were actually university graduates who had come to Taiwan to work as domestic servants because that still paid better than any opportunities they had back home.
In one of the small hamlets outside of Hengchun, we met a disabled grandmother and the Filipina who took care of her. This young woman’s name was Ami. She spent all of her time with the old woman, paying her constant attention. As we began to talk, she told me of how her mother had basically forced her to come to Taiwan in an attempt to separate her from her husband – and how her husband, not quite heartbroken, had already moved on and found another woman. Unlike most people I met in Taiwan, people from the Philippines generally had a solid grounding in Christian doctrine. Such was the case with Ami: her religious belief was very real to her, such that she glowed at any mention of Jesus Christ and became visibly uncomfortable at any mention of the Devil.
Months before, I had made a flipchart of images important to our message. As most Taiwanese people did not grasp the gravity of our claim that modern-day prophets exist, I rarely showed anyone my picture of Gordon B. Hinckley on first encounter. However, I almost immediately showed Ami my painting of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, followed by President Hinckley and a statement of my belief that this man was a prophet of God like Moses.
Her eyes became wide.
“A prophet like Moses?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “If that’s true, don’t you think it’s important?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Ami, how can we know whether or not this man really is a prophet?”
“Pray to God and ask Him,” she said.
“Are you willing to do that?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
We returned several days later, and Ami greeted us with a smile.
“I prayed like you said, and I know he is a prophet. I want to join your church.”
I did not get to see Ami get baptized because she was not allowed to leave the old woman’s side even for a short time. However, she was heading back to the Philippines soon, and I am confident that she did get baptized there.
My last area in Taiwan was called Guiren, a suburb of Tainan. There, I met a cheerful and energetic woman named Joyce. She was in her thirties, and she was living with her parents, which is quite normal in Taiwan. At the time I came into the area, Joyce was the kind of person who missionaries often refer to as an “eternal investigator”. This is someone who remains happy and willing to continue talking to the missionaries, but who, for whatever reason, does not join the Church. Part of the reason for her indecisiveness was her father’s disapproval of the Church, but he had gradually warmed up to the missionaries in recent months. As for her personally, there was definitely something that she liked about the Church, but she described her experiences of actually attending Sunday meetings as dull and boring. She was still willing to pray and read scriptures, though, so we continued talking to her and her family.
And then, Taiwan was hit by a typhoon. Our mission office called us and told us that we should stay at home throughout the typhoon unless we had someone to visit nearby. Since Joyce’s house was just down the street, we called her and set up a time to come over. A little while later, with the storm blowing outside, we were sitting down in the living room with Joyce, her father, her brother, and her brother’s wife. Her brother was particularly talkative, asking many questions about what we believed. Opening the Book of Mormon, we read the story of Alma the Younger’s miraculous conversion – of how he, while going about persecuting the Lord’s people, beheld an angel, who chastised him and his companions.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. (Alma 36:17-18)
As we read this story and discussed it, Joyce’s family continued to talk with us, but Joyce was uncharacteristically silent.
After we arrived home that night, Joyce called us.
“Do you know why I was acting like a good little child and listening intently the whole time? It’s because God was in the room.”
“Well yes, Joyce,” I said, “I think God was in the room too.”
“No, no,” she said. “I know where he was standing. Can you guess where?”
Pause. “Um…where was He standing?”
“He was standing between the two of you.” I absorbed that for a moment. “I couldn’t exactly see Him, but I knew He was there.”
Joyce was soon baptized. After her baptism, she emphatically told us how much she loved coming to church meetings. She said that she now felt a sense of cleanliness, purity, and joy that she had never felt before. She told us that, every day, merely waking up to look upon the world had become a thing of immense gladness. She is still an active member of the Church.
I used to be a member of a Facebook group called “Ask a Mormon”. It was created for the purpose of facilitating communication between members of the Church and those who are curious about our faith. Between posts made by the token “haters” who were only there to stir up trouble and obsess over semantics and obscurities, I saw a post made by someone named Jodi who had some sincere, poignant questions. I did my best to answer her questions, and this led to more in-depth discussions online.
Coming from a Christian background, Jodi had been exposed to a number of Protestant faiths. Her cultural connections had also exposed her to Buddhism, though she never really believed in it. At the time we started talking, she was studying law and attending a Methodist church in her community, in which she was a member of the choir. Jodi had come in contact with our church because her ex-boyfriend and dance partner was a member. (And, to a small degree, because her school’s dance team was regularly trounced by BYU’s.)
A student of law at the time, Jodi had an insightful and exacting mind. While she ardently sought for truth, she resisted any desire to simply accept things as truth out of convenience. After we had talked for a few weeks, she told me of how she had been driving home the day before and had felt this sudden need to get out – to go somewhere. She had looked online for weekend deals for a flight, a hotel, and a rental car, and the only city that was within her budget and to which she had never gone was Salt Lake City.
“So I’m coming to see you,” she said.
We saw some of the sights, and we went to watch Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration in the Legacy Theater on Temple Square. The movie had intrigued her, but the numerous arguments people make against Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling were still swimming around in her mind. We had enjoyed the weekend, but no earth-shattering developments had occurred in her search for truth.
And then, weeks later, she called me again. She had been reading the Book of Mormon and praying about it. One night, while she was praying alone in her room, a light had appeared. It was a brilliant light without a discernible source, and it filled the place. Being someone with a very critical mind, Jodi immediately thought: “Am I hallucinating?” If so, it was the only time she had ever hallucinated. No, she knew this was real.
A few weeks later, I had the privilege to go on a road trip with one of the missionaries who had taught her previously to see her baptized. Not long after that, she and her ex-boyfriend got back together. I then had the privilege to go on a road trip with the same guy to attend their wedding.
I spent much of my free time as a high school student on the Internet refuting the arguments people make against my church, against the idea of modern revelation and prophecy, and against Joseph Smith in particular. I got pretty good at it, but I am by no means a scripture scholar, and I certainly do not have easy answers for absolutely every concern. But that does not concern me much. I find that people obsess over obscurities of doctrine and history only because they are unwilling to go to the source of truth and settle the matter once-and-for-all. I do not claim to know a lot, but I do know that God exists and that He loves us. Because of this, I know that the heavens are open – and that revelation comes to those who seek it in humility. Even when we have authoritative revelation from ancient and modern sources, the blessings connected to such revelation can only come into our lives so far as we are willing to seek revelation on a personal level, from the God who created us and who has promised never to forsake us.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. (Isaiah 49:15)