In November of 1992 my family was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Until the missionaries came to our house I had never even heard the term “Mormon” before. All I knew was that there were two fairly attractive girls that came by the house fairly regularly and taught us about God. We were going to a Methodist church at the time, which I fairly enjoyed. (The building was a 5 minute walk from my house. To a 10 year old church can be rather boring, so the close the building the faster it is to get home.) With the change in denomination came a change in locations and a change in friends. My brothers and I were close to our friends across the street. When we were baptized, the boys were told that they could no longer be friends with us because we had joined a cult. I had no idea what that meant at the time and neither did my friends, I’m sure. All I knew was that losing a friend like that hurt.
But the decision was made and we stuck with the Church.
I was never really that into the whole religion thing. Sure, I believed there was a God–something bigger than me. Did he know who I was or even care? I had no idea. I didn’t really even care if there was or not. I was content to play with my friends and do things that made me happy. I suppose the best classification for me was “Obliviously Agnostic”. Keep in mind that when I was baptized it was not because I believed the Church was true or anything. I joined because my family did. What do you expect a 10 year old to do? My first Sunday going to the Mormon church I met a boy that would prove to be one of the best–and most influential–friendships of my life.
As the years went by I went through the motions. I received the priesthood when I turned 12. My family even got sealed together in the temple a couple of years after we were baptized. It was a unique experience for me (I remember seeing my parents dressed in the temple clothes and thinking that they looked kind of funny.). My brothers and I sat in the waiting room for a while and watched some videos for the animated Book of Mormon. I was familiar with the stories since the missionaries brought me a copy of the Book of Mormon reader when we were being taught. I read the whole thing in a single sitting, but didn’t get much out of it other than the basic events.
When I started High School it was time for me to start Seminary (I always called it Cemetery because it was so early that half of the class was dead asleep most mornings). My freshman year was supposed to be the New Testament, but I ended up rarely going because by this time my older brother–my ride–decided that the Church wasn’t for him. But my friends went and I decided that I’d go for the next three years, hoping maybe to get something out of it. Thus far in my life my experiences in the Church had kept me out of trouble and fairly content. I knew that there was something to it; I just hadn’t really articulated or given any thought to it yet.
Sophomore year was the Book of Mormon. I went for two main reasons: 1) the teacher was awesome and made us breakfast regularly and 2) I had the biggest crush on her daughter. Kinda lame reasons, I know, but at least it got me there. The next two years were a little more of the same. I had a new crush by this time and a new teacher. I actually started paying attention and learning more about the gospel. But I still didn’t have that elusive thing called a testimony.
Wikipedia defines testimony thusly: “In law and in religion, testimony is a solemn attestation as to the truth of a matter. All testimonies should be well thought out and truthful.”
The summer between my junior and senior years of High School proved to be the most important summer of my life, spiritually speaking. For years my friends had been listening to music from this camp called EFY. It was supposed to be Bible Camp for Mormon teens. I saw a flier in the chapel one Sunday and decided that it was my turn to go. I had always been telling my buddies in school that Mormons had the hottest girls, it was time to prove it. So with camera in hand–and scriptures buried somewhere in my bags–I loaded up the truck and went to the Emory University campus for a week of fun and flirting, with a little bit of faith thrown in for flavor.
With over 800 youth, this was the largest gathering of Mormons my age I had ever seen. It was exciting. There were games pretty much every night and pizza on Wednesday. There were even a couple of dances. The dances are where I put the camera to use–pictures of every girl I danced with. And then came Thursday night. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, or if you know me in real life, you’ll know that I was a counselor for EFY for 4 years. Thursday is what counselors refer to as “pay day”. On Thursday night we hold a testimony meeting and talk about what we have learned and about the gospel. I sat there in the back the whole time, listening to people bear their testimonies and wondering if I had one. I was still searching. After the meeting the counselors have extra time for their devotionals. Traditionally the counselors would let their youth have a few more minutes to bear their testimonies if they didn’t get a chance to in the big meeting. I sat there while a couple of boys in my group bore their testimonies–even the one Catholic boy in my group did it–but I was still quiet.
Later that night my counselor stopped by my room to talk to me. He asked me what I thought about the gospel and everything I learned. I was truthful. I had learned a lot, but still wasn’t sure. So then he gave me a challenge to read some passages from the Book of Mormon and then to really do what they say. The verses were Moroni 10:4-5: And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
After reading I decided that it was time to really find out–to really pray and know for myself. I knelt and started praying with real intent. As I prayed, I felt this warmth flow over me unlike anything I had ever felt before. It was a great feeling, like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket after a cold day in the snow, only the warmth never goes away and you know that no matter what everything will be okay. It was an assurance that, yes, there is a God, and, yes, he does love me. I knew at that moment that the Book of Mormon was true. Everything sort of fell into place. All the things that I had studied over the years came back to me. There were little tidbits of information that I had that strengthened my newfound testimony. But the heart, the very root of my testimony, is and always has been the Book of Mormon.
I’m not going to get into apologetics. I’ll let the professionals do that. But there are certain things that solidify my testimony more than others. Where did the Book of Mormon come from? Did some 14 year old boy in New York with a 3rd grade education write it? If so it’s quite impressive, seeing how he wrote in a form of writing that had barely even been studied by the scholars of his day (there are more chiasms in the Book of Mormon than the Bible and all the works of Shakespeare combined). The beauty and poetry in that Book speak to my soul. I know that it is true. It wasn’t made up by some farm boy in upstate New York. If the Book of Mormon is true then what Joseph Smith taught is true. If what he taught was true then the Church he started has to be true. This is the basis of my testimony. These are things that I know for myself. Now I can’t force anyone to believe what they don’t want to believe. All I can do is state what I know and hope that others will accept it. The sources are out there, but I hope that you will go to the main Source to find out for yourself. That’s what I did. It’s what has made me the man I am today. It has brought me nothing but joy and I am a happier person because of it.