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Mitt Romney as a Young Missionary: How He Overcame Despair and Refuted Attacks from a Catholic Priest

Before I went on my mission to France, I read the Book of Mormon, fasted for a day, and prayed to have God reveal to me whether it was true or false. Nothing happened. I had read in the book of Moroni that I would get an answer, and I assumed it would be clear, convincing, and probably somewhat physical. I had forgotten the earlier passages in the Book of Mormon that suggested that its truth could come instead through a more experiential, lengthy process (see Alma 32, for one example).

I hadn’t received the answer I’d expected, but nevertheless I embarked on my mission, leaning on the faith of my parents, the tradition of my family, the weight of my ancestors’ sacrifices for the Church, and the encouragement of my girlfriend, Ann.

The first year of my mission was seriously difficult: little success combined with mind-numbing repetition. But I studied a good deal and came to better understand the doctrine. My spiritual experiences were to follow.

A Black Cloud

While serving in the Paris district, living at 126 Rue du Château, I was ready to retire one evening when I was overcome with bleak and desperate feelings, almost as though a black cloud had enveloped me. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. At one point, the thought even came into my mind that I should throw myself from the window of our fifth-floor apartment. Recognizing that these thoughts were not all my own, I remembered the account of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, wherein he spoke of experiencing a similar bleakness. So, thinking of his example, I knelt down and prayed for deliverance.

Upon standing, I was filled with a remarkable sense of energy and clarity of thought. I spoke to my companion the words that came to my mind, including specific experiences that I felt would occur during my mission, the declaration that I would marry Ann and have many children, and a description of events and accomplishments that I could see occurring during my career. Of course, this all may seem to someone who did not experience it to be mere machinations of mind. But my words cannot capture the reality of what I experienced that evening. And nothing remotely similar has ever happened again. I am convinced that this was the influence of the Holy Ghost.

A Spiritual Gift

Several months later, while serving in Versailles, I received what might be called a spiritual gift. A Catholic priest, Père Chery, had advertised a lecture on “Mormonism” to be given at a local theater. The hall was packed. His attacks were well rehearsed and effective. The Berthelin family, whom we had been teaching, was in attendance. Mr. Berthelin was very negative about the Church and disputed my teaching. He was an engineer of some success, owning an ample single-family residence in Versailles. As the new district leader, it fell to me to do or say something about the priest’s critical presentation. I stood at the side of the hall and began to refute each of his arguments. I was told by my companions afterward that my French had been flawless and my presentation superb. Neither of those things was a regular occurrence, I assure you. The priest tried to interrupt me, but the audience booed him and shouted for me to continue, which I did. Afterward, Mr. Berthelin came up to me and asked how soon he could be baptized. He later served in the district presidency.

As my mission proceeded, there were other instances when I detected the presence of the Holy Spirit and was able to foresee people’s behavior or take effective action. This was not an ever-present sense, however. The great majority of my mission was drudgery, sprinkled with flashes of clarity and exhilaration.

Lead image courtesy of Mitt Romney


As you embark on any new adventure, whether it's schooling or a mission or a career, there are nuggets of wisdom from others that can prove invaluable. Mitt and Ann Romney have found lessons in their own life experiences, so they wrote a letter to their grandchildren in hopes of helping them face critical decisions and turning points. And now they share those bits of wisdom—for finding your own abundant life—with you in Simple Truths for an Abundant Life from One Generation to Another.

From their insights about the "Five Big Years" (ages 15 to 20), to their beliefs about God and church, to marriage and raising a family, and finally to what constitutes success and what builds character, the Romneys will inspire you to be better tomorrow than you are today. And perhaps their vulnerable authenticity will help you find a way to leave your own legacy of values, love, and wisdom to those who will follow after you.

Includes stationery and envelope in the back to share your own simple truths with the ones you love.

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