On this week’s episode of This is the Gospel, two storytellers share about small decisions that had lasting impacts. At 18 years old, Vinnie moved away from his family and was ready to do things his way. But he promised his mom that he would try attending church one last time. Read how Vinnie’s decision to keep this promise influenced him when he felt lost—both physically and spiritually.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Vinnie: I get in the car and I follow the directions [to the church], and I got absolutely lost. Here I am in Chicago, lost, no clue where I am. This was before cell phones. I didn’t have any way to call anyone or look anything up. I didn’t have a GPS. So, I looked at the directions, and I kind of said a prayer off the cuff and just said, “You know, if you want me to go to church, you’re going to have to find this because I don’t want to go anymore. I’m done. I have other things I need to do, and I don’t want to do this anymore.”
I looked down at the note and this thought came to me . . . I said a prayer. Whether it was consciously or subconsciously, I wanted His help. But I didn’t want it because of my own pride and natural-man self.
I looked down at the directions. I just had this thought come to my mind, “What if it’s a left instead of a right?” And it wasn’t five minutes later, I was parked in the parking lot of the church and I was kind of dumbfounded. I was like, “You've got to be kidding me.” Here it was at this point where I went, “Well, I made the promise to my mom. I’ll do this one time, and then I’m done.”
I walked in and I sat way in the back away from everyone. I listened, and as I sat there, I don’t remember who was speaking, I don’t remember the hymns that were played, but I remember being scared to death. Because all of a sudden, I felt something that I had never felt before and certainly never that strong, if I ever had felt it. I literally was like, “I don’t know what this is,” and it scared me. And as soon as they said, “Amen,” I ran for those glass doors to get out of that building. I could not run fast enough.
And all of a sudden, this man stops me. He said, “You must be Vinnie.” I looked at him and I said, “What?” He said, “I’m Bishop Coleman.” I mean, here’s a bishop that has this whole ward. He knew that I was there and what my name was because he knew every member of his ward. And he knew that he had to run off of that stage to get to me. He grabbed me and he said, “Come talk to me for a few minutes.”
It wasn’t long. It was just brief. We sat down in his office and talked for a few minutes. And again, I’m scared to death. I’d never felt these feelings. But I’m looking at this man going, “How on earth did you do this?” And then that’s where a series of decisions and choices in my life changed everything.
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He introduced me to a sweet, sweet lady. She was over the young single adults at that time. And she said, “Come be with us. We have these great single adults here. Come upstairs to the classroom.” I said, “No, I cannot do that.” She got my information, I got hers, and I left. And I was like, “I’m not doing this. I can’t do this anymore.” I ran away, not wanting to go back, but also deep down realizing something just happened.
She was so sweet to reach out to me. I couldn’t say no because I knew deep down there was something there. She was a convert from Brazil and she loves the gospel, absolutely loves the gospel and loves people. All of her kids were away at college, and she took me in as one of her own boys and taught me and changed my life forever.
So, as I was developing a testimony here, I was working in Chicago and also going to school. In between work and school, I had about an hour of time and I would sit there and I would read the Book of Mormon as I would eat lunch. Here I was going to church and reading the Book of Mormon for the first time ever in my life. And I hung out a lot with these young single adults. They were so much fun.
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I remember one weekend, we were all together, we were playing games, and there were some returned sisters and some returned elders that we were with. They were talking about their mission[s]. They were talking about experiences that they had—people that they taught. I don’t know if they’d planned this for me or what, but it worked because they didn’t pressure me. They didn’t ask me about whether or not I was going to serve a mission. They were just being friends.
But all of a sudden, it started to stir within me, because during this year of being in Chicago by myself, I had begun to understand what the Atonement really meant and what changing your life really meant. It was here, as I was listening to my friends talk about their missions, I had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to share what I learned.
That next day was fast Sunday. I had not borne my testimony since probably when I was a young kid. I got up and I bore my testimony about a desire to serve a mission. It was then that the bishop grabbed me right after again and said, “Oh, we’re going to plan this.” Next thing I know, I’ve got my papers turned in.
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When I made that decision to serve a mission, I actually called my dad and told him that I was going to serve. He had already helped me line up a job that I would have after graduating from college, and he was really disappointed in me. He wanted me to take that job and wanted me to help take care of my mom. Our conversation didn’t end the greatest, and I didn’t say much to him afterward. I don’t think we talked for over a month.
When I called my mom to tell her, it was an interesting conversation too. When I called my mom and I said, “Mom, I’ve made a decision.” She said, “You’re not getting married.” I said, “No mom, I’m not getting married.” And she goes, “Well you’re not coming home.” I said, “Well, you already knew that.” I said, “But I’m going to go serve a mission.” The phone just went silent. It felt like it was forever.
Then after however long, she said, “Are you sure?” And I had to stand up to my sweet mom and say, “Yeah, I’m sure.” She just couldn’t believe it. All those little decisions that I had made along the way, even from a little kid of just wanting to follow my mom and please my mom made a huge difference in my life.
You know, I made that decision that I wanted to leave home and never go back and have something different than what my brothers had and what my brothers’ decisions were. My brothers are good guys. They’re trying to do what they feel is right. I still look up to them in many ways, but I wanted to do something different to do it my way.
Little did I know that my way would turn into the Lord’s way, and how thankful I am because now I’ve got the most beautiful wife in the world. I’ve got six amazing children that are building testimonies, and we’re doing our best to live the gospel.
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I think we need to create our own way. And if you truly give your heart to Jesus Christ and you want to make Christ happy because you’ve built that relationship with Him, then you make the choices necessary, big or small.
I look forward to that day when I can see Christ and He opens His arms. I know in the scriptures it says He’ll say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). I don’t want Him to say a word. I just want to fall down and hug Him because He made it possible for me to be forgiven. He made it possible for me to change everything in my life. And now I have a better way of life.
Listen to Vinnie’s full story on this week’s episode.