My sister moved to Gaithersburg, Maryland, after her divorce to start over and raise her two children. I was living with her and was a single parent to my son. Her friend Linda lived down the street, and we noticed young men with suits and badges coming in and out of her townhome and immediately thought she was in trouble with the FBI or the IRS. One day my sister asked her into the house and told her we wanted to help her. We told her of our FBI and IRS theories. She burst out laughing and almost fell over.
“No,” she laughed. “Those young men are members of my church, and they are teaching my husband gospel lessons.”
We looked at her and said, “Oh, Bible lessons.”
She said, “No. Book of Mormon lessons.”
“What’s that?” we both asked.
She then launched into a long story about Joseph Smith, gold plates, a vision of God and Jesus, and an entire history of the Church. Just when my sister started asking her questions, Linda said, “Sorry. I’m supposed to feed the missionaries. I have to go. I’ll talk to you soon.”
When my sister closed the door, I said, “If your friend believes all of that, she’s crazy!” My sister just shook her head, but I could tell she was interested. Over the next few weeks, she went over to her friend’s house whenever she saw the missionaries and asked so many questions her friend’s husband couldn’t get a word in, so they banned her from the townhome but promised to come teach her. She didn’t think they would come. Boy, was she wrong! It was their job to teach others about the gospel.
My sister wanted to know more; she apparently wanted a degree in “Mormonism.” But I wasn’t interested; I thought we only needed the Bible for a reference point in life. I left the room each time they came, though sometimes I would join in prayer at the end. She was being taught three or four times each week.
Finally, they taught her about the plan of salvation. They explained to her that her baby who had passed was with Jesus and that she would still have the opportunity to raise her. My sister’s ex-husband was a Catholic who never went to church. When their baby passed away, the priest told them the baby was lost. I had seen what that experience was like for her. After that lesson, she was all in and decided soon afterward to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Still skeptical, I thought: “She was a Muslim for six months when she was a teenager. We’ll see how long this church lasts.”
She read the Book of Mormon every day and discovered new things each time to share with me. But I didn’t want to hear it, so she stopped telling me of her discoveries. The big day of her baptism soon came. I went to her baptism and cried—something I never do. I thought it was because she looked so happy in the baptismal font. “Good for her,” I decided. “Whatever makes her happy.”
I went to her baptism and cried—something I never do.
Then one day she came home from church, though it wasn’t even Sunday. She had attended some Thursday meetings where they had taught her how to make chocolate candy. I decided that was it! She was turning into someone I didn’t even know. Making chocolate! Who was she? A Stepford Wife? She was changing, and I didn’t understand it or like it. I decided to take my son for a visit home to Kansas City and so bid her goodbye.
Things weren’t ideal in Kansas City. It was good to see my mom, but I missed my sister. Out of my seven siblings, I got along with her the best. She was my best friend. While in Kansas City, I heard people make rude remarks about the Latter-day Saints, and I didn’t like it because my sister was one. Not much time passed before I wanted to return to my sister in Maryland. She had always been the kindest and the smartest person in my life, and I decided to go back.
When I arrived at my sister’s townhome in Maryland, the place was overflowing with Latter-day Saints because she had accepted an assignment as a “ward missionary.” (The only “ward” I had ever heard of was Burt Ward, who played Robin on Batman, or someone being a ward of the state.) Church members were over all the time. These young men ate out of our refrigerator and mowed the grass. I felt relaxed and safe around them. They called me Sister Banks. One day while I was hurriedly making a sandwich before they ate up all the turkey meat, they asked me if I would like to take the missionary lessons. I said sure but immediately thought, “You’re not going to change me with your words.” My sister was hiding on the other side of the refrigerator and was ecstatic that I had agreed so readily.
Oh, they had no idea what a fight they had on their hands in the wrestle for my soul. What they were teaching me I already knew was true. I had figured out much from constantly reading from a young age. Plus the Spirit had taught me a lot because of my relationship with God. I knew He existed and loved me because I had met Him in my dreams when I was a sickly child struggling with asthma.
What they were teaching me I already knew was true.
I always talked to Him and prayed to Him, although I thought He loved the people back in Bible times more because He had talked to them directly, walked with them on the earth, and given them prophets. That was the one thing that was stopping me from getting baptized—the lack of Black prophets. I knew without a shadow of a doubt we Black people were just as good as White people. If there were no Black prophets in the history of the Church, well then it couldn’t be His church and I wasn’t joining.
They asked me every week if I would commit to baptism, and every week I said no. After this had gone on for about six months, they told me they wanted me to talk to this very spiritual sister in the ward. I did, and she told me: “You must pray to Heavenly Father, and He will tell you all you need to know.” The missionaries had read me the promise: “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” (Moroni 10:4–5). Somehow this sister said the same thing in a way that resonated with me, and I knew I had better pray to know for myself, but I still thought it wasn’t where I belonged because of the absence of a Black prophet. I also knew that there was no answer that a man could give me that would satisfy the racial disparity that I knew wasn’t of God. I was willing to pray, but I knew nothing would change.
One day I was in my son’s room cleaning, when my Savior and Redeemer of the entire world declared to me, “This is my Church, and ye shall join.” Jesus Christ came to me on earth and provided a hardheaded daughter with that supreme blessing that no one on earth could have given me. I trembled. I knew the voice of the Lord had spoken to me and that what He said was true. There, at the back of my mind, was the question that demanded a Black prophet. He knew. The Lord knew and said it didn’t matter. I said: “Lord, if it doesn’t matter to You, it doesn’t matter to me.” I walked back and forth with jubilation and awe at what had occurred. I stopped cleaning but could not keep still. I thanked Him over and over again for His consideration and kindness. I cried tears of joy that I had found the Lord’s Church on earth!
I cried tears of joy that I had found the Lord’s Church on earth!
I was so happy when I told my sister that I wanted to be baptized. I met with my missionaries, and they tiredly asked me the usual question—would I commit to baptism? Instead of my stock answer, I said yes. They couldn’t believe it! It was a miracle. Once our joy settled into a comfortable feeling, they said they wanted to warn me of one last thing. They told me that there were individuals who were prejudiced in the Church and that I must pray for them individually because the Church was true. I told them: “The Lord of Hosts told me the Church was true, and I don’t care if some members put on their white hoods, jump on their horses, and ride down the middle of the Church!”
I knew that this was the Lord’s Church. And nothing and no one was going to stop me from being a member of it. On December 5, 1992, I was baptized. Over ninety people attended my baptism. My sister gave a talk. When I came out of the waters of baptism, she clapped her hands with joy.