45: Converted Unto the Lord
Stories in this episode: Jim, a devout Baptist, sends his five of his seven children on Latter-day Saint missions despite his misgivings about what they will teach and finds himself “tapped on the shoulder” by God; Though she grew up a member of the Church, Brooke doesn’t really search out her own testimony until devastating loss puts her faith, or lack thereof, at the forefront of her life; Missionaries go the literal extra mile to find Martin when he moves back to Norway after a visit to temple square; Dumdi finds the strength to remain faithful after baptism despite being alone in her efforts; When Monique’s family moves to a predominantly Latter-day Saint community, she vows to steer clear of “The Mormons” but finds herself drawn to the doctrine despite negative experiences.
Welcome to "This Is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
If you love to learn about bugs, then you enjoy entomology. But if you love to learn about the origin of words, well then you have a thing for etymology, which is what I have, a thing for etymology. For a really long time, I would get those two "ologies" confused, even though I am most definitely not a fan of things with lots of legs. What I am a fan of is where a word comes from and how it evolved into its current meaning. Take the etymology of the word "convert," for example. When the word is used as a noun, the online Macmillan dictionary defines it as someone who has changed their beliefs in an important way, and I really like that definition. But the actual origins of the word from the Latin add an even deeper perspective. It comes from a mix of "com" meaning together or with, and "vertere" meaning to turn or bend. And I have no idea if I said for "vertere" right, it just sounds kind of Latin in my mind. Well, when I think of the word "convert" with that underlying Latin root, I can practically feel the word. Because with that understanding, when I call myself a convert to Christianity, I'm acknowledging that I am someone who has turned together and bent toward the gospel of Jesus Christ. The word conversion, which is really closely associated with "convert" from the Latin, started to have a religious connotation in the 14th century. It's a turning round, a revolving, an alteration or a change. If I was putting together a video montage reel of the best conversions, I would illustrate that woman at the well turning to face the Savior. And Saul turning towards the angel and his new name. And Alma, and King Lamoni, and everyone who has ever converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ turning, turning, turning their bodies and their hearts to the Savior. Well, in today's episode, we have five little stories of five big turns. Moments when something shifted and led the storytellers towards God and towards Jesus Christ.
Our first story comes from Jim who found that his conversion to Christ as a member of the Baptist faith was an important step in setting the stage for another revolution of his faith. Here's Jim.
I grew up as a Baptist. There were very few Baptists in Clearfield, Utah. My parents taught me about Jesus Christ and I went to church every Sunday. I grew up, actually, with kind of an anti-Mormon tilt. The Southern Baptists love the LDS people, but they felt and believed that they were not writing their doctrine and they, in fact, were lost. They were active in trying to save the LDS people get the LDS people to realize they were wrong.
As I met Lyndia, my wife Lyndia, she was LDS. Any time we talked about church, it was just me trying to convert Lyndia or Lyndia trying to convert me. We learned that that didn't work. We would take the children to church, Lyndia would take some time and I would take my time. They enjoyed both churches. Ultimately, the challenge left me feeling like it's better to just let them go to the Mormon church. They came time for the kids to be baptized, I was was reluctant to that, feeling as I did about the church. And consequently, when it came time for them to be baptized, the challenge there and the heartache for me was that I was relinquishing my responsibility to teach my kids, I guess, the truth—the truth as I saw it and knew it. It was a struggle, but I let the kids be baptized.
The hard part really for me was when my kids came and wanted to go on a mission. Again, feeling as I did, it was hard to know that they were going to go teach something that I didn't believe. I had taught them and told them that they were no longer responsible to their father, their earthly father. They were more responsible to their Heavenly Father and if that's what He wanted them to do that they needed to go do it and do the best job they could.
Through the years with the Lord working with me and tapping me on the chest, I was feeling that, and I knew the Lord had worked with me before like that. That I had no doubt in my mind He was wanting me to do something and telling me something. So when two granddaughters were to be baptized, and one granddaughter to be blessed, that was really emotional for me. That Sunday, a lady stood to give her testimony. She testified of Joseph Smith, the truth of the gospel and Joseph Smith doing that. It was then, that Sunday that my savior told me, "You need to look at the Church with thoughts other than trying to disprove it."
So we went home, I thought how am I going to tell Lyndia and my family? They obviously had been praying for this for a long time. But I knew I needed to tell her and I couldn't figure out how and I just thought, "Well everybody's together, just tell them." As I call it, there was shock and awe. Everyone was happy, some were crying to know that it might take place. I know some doubted it—that it never would, even then.
I told them that I didn't need to meet with any Missionaries of the church because I had a whole house full of them. Five of my seven children were returned missionaries and all three of my sons-in-law. I asked them if they would read with me and pray with me and help me answer questions that I had. And we did. We met often and prayed every day. As I prayed about it, every time I got a distinct feeling that the Lord wanted me to continue to read and look. Finally, my Heavenly Father showed me that I didn't have to leave the truth that I knew and to turn my back on Him, but He had more truths for me. And through that, I made the decision to be baptized. I was able to tell my bride of 41 years that I was going to be baptized.
A little over a year later, I was able to go to the temple and be sealed to my wife and seven temple-worthy, wonderful children. The most remarkable thing about it was to realize the truth of the eternal family. When we lost a son a few years ago, to know that we would be with him again, that it was just for a short time that he would be with us and we would all be together as an eternal family. To endure something like that without that knowledge would be so difficult. And I testify, the blessings that come through the plan of salvation and knowing that again one day I will see and be with my son. I testify that that is the greatest, the most wonderful thing that there is.
KaRyn Lay 9:19
That was Jim. Jim and his wife, Lyndia have been friends of LDS Living for a couple of years now when we first filmed them for our love lessons video series back in 2017. And we've been consistently in awe of Jim's willingness to share his story if it'll help others find the peace that the restored gospel has given him. Though we didn't get to hear from Lyndia in this particular version of Jim's story, I can attest that her resolve to maintain and grow her own faith, as Jim maintained and grew his faith in Christ, was integral to his eventual recognition of the truths of the restored gospel. I hold on to their powerful reminder that timing, plus love, plus consistency, plus allowing for agency, plus Faith, plus a commitment to peace can do way more than pushing and fighting ever could. Those things combined allow us to get out of the way and let God do the work that He is already doing with His children.
Our next story comes from Brooke. Brooke's true and lasting conversion happened when she was already a member of the church. Just a quick note for anyone who might be sensitive, Brooke's story discusses infant loss. Here's Brooke.
After out daughter Kennedy passed away, I naturally had questions. Where do we go after this? What is life? And it just kind of led into this prayer. And in that prayer, I wasn't expecting some miraculous thing, but I got something miraculous.
So I was raised in the church. I was baptized at eight years old. I was in young women's, and then I got married at 18. I think once I became an adult, I really started to question what I believed. I got to a point in my life where I realized that I had been riding on my parents' testimonies more than my own. So for seven years, I put my faith on the shelf and I didn't touch it. I didn't think about it, I did everything that I was told not to do. In that, there was good things I experienced, there were really rough, hard things I experienced. But I grew from all those experiences.
I was 37, almost 38 weeks pregnant when our daughter Kennedy passed away. Her heart just stopped and there was no reason why she had passed away. It was heart wrenching for a family. We had tried to have children for three years. We have an 11-year-old son who is amazing and one of my favorite people on this planet, but we wanted more kids and it took us a really long time. And then Kennedy passed away. And it broke me. In that brokenness, I was able to be vulnerable enough to want answers for myself, not for anyone else. One day, I was sitting at my kitchen table, and I decided to pray. And the idea of praying was really uncomfortable. Because I felt so far away from Heavenly Father. I had no idea what really that even meant to me at that time. I gave one of the clumsiest prayers I've ever heard in my life. The questions—the specific question I had was, "Why did Kennedy die?" I wasn't really sure I was going to get an answer. But as I sat there, I felt so much comfort, more comfort than I've ever felt in my whole life. And I felt my daughter around me, and I felt our Savior. And I felt what it meant to have unconditional love around you. Something struck me really, really hard and that was Kennedy's sacrifice to earthly life so that my family could come back to the gospel. And that she could be my beacon and my light.
After that, incredibly clumsy prayer, I opened up a Book of Mormon. The last time I had opened the Book of Mormon was probably in seminary and I probably wasn't paying attention. Once I opened up the Book of Mormon for myself and not for anyone else, I just kept reading. And the more I kept reading, the more relevant it was in my life, which was shocking because it always felt so old and ancient to me. But I was reading things and I felt like they understood what I was going through. And it wasn't until I was about halfway through, that I really started to get this desire to not just attend church, but to really dive all the way in.
So I started getting the discussions again. My son also was getting discussions with me. Then I was prepped to go through the temple. And at this time, I had gotten pregnant again with another little girl and we found out that she was going to pass away also. So in March of 2016, our daughter, Holland, lived for one hour and then passed away. And it was wasn't, it shouldn't have been able to happen, I shouldn't have been able to survive both of these horrific tragedies. And I know for a fact it was from that clumsy prayer at that kitchen table, was because I was able to get through all of this. Because that was the starting point for my life.
You know, with loss comes grief, and can come depression. And I think sometimes you get lost in that. And knowing that I have a hope now that is a living, breathing hope, and His name is Jesus Christ, has laid a foundation in my life. That I now know that I can go through really hard trials and I can go through really hard moments and I don't have to wait for Him, because he's there. I don't have to be perfect, because He's been there the entire time and He comes to my level. The difference in my life now is that fear doesn't own me anymore. Death doesn't really scare me, because I've seen beautiful things happen with death. I used to hear people say that, you know, death isn't the end. I didn't believe them. But I now know it's so much more than that. And I look forward to the day that I can hold both of my girls again. And I look forward to this journey, though. I look forward to now, I look forward to today because there's so much hope in today. And there's so much hope in this life. And I know that through my daughters, I've been able to learn that.
KaRyn Lay 16:45
That was Brooke. Brooke first shared this story as part of our "This Is the Gospel" video series. Much like our pitch line, we don't always know the people who voluntarily share their stories for videos like this, so we hadn't met Brooke until she burst into the studio with all the energy of a woman twice her size. And I have to say that Brooke's love for the Savior and His plan of happiness radiates from her. It is absolutely a gift to witness someone who's experienced such loss, take such comfort in the perspective that the Savior offers.
Our next two stories are short and sweet. Both Martin and Dumdi came to the United States from other countries. And while their circumstances were very different in coming here, they both found the restored gospel of Jesus Christ on their journey. First, we'll hear from Martin and then from Dumdi.
I'm from Norway, and where I grew up, there wasn't really much talk about God or religion or anything like that. So when I moved to Utah as an exchange student at the age of 17, the concepts of faith and church really foreign to me. Luckily, later that year I made some really good friends that took me to church and they taught me about faith. And everything I learned there really resonated with me. And I learned about things that I had never even thought about before. It was just a really wonderful experience right there. But when I visited temple square that summer, the sister missionaries there did what I assume they always do and ask the visitors if they would like missionaries to visit their home. And because of what I had learned, I said, "Yes, please." And I was really excited about seeing them. But unfortunately, my family and I, we were planning on taking a three-week vacation in the states before returning home. So the missionaries in Norway, they probably tried to call me several times to try to get a hold of me without any luck. So when I got home, I never heard from them. Until one day, a senior couple finally called one last time trying to get ahold of this reference. I answered the phone and they asked me if I wanted the missionaries to stop by and I said, "Sure, send them over!" However, where I live, there were no missionaries. The missionaries had to travel an hour and a half by plane to be able to teach me, but they did. And we sat there and we talked about the Plan of Salvation, the Gospel, the restoration, and everything just felt so good. And I really liked what I learned and the thoughts about baptism started crossing my mind. But, growing up in this environment where I really didn't know anyone that even was Christian, it was really hard to try to stand out that much. I was really worried about what my family and friends would say. So with all those worries and all those doubts in my mind, one night I knelt down to pray, and prayed about what the missionaries had taught me, and prayed about the Book of Mormon, and prayed about the church. And I was filled with such an immense happiness, something I had never felt before. And knew that this happiness did not come from this world, it came from God. And I knew that I needed to be baptized regardless of what would happen. So that is what I did. I got baptized on November 14, 2010, and none of my worries came true. I just received blessings and happiness from there now. And often I think back about what would have happened if my friends hadn't taken me to church if the sister missionaries hadn't asked for my name and address. If the missionaries in Norway hadn't tried so hard to contact me. And especially if the Norwegian members hadn't embraced me the way I did. And I consider myself so blessed to have experienced that, and I know because of my experiences that there are no coincidences in God's plan. That He loves every one of his children so so much. And He works so hard so that every single one of us will be able to find our path home to Him.
I was 12-years-old when I joined the church. My family had been in the states for about three years, we came over to the states as war refugees from Nigeria. And it was just, you know, a typical day in Dallas, it was warm and sunny. And we had two, sorry, but these two scrawny white dudes—because like, we live in like a very black neighborhood anyway. And I was really surprised my dad let them in, but he did. And I think that's probably the best thing my dad has done for me, was letting those missionaries in. They taught us and they challenged us to read, you know, they gave us certain verses in the Book of Mormon to read, and I think I was the only one that read them. But I'm always up for a good challenge. So I decided to go ahead and read them and then pray. And it was actually the first time I'd ever addressed Heavenly Father the way that I did when I knelt down to pray about what these missionaries had been teaching us. Because personally for me, just learning that God was my Heavenly Father changed everything. And also made sense, you know that we would have prophets now, just like in the biblical times because I, you know, had been taught about the Bible. I accepted the invitation to be baptized along with my parents and one of my sisters. And I just remember when they lifted me out of the water, they had to baptize me again, because I had this like long hair, kind of like right now, and it didn't all go in. I just remember getting lifted out of the water and just feeling this warmth and it just like consumed my whole body. And I started crying because I had felt this peace that I hadn't felt in a very long time. And I just knew that God was proud of me, that He was proud of the decision I'd made. And I try to remember that when it does start to feel hard. And now I'm the only active member, and it's okay because I love my family. But there are definitely, you know, hard things about being the only active convert in your family. But I have seen God's hands in my life every day, whenever I decided to notice them. But as I pray an I read my scriptures, for me, it's about my relationship with Heavenly Father, and about Jesus Christ. And that's why I stayed. That's why I chose to be baptized. And that's why I'm still here.
KaRyn Lay 23:37
That was Martin and Dumdi. Even though their stories of conversion are different from one another, I love these snapshots of finding faith for the same reason. As a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it can really be easy for me to forget that there are still people who want and need the truths of the restored gospel. I know how that sounds, but hear me out. I don't know what it's like for you, but in this brave new A world of constant communication and connection, I have literally watched so many of the people I love and care about, step away from the church or out of the church for various reasons and with varying permanency. While I honor that agency and seek to always put compassion first, I, for one, feel the loss of those church associations pretty acutely sometimes. When I'm overwhelmed by that grief, I simply lose sight of the fact that faith is actually a living and breathing thing. In one breath, we rally around those who are experiencing a transition in their faith, maybe towards doubt or disbelief for a time. And in that same breath, we make space for the truth that there are still those who long to turn with us, to come closer, to understand new truths or remember old ones. There are still people searching, there are still people longing. And we must still speak of Christ with all the breath in our body so that anyone who knows us can know Him, wherever they are in their path. Martin's friends and Dumdi's missionaries lived that way. And I'm trying. I'm really, really trying.
Our final story of turning hearts comes from Monique who had absolutely no intention of letting the gospel into her world. Here's Monique.
It didn't take us long to figure out that the town was different. And the reason that it was different was because they were all the same religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And we just didn't, we didn't like them, and they didn't particularly like us. And I certainly, as a 10-year-old, didn't want anything to do with the religion. So it was my first week of school, I was at recess on the monkey bars with some friends when a little girl asked me, "Do you feel bad that you live in a bad family?" And I didn't know how to answer that question. I didn't know what she meant. But the reason she asked that was because she saw my dad that day. He's a large man, lots of tattoos. And to that little girl, that was what that meant, was that we were from a bad family.
Growing up, I had friends that would say, I'm not allowed to hang out with you anymore. And, you know, I was a really good kid but it was just because they found out that I wasn't a member of their church. And my siblings are treated the same way, that they are just not quite good enough because they don't go to church. It was hard for me as a little girl, I had a lot of anger and resentment built up, just naturally because of the course that my life had taken and some of the things that I had gone through. I didn't know if I believed in God, it was almost easier to think that He wasn't real because if Ge was, then I was being punished for something, or He didn't love me. It was really hard for me for a long time to understand why my family wasn't good enough to be loved by God.
So fast forward to my junior year and one of the families that I had grown close to through baseball, one of their little boys passed away. He was 10 at the time, and we all rallied together to help this family. And they remember on social media, it was posted that we were going to fast and pray for this family the day of the funeral. I knew enough, I had been around long enough to know what fasting was and to know what prayer was. And I decided that that was something I wanted to join in on. So I fasted that day of his funeral, and I said my first ever personal prayer, and I just wanted the family to be okay. And I wanted understanding. We all went to the funeral. And the dad, who I've known for a really long time, bore testimony of Jesus Christ, of a Savior who made it possible for him to see his son again. And it wasn't a question to him, he was going to see his son again.
Six or seven months later, I had a friend who was serving as mission Arizona, and he had access to Facebook. And he messaged me one day and basically said, "What do you believe?" And my initial reaction was, "What do you want?" But I ended up talking to him and his companions through Facebook Messenger for six or seven months. And just taking the discussions and learning about what Jesus Christ taught. There were so many times where I would pull up my phone, I'd messaged my friend and I tell him, "I can't do this, so and so offended me at school today. They said this, they said that this is what you believe, and I don't want anything to do with it."
He'd say, "Monique, listen. This is what Jesus Christ taught. And this is what we believe. And we are all surrounded by imperfect people, but there's a difference between the people and Christ and what He taught." And it was so important for me to have those experiences where I was like, okay, the doctrine and okay the people and to be able to separate those two for me personally.
So I decided to meet with the missionaries in town, the elders, and they extended the invitation to be baptized. And it was the easiest "Yes" I've ever said. I don't think I fully understood, obviously, I didn't fully understand everything. And I didn't fully understand what I was getting myself into. But I knew it was what I wanted. It was extremely hard on my family, they all love me and were extremely supportive. But I remember my mom crying and saying, "So you don't want me to be a part of your forever? You don't want us to be a part of your forever?" Because that was the understanding that we had, that as a whole we didn't get what everyone else was getting because we weren't members of this church. When she asked me that I was like, "No, that's not what I believe. Like, I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think we had a chance of being together forever."
A year after I got baptized, I went on a mission to Texas. It was absolutely the best experience I've ever had. I got home from my mission. And my family was a lot more vocal about their feelings and about how they had been treated. And I guess their feelings about what I was a part of. I have found a lot, so much happiness and hope and peace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I'm confident and I know who I am, Heavenly Father's daughter. But it's still so so hard because the ones I love the most don't understand what I'm doing or why I believe what I believe because they're still caught up on a lot of people's stuff. But I trust that truth makes sense. And that phrase has stuck with me. And I go back to it anytime I question anything. And when I'm learning stuff, it's, "Okay, this makes sense." And that doesn't mean that questions aren't going to come up but the answers make sense. And so when my mom asks me, "You don't want me? You don't want us in your forever," that doesn't make sense to me. And so like learning about the doctrine and learning that Christ teaches forever, that makes sense. And that's what propels me forward because I know that we can be together forever.
My family and I don't see eye to eye on religion stuff now, and I don't know if we ever will. But I know that Heavenly Father loves us all the same, that we are all His children, and I know how much He loves them. My hope is that I can be a better example, that we all can be better examples for each other. Christ's love is what this gospel really is.
KaRyn Lay 32:21
That was Monique. I'm truly grateful for her willingness to share some of the pain that accompanied her conversion. The turning of our hearts to Christ is a joyful thing. But that doesn't mean that it comes without complexity or nuance. It's an opportunity, a true opportunity for us to be able to hear the reality of life for adult converts beyond that moment in the baptismal font that often carries this sort of mystical quality in the fabric of our cultural storytelling. Stories like Monique's should change us as we minister to the newly converted. How would our succoring and mentoring and loving be a little different if we are more attuned to the possibility that there is most likely a little bit of loss mingled with the newfound joy of a recent convert.
As we've assembled these stories this week, I've been pondering the phenomenon of this thing that we call "conversion stories." We know that our individual conversion is hardly a one-time deal. Conversion, the act of turning to Christ, bending with Christ, is meant to be a lifelong pursuit really, with as many twists and revolutions of our faith as there are days in the year. So what good does sharing the moment of conversion do in our efforts to understand and be reconciled to the long game of discipleship? Well, I haven't fully figured it all out. But this Sunday, I heard something that helped me to understand it a little bit more.
My rescue friend Steve, whom you'll remember from our "To the Rescue" episode, spoke this past Sunday in sacrament meeting. And he reminded me that when emergencies come, and our bodies are flooded with the desire to fight or take flight, we don't recall the thing that we just learned. In those moments, our brains are able to access only what Steve calls our "lowest level of common and consistent training." He then suggested that the same is true of our ability to manage our moments of spiritual duress. The question then becomes not what we'll do when our commitment to Christ is challenged, but rather, what have we already done to secure the lowest levels of our common and consistent spiritual training, so that we don't even have to think about what we're going to do? Well, I submit that we have told our stories. We've shared them, we've written them down, we've committed them to our collective memories. The stories of our moments of conversion, the stories of others moments of conversion, well those become our common and consistent training that we can recall, in duress. This might feel like a stretch, but I promise it isn't. Think about how many times you've used the story of King Lamoni's moment of conversion, or Paul, or any of the other converts in the scriptures to help shore up your spiritual life. We share our conversion stories because then they become part of the community knowledge, they become common among us. And the more we share, the more consistent that information is to our brains in the moments when our discipleship is challenged. We may still have the long road of living a life of conversion ahead, but in that one testing moment, we'll recall a time when we did know. When we felt the peace of the gospel, when our hearts were turned, and we were converted. So if you have a conversion moment, or if you're working towards one—hopefully you'll get there soon—turn it into a story and tell it. It may well be the thing that you or someone you love recalls, and then clings to in the moment of their spiritual duress.
That's it for this episode of "This Is the Gospel." Thank you to Jim, Brooke, Dumdi, Martin, and Monique for sharing their moment of their conversion and their faith with us. We'll have links to the videos from our "This Is the Gospel" YouTube series that features the storytellers in our show notes for this episode at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel. We'll also have a transcript there if you'd like to read these stories. All of the stories on this podcast are true and accurate as affirmed by our storytellers. If you have a story to share, and I know you do, about living the Gospel, help contribute to our lowest level of common and consistent spiritual training by sharing your story. Call our pitch line and leave us a pitch. We often find a lot of our stories from that pitch line and we love to hear how the gospel is blessing your life. Call 515-519-6179 and pitch your story in three minutes or less. If you've loved hearing these true stories from real people, please leave us a review on iTunes and tell all your friends and social networks how "This Is the Gospel" has helped you. We read every review and I really appreciate your willingness to share the good stuff.
This episode was produced by me, KaRyn Lay, with additional story producing and editing by Katie Lambert, Jasmine Mullen, Hayden Paul and Daniel Garcia. It was mixed, scored, and mastered by Mix at Six Studios and our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. If you want to hear more episodes of the podcast or any of the LDS Living podcasts, we have the "Sunday on Monday" and "All In" podcasts as well, please go to LDSliving.com/podcasts.