Ariana and Briana Mendez share a lot of things as identical twins, but their conversion stories show how God sees them as the unique, individual souls they are.
Volleyball and Faith: Briana’s Conversion Story
Briana was introduced to the Church through her friend Ryan, who played volleyball with her and a group of friends regularly at their local church building in Houston, Texas. One day, Ryan called Briana to tell her about relationship troubles that were plaguing him and asked her to come to the church to talk. Briana thought that they would play a few rounds of volleyball to cheer Ryan up. Instead, he wanted to talk to her about the big questions of life, and the pair ended up discussing the equivalent of the first four missionary lessons.
As Ryan taught her the plan of salvation, Briana felt a strong feeling rise inside herself, and she began crying, though she couldn’t explain why or even what that feeling was. Ryan suggested they go into the chapel to pray about the Church, and while Briana thought it was a strange request, she agreed so long as Ryan said the prayer. “He prayed out loud, and I loved the prayer—so beautiful. The Spirit was so strong and so present, and I loved it,” Briana says.
She continued to learn from Ryan, his girlfriend Kayla, and other Latter-day Saint friends she made. Eventually, they invited her to take the missionary lessons. She agreed and immediately felt the difference in her life as she began to learn about the gospel and read the Book of Mormon regularly. “I loved it. I felt like something was different, and it was. I knew that it was true. I don’t think I've ever questioned if it was the true Church of Jesus Christ,” Briana says.
Learning the Language of the Spirit: Ariana’s Conversion Story
Ariana needed a bit more time to recognize the truthfulness of the gospel. “I was pretty disobedient,” she says. “I did some stuff that obviously I regret, but I’m very grateful because I feel like Heavenly Father let me go through those experiences because … it’s the best way that I was able to learn. And that just shows how much He loves me.”
When she saw her sister get baptized, Ariana decided to learn more about the Church for her sister’s sake. “If it was some random person inviting me to church, I would have probably said no, but because it was Briana, my sister, telling me, ‘Let’s go to the lessons with the missionaries,’ and because I love her so much, I agreed,” Ariana says. “I feel like Heavenly Father said, ‘I know how to soften Ariana’s heart.’ It just testifies of how much He loves us and how He’s so aware of us.” The way that God sent Ariana the gospel was unique from the way He sent it to Briana, and that testified to them both that He knows who they are as individuals.
Along with her sister’s help, the Holy Ghost played a big part in Ariana’s conversion. A friend of hers was receiving the Aaronic Priesthood in church, so Ariana joined the group in a separate room for that ordinance. As soon as the brethren laid their hands on her friend’s head, Ariana felt chills all over her body. Shocked, she tried to understand the source of the feeling and interpreted it as being cold. After the blessing, she talked with her sister, who had experienced a similar feeling but was sure the reason for the chills was something different. They asked the missionaries there about it and realized it was the Spirit. Ariana wanted to keep that feeling with her always.
“Why didn’t [the missionaries] hype up the Holy Ghost more?” Ariana asks. Feeling the Spirit was a game changer in her conversion process, and it has remained a constant source of comfort after her baptism as she has continued progressing in the gospel. “Because I haven’t had the gift of the Holy Ghost my whole life, seeing the difference it makes is so amazing. I’m so grateful to have this beautiful companion constantly with me, guiding me with my life, with whatever I need. If I have a question, the Spirit is always going to be there to testify of the truthfulness.”
A Double Confirmation That God Sees the One
As twins, it’s important for Briana and Ariana to feel like individuals. Repetitive questions about their ages (20) and who was born first (Ariana, by about four minutes) can make them feel like a joint set. When they both received their patriarchal blessings, they were able to recognize assurances from God that He sees them as the unique souls that they are.
The sisters received their patriarchal blessings in Spanish, but since they learned the gospel in English, they didn’t recognize all the Spanish words. Reflecting on the words and meanings has helped them see how specialized both of their blessings are to their different needs and circumstances.
The sisters assumed that they would be declared as the same tribe of Israel when they got their blessings, so it took a while for them to double-check and realize their lineage was through different tribes. “That showed how aware Heavenly Father is of us,” Ariana says. “We are very, very similar. Obviously, we’re twins. But it showed we’re individuals. I’m Ariana. She’s Briana. I feel like Heavenly Father was saying, ‘You guys are gonna be from different tribes because you’re individuals.’”
Feeling the pressure of being twins has been a lifelong topic for the sisters. “It’s something that we struggled with our entire lives because people are like, ‘Oh, you guys are twins.’ They just see us as a twin package,” Ariana says. Recognizing that God was able to see them for who they were underneath the “twin package” label was the cherry on top for the sisters. It confirmed that God was real and that He knew them personally.
Dual Desires to Serve
Both twins have been members of the Church for over a year now and are working toward serving a mission. Just as their conversions were unique, their testimonies and reasons for wanting to serve come from their individual experiences.
Briana is very aware of everything she’s been blessed with—her health, her job, her sister, and now, the Church. “It had felt like something was missing in my life. And then I found the Church, and everything just came together,” Briana says. “I know that I mostly have everything [I need]. But the gospel was something that I was missing in my life. Imagine someone who doesn’t have the many things that I’ve had in my life, and the gospel can change their life. So, I know that I want to serve a mission. I want to help people change.”
Ariana focuses on the happiness she’s found in the gospel and having the Spirit with her. That happiness is something she wants to share with the world. “Sitting with the missionaries and having the lessons, I just felt so much peace and so much happiness. It was such an odd feeling to me because it was like, ‘How can we feel this new?’ … but it was the Spirit there and testifying.”
Even after having been a member for a year now, Ariana is still amazed by everything she’s learning and feeling. “It’s mind-blowing that … this feeling is never gonna go away. And I just want everyone to know that same happiness and that peace I feel.”
While the sisters don’t yet have their mission departure dates, they are excited to go wherever the Lord sends them and help others discover the gospel. “This gospel is the gospel of change and of love," Briana says. "And I’m just so grateful to have it.”