Saturday, June 25, 2011
My father's conversion story
I've been wanting to blog about this for a while, after I watched General Conference I was inspired to share my parents' conversion stories. You see, there are not very many of us. My parents are both only children in their family, I don't have aunts, uncles or cousins...only adopted ones really, people that we consider family because we have known each other for 20+ years. Of my grandparents, only my grandfather (my father's dad) was baptized and although he was inactive for a long time, he did enter the Temple and sealed himself to my grandmother and my father was able to be sealed to his parents. We have done the work for my mom's parents, and for other family members, but my parents were the first ones to be baptized, and their conversion stories are very important to me. I knew my dad had written his conversion story to my brother when my brother was on a mission, so I asked my dad if he could find it and email it to me.
Here it is. I hope it touches others as it touches me everytime I read it.
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In your last letter you want us to tell you about our conversion. Therefore, here is mine. I love to go back and remember the events that led to my decision to join the Church.
“By the end of the summer in 1972 I have just turned 17 years of age, and lived with my family in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although I had never been in the kind of troubles that every parent fears when having teenagers, like drugs, gangs, or drifting away from the family, I went through some difficult times and serious depression problems.
I grew up in a good and close family, but most of them were not religious at all, and some of them were agnostics or atheists.
At the end of my 16's, somehow I decided that I needed religion in my life, and I started to attend a Catholic youth group. I had a friend then that decided to become a priest and I was going with him. It was a disaster. I remember having long discussions with him about religion. There were some points that I could not accept. I had strong opinions and beliefs against some doctrines traditionally accepted by Christianity, and was not willing to accept some basic points: 1) that the Bible was the word of God; 2) that Jesus Christ was the Son of God; and 3) that I would have to live according to the Ten Commandments.
Anyway, I decided that I had to find a religion that would fit my beliefs, and I started looking, but not very actively.
One day, I came back home and I found a Book of Mormon in our living room. I asked my mom and my grandma about that book and they told me that two sister missionaries were there. My mom and my grandma accepted to receive the first discussion, but at the end, when the missionaries asked for the possibility of a new appointment, they politely refused to receive more lessons. The book and the missionaries did not catch my curiosity beyond that conversation with my mother and grandmother.
In those days we were going back to school. It starts around March 10th over there. In talking with my classmates, I found that one of them had joined the LDS Church during the summer. I was curious then and I asked him about his new religion. He asked me if I was willing to meet with the missionaries and I accepted. I used to smoke, but a couple of weeks before I had made a strong commitment to quit and I was doing very well. However, when I accepted to receive the lessons, another classmate, a girl who didn’t know that I wasn’t smoking anymore, told me: “You will have to quit smoking...” That could have been the worst turn off of my life.
Let me elaborate on this for a moment. I wasn’t what you can describe as a docile person; I was a teenager. I was rebel, stubborn and opinionated like most of them, but I was more than that. I was also highly involved in the politics of the 70's, influenced by the extremely liberal ideas of those days and with my mind and heart set on becoming a true intellectual of my time. Now, the fact that somehow I was moved to look for religion didn’t mean that I wanted to change my ways. Maybe unconsciously I was truly looking to fill the emptiness in my life, but consciously I was just looking for something to be “at peace” with God, but within the boundaries that I already had established for my beliefs.
When that girl told me that I had to quit smoking, even though I already had done it on my own, I almost backed off. The fine spirit of my friend noticed my reaction and said: “Well, that is something that you can decide in the future”.
He was a genius; he said nothing but the truth and yet found the right words to get me confused in the fact that it could be something optional. However, I became a little defensive, willing to stop any talk with those two guys if they would mention that I could not smoke.
Now, one more note: You have to take a look at the context of those days; the early 70’s. That was the Vietnam era, where even here, in the USA, they were burning American flags. Two young American guys were not the most popular people to be around, and, on top of that, they were there to tell me that I couldn’t smoke if I wanted… I was ready to walk away from talking with them.
The day of the first discussion we got together with other classmates that were also going to meet the missionaries. We were a total of three or four guys and my recently baptized school friend. It was March 17th of 1972.
We were late and, when we finally arrived to the place of the meeting, an old house where a Branch was having the reunions, the missionaries were about to leave in their bikes. One of then was mounting his bike and then something happened that I always remember and it testifies to me that our Father knows each of us personally, individually and to the finest detail. The moment that I watched the missionary I saw, and I want to emphasize, I SAW a cigarette in his hand. I saw it as clear as I could see it, from about thirty yards. When the missionaries saw that we were there, they went back to the house and waited for us.
That “cigarette” in the hand of that missionary, made a world of difference for me. I did relax, convinced that the no-smoking rule was merely a recommendation; something to follow if you wanted to do so. That seemed fair enough for me and I was not defensive anymore. I was then ready for my discussion with the elders.
They were nice and I could not understand very well why they were so exited to talk to us. After all, we were a bunch of kids that didn’t care very much about them. But it was clear that they did care for us.
The cigarette? Oh yes, I have to tell you. It was a little harmonica that the elder had in his hand. The reflection of the sun that late afternoon showed a perfect white cylinder between his fingers. What a coincidence!
Then, the discussion started, and it didn’t take too long until my whole world of beliefs was turned upside down. The missionaries told me about the apostasy, which made sense and then told me of the need of a restoration, which made also sense. But it was when the elder gave me the account of Joseph Smith about the First Vision that something really happened. When he told me about the visit of the Father and the Son to Joseph, he said:
“I know that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ”.
Those simple words that we hear every first Sunday can have a complete different impact in the ears of a person that doesn’t have an idea of what a testimony means.
I was literally shocked. Not because I believed what he said, but I was shocked for the fact that somebody could say something like that, with absolutely certainty.
They told me how I could ask God Himself about something, and I believed that I could receive an answer. If I can say something in my favor, I was sincere. I wanted to know. I knew that I could know and I was willing to do what I had to do to know for myself.
Following to that discussion, I received the other five, I went to Church and I read some of The Book of Mormon, the Bible, and some from the brochures. More than anything else, I prayed. I had long conversations with God, like never before in my life. Sometimes I was just walking and I would find myself talking to Father as if He was right next to me. It became real that I could talk to Him and I knew that He was listening.
On April 1st 1972, two weeks after my first discussion, I was baptized.
In this past 32 years I had about everything; good times, bad times, trial times, spiritual times. Just like it says in Ecclesiastes 3:1-9. I have always been less than what I would like to be, but I have never changed regarding my testimony. It has only increased over the years. I have testified many times, most of all in my mission, that I know that Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son. I know it, and I’m thankful for that event that opened the restoration of all things in this, the last dispensation. I’m thankful for the courage of Joseph and for the blessing of having a Prophet ever since. I love the Church. I know that it is the true Church, but I also love it as I love this wonderful Work. I know that The Book of Mormon is the word of God. I can testify of its divinity and I know of its power to influence in the conversion of a person. Everybody that reads the Book of Mormon, ask sincerely about its veracity, and accepts the prompts of the spirit, will be baptized.
If I would have only two minutes left in my life, this is what I would tell you and the rest of our family; my testimony and love for our Savior and for the Church that taught me everything I know about Him.”
Well Son, as I told you; I love to tell the story of my conversion. I think that these stories are sort of our own scripture, in the way that we can find strength and inspiration when we read them. I remember how strongly President Kimball would advise us to keep our journal, our personal and family history. Maintaining our own records builds a treasure of knowledge, spirituality, and love for our future generations. It is a legacy that can’t be replaced with anything else.
I’ll send this letter today, so you can have it soon. I’ll write you next Monday or Tuesday anyway.
I love you and I send you my blessing as I ask the Lord to bless you and protect you.