I am a convert to Jesus Christ. I’d like to share my conversion story with you.
When I was 17 years old, I was living on our family’s cattle ranch in western Oregon. It was early in my senior year in high school and, quite honestly, I was empty and lost and confused.
I had been raised in a religious home and attended church services regularly. I believed deeply in God and always had, but I felt distant from Him. Though I was outwardly compliant and prayed occasionally, I wasn’t really on warm speaking terms with my Heavenly Father, and that was my fault. I doubted my standing before Him. I had slowly, a few years before, begun to set my half-witted choices aside, but I still had a long way to go. I was ripe for a new life.
One weekend that September, my boyhood friend Tom visited me on the ranch. He came to go deer hunting, for the early hunt. He had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints four months earlier, and he had changed.
His face shined with light. He was confident. He was at peace. We were polar opposites.
Something miraculous happened that Friday evening. As he spoke to me of his new life and faith—not in a preachy way but in an open way—I felt something I had never felt before: my heart burned within me (see Luke 24:32). I seemed enveloped in fire, my dormant soul awakened. Those words soothed my troubled mind and gave me hope. I began to see, if only faintly, a new path to the waterfall, as the Raymond Carver poem puts it.
I don’t remember the words Tom shared, but I do remember how I felt, a strong mix of hope and joy, resolve and revolution. I had seen the tree of life standing before me and I had tasted the sweetness of its fruit (see 1 Nephi 8:10,11). I was determined to taste it again.
Later that month, I in turn visited Tom on Saturday, September 27, 1975. I had gone north so I could go to a team roping the following day in Vancouver, Washington. Team roping was my favorite high school sport.
That night, Tom sat me down in his living room and taught me the first missionary discussion. He had a flip chart and a small binder containing the missionary lessons. He essentially read the lesson to me and turned the pages of the flip chart as he read. The fire returned. I knew from the moment I heard them that what I was hearing was true. I could see a halo of light in the periphery of my vision. I felt that angels were present
I remember distinctly when Tom flipped down the picture of the modern twelve apostles. I’ll tell you why. I remembered some months later that I had had a spiritual experience about 10 years before. I had knelt in a church as a boy of 8 years old. I remember asking God in prayer what had happened to the twelve apostles from the Bible and that if He would bring them back again, I would devote my life to Him.
That day I received the first discussion was a day of decision, a day that changed my life forever.
I called my mother, a woman of great faith, later that night to share my excitement about what I learned from Tom. What she said shocked me. She essentially slammed what I had to say. She said that the Mormon church was a “cult” and she warned me to stay away.
This was my first in many lessons of contrasts. I had just been bathed in the light of heaven and told that what I had experienced was nonsense and that I should run away. It was the beginning of a war with my parents that I would fight for years. Let me just say, in brief, that I preferred light over darkness, and instead of walking away from the brilliant light, I chose to walk toward it and into it and away from my parents. It was a fateful decision that you’ll hear more about soon.
I attended my first Mormon Church service the next morning, a priest’s quorum meeting. I was impressed by how friendly everyone was to me, even though I showed up in my Wranglers and boots. I was also taken aback by the frank discussion about religious topics in a class setting. I was not accustomed to an open conversation about faith. It touched me.
Later that afternoon, I went to my team roping event with my good pal Tony. I roped with several partners that day and I have never, before or since, roped better, but I was just out of the money. That was the last time I ever roped on a Sunday.
A few weeks later, I visited my friend Tom again and attended my first sacrament meeting at the Gabriel Park Ward in Garden Home, Oregon. It was October 12, 1975. I remember singing the sacrament hymn, “I Stand All Amazed,” and, though not a member, I took the sacrament for the first time.
A young couple spoke. The woman spoke with some emotion about giving service to someone in need. Again, I was not accustomed to this kind of expression of faith. I was profoundly moved.
I drove home that night to the ranch, aglow and utterly changed. My mother was away and my father, who was an alcoholic, was intoxicated as he usually was. He asked me if I had attended church services that day. I told him, “Yes, the Mormon church.” At that he went into a drunken rage.
With a cigarette in one hand and a scotch whiskey in the other, he said to me, “I am ashamed before God.” The irony was not lost.
A fierce argument ensued. I declared my absolute determination to pursue my new-found faith and he stood in stubborn opposition. Finding no middle ground, my father threw me out of the house. I packed a few belongings in my car and drove off into the night and an uncertain future.
But one thing was sure: I had chosen my path. I had seen a light and in that light I saw the way back to my Savior Jesus Christ. I have remained on that path from that day.
To be continued.