On Becoming a Member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Recently I was thumbing through some old books when a piece of paper, folded in thirds and stuck in the middle of Arthur Henry King’s “The Abundance of the Heart”, caught my eye. As I unfolded it my eyes fell on the letterhead at the top of the page. I recognized it immediately as the written conversion story and testimony of one of the dearest people I came to know as a missionary in Ohio.

Bob was a well-educated, quick-tongued, good-natured retiree. His name was given to us by the ward mission leader as one in a list of part-member families. He was immediately welcoming, though not at all hesitant to let us know he’d been through every set of missionaries in every ward he and his member wife had been in and, while we were always welcome, there wouldn’t be any baptism happening and we would be wise not to burn our bridges by trying.

The ground rules had been laid, but there were some things none of us had counted on. First was a very shy, timid, and infectiously lovable sister missionary (part of our trio) who would visibly wither when asked to open her mouth on a doorstep or during a discussion. Being the tender man that he was, Bob allowed this sister to “practice” teaching him over our weekly dinner appointments. Those practice discussions turned into heartfelt conversations (with Bob giving teaching tips along the way) and on more than one occasion the spirit bore witness to Bob, and all of us, in unmistakable ways. He would get right to the edge, even identify the spirit and bring up baptism himself, then immediately retreat.

The other thing Bob hadn’t seen coming was connection. Neither did I, but there it was. We shared a love of good steak, straight up Coca Cola, great music, and way too much laughter. Each week as Bob grilled the steaks we sat on the deck listening to whatever album he had picked for us and hearing tell of the first time he had experienced that particular band or performer. We talked about his years growing up in New York, his grown children, his college athletic career, and the untreatable cancer slowly growing inside him.

It was during one of these lazy evenings in early May, sitting on the deck and talking like the oldest of friends, that something finally clicked after all those years. Here, in Bob’s own words, is that story, changed only to remove the names of the missionaries:

Becoming a Member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

For the past twenty-one years, I have come to know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was only recently that I was Baptized and Confirmed (5/24/97). It has been a long journey from introduction to Baptism…

I would like to share with you my reasons for this most important and wonderful decision that I have made. Since my birth, I have been raised, taught and educated as a Roman Catholic. In fact I had 16 years of education in Catholic schools. As one can well imagine it is a difficult decision to make a departure from that nurturing.

My wife, four of our eight children and one grand-child have been members of the Church for some time now. I have attended Church many times and have had numerous Missionaries attempt to teach me the Gospel. Many of my dear friends are members of the Church. With all this exposure and closeness to the Church, I was still not motivated to join the Church.

I have determined now that our Lord works in some very beautiful, different ways and He was observing me but was waiting for me to talk to Him. You see, I did not know how to pray… But I finally got it through my thick head and learned from the Church the power of Prayer. So, for the past two years I have been praying very diligently and asking Jesus Christ for help and guidance to determine if this Church was the true Church??

Although I did not hear any bells or whistles nor see any lights or for that matter did not experience any visions from above, my prayers were finally answered through the magnificent Missionary Work of the Church. The Sister Missionaries came into my life and brought the love of Jesus Christ to me. When the sisters asked me directly “What is preventing you from joining the Church?” I could see in their eyes our Lord saying “Come with Me”. At that very moment I knew that our Church is the True Church and my heart has been filled with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost ever since.

I testify to you that I firmly believe in our Almighty Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. I believe in the Prophet Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I have been truly blessed and feel an abundance of love for Our Church and for all the Saints.

I say to you all these things in the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ… Amen

Are there particular stories of baptism or conversion that have stayed with you or been highly meaningful in your life?

Comments

  1. I wish I would have been as thoughtful of a missionary as the members of your cohort. Wonderful stuff.

  2. I seen a number of stories like this through the years, and I’ve always wondered what it was that finally allowed the Spirit to final connect with certain people, and I’ve never been able to figure it out. It’d be nice to say they finally humbled themselves, or finally made an real effort, or that it finally mattered to them, or something like that, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. They seem like exactly the same people, just suddenly all lit up inside. Somehow the connection just came.

  3. I was blessed to have been involved in the baptism of one of these “eternal investigators” when I was a greenie in East Berlin.

  4. In terms of meaningful conversion stories, we have a recent convert to our ward who studied music when she was young, but something happened that really traumatized and embittered her (she didn’t explain what happened, just that it was closely associated with her love of music). As a result, she not only quit participating in music, but quit listening to it and pretty much sealed her heart off against it.

    Years later (a year and a half ago), she showed up in our sacrament meeting. I introduced myself, but she seemed a bit prickly. Every thing I said seemed to be the wrong thing. But she kept coming and eventually was invited to join the stake choir for the Christmas program, and it broke down all sorts of walls in her. She joined the church and was immediately called to be the choir director.

    This past Easter, several of her family and friends attended sacrament meeting to hear her choir program. She had been encouraging the choir to fast so that we could have the Spirit with us, because she so wanted her guests to feel the Spirit. We did all right, but the highlight was when she stood to sing her solo. It’s true that’s she’s pretty good singer, but it was so much more than that. She just radiated the light of Christ. I couldn’t believe this was the same nervous, prickly person I’d introduced myself to.

    Anyway, it’s not the conversion story, exactly, it’s the transformation story. It’s cool to hear someone testify of the healing power of the atonement and actually see the evidence with your own eyes.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Great story. I had two thoughts:

    1. I could relate to your sister who needed practice teaching. Two of my very first baptisms were a couple who sort of got baptized just because they felt so bad for me. As a brand new greenie I had difficulty teaching and couldn’t answer their questions, but the fact that I was there trying so hard when I was so clearly out of my depth seemed to touch them somehow.

    2. There is defnitely a social element to conversion that I’m not convinced the missionary dept. fully grasps. The steaks a-grilling, the albums and stories shared, all of that social interaction I’m sure played a role in helping him to lower the drawbridge over the moat.

  6. Thanks for this Sunny–it reminded me in some ways of the recent experience I posted about regarding baptizing an elderly woman who had been familiar with the Church for over 60 years before finally taking the last step.

    As Kevin suggested, the overarching point here for me is that socialization is a major component of conversion in many instances–and probably especially so in _lasting_ conversions. I think it’s a bit scary or unsettling for us to think that maybe steaks and banter play a bigger role (or even sizable role) than testifying, teaching principles, and having them attend baptismal services, because we want to cling to the idea that “the Spirit” converts, and not “us.”

    However, I don’t think these ideas are mutually exclusive, and there’s no reason to feel threatened or uncomfortable with this, because conversion really should affect every facet of our lives; people sitting down to listen to the missionaries bring years and years and years of social, emotional, intellectual, and religious baggage that cannot simply be discarded at the bottom of the stairwell.

  7. Mark Brown says:

    In my case, the EI (eternal investigator) was the wife of a member. They were super-rich and enjoyed entertaining, and for them that meant having the missionaries over at least once a week. It was my last area, and I was there for 7 months, so I got to know them well. The week before I went home, they found out that their housekeeper had been stealing from them. I spent my last night on my mission in their home, and after dinner they gave me a very thoughtful gift. Sister X asked me if there was anything else they could do, and I told her that it would make my mission a success if I could hear her pray. That evening as we were leaving, we all knelt in their living room. She hesitated a long time (I wondered what was going on and opened my eyes. Her eyes were closed, but tears were flowing down her cheeks.) When she finally began to pray, it was wonderful, short, and straight from the heart. She thanked our Heavenly Father for the missionaries, and that she could trust us not to steal from her. She was baptized 3 months later.

  8. It’s hard to tell much of a story in a comment when the story is so intimately tied to someone else. The best baptism I’ve ever witnessed was of an adult man who had grown up in the Church, been excommunicated, and made his way back. His son baptized him, and there were lots of ward and family members around. It could, I can easily suppose, have been a pro forma thing — get this baptism over with and put the whole unpleasant episode behind me kind of thing — but the man was as calm and meek (I finally learned what the word “meek” meant by watching him) about repeating what he had first done as a child, and in front of everybody who knew exactly what his life had been like during the preceding few years. It was a different kind of conversion than your OP, Sunny, but it was just as much a conversion.

  9. The woman who spent 3 years studying another denomination then another 2 years meeting with the LDS missionaries. The greenie companion who had to have me translate every simple thing he wanted to say to her. The most intense spiritual experience of my life while teaching someone about the Gospel. The intense pressure on her from the other group (6 people barging into her house and lecturing her for 8 hours whlie she begged them to leave). The beloved aunt and uncle on a different island who had been baptized without telling her to whom she fled to avoid the pressure – not knowing they were LDS.

    It brings tears back just to think about that experience.

    Also, I wasn’t part of the actual conversion, but listening to the conversion story of the man who had supported his wife and children for 30 years as a non-member (driving them to church, going to Mass, going home, going back to church to get them) and volunteered as a “practice investigator” for the missionaries for years before he rolled over in bed one morning and told his wife it probably was time he got baptized.

    I met him a few years later. He was a wonderful High Priest Group Leader.

  10. Totally agree with Kevin and Scott. The people I helped bring into the church as a missionary were friends, and it generally took hours of “hanging out” before we had a close enough connection to talk about the real issues that were keeping them from baptism.

    Low-hanging fruit: Find the part member families and eternals. They’ve heard the scriptures, they’re familiar with the pros and cons, and they have a reason for being willing to talk to missionaries, and a reason for not getting baptized. Getting them to put those reasons into words was sometimes all we needed to do. But it can take time.

    I remember on one occasion a greeny of mine getting up during one of these hang out sessions, walking over to the door, putting his shoes on, and just standing there by the door for 20 minutes to let me know he considered the conversation a waste of time and wanted to go tract instead.

  11. Chris Gordon says:

    My favorite EI-turned-convert was one where, as a missionary, she begrudgingly allowed us to teach her but didn’t want us to talk baptism. Following her lead, we replied, “Fine. You let us teach about Christ. Best case, we learn from each other. You know baptism’s out there and on our minds. You tell us when and if you’re ready.”

    10 days later, with the mental block out of the way, she was baptized. I think she’d received an honorary YW medallion years earlier so the social aspect was there. It’s just such a beautiful, mysterious thing when the Spirit finally touches people the right way.

    @Kevin, (No. 5) I’m intrigued by your assertion that the missionary department “doesn’t get” the social aspect of conversion. This is the same department that begs the missionaries and the members to teach investigators in the homes of members, to list “a friend and a responsibility” as the first two priorities for investigators and converts, who pleads with leadership to make nourishing investigators a priority in all planning meetings, and who has been begging for years for members and missionaries to focus more on the low-hanging fruit mentioned where the social aspect is already in place.

    About the only thing I wish they’d do (and I get why they don’t and am not sure the potential benefits outweigh the risk to missionary diligence and the danger of becoming a detriment to the potential new member) is go easy on missionaries actually becoming friends with and doing friend-like stuff with investigators, particularly EI’s. My MP’s wife spoke very fondly of her mission where they were encouraged to organize BBQ’s, picnics, spend time in the investigators’ homes, etc.

  12. 2. There is defnitely a social element to conversion that I’m not convinced the missionary dept. fully grasps. The steaks a-grilling, the albums and stories shared, all of that social interaction I’m sure played a role in helping him to lower the drawbridge over the moat.

    This is definitely true, and something I didn’t quite grasp when I was a missionary.

    It’s also true, however, that it makes retention harder when the missionaries leave. Ah, you say, it just means we need to transition to social contacts with the members better. Well, no. The spirit-fueled sociality that good missionaries have with sincere investigators is irreplaceable.

    So, in short, I strongly recommend that . . . dunno.

  13. Adam G.,
    Wouldn’t a reasonable solution be to have members be a part of the same discussions exhibiting the “spirit-fueled sociality” alongside the missionaries? In that instance, there is no transition, because the members involved, for intents and purposes, were the missionaries, but they never get transferred. Unless their jobs are outsourced.

  14. Members don’t have the time that missionaries do nor the spiritual mantle nor the social position. I don’t believe you can avoid the transition, though something like what you propose might help in marginal* cases.

    *marginal in the economic, not pejorative, sense

  15. Sean G. says:

    *Latter-day Saints

  16. Kyle M (10),
    Your comment, and really this whole post and thread, raises the interesting question of proper boundaries for missionaries. I struggled with this frequently in my mission–trying to determine what was “fellowship” and what was “building a relationship of trust” and what just “hanging out so that I could kill time since I don’t have any more investigators.”

  17. Adam G,
    Who’s to say that it wouldn’t help in both types of marginal cases?

  18. #13 – Preach My Gospel begs over and over again that what you describe happen. I don’t think it’s the missionary department that doesn’t get it; I think it’s the membership in general that doesn’t get it.

  19. I thoroughly agree that conversion involves a blend of socialisation and spiritualisation – a combination of both fellowship and faith. The two are not mutually exclusive but are an essential mix. Zion, after all, is a social concept.

    I was a missionary 20 years ago and I witnessed people get baptised after 2 weeks as well as those who got baptised after many years. Baptism is just the start of the great blessings of membership. But it is also the real start of the great burden of membership. We have all seen people who have joined the church after years outside it and we have seen people leave the church after years inside it. So experience suggests that the need for feeling the spirit and being fellowshipped continue to be essential. A loss of either could throw us of balance.

    In my experience, if anything, we over stress the fellowship and socialisation side while downplaying (in practice) the spiritual aspect. The problem is not that the general membership is not friendly enough – the real problem is that we are not spiritual enough. Yet, miraculously, people continue to join with us. I saw the debate between those missionaries who hang-out and those who tract while I was a missionary – both struck me as extremes – but then, sometimes extremes is what some people respond to!

    I don’t think the method of missionary work matters nearly as much as the message or the motive of the missionary. I think of D&C 50:13-22. The ‘elect’ are out there – sometimes they are EI’s outside the kirk but mostly they will be EI’s from within it. To paraphrase our dear friend, King Benjamin, “Are we not all Eternal Investigators?”

  20. Indiana says:

    I think my favourite transformation stories, if I can phrase it that way, are two friends of mine who – through similar decisions – had varying distances to travel to get back into good standing in the Church. While only one of these friends had to go so far as being baptised again, they both had an intense effort to make, but they both impressed me with the good grace and humility with which they each tackled the process. These friends don’t know each other, but they’ve both ended up in the same place – married to wonderful men who respect their priesthood and the amazing strength of character in their wives.

    While the missionaries weren’t involved (much) in either of these cases, I think that one of the things that helped the most was the unconditional fellowship and friendship of the wards and two incredible bishops who, though they may not all have realised it, showed real Christ-like love to these girls by not judging them on one or two poor decisions.

  21. MJ,
    what you get that most of us don’t is that sociality and spirituality aren’t two separate things. We try to give both to new members, but separately. Whereas the missionaries offer sociality infused with the Spirit and spirituality infused with sociableness. The only place I really see the combination in Mormonism is in priesthood opening exercises. In every ward I’ve been they’ve been part-testimony, part-hamming it up. The Junior Ganymede blog is so odd partly because its modeled on that. As much as it pains me to compliment BCC, BCC tends in that direction too, sometimes.

  22. Steve Evans says:

    What Adam said. The two concepts are hardly separable without killing them both.

  23. Wow, MJ, I never had really thought about the the relationship between social fellowship and spiritual nourishment. And Adam, I think you are right in that we as members tend to view them separately instead of two halves of a whole.

    I know I’m not adding anything here, other than my thanks for the post and the enlightening comments.

  24. Kilian Okanwikpo says:

    I used up many missionaries in Bochum, Germany over a period of 15 months when I was being taught the gospel. They visited us regularly in our home three days in a week, we sozialised, they played with our baby-girl, we prayed and discussed whatever lesson they taught.
    At the end of each visitt, these young missionaries would give me assignments to raed in the Book of Mormon and to pray about what I read.
    I enjoyed their company but didnt take their mssage and ássignments seriously until the day I found out they were not being paid for what they were doing but rather were paying out of their pockets for the opportunity to share their beliel with me.
    From that day on I began to read the Book of Mormon wih the intent to find out, to know for myself if the content of that book were true.
    I say, simply and truly, that my Heavenly Father let me know lovingly and clearly that the Book of Mormon is of divine origin and is true.
    I was then baptised in 1980

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