2—How it all began: teenagers looking for religion.
10—Between the first missionary discussion and my baptism, several moments will forever stand out for me.
#10—Doubts—This one might be the odd one out, but doubting helped me convert properly. Like the fifth discussion—on being Christlike—which dealt with sacrifices, from fasting—not an issue, as I once fasted with Muslim friends for Ramadan and fasted for special occasions—to tithing. I planned to get baptised. I had to press on, and pray. But I proceeded carefully and asked the missionaries many questions. Despite my testimony and a strong desire to join the Church, I wanted to make sure I understood everything before committing to anything.
#9—Elder Larson—Patrick’s replacement. Newish to the mission field, his French was still broken but he made up for it with his strong presence and an open face that could not hide his kind nature and a killing sense of humour. One look and I knew he was intelligent, caring and spiritual. I soon found out he was humble and honest too. Despite his being light-hearted there was a real depth to him. You could talk to him. And for the next five discussions I felt relaxed and learned in that trusting atmosphere he helped create. I didn’t know it then—I would have never believed it if someone had told me—but he’s still one of my best friends. Had I known it back then, this scene would be higher in the list.
#8—Three Pages—At the start of one discussion, Elder Garant gave me three sheets of paper covered with drawings and quotes because of a question I had asked about the pre-existence, the degrees of glory and Christ as ‘creator’. He had gone through the trouble of putting this together for me. I still have those pages.
#7—Fourth Discussion—I was deeply touched during the discussion about eternal families and eternal progression when Elder Larson mentioned his late father. He knew families could be together forever. He had faith in that.
#6—First Meetings—I walked to town as not all buses were running. It took about 50 minutes. I didn’t care. I did it again the following Sunday. I hadn’t gone to any church service since the time I used to take myself to the local Catholic church—only 10 minutes down the road—when I was about 10. I can still feel the excitement and the warm morning sun.
#5—First Sacrament Meeting—That’s the main part of the Mormon church service. I enjoyed my first Priesthood meeting—about the spirit world, which related the information that I had read in some famous 19th century French spiritualist writings a couple of years before. But that Sacrament meeting is the scene that stands out—the speeches, the atmosphere in that apartment opposite the high court and its columns and statues of lions, I can still see it all. And I recall the genuine faith of members, their devotion to God and how comfortable I felt among them. I still have fond feelings for them. Some of them became close friends for years. The branch (then ward)—the congregation—became a family. I miss them.
#4—The Beer—One night out with some friends I had made while on holiday at a summer camp years prior. It was quite a big group of us in the nicest square in town. I drank two gulps of my beer and I put it down. I didn’t feel like drinking alcohol anymore. It was before I committed to respect the Word of Wisdom—the LDS health and diet code that forbids alcohol. While I was LDS, it never was an issue for me. That night I felt like I was a Mormon already. I remember telling friends about it on another occasion while playing pool in one of the bars.
Christ had established his Church and it was led by revelation, even after his death. But the Apostles were eventually rejected and Priesthood/authority was lost. “Confusion and apostasy resulted.” God chose Joseph Smith to reveal the Truth. He told him not to join any Church and later gave him the Priesthood—authority—so valid Gospel ordinances could be conducted again as God intended. God then got Joseph to (re-)organise the Church of Christ and gave him many revelations. “Today, God has chosen Apostles too,” had said Elder Garant. I wanted to be part of it.
#3—The Spirit—One of my fondest memories is how strong the Spirit was at each one of the missionary discussions, and how I felt it even more strongly as I walked to get the bus. It was like walking on clouds. I did not feel the heat; I could taste ecstasy. It was the most wonderful thing I’d ever experienced. It is what carried me and truly prepared me to join the Church.
#2—Billy Joel—There was this Iranian guy who attended Cours d’anglais. Elder Larson nicknamed ‘Billy Joel’ because he look like the singer. Whenever we left the apartment, he would comment on the missionaries’ ‘delusion’ and their “weird religion.” I had my final discussion about membership in the kingdom of God—how the Church helps us and how we serve the Church and go to the Temple for higher ordinances—right before a Cours d’anglais session. It was early August. We were just a small group that evening, sat around a couple of tables. Billy Joel heard I was getting baptised. He looked at me, bewildered. “Why?”
I said, “I studied on my own and prayed, and I received a strong testimony that this religion is true. It makes sense to me. So, I decided to have discussions with the missionaries, and every time I have felt the Spirit confirming that what they were saying was true. I know I must join the Mormon Church, and I know that it is the true Church of God on the face of the Earth.”
Billy Joel shook his head and grumbled something. I don’t know if he was despising me or just feeling sorry for me. It did not matter either way.
#1 Bearing My Testimony—I didn’t realise it but I had borne my testimony for the first time (to Billy Joel). When everyone was gone Elder Larson said he was proud of me. He told the other team of missionaries when they arrived—including that sour faced one who tried to crack a smile. Larson did have a big, big smile on his face when we walked out of the building. He said it was so cool to be there when I bore my very first testimony.
So, July went and August came. And 20 odd years have gone by. Like in the Journey song, “the movie never ends…” I eventually came out; I was excommunicated from the Church; I did my own thing again; I became a Fundamentalist; I am now a special kind of Fundamentalist. But that first testimony borne in 1995 I bear it again, here, in this post.
I look back with nostalgia for those wonderful moments, unsure whether I’m grateful or regretful I didn’t know how things would change. Both, I think.
Thank you for watching!
3—Becoming a Mormon starting February 22.