Every Member a Convert

By Grace Jorgensen

In consultation with the Relief Society General Board

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    My ancestors were pioneers, but I had to find the gospel myself.

    I grew up in a family of fourteen children—all of us raised in the Church. My parents, Hugh L. and Lydia Lowe Geddes, descended from Mormon pioneers. As a family, we were always aware of that heritage of sacrifice and commitment. My paternal great-grandfather was disowned by his family when he joined the Church in Scotland. His son, my grandfather, was the patriarch in our stake. Mother’s father was persecuted because he, like others in the early Restoration, practiced polygamy. He died of pneumonia after a bitterly cold winter’s trip hiding from a militia.

    However, descending from pioneers doesn’t give a person a testimony of the gospel. I believed in the Church as a child because it was our way of life, but I was not really converted.

    In Banida and Pocatello, Idaho, where I grew up, I was always active in the Church, and when I attended a semester at Ricks College in Rexburg, I was still an active Church member.

    I met my husband, E. Lee Jorgensen, at Ricks College. He, too, had been raised in a large family and had a pioneer Latter-day Saint background similar to mine. We were married in the Salt Lake Temple in August 1942. When Lee left for overseas military duty early in 1943, I was a Primary teacher and continued my Church participation.

    But after Lee returned, we began drifting away from the Church. I have mentioned my Church activity to show that even though the Church held an important spot in my life, somehow I drifted away. Many times something would draw me back and I’d try again, but not hard enough, I guess.

    Somehow, though, even with my inactivity, I sensed that my children—Bonnie, Bruce, and Brent—should be blessed at birth and baptized and confirmed at the age of eight. Their father held the priesthood and he finally consented to baptize Brent, but he asked his father or his older brother to perform all the other ordinances.

    After many years of inactivity, I found myself on my knees in prayer one day in late 1968, struggling with disillusionment and heartache. I had not felt worthy to call on God for some time because of my disobedience and rebellion. But, desperately unable to handle some personal problems alone, I prayed for help. My prayer was answered, and I felt motivated to attend church, pay my tithing, and read the Book of Mormon (wade through it, I should say—I didn’t really comprehend it). But then came another setback: a co-worker loaned me some anti-Mormon literature which planted seeds of doubt in my mind and delayed my conversion for another five years.

    Bonnie, our daughter, had remained active; she developed a strong testimony of the gospel and was married in the temple. Bruce, our older son, was active in the Church for a while, but he drifted away like his mother.

    Brent, the younger son, began to grow in faith when he enrolled at Brigham Young University in 1970. He started to work on his advancement in the Aaronic Priesthood without mentioning anything about it to us. I’m sure he thought we weren’t interested and would laugh at him if he did.

    At this point Lee and I were living lives very far removed from Church principles—poking fun at the so-called “religious” ones in our respective families. Religion to us had come to mean keeping the Word of Wisdom and sitting in church, and we didn’t want any part of either of those activities.

    Some of Brent’s college friends had helped him see the need for a patriarchal blessing, fasting and praying with him. The patriarch promised Brent many things, including a successful mission for the Church, if he would keep God’s commandments.

    At the end of Brent’s junior year, he asked us if we’d send him on a mission. We flatly refused because we thought it foolish for him to leave school and waste his scholarship. We told him to think it over and finish his senior year. Then if he still wanted to go, we’d consider it. He agreed.

    We completely forgot about Brent’s desire for a mission—and also forgot about this patriarchal blessing. But Brent didn’t forget. A year later, after much soul-searching and prayer, he received his answer: the Lord wanted him to go on a mission.

    Then came the difficult part. He had to face his rebellious parents. I’ll never forget how I tightened up when he told me on the phone that he had asked for a mission call. His father was just as anti-mission as I was. My first point of attack was, “Brent, first you must convert me to the importance of missionary work.”

    Brent calmly answered, “Mother, you’ll never be converted to missionary work until you’re converted to the Church.”

    This shocked me—I guess I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t converted. He added, “Mom and dad, there’s a difference. You two are members of the Church, but I’m a convert.” Then he bore his testimony to us. He reached our hearts, and we consented to support him on his mission.

    That may have been the beginning of my desire to understand what it was that had changed this boy’s life.

    We began to make plans and save money for Brent’s mission, but for three months I was torn between arguments for and against. I cried a lot and prayed a lot. It was then that I realized that I’ve always believed in prayer. It has helped me through my rough hours—even when I was not worthy to be heard.

    We finally got Brent to the mission home. While we were there he told me that if I would read the Book of Mormon I would find out why this mission meant so much to him.

    The Thursday morning that he left, I was spiritually uplifted to see him so happy. A young man at work asked if I’d seen my son off to the mission field yet. This fellow had just returned from a mission, and he encouraged me to read a compilation of conversion stories.

    I read each story with consuming, fascinated interest. As I finished each one I asked myself, “Why don’t I feel this way? Why are these people converted so powerfully, and I, with my pioneer heritage, remain unconverted?” When I finished, I read another similar book. At the same time I was trying to wade through the Book of Mormon, mainly to make Brent happy. I just couldn’t seem to get interested. I couldn’t see what this book had to do with my life, and I was not convinced that Joseph Smith had not made it all up.

    A month after Brent left, the bishop asked me to take a Sunday School job. I refused, my excuse being that Lee and I grow apart when I go to church and he doesn’t. The bishop bore his testimony that night, and I thought, This fine man really believes this whole thing, too! He, Brent, and the author of those books, all of them intelligent men, testify that they believe Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon through the power of God.

    So I kept plodding through the Book of Mormon. Brent’s sweetheart from BYU, Garnett Ann Oyler (whom he later married in the temple), visited us in October. When she asked about my progress with the Book of Mormon, I told her I was bored with it, that I couldn’t understand what it had to do with me, and that I went to sleep when I started reading it. She said, “Grace, you say you believe in prayer. Well, why don’t you pray about it?”

    I was surprised I hadn’t thought of that myself. That night I knelt and asked the Lord to help me find time to read, understand what I read, and not fall asleep. I asked that I would find messages there for me.

    I awoke the next morning, Monday, at 4:00 A.M. wide awake and alert. “A perfect time to read the Book of Mormon,” I thought, so I began reading. Since it was the same copy Brent had read, I found underlined passages, and other parts that “hit home” with me, which I underlined. I read, fascinated, until 7:30, when I had to get ready for work.

    I thought all day about what I’d read, and even discussed some passages with Latter-day Saint friends.

    The next morning I awoke again at 4:00 A.M. And this happened each morning that week. (Strange—I wasn’t in the habit of getting up so early! Especially without the help of an alarm clock!) I read each morning for about three hours, and I began to understand what I was reading. I certainly did not become bored or sleepy. The more I read, the more fascinated I became. When I found a passage about charity (Moro. 7:44–47), I thought, Joseph Smith couldn’t have written that—these words were from God!

    That Friday morning, just five days after starting the book, I again awoke at 4:00 A.M., and began reading. At about 6:00 I came to Moroni 10:4, where Moroni says:

    “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal

    Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” [Moro. 10:4]

    I finished the Book of Mormon but kept coming back to that passage. I had read of this exhortation before, but this morning I seemed to be reading it for the first time. This time the message was to me. I had asked God for help before and had received it. Now I sincerely needed to know that the Book of Mormon was true. I wondered how God would tell me, and as I was about to kneel in prayer, my answer came. My unuttered prayer was answered! A power strong, beautiful, and joyful moved completely through my body. As this glorious revelation of truth swept through me, I wept. I was happier than I had ever been before. Brent must have been praying for me, because on that beautiful morning, I felt his strength and faith.

    I knew that Jesus Christ was resurrected, that we were redeemed, that Joseph Smith was a prophet who saw God and Jesus Christ. I knew that he miraculously translated ancient records with God’s guidance. I knew that Joseph Smith received revelations from God and that we have God’s restored gospel and priesthood on earth today. I learned our purpose on earth, as the Savior’s brothers and sisters. In short, I was given a witness that the gospel is true.

    And it changed my life. I started going to sacrament meetings. I began to pay my tithing again. I began repenting of my sins.

    Yes, I am now a convert. And as my testimony has grown, my appreciation for my fine, loving husband grows. I am thankful that the gospel has influenced my life and my children. I pray that others may know the truths I now know.

    Illustration by Preston Heiselt