I was born to a good Latter-day Saint family. I always went to Primary and Sunday School. During my first years in the Aaronic Priesthood, I even received several individual awards for church attendance and for giving talks in meetings. I also took part in the Church sports program. Who would have thought that in a few years I would be inactive, and that it would be many more years before my conversion to the gospel would begin?
At age fifteen (when I had reached what I thought was maturity) I decided that the Church was not for me. I had an early morning paper route. On weekends I usually went back to bed after the papers had been delivered.
At sixteen I began working in a grocery store—sometimes on Sundays—and I bought a car with the money I saved. My money, my new car, and I became very popular with a new group of “friends.” None of them had cars (in fact, not one of them had a job), so they seemed to value my friendship. I soon found myself ignoring some basic church teachings to stay in their good graces.
When I married, I finally separated myself from most of these “friends,” but I still didn’t attend church. I did continue to play church basketball and softball, though. And my wife stayed as active in the Church as I would allow.
About this time, a returned missionary friend was assigned as our home teacher. We enjoyed his visits very much. I even accepted an invitation to attend priesthood meeting with him. Unfortunately, the only other member of the prospective elders class seemed unable to stay awake. A couple of times during the lesson, his head almost rested on my shoulder. Needless to say, I felt uncomfortable, as did the two instructors. My solution was quite simple: I slept during the next meeting myself—in my own bed!
Our family was growing, so we bought a small house. Just after we moved in, two members of the bishopric came and extended a friendly welcome. Then, just a few days later, several members of the ward finance committee innocently dropped by to ask me if I would like to pay my budget now or by the month. I felt angry. It seemed to me that the ward had welcomed us one week just so they could get a hand in my wallet the next. My resentment seemed to take root, and as time passed, it became a real bitterness.
For the next two years, my wife served as a Primary teacher and attended as many meetings as she could and still keep peace at home. We also had a series of home teachers, but my animosity drove each of them away.
Finally, a turning point came. Don McEntire and his son Guy came to our home. “We’re your new home teachers,” they announced. “Sure you are,” I thought. “You won’t last long.” But I was wrong. They kept coming back time after time. Best of all, they didn’t ask if they could pick me up for meetings or even mention the Church, except when Don would ask my wife about her Primary calling. I actually enjoyed our discussions.
During one of our casual visits, Don found out that I enjoyed playing basketball. On their next visit, Don and Guy came with a message and a question: “The ward basketball team will begin practicing at nine tomorrow night at the church. Would you like to play?” I said I would try to be there.
The next night I had to ask my wife for directions to the church since I had never been there before. Then, gathering my gym clothes, I set out to find it. When I got there, I sat out in my truck for a few moments wondering how to get in. Then I saw that there were lights on in the foyer, so I went in.
As I opened the front door, I saw a lot of young people in the foyer and a group of adults in the corner. I tucked my clothes under my arm, ducked my head to avoid them, and headed for the door to the cultural hall. Before I could reach the door, a man darted from the group of adults. “Hello, Wayne Brown. How are you? Let me introduce you to the team.”
I had never seen this man before. But I later found out that he was Duane Nay, the first counselor in the bishopric. After about an hour of practice, Duane announced that the bishop wanted to interview all the players for eligibility. At this point, I headed for the dressing room. “It was fun playing,” I told myself, “even if it was only for one night.” But when Duane walked over and encouraged me to meet with the bishop, I couldn’t think of a way to refuse.
He introduced me to Bishop John Thomas, who invited me into his office. We talked casually for a while. “Do you want to play basketball for the ward?” I said I did and braced myself. But he signed the eligibility form without further questions. I was shocked that he had signed it, but even more shocked that he hadn’t taken this opportunity to lecture me. He only said that he hoped I would have a desire to meet with the ward some day.
Well, the next Sunday I surprised everyone—including myself by attending priesthood meeting. In opening exercises I sat by one of the men with whom I had played ball, then followed him to the elders quorum class. I was nervous when they asked me to introduce myself, and embarrassed when they asked if I had just moved in.
But the following Sunday I went again. This time, after elders and introduced himself. He was Ray Crouch, and he invited me to attend the prospective elders class the following week. He was the instructor, he said, and there were not as many people in his class as in the elders quorum. He was certainly right about that. Over the next few months, only once did anyone other than Ray and me attend the class. Even so, Ray came prepared every week with a lesson.
After a few weeks, I decided to increase my involvement. So my wife and I began attending Sunday School class together.
Before long, we were bowling with a ward league. With each positive experience, a little more of my aloofness melted away. So when Bishop Thomas called my wife and me into his office to ask us if we would support the ward budget, we agreed. He explained what the money would be used for, and we told him we would pay it all on a certain date.
For the first time, I had committed myself to contributing money to the Church. And almost immediately a blessing came, just when we were somewhat pressed for money. The expense of replacing a broken window and an unexpected medical bill had left us short. We had been trying to sell our motorboat, but had had no luck because it was so late in the summer. Nevertheless, when payday came, I put the budget money in an envelope in my dresser. Even though several small bills were due, I was determined. “I will give this money to the bishop on Sunday,” I told myself. Surprisingly, the very next day someone called. We couldn’t imagine who would be interested in buying a boat this time of year, but he bought it! His check for my total asking price more than covered our contribution. We were amazed. In fact, we could hardly wait to pay our budget next year!
The process of my conversion did not take place all at once. Years of distrusting the motives of Church members and of doubting my own capacity to live the gospel stood between me and a thriving commitment to the Church and its teachings. A faithful home teacher, a concerned bishop, a few Church meetings—even our faith-promoting experience with the ward budget—only began this process. It took many experiences over a period of time before my testimony became a strong, motivating power.
Since my conversion began, many great things have happened to me and my family. We have been sealed in the temple for time and eternity. My wife and I have served in several ward callings. We have even served in callings in our stake. And, best of all, our testimonies have kept growing.