“What If This Is Really True?”


I don’t remember the exact words I used to tell my bishop that I had decided not to serve a mission, but I remember well his disappointment and the next question he asked me: “Do your parents know what you’ve decided?”

Of course they didn’t know; I hadn’t discussed my decision with anyone. As I left the bishop’s office that day, I thought, “Whew, I’m glad that’s over.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t have a good background in the Church; our family was very active. I attended all my meetings, and I had graduated from seminary. I’m sure everyone assumed that I would go on a mission.

I was living at home, attending a nearby junior college, and trying to find a job. My hair was long, in the “hippie” fashion of the day, so I had found it almost impossible to find work. As my hair grew longer, tension grew between my father and me. When he told me to get a haircut, I left the house and spent three days with a friend. My return home without a haircut was my way of showing him that I was going to do as I pleased.

Several ward members mentioned to me that my decision not to go on a mission had broken my parents’ hearts. My church attendance slipped as I began to feel that the adults in our ward disapproved of my attitude and my hair length. (It wasn’t until much later that I learned that they had prayed numerous times for something to happen in my life that would help me find myself.)

When I did attend church, I attended elders quorum meetings, though I had not been ordained an elder. One Sunday morning the elders quorum president said, “We would like to call you to be a home teacher. Will you accept the call?” Shocked, I said yes. “Your companion will be Bill Brothers,” he continued.

As soon as I left the building, I began to plan how I could get out of this commitment. Just then Bill Brothers walked over to me. I had known him since our days in Primary.

“Guess we’re going to be home-teaching companions, aren’t we?” Bill asked.

“I guess so,” I acknowledged glumly.

“Why don’t we show the guys in our ward how home teaching should really be done?” he said.

That thought struck me like a thunderbolt. Yes! We would show the men in our ward how home teaching should be done! We would do it better than any of them, and maybe that would silence the criticism about my attitude and my hair. Bill and I decided that the first thing to do was to ask the fathers in the two families assigned to us what they would like us to teach to their families.

Bill made the appointments. I assumed that each father would ask us to teach his children about getting along with each other or some other basic topic—but I was wrong.

“Well, boys,” said Brother Smith, “our family has been trying to read the Book of Mormon. Since our children are fairly young, it is sometimes hard for them to understand what we read. I think it would be great if you could tell us the basic stories from the Book of Mormon in chronological order.”

When we left the Smith home, Bill suggested that we visit the Smiths more than once a month. Bill was leaving on a mission in about three months and wanted to tell all the Book of Mormon stories before he left. Bill also suggested that we start with the book of Ether, since it was first chronologically. He would give the story of the first half of Ether, and I would do the second half. I had thought this assignment was going to be easy, but now I knew I would have to spend some time preparing. I unenthusiastically agreed to do it.

Just before our first visit, I skimmed over the last part of Ether and hoped that I would remember enough to get by. However, as we met with the Smiths, a sweet spirit of gentle anticipation filled the room. I felt embarrassed that I was not as well prepared as Bill, and I left determined to be prepared on our next visit.

Over the next two months I read the entire Book of Mormon. At first, I read it with the sole intent of being able to tell the story to the Smith family. Soon, however, I began to ask myself, “What if this is really true?” My view of the world began to change as I learned eternal principles from Nephi, Lehi, and Jacob. When I read of Alma’s prayers concerning his wayward son, Alma the Younger, I understood my parents’ anguish over me. I felt the spirit of Helaman as he wrote of his faithful stripling soldiers, and I wondered if I would have been as courageous as they had been. I read of the Savior’s visit and his teachings. I learned of the destruction of the Nephites because of their wickedness. And finally, when I read in Moroni that we would meet at the Judgment Day and that the Lord would hold us responsible for the words contained in the Book of Mormon, I felt as if Moroni had written that message specifically for me.

Suddenly, I knew the Book of Mormon was true! The seed of faith had been planted within me, and now it had grown until I could scarcely contain it. I wanted to tell everyone I met of the joy I felt in finding out that the Book of Mormon was true, that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God, and that the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were true. I wept in gratitude for having received this witness.

I drove over to Bishop Toolson’s house and knocked on the door. He answered, invited me in, and asked what he could do for me. Outwardly I didn’t look any different—my hair was longer than ever; yet inwardly, I had experienced a mighty change of heart. The words burst from me: “I want to go on a mission.”

Bishop Toolson smiled and invited me into his living room. He opened his briefcase and pulled out my missionary recommendation form. It was already completely filled out except for one box, and that was the first question he asked. “When do you want to leave?”

“As soon as possible,” I answered. I could hardly wait to go! Bishop Toolson instructed me that I would need to submit a picture of myself—with a proper missionary haircut. I assured him that I would take care of that immediately.

I received my mission call on 4 August 1972. During my mission, I often bore my solemn witness that I knew the Book of Mormon was true. I learned that if we missionaries would encourage our investigators to study the Book of Mormon, pray about it, and try to live by its teachings, they, too, would discover that the Book of Mormon was true.

[illustration] Illustrated by Mitchell Heinz

Derek Preece is second counselor in the Grossmont Ward bishopric, Santee California Stake.