I Couldn’t Ignore the Voice
When I began working in downtown New York for the summer, I was eager to see the sights. My lunch hour came, and I was off to sightsee. One of the first things that I noticed was a sign that read, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Nearby was a sign identifying a Church visitors’ center.
The building didn’t look like other Christian churches I’d seen, so my curiosity got the best of me. I peeked through the double glass doors, but after a brief examination, I walked away.
Still curious the next day, I headed in the same direction for lunch. As I passed the sign, I heard a whispering voice say, Go in. I stopped dead in my tracks and looked around to see if anyone was near me. Again I heard the same words, this time much louder and clearer. Again I turned around, trying to find the person who was speaking to me, but no one was there. I didn’t know quite how to react, so I walked away quickly.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the voice. My mind was flooded with thoughts of the Lord, and I strongly felt his Spirit throughout the day. The next day, after debating whether I should pass that way again, I decided to go the opposite way. No sooner had I started to walk in the other direction than an overwhelming power of the Spirit came upon me, and I soon found myself in front of the LDS visitors’ center again. I don’t remember how long I stood at the doors, but as I stood there, I felt the Spirit of the Lord increase and heard a voice say, Go in; there you shall learn about Jesus Christ. The voice was clear and gentle, and there was something about it I could no longer ignore. I immediately went into the center.
There I met an older missionary couple, who greeted me with enthusiasm. The woman asked if I wanted a tour of the visitors’ center. I asked her if there was a place where I could pray, and she showed me into a small chapel. There were no adornments, neither crosses nor picturesque statues of the Savior, yet I felt at home there. After I had finished praying, I went downstairs, and the woman escorted me through the visitors’ center. As she told me about the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith story, I could sense that she really believed what she was saying. But it wasn’t enough to convince me.
The Church’s doctrine was very different from my own religious beliefs, so I challenged everything she told me. After a while, Sister Miller bore her testimony and then simply invited me to pray about the things she had told me. I left the visitors’ center confused—I didn’t know whether to forget about the things I had heard or pray and investigate the Church further.
Although I tried to convince myself that I was foolish for having the desire to explore such strange doctrine, I needed to know if the things I had heard were true. The next day I went back to the visitors’ center, and about two weeks later, I agreed to hear the missionary discussions. I prayed, studied the scriptures daily, and fasted when I could. After some time, I felt the Spirit of the Lord, and my understanding increased. In fact, I had never felt the Spirit so strongly before. When the missionaries invited me to be baptized, I recognized that the principles of the gospel were true, even though I still fought the idea of baptism.
Twenty-one years old at the time, I was afraid of losing my friends and family if I joined the Church. My friends criticized the Church. My family expressed great concern. Finally I decided I would invite my mother to see what the Church was all about. One Saturday evening, Elder and Sister Miller gave her a tour of the visitors’ center, and she sat through one of the missionary discussions. She was at peace with what she saw and told me that the decision to join the Church was mine.
On 3 February 1979, I accepted the missionaries’ invitation and was baptized. The night before my baptism, I dreamed about the distinctions between good and evil, distinctions the gospel makes clear. That dream confirmed all the things I had learned as I prepared for baptism. I awoke knowing I could trust in the Lord and knowing that the Church was true.
The next day, my mother and my newfound friends, the Millers, attended as I entered the waters of baptism. I had come a long way, thanks to a visitors’ center and the voice of the Spirit whispering, Go in.
Diary of My Enemy
Strangely, it was during the Vietnam War that I discovered the great secret to a happy life. I had been in sustained combat for two months, and its grueling demands were taking their toll upon my physical and spiritual stamina. Mail from home was seldom delivered to the battle front; neither were there sacrament meetings or Sunday services to boost my spirit each week. I was left entirely to my own prayers and inner supplications. I felt isolated and alone.
Little by little, I felt the daily grind of combat and the persistent scenes of death wearing me down and callousing my spiritual sensitivity. I found myself becoming almost like the Nephite warriors—thirsting for the blood of the enemy. (See Morm. 3:9.)
On 9 July 1972, after a day-long tactical march, my battalion settled into a tiny deserted hamlet. The huts lay smoldering in the last rays of sunlight. In a field adjacent to our column lay the body of a young North Vietnamese soldier. South Vietnamese marines searched his clothing for intelligence information.
A tingle raced along my spine at this reminder of the ugliness and nearness of death. I looked upon this enemy with cold eyes.
Papers were found on the fallen soldier and brought to the commander. My interest was kindled when I heard that they were not intelligence information but a diary. I marveled that this enemy soldier had taken time to write down his thoughts. I wondered: What were the last recorded thoughts of this dead enemy?
That evening, a rough translation of the diary was provided, and I read it by the flickering light of my small cooking fire.
“I do not know where we are,” it read. “Our officers say that we are fighting bravely against American imperialists who have invaded our homeland. We fight bravely, but we are poorly supplied. I am lonely. I miss my family far away. I wonder how they are doing. I miss my home and wish to be back in the mountains and walk in the forests. I wish to see again the flowers, the birds, and animals of home.”
I stared at the paper, stunned by the words. These were not the words of an enemy! These were the words of a kindred spirit! His people and mine had met as foes, glaring at each other over a seemingly unbridgeable gulf of cultural, ethnic, and political differences. But we were not really enemies in spirit. In other circumstances, we could have been brothers.
Suddenly, I understood that Vietnam was not the real war and that my comrades and I were not the real warriors. The real war was waged first in heaven by Lucifer. On earth, the real enemy was not the North Vietnamese, nor any people, but the unseen forces of evil that wage a war of ignorance and spiritual bondage upon the hearts of mankind.
And the real warriors fight under the banner of Jesus Christ. These warriors do not kill or destroy but rather heal and offer life—eternal life—through the merits of Jesus Christ and a knowledge of his restored gospel.
That day in Vietnam, as I sat by the fire, I discovered that happiness comes from understanding the worth of a human soul regardless of race, creed, or political views, and from knowing that we are all children of our Father in Heaven. To know this is to love all people, even those who may appear to be the enemy.
Proving the Prophet’s Promise
When President Benson promised the Saints that the power of the Book of Mormon would begin to flow into our lives the moment we began a serious study of the book, we decided as a family to follow his admonition to read daily. (See Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 7.)
At the time my wife and I decided to start reading the Book of Mormon with our family, we had four children, ages six months to six years. At first, we were able to read only one column each day. With 531 pages and twice that many columns, reading the book seemed like a neverending undertaking.
Despite, or maybe because of, how slowly we read, we made every effort to read each weekday. Our children were eager to please—often waking us to start reading. Although we missed very few days, it took us more than six months to read 1 Nephi.
By this time our two oldest children were able to read a few words by themselves. As we slowly made our way through 2 Nephi, including quotations from the writings of Isaiah, we were growing as a family in spiritual as well as other ways. We added a daily devotional time and another child to the family, and before we finished Helaman, this cycle had started again. Cries of hunger and dirty diapers often interrupted our reading, but each day we would finish our allotted column no matter how long it seemed to take.
About the time our oldest entered fifth grade, we started reading at an accelerated pace—one page per day. As we neared the middle of that year, we received word that the Alberta Temple would be rededicated the next spring, an event our family had been looking forward to. We did some calculating and found that if we continued reading at the same pace, we would have one chapter of the Book of Mormon left to read on the day the dedication would begin. We planned to travel the 1200 kilometers (745 miles) to attend this event, rise early that morning, and drive to the temple grounds to read the last chapter.
The morning of the dedication dawned bright and clear. The temple grounds were beautiful, and we secreted ourselves behind the old stone monument as we prepared to read.
The Spirit seemed to be with us more strongly than usual as we finished the chapter, and the volume of scripture. It had taken us about five years to complete reading it. We each took a turn praying for confirmation that the Book of Mormon was indeed the word of God. We didn’t see any angels or hear voices, but we did feel the calm, peaceful, loving presence of the Holy Ghost. Tears filled our eyes as the Spirit testified to each of us of the truthfulness and sacredness of the Book of Mormon.
We gave thanks for the opportunity we’d had to become closer to these great prophets and for the blessings that we had received through reading the Book of Mormon. We received blessings of increased faith, strength in the face of adversity, and greater love and tranquility in our home—the same blessings that President Benson had promised.
Learning from a Leper
A few weeks after I arrived in Hawaii to serve my mission, my companion, Elder Naylor, and I planned to visit Hale Mohalu, a leper hospital in Pearl City. We were going to visit a member of the Church, Joe Kekahuna.
I was unnerved by the prospect of being close to someone with leprosy, a disease that has been called “death in life.” Weren’t these the people who in biblical times were forced to call out “unclean” to anyone who approached them? Was there any chance that I might contract leprosy?
My companion, sensing my anxiety, explained, “To begin with, we don’t call it leprosy; we call it Hansen’s disease. Hansen’s disease isn’t as contagious as many people think. I visited the leper colony at Kalaupapa twice a month during the whole time I was on Molokai. I’m not afraid, and there’s no reason you should be.”
We went to Hale Mohalu the next day. The patients we passed on the way to Joe’s room looked very normal, and I was feeling much better about the experience—until I saw Joe and all my apprehensions returned. His body was in an advanced stage of deterioration. I felt my heart would break with pity for him.
I mumbled a greeting and then fell silent, not knowing what to say. Joe sensed my uncertainty, turned his sightless eyes in my direction, and began to speak to me.
“Don’t feel sorry for me, elder,” he said. “I am a dying man, but I am a happy man, too. When I was young, like you, I thought I would live forever. I did bad things. I was a hard man, who would never listen to the missionaries. I liked my good time; I had no place in my life for God. This disease sent me to Molokai, to Kalaupapa, where I lived among the lepers. I found God in Kalaupapa, and I found the Church.”
His voice broke with emotion as he continued, “I’m glad I have this disease. Without it, I would be the same as I was, and there would be no future for me. I would have lost everything. Learn from me, elder. Learn from Joe Kekahuna, the leper.”
Joe’s words changed my pity into feelings of gratitude. Our visit with him was very short, but his insight will stay with me forever. I learned that no matter how bad or uncertain our circumstances may be, the most important thing in life is to be close to God.
About My Duty
Few people have influenced my life for good as much as my mission president. In particular, I will always remember the Christmas season of 1977 which came at a time when missionary transfers were being effected in the South Africa Johannesburg Mission.
As administrative assistant to President E. Dale LeBaron, I was responsible for scheduling these transfers and making arrangements for travel. I also had a plan of my own. A few elders and I talked President LeBaron into allowing us to organize some recreation for those who would be passing through, to boost the missionaries’ morale.
The president kept reminding me that I had a great deal of work to do regarding the transfers, and he cautioned me not to forget any details. During the next several weeks, I worked hard coordinating plane, train, and car schedules so that nothing would be amiss. When I thought all was prepared, I turned my attention to organizing teams for the afternoon’s recreational activities.
Finally, the big day arrived. The first wave of transfers moved according to plan. I had left no room for error and could at last turn my full attention to recreation—or so I thought.
I left the mission offices, eager to participate in our planned activities. After awhile, President LeBaron arrived and summoned me to his side. He asked me how things were going, and I answered confidently that all was fine. His reply indicated he was not reassured as he asked, “Are they, elder?”
The first problem I learned of was the elder who was stranded for two hours at the train depot. Whose responsibility was it to pick him up? One glance at my schedule informed me that it had been mine. Next was the elder transferring to Rhodesia who did not have his international packet. Again, my assignment.
The president’s list continued, and when he had covered all the necessary areas, he added these words, which still carry a powerful message today: “Elder, I suggest you had better be about your duties, as you ought to have been.” I meekly declined his offer for assistance, assured him that all would be taken care of, and ran off to the mission office.
Fortunately, by the end of that long day I was able to resolve the tide of disorder I had created. Tired and ashamed, I sat at my desk and wondered how everything had gone wrong. It wasn’t hard to see that I had put aside major responsibilities for minor, unimportant things. Each passing moment intensified my belief that I was a failure. So certain was I that I would be dishonorably released from my mission that I actually phoned the airlines to check on flight schedules.
As I hung up the phone, President LeBaron called. He asked how I was doing, and I unconvincingly answered, “Okay.” Then he asked if I would stop by the mission home. My heart froze with fear as my mind raced to remember what else I had done wrong. I knew it had to be something serious for him to disturb his welcome of new incoming missionaries.
The president met me at the mission home door, and I readied myself for the news of another mistake I had made. President LeBaron asked if I would take a walk with him.
As we walked through the garden, I told him how sorry I was and that I would do whatever he thought best. He then reached out and put his arm around me. To my surprise, he told me that due to the busy day, he had forgotten to tell me that he loved me and that he appreciated all the work I was doing. As he embraced me, my defenses broke down and I wept like a child. Without knowing it, he had made my mission.
I still gratefully smile when I remember the day I needed help and a man of God gave it. The significant impact of his kindness was not limited to me only but has extended to my family, friends, and associates.