For years Lynne Henshaw was the only active member of the Church in her family. Her father was less active; her mother was not a member. Having joined the Church as a teenager, Lynne did her best to attend Sunday meetings without her parents and siblings.
Eight years after Lynne was baptized, her sister followed. Her other, less-active sister returned to full activity some years later. Lynne’s grandparents were next. Her maternal grandmother was baptized, and after years of being less active, her paternal grandparents started attending church and were sealed in the temple.
Faithful and personable home teachers visited Lynne’s parents, and after decades of prayer and fasting, Lynne’s mother was baptized. Her father, who had struggled with a Word of Wisdom problem much of his life, finally won control over the habit when a loving granddaughter sent him a letter. “Dear Grandpa,” she wrote. “I am going to the temple to be married, and I want you there with me.” The two received their endowments together.
“Sharing the gospel with your nonmember or less-active parents is not a one time thing,” observes Lynne, a member of the Buckingham Branch, Richmond Virginia Chesterfield Stake. “It is a journey.”
Throughout the world there are thousands of Church members who are on this same journey. Believing in doctrines that include life after death and eternal families can bring great comfort and purpose to our lives, but it can also bring heartache and sorrow when those we love believe differently.
Recently the Ensign asked readers to tell their experiences of sharing the gospel with their beloved parents. Many people responded, writing tender stories of success and disappointment, stories of praying, fasting, and patience.
Although the stories differ in many respects, there are common threads woven through most experiences. Strands of prayer, good example, faith, and patience bound these families together as young and old alike shared the most important thing they have in life—the gospel of Jesus Christ—with the very people responsible for helping give them mortal life in the first place.
“I’ve never been so grateful for the power of prayer than when my father was baptized,” observes Sheila Woodard, a member of the Idaho Falls Twenty-eighth Ward, Idaho Falls Idaho Central Stake. Sheila and her two brothers, along with their member mother, had been praying for their father to join the Church ever since Sheila could remember.
“Dad grew up in a second-generation Italian home in a rural town in Connecticut; Mom grew up in a Latter-day Saint home in a small, southern Utah town,” Sheila says. “When the two got married in 1940, Dad had little idea of how his decision to marry a Mormon would affect the rest of his life.”
Most of Sheila’s childhood was spent shuttling back and forth between Utah and Connecticut. When the family was on the East Coast, her father drove them to church on Sunday and waited outside until the meetings were over. Afterwards, they’d have a picnic under a shade tree at a park, and the children would eagerly share all they had learned that day in church.
Both Sheila and her older brother served missions and faithfully wrote uplifting letters home in which they encouraged their father to investigate the Church. Although he took the missionary discussions several times over the years, prospects for his baptism didn’t look hopeful.
One day while Sheila was still on her mission, she received a message to call home. Frightened, she and her companion ran all the way to the telephone office. Once connected to home, she sobbed when her mother announced: “Sheila, your father was baptized today.”
“After all those years of praying, we were finally a complete member family,” Sheila says.
Debbie Greco’s father was also influenced by prayer and Primary. Like Sheila, Debbie and her brothers and sisters came home every week after Church to report to their father, a less-active member of the Church.
“Daddy, we sang a song today.”
“Daddy, I gave a talk.”
And Daddy would patiently listen to sweet renditions of “I Am a Child of God” and to memorized talks and scriptures.
Each night Debbie’s family would kneel in prayer. Other requests sent heavenward varied through the years, but the request that Daddy would come to church and help make the family an eternal one was consistent.
When Debbie was ten, her father unexpectedly knelt down with his family. It was five-year-old Charlie’s turn. “… and please bless Daddy that he will take us to the temple someday,” Charlie prayed quietly, just as he had since he first started talking.
“We were sure that would be the end of Dad joining us for prayers,” Debbie remembers. “But we were wrong. He joined us every night. He didn’t pray, but he would kneel with us while we prayed.”
A couple of months later, Debbie’s father started studying the gospel with member friends. “On Mother’s Day 1978, my mother bundled her five children into the car and took us to church,” says Debbie, now a member of the Layton Hills Ward, Layton Utah Northridge Stake. “About ten minutes after we arrived, my father walked in and sat down next to us. We were too stunned to say anything.
“On August 29, 1979, our prayers were finally answered as we stood as a family in the Logan Temple admiring our eternal reflections in the mirror.”
But prayer must be supplemented with action. The power of example cannot be overlooked as nonmember or less-active parents quietly watch their children and others living the gospel.
As a child, Christopher C. H. Wills was close to his father. “He always left for work early in the morning,” Christopher recalls. “Then he would come back to take me to school.”
But on the morning of 26 March 1959, Chris waited in vain for his dad, who had suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. The hemorrhage left him a paraplegic. “My dad became hurt, angry, and frustrated,” says Chris, whose relationship with his father at that time began to deteriorate.
When Chris was a teenager, missionaries visited the Willses’ home, and Chris and his mother were baptized; his younger sister, Ann, was baptized a few months later when she turned eight years old. “The warmth and spirit of love in that branch permeated our home,” Chris recalls. “The members of that branch accepted my father and loved him even though he wasn’t a member of the Church. Their quiet examples were as powerful as any spoken testimony.”
Chris married and moved away; he currently serves as a high councilor in the Coventry England Stake. The district his parents lived in continued to grow, eventually becoming a stake, and still Chris’s father was surrounded by examples of good people who genuinely cared for him. He began asking for priesthood blessings when he had health problems, and finally, after years of invitations, he consented to go to church with Chris’s mother. His attendance led to a baptism date.
“There are no words to describe the feeling as I helped carry my father into the waters of baptism,” says Chris, who baptized his father just days after baptizing his oldest daughter. Three years later, his father died, in Chris’s words, “beloved by his family and friends, who look forward with a brightness of hope to an eternal relationship with him.”
“Not all our family members may accept the gospel in this lifetime,” acknowledged Shirley Guenther, a member of the Coquitlam Ward, Vancouver British Columbia Stake. “But I’ve learned that with patience, unwavering faith, and absolute love, we can influence our loved ones spiritually during this lifetime.” Shirley’s story illustrates that we ourselves can be influenced spiritually as well.
“In August 1983 I left my mother outside the Alberta Temple, where I was being sealed for time and eternity,” she explains. “I felt peaceful joy and excitement towards my companion and the spiritual choices I was making, and yet I felt a heartache and sadness for the nonmember family I was leaving behind.
“Three months later as my husband and I went to the Seattle Temple, I remember sitting beside an empty chair. I experienced an overwhelming, peaceful feeling that someday that seat would be filled by my mother. I could actually visualize her sitting there, dressed in white.”
Through the years, Shirley shared the gospel with her mother, inviting her to the blessings and baptisms of her children and giving her a matching Bible and Book of Mormon. Although her mother read those scriptures, listened to the missionary discussions, and enjoyed associations with members of the Church, she made no commitment to be baptized.
Nine years later, Shirley was preparing for her own daughter’s baptism when she felt the Spirit strongly prompting her to take a more active role in sharing the gospel with her mother. She acted on the feeling, quickly arranging for sister missionaries to teach her mother the discussions again, this time in Shirley’s home.
Together they listened to the missionaries. They talked and studied and laughed and cried. And Shirley’s mother set a baptismal date.
“Months after she got baptized, I drove her to get her patriarchal blessing,” Shirley continues. “My mother invited me to come in with her and listen. I left there that day seeing her not only as my mother but as my eternal sister, friend, and as a child of God.
“And on March 22, 1994, I again sat in the Seattle Temple looking at the seat next to me. Only this time it wasn’t empty!”
Obviously, sharing the gospel with parents doesn’t always result in baptisms. “Though I wish my dad would be a fully active member of the Church and go through the temple, I cannot make that happen,” says one young sister. “Only he can. Anything else is against Heavenly Father’s plan of agency.
“If my father is pushed into reluctantly making the decision, he won’t be committed. I do not feel sorry for myself, because I have a wonderful father who has taught me many things, including the right way to live. I pray every day that he will accept the gospel, and I have hope that he will someday. Until then, I will continue to love and learn from him as I have for the past twenty-five years.”
Each one of Heavenly Father’s children is unique, responding and growing and progressing and learning in different ways. Who knows what testimony, gospel principle, or Church program will touch a heart? Who knows what miraculous moment will change a mind? On the journey of sharing the gospel with our parents, there is no one method that guarantees a conversion. The means leading to conversion are as different as the individuals involved.
Michele LaRose of the West Terrace Ward, Spokane Washington West Stake, experienced that truth. Michele’s joining the Church was very difficult for her mother. For days there was noticeable tension between mother and daughter.
“But I knew getting baptized was the right thing for me to do!” declares Michele.
Since then, Michele has taken advantage of opportunities to gently share the gospel with her mother. She hangs pictures of the temple in her home, explaining to her mother what the temple is. She also hangs pictures of Christ and of the First Presidency where her mother and others can see and ask questions about them.
“It’s not really different than home teaching or visiting teaching less-active members or nonmembers,” Michele observes. “I leave copies of the monthly messages from the Ensign and then let her choose whether to read them.”
When Michele’s son died some time ago, she explained the plan of salvation to her mother, sharing her own belief that if she lived righteously, she’d see her son again. And she has already invited her mother to the important upcoming event of another son’s baptism.
Michele’s mother discusses the gospel with her, and she has asked Michele to do the temple work for her own parents.
Years ago Deanna Collins Herrod’s mother was a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and her father was a recent convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Deanna and her brothers and sisters attended Latter-day Saint meetings on Sunday mornings and mass on Sunday afternoons. Wednesdays were Primary days, and catechism was on Saturday mornings.
“It seemed like a tug-of-war,” remembers Deanna, a member of the La Mesa First Ward, San Diego California East Stake. “But as our testimonies grew, it was clearly evident which church we wanted to be baptized into. We made an unspoken pact with our father to help convert our mother to the gospel.”
Family home evening proved to be the catalyst for change in Deanna’s home. “One evening spent in that setting convinced Mother,” recalls Deanna. “Thereafter, even before she was baptized in 1973, she would often be heard telling neighbors the virtues of such an inspired program.”
Eleven-year-old Robin Frame was baptized in the same river where her parents had been baptized. Twenty-two years later, her father was less active, as he had been for much of her life. Family members felt prompted to hold a family fast. “A date was set, and my mother, my two sisters, and I wrote letters to Dad and Michael, my less-active brother,” Robin explains. “We expressed our love to them and our desire for our family to be sealed in the temple. Following that, things began to change.”
When Robin’s youngest sister had her new baby blessed, her father watched from the congregation. “Dad decided it would be the last time he missed participating in the blessing of his grandchildren,” Robin says. In July 1993, the family was sealed in the Washington (D.C.) Temple. “The joys of that day were unspeakable,” Robin continues. “The changes in our lives continue to make me laugh and cry. Watching Dad, now a counselor in the elders quorum presidency, I still marvel and wonder at the change. I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for the love and support he gave my earthly father that enabled him to ‘come home.’”
The scriptures tell us that even if we “should labor all [our] days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be [our] joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:15.)
The journey of sharing the gospel with parents may be a long one, and it doesn’t always end with baptism. But sincere, specific prayers combined with examples of gospel living and genuine love for our parents can prepare the way for good things to happen, and many of us can have the blessings of peace and love in our family relationships.
Be patient. There is no need to overly “push the Church.” Show your parents an abundance of love. Be available to give support to them when it is needed. Share the gospel as opportunities arise. Don’t argue about the Church or gospel doctrine.
Set an example where possible. Show the way. If your parents are visiting from out of town, invite them to attend your meetings with you or make them comfortable in your absence. Where possible, attend Church meetings when visiting them. This shows that membership in the Church is an important part of your life. Invite parents to Church activities and important Church happenings such as blessings, baptisms, and ordinations.
Accept the fact that your parents have their agency. Let them know by your expressions of love that they will always be special to you whether or not they are members of the Church. Show your appreciation for their love and support throughout your life.
Keep lines of communication open. Write or call your parents often, sharing what is going on in your life. Remember special occasions. Be willing to talk about differences of opinions prayerfully and patiently.
Welcome your parents into your home. If it will not offend your parents when they are visiting, consider arranging family home evenings with meaningful messages or other Church-related activities as appropriate. Invite them to join you in family prayers. Invite them to read scriptures with your family. If they choose not to participate, accept their decisions lovingly.
Mention your parents in your prayers, asking the Lord to bless and protect them. Ask him specifically to prompt you on their behalf. Follow the promptings of the Spirit. You may never know what good action will result in a changed heart. Don’t be hesitant to follow the Spirit.