I drove with some anxiety down Illinois Highway 22 toward a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in Chicago. In a little over an hour, I would make a major change: I was to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Unfortunately, I was making this journey without my family, who accepted my decision but chose not to attend my baptism.
I reflected on my situation. Like Nephi, I had been born of goodly parents who had raised me with faith in God. During the first 18 years of my life, I had worshiped in another Christian faith. Then a close friend had introduced me to the gospel while I lived in California. I felt from the beginning that the Book of Mormon and the Church were true; yet it had been a difficult decision to be baptized, one that took several months to make. It seemed odd to be changing religions, and at times it seemed like I was abandoning my family. Still, I had received reassurances from the Holy Ghost as well as from my newfound friends that my decision was pleasing to Heavenly Father.
As I entered the baptismal room, I found the missionaries awaiting my arrival. After changing into white clothing, I greeted the bishop and his counselors, the stake missionaries, and various ward members. That afternoon, by the authority of the priesthood, I was baptized into the true Church. These marvelous events left a great feeling of peace within me. Brother Wolf, a stake missionary, spoke of the importance of enduring to the end. That day I made a great and important commitment, yet it was only the beginning of my journey.
The following day I was welcomed into the Buffalo Grove First Ward, Buffalo Grove Illinois Stake. I was the only 19-year-old young man who did not have his family to sit with. My best friends at church were the elders, who arranged for the stake missionaries to give me the discussions for new members. I planned to leave the area in three weeks to return to California for an extended vacation, so the stake missionaries taught me all six new-member lessons before I left. Through the lessons, I was refreshed on gospel truths, reminded of my daily duties to read the scriptures and pray, given valuable insights into Latter-day Saint practices such as journal writing, and reassured of the blessings of faithful living.
A great test was coming. Going to California would mean leaving behind my secure ties to the Church. However, in California I was blessed to stay with an LDS family, the Dibbles. They took me into their home and treated me like their son. I appreciated their hospitality, a quality I had noticed in other Latter-day Saint families. I was with my non-LDS friends most every day, yet I returned each evening to their LDS home. It was there I was first introduced to family prayer and family home evening, and I was given an opportunity to prepare a family home evening lesson. I began to feel nurtured by the Holy Ghost. Even more special, just two months after my baptism, the Dibbles arranged for me to visit the Los Angeles Temple and do baptisms for the dead. These experiences served to strengthen my testimony.
When I returned to Chicago, I felt an added zeal to follow the gospel path. I went back to a ward where the missionaries I had known had been transferred. I knew very few people, and I didn’t have the secure feeling I had developed while in California. However, the bishop and stake missionaries welcomed me back, and the bishop suggested I begin attending the newly formed singles branch, the only one in Chicago. I agreed and started again to make friends. After being there a few weeks, my branch president asked to speak with me. He extended to me the calling of branch institute representative, and I eagerly accepted my first responsibility in the Church.
I began attending weekly institute classes, where I called on people to offer prayers. In addition, I was receiving added nourishment in the word of God through my studies of the Book of Mormon. After class on Mondays, we held family home evening activities, and I was able to start making friends. Soon I was getting invitations to attend dances, join temple excursions to do baptisms for the dead, and participate in service projects. The elders quorum president approached me and assigned me to be a home teacher. Even the missionaries asked me to go along with them to share my testimony with a young man they were teaching. Through these experiences, I was beginning to feel embraced by the love that comes from gospel living.
My conversion to the Church was deepening. Six months passed, and as I looked back at my baptism, I realized I’d had a testimony, but by comparison it had been shallow. In each place I had lived since, I found the Saints actively helping to increase my testimony and deepen the roots of my spiritual conversion.
After seven months, I felt ready to receive a patriarchal blessing. This provided a tremendous boost to my testimony of continuing revelation. After 12 months, I received the Melchizedek Priesthood. Soon after, I received my endowment in the temple. One month later, I entered the Missionary Training Center to prepare to serve the Lord as a missionary in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
During my mission, more spiritual growth came, and I returned home with an ever-deepening testimony that was seasoned by experience. Going through the conversion process as well as witnessing it firsthand in the lives of others brought insight and understanding. I quickly learned that missionaries taught investigators the gospel but the Holy Ghost converted them and that it was crucial for members to fellowship the new converts.
While every convert may not have as smooth a transition, I’m grateful that things worked out so well for me. During my first year, each step I took found me with a friend to turn to, a responsibility entrusted to me, and opportunities for study and further understanding of gospel principles. Through these means, I was able to surmount various challenges that came my way and to grow steadily toward a committed lifestyle based on gospel teachings.