Both my parents were born in Japan. They came to Brazil before I was born, and I grew up speaking Portuguese. When I was seven, they divorced.
Like many young people, I had problems as I entered adolescence. I frequently argued with my father, with whom I was living. I also acquired some bad habits. At age 15, I started drinking alcohol and smoking. At 17, I started using drugs. I was looking for fun, and I thought nothing I did made any difference. But despite having friends, I felt alone. I wondered what the purpose of life was.
It was my father who showed me the way out of my loneliness. He was a Christian with a strong belief in God. One day he became paralyzed by an illness, and doctors told him he would never walk again. But he forced himself to start walking one week later by using a wall for support. And he did resume walking. He told me, “I believe in God, and I know that with His help I can overcome my problems.” His words impressed me, but it would be some time before I realized how strongly rooted in my heart they had become.
Shortly after my father began walking again, I received a letter from my mother. She had returned to Japan and was working in a factory in the city of Fukui. “Come to Japan,” she wrote. “I can get you a job.” I became excited about living in the land of my ancestors and decided to go.
When I arrived in 1992, I was intrigued by the technology and other conveniences available in the country. But I also faced many new challenges. I had a job, and although I looked Japanese, I couldn’t speak Japanese. I struggled to learn the language. My coworkers were not always patient with me.
Despite my Christian background, I had never attended church or read the Bible regularly. But now, as I faced these obstacles, I remembered how my father’s faith had given him strength. My thoughts turned increasingly to God.
One day I was walking in downtown Fukui when two young men walked up to me. One of them didn’t look Japanese, but he spoke Japanese when he introduced himself.
I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Japanese. Do you speak English?”
He answered, “Of course! I’m American!”
The young man started speaking English, which I had learned in school. He told me he and his companion were missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They talked briefly about Jesus Christ and invited me to church. I hesitated but finally agreed to go.
The first meeting I attended was a fast and testimony meeting. I came late, and as I walked into the chapel, a young woman was crying and talking about how the gospel helped her with her problems. After listening to her and to some of the other members, I realized that all of them had problems. They weren’t perfect, and they knew it. But I could also see they had something strong inside them. Their faith in God was helping them. With that kind of faith, I thought, maybe I could overcome my problems too.
I continued attending church, and I pondered often what I learned there. I also read the Book of Mormon. One day I accepted the invitation to ask God if what I was learning was true. As I prayed, something strong touched my heart, and I thought, This is the right way. I already believe in God. It’s time to follow Him.
As I continued to pray and attend meetings, the Spirit continued to guide me. Finally I told the elders I wanted to hear the discussions. I wanted to follow God and return to His presence someday. I was baptized on 21 June 1993.
As a member of the Church, I found new strength in meeting the challenges of life in Japan. And after preparing earnestly, I was called on a mission. I was called to serve in São Paulo, Brazil. I was very excited about sharing the gospel in my homeland.
When I look back at my old life, I realize how blind I was. We can go through life the right way or the wrong way. At first I chose the wrong way. I knew God existed, but I wasn’t ready to follow Him. Then the gospel touched my life. Now I know that following Heavenly Father and our Savior is the only way to true happiness.