After World War II my dad and three of his brothers formed a gospel quartet. They were known as the Brown Brothers Quartet and became famous in our region of the country with their weekly radio and, later, television programs. As a young boy I traveled with the quartet and attended a variety of church meetings, hearing the basic beliefs of nearly all Protestant denominations.
My wife and I married in 1957. In 1963, prior to the birth of our second child, I began experiencing an unusually strong and unexplainable desire to learn about God and my relationship to Him. I needed to know who I was, where I came from, and what my purpose here on earth was. I searched everywhere for answers. And I wanted answers that made sense, not just flamboyant excitement being passed off as a spiritual experience, as I had witnessed so many times in my earlier years. I felt a huge responsibility to teach my children the truth about religion and their purpose on earth. I did not want some man’s interpretation of the Bible.
Most of the sermons I heard while growing up taught that one small sin would keep me out of heaven. I was taught there is only heaven or hell after this life. So I reasoned, according to that belief, if I should die with an unrepentant lie on my lips, I would end up in hell. But I couldn’t understand how a just God would condemn someone who told a lie to the same punishment as a mass murderer like Hitler. Everybody knows no one is perfect. We all sin. But how does God differentiate between stumbles and deliberate sins? Or does He?
I proceeded on the assumption that the teachings in the Bible would lead me to the right answers and ultimately to the truth. With these questions I secretly and frequently spent hours secluded in the privacy of my garage, reading and praying for answers. I was looking for knowledge, for the truth. I wanted that indescribable confirmation from the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost. At one point I called on two of my dad’s brothers who were ministers, thinking they might be able to help me. The first one listened sympathetically as I shared my feelings with him. He was understanding but had no satisfactory answers. He thought maybe God was calling me to be a preacher. The other uncle spent an entire evening talking and praying with me. Finally, worn down from my commitment to not accept anything less than an undeniable confirmation from the Holy Ghost, he ended our meeting. I went home discouraged and confused.
After a year of searching I felt I had exhausted myself and everyone around me in trying to find the truth about religion. I had done all I knew how to do. As I knelt down in privacy for what I had determined would be the last time, I opened the Bible in front of me and poured out my feelings of despair. In essence I said: “Dear God, for a long time now I have had this overwhelming desire to know the truth about You and my purpose here on earth. I believe my reasons are honest and just. How can I lead my family and teach my children the truth if I can’t find the answers myself? I am tired and frustrated. I’ve decided there can be only one of two possible reasons for my failure. Either there is no God, and I’ve been searching for someone who isn’t there, or You do exist, but You don’t want me. Either way, I plan to discontinue my search and get on with my life. I will pursue happiness for myself and my family. I will raise my children to the best of my ability and hope that the preachers were right about all roads leading to the same place.”
Early the following Monday I traveled to a distant city to perform my duties as a bank examiner. When I returned home on Friday my wife mentioned that two Mormon missionaries had come to the door during the week to see me. When she said “Mormon missionaries,” I imagined two old men with long beards, wearing black suits. “Did you get rid of them?” I asked.
“I tried to,” she said, “but they insisted on seeing you, and they are coming back this Sunday.” I couldn’t imagine why they would want to see me or why they would be so insistent.
Sunday afternoon came, and I was just starting to enjoy my usual Sunday afternoon nap when the doorbell rang. My wife told them I was asleep, so they made an appointment to come back later. On Tuesday evening the doorbell rang. As I got up to open the door, my wife said, “That must be those Mormon missionaries.” Immediately the images of two old bearded Mormon preachers flashed through my mind. I opened the door, took one look, and thought: “Nope, she’s wrong. No Mormon preachers here, just a couple of normal-looking young guys in suits and ties.” I opened the door and invited them in.
We engaged in small talk for a few minutes. I learned they were on a two-year mission for their church and they received no pay. In fact, their families provided their financial support while they were on their mission. Then one of the elders said: “Mr. Brown, we’re here this evening to discuss our religion and beliefs with you and your wife. Since we’re going to be talking about sacred matters, could we offer a prayer for guidance from Heavenly Father before we start?” He offered a simple and humble prayer. That evening we enjoyed a warm, friendly, and pleasant spirit in our home that had never been there before.
We started by looking up a few scriptures from the Bible. They explained that Christ’s Church is founded on the principle of continuing revelation from God as given to living prophets and apostles. We turned to Ephesians 2:19–20 where Paul likened the Church to a house or building with a foundation of apostles and prophets. I thought about that. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, so if He had called prophets anciently, why would He not call them today? This was something new to me.
The missionaries explained that God does speak to His children through living prophets and apostles today.
“That’s what you believe,” I said. “But how do you know that for sure?”
The elder replied by quoting a scripture: “‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ (Matt. 7:20). There is really only one way you can know for yourself, beyond any doubt, and that is to pray and ask Heavenly Father. If you ask Him with a sincere heart, He will manifest the truth to you through the power of the Holy Ghost.”
I remember thinking: “That’s exactly what I’ve been praying for—a confirmation from that still, small voice telling me what this life is all about and which church is true.”
I was secretly very impressed at how these young men could have answers to questions which others much older couldn’t answer. The missionaries challenged us to begin reading the Book of Mormon, to study the scriptures, and to ponder the things we read. They strongly urged us to pray to God for a confirmation of the truth. After offering a closing prayer, they made another appointment with us to continue our discussion.
In those days there were seven missionary discussions. Each discussion brought light and knowledge into our home that we had never enjoyed before, but the fifth discussion was one I’ll never forget. It was all about our premortal existence, our purpose here on earth, and what happens to us after death. When the missionaries started telling us about where we came from, why we’re here, and where we’re going, I knew my prayers were being answered. Everything rang true, and a warm feeling in my heart told me, “This is exactly what you’ve been searching for.”
That evening we learned that as spirits in the premortal life we were actively involved in the war in heaven and that we exercised our agency and chose to follow Jesus as our Savior. The very fact that we are here on earth now and have physical bodies attests to our valiance in our first estate. Everything was fitting together like a perfect puzzle. The pieces were falling into place, and the picture was getting clearer and clearer. I felt as if I would explode any minute as I struggled to hold back the tears of joy.
Our baptism date was set for March 7, 1964. We were excited because we knew we had finally found the truth. I wanted to share this good news with every member of my family. But down inside I had a feeling that a storm was coming over the horizon. We told our parents and a few other relatives about our baptism date. They thought it would be very nice and promised to be in attendance. Then they learned we were joining the “Mormon Church.” In attendance for our baptism were the missionaries, the bishop, his family, and a few ward members. Our relatives did not come.
Almost instantly, hardships and persecution became familiar companions. Within a month our home was gutted by fire, and we nearly lost our firstborn child in it. Vicious gossip circulated through our families about the Church. Unexpected upheavals in our once close family relationships were deep and ugly. We quickly learned about opposition, but we also learned about joy. Today, after more than 40 years of stumbling, making mistakes, and enduring many trials and tribulations, my testimony of Jesus Christ and His true gospel has only grown stronger and stronger.
Later, the missionaries told me that they had received an impression to stop at our home. They knew they were supposed to insist on talking with me, and they didn’t give up until they did. I know the Holy Ghost inspired those two missionaries to persistently knock on our door and bring the answers to our prayers.
When I was a young boy growing up, I knew nothing about Joseph Smith or the plan of salvation. But now I know. God is our Heavenly Father. He lives and loves each of us. We are His spirit sons and daughters. He established a plan for our salvation and eternal happiness. Storms will surely come in our lives, but if we keep hold of the iron rod, obey God’s commandments, and endure to the end, the storms will pass and we will emerge victorious.