We Believe …

By Douglas J. Vermeeren

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    Whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:19).

    Soon after receiving the priesthood and becoming a deacon at the age of twelve, I also became a cadet in the Royal Canadian 52nd Air Cadet Squadron. It was a new and challenging experience adapting to the military method of things. I especially remember how difficult the first summer was. As a new cadet, it was my duty to attend basic training. So while my other friends from school were out-of-doors playing, I was learning how to march and to obey commands.

    Unfortunately I wasn’t a very good marcher, and that’s all anyone there ever wanted to do. The sun shone fiercely, and the heat was unbearable in our dark green uniforms. I thought I would faint. The food was cold, and the mess hall avoided all the foods I liked. Military life certainly was different from what I was used to.

    On our first Saturday night before bed, all the cadets assembled in the corridor of our barracks. When our flight sergeant came in, everyone snapped to attention.

    “In the morning,” he shouted, “we are all going to church. There are only two churches on this base, Catholic and Protestant, so make sure you know where you want to go before tomorrow! Is that clear?”

    The corps of young cadets shouted back in strict unison, “Yes, sergeant!” Then he left.

    That night I had trouble sleeping. This would be the first time I wouldn’t be able to attend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I didn’t know what to do. I climbed out of bed and began to pray again. I was desperate to know what I should do. I told Heavenly Father that I was really confused and scared. Would He please help me? As I crawled into bed the second time, I was still worried, but I began to feel that things would work out.

    Bright and early the next morning, we lined up outside our barracks in the drizzling rain. The sergeant in his rain-tarp jacket gave the command I was dreading. “Catholics stand on one side, Protestants on the other!” After everyone had moved, I found myself standing alone between the two lines.

    The flight sergeant glared across the square and shouted to me, “Where are you going?”

    “I don’t know, sergeant—I’m a Latter-day Saint.”

    He looked at me with a frightful glare, shook his head, and ordered, “Follow me.”

    I followed him to the chaplain’s barracks. Inside, the ministers were still preparing for their Sunday meetings. The sergeant gave a sharp knock, and a voice within called for us to enter. As we stepped in from the rain, a gentleman dressed in camouflage and wearing a Catholic priest’s collar around his neck met us.

    “This one’s a Latter-day Saint,” the sergeant complained, then ducked back out into the rain.

    The priest invited me to sit down, and he and another priest began to decide among themselves what to do in such an interesting situation. They finally decided that they didn’t know enough about the Church to make a decision and asked me what we believed. At first I wasn’t sure what to say, and then my mind suddenly cleared and I started quoting the Articles of Faith: “‘We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.’”

    They both nodded in agreement.

    I continued, “‘We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.’”

    At this point, one priest suggested that it might be best if I went with the Protestant minister.

    After the Protestant meeting, the minister found me in my barracks. He asked me how I had enjoyed the meeting. I told him that it certainly was different from what I was used to.

    “What else do Latter-day Saints believe?” he asked, pulling up a chair. All the other cadets in my room drew closer to listen. It was exciting as I repeated all the Articles of Faith. Everyone seemed very interested when I spoke of the Book of Mormon, of how it was another testament of Jesus Christ.

    Later that night I made a long distance call to my mother and told her how my difficult experience had turned into a missionary opportunity. I also requested that she send me a Book of Mormon so that I could give it to my minister friend.

    The week went on, and finally the Book of Mormon arrived. On the inside cover I wrote my testimony and slid in the card containing the Articles of Faith that my mother had also sent me. The minister gladly accepted my gift and promised me that he’d read it.

    I never was able to find out if that Book of Mormon changed the life of the minister, but as I look back, I can recognize how Heavenly Father taught me the importance of knowing the Articles of Faith.

    Illustrated by Gregg Thorkelson

    Royal Canadian 52nd Air Cadet Squadron (Douglas J. Vermeeren, front row, second from the right)