There weren’t many Latter-day Saints in the small town of Princeton, New Jersey, where I spent my childhood. Mine was the only Latter-day Saint family in the town when I was growing up. As a result, my friends didn’t know much about the Church. Most of my classmates were Christians, however, and each morning our teacher would have us take turns reading out loud from the Bible—something that isn’t done in public schools today.
When my turn came, I always chose to read the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, which is about charity, the pure love of Christ. I had had a special experience as a little boy that impressed me that the scripture was true and was for me. Every time I read it, I had a strong feeling about my future, including my future family. It was a feeling of kindness and love for them. That seemed like a strange thing for a little boy to feel, so I didn’t tell anyone about it. I didn’t tell my brothers; they probably would have laughed at me. And I didn’t tell my parents, either.
When I was eleven, I received a special blessing from my uncle, a patriarch, whom I had never met. In the blessing, I was promised the very things I’d hoped for but had kept hidden in my heart—that I would have the home and family I had always dreamed about. The promises in that blessing have since been fulfilled. I have an absolute testimony of priesthood blessings, and I know that those who are worthy to give blessings are inspired by God.
As I was growing up, there were no Church chapels in the entire state of New Jersey, and so for a time our little branch met in a hotel in a nearby town. My earliest memory of having a testimony of the gospel was when I was five or six years old and we were having a meeting in the ballroom of the hotel. An important visitor was there. I don’t remember now who he was, but he was very thin and tall, and I believe he had white hair.
I had grown restless near the end of the meeting as he was speaking, and my mother had been trying to keep me quiet, but she finally let me sit backward in my chair so that my legs were dangling from it. Although I wasn’t facing the speaker, I was listening to him. Suddenly I felt a burning in my heart, just like the burning described in Doctrine and Covenants 9:8: “And if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” [D&C 9:8] I remember turning around and seeing this tall man with the light streaming in from the large windows behind him, and I knew that he was a servant of God and that what he was saying was true. The feeling I had then was as clear and sure as anything could be.
During World War II, the Latter-day Saints in Princeton met for church in our house. I learned then that the Church is not a building; the Church isn’t even a lot of people. I felt close to Heavenly Father and knew that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His church; it didn’t matter that our little branch met in our dining room. It was fun because when you came downstairs on Sunday, you were in church. The branch members were my father, the branch president; my mother, who played the piano; my two brothers and me, the only youth in the branch; a few graduate students or servicemen; and a few older women who were converts to the Church and whose husbands were not members. Rarely would there be more than ten or fifteen people attending. The sacrament was prepared on the dining room table, which also served as the pulpit. During fast and testimony meeting, I always wondered why the older women cried. I later realized that they cried because they were so happy and grateful to be with the Latter-day Saints in that little branch.
It’s nice to have lots of Latter-day Saints in our meetinghouses. It’s wonderful to have the full programs of the Church. But even where there are only a very few members of the Church, the Lord is there, and He can bless people in wonderful ways. I know that God reaches out to all His children. In the scriptures it says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, … there will I be in the midst of them” (D&C 6:32).
Some of you children may live in places where there aren’t many other members of the Church. And some of you may feel lonely even where there are many members, perhaps because you feel that no one understands you or that you aren’t a part of things. But as long as you are faithful and reach out to the true Church of Jesus Christ, and as long as there is even one holder of the priesthood and one or two faithful people to help you, you can have tremendous spiritual experiences and learn and grow in the gospel.