My beloved brothers and sisters, it is very significant for me to follow Elder Boyd K. Packer this afternoon because just twenty-three years ago, his son, Alan, then a missionary in Colombia, arrived with his companion to our home in Bogotá. That was our first contact with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Today I want to pay tribute to the missionaries, their parents and supporters, and to the leaders and members of the Church who, with their love and patience, made it possible for my wife, Mary, and me to join the Church, and who continue supporting us in the process of conversion.
At the time the missionaries came to teach us, I was going through some trials and had many sorrows and concerns, and I needed to make some important decisions in my life. However, at the beginning, I was not aware that their message of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and of his church was the answer and solution to my needs. I didn’t realize that those young messengers were sent to me by my Heavenly Father.
Now I understand his mercy, because he sent to us his Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who through the miracle of his atonement sacrificed his life for our salvation, broke the bands of death, defied the grave, and invited us to follow him.
Somehow it was not easy for them to start teaching us, but after many visits and discussions, I was touched by the Spirit, and I agreed to be baptized, as well as my beloved wife. But I established some “don’ts” or conditions: don’t call me “brother,” I will not attend all the meetings, I don’t want to be assigned to pray nor to give talks in the meetings, I will not accept any callings, and never ask me to talk to my relatives or friends about the Church, and so forth.
I testify that conversion is a process. I am sure that the missionaries were praying and fasting for the change of my mind, because as soon as we started to attend the meetings, I began criticizing many temporal things at the meetinghouse, such as the crooked pictures on the walls. The branch president, a fine and wise man, appointed me as the “pictures supervisor,” this being my first calling in the Church. Incidentally, I have never seen that position in the handbooks, but it served me very well to start my involvement in the service of the Lord.
My advice to leaders, members, and new converts looking for retention and reactivation is: let every man and woman participate in the preparation of this world for the second coming of our Savior; receive with joy the callings and releases that come from the Lord through inspired leaders; be co-workers with God in “bring[ing] to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” as we learn in Moses 1:39. We must be sure that all the people are having the opportunity to give of their time, talents, skills, and facilities to help others find the truth.
My first encounter with preaching the gospel was also exciting. In a park near my office in Bogotá, I saw a multitude, and since I had some time, I went down to see what was happening. My surprise was great when I saw the missionaries with displays about the Church and with copies of the Book of Mormon. They recognized me and asked me to stand in the middle of the park with a banner saying: “Be happy; be a Mormon.” I stood for a while in that place; I was a Mormon, but at that moment I was not so happy! But I started to feel better about my ability as a missionary, losing my fear to talk with people about the Church. I let go of my own restrictions, so many “don’ts,” and realized that this is the church of love and service, of sacrifice and blessings, of happiness and eternal life. My message to the missionaries, to the people that are investigating the Church at this time, and to the members, is: “Don’t give up; continue looking for the best results in this wonderful work.”
After our baptism, many relatives, including our parents, several brothers and sisters and their families, followed our example and joined the Church, serving in priesthood and auxiliary leadership positions, serving full-time missions, and performing ordinances of salvation and exaltation for our kindred dead and for ourselves.
Eighteen years ago, my wife and I were sealed in eternal marriage in the Salt Lake Temple, and the following year, we were sealed as a family with our daughters, Liana and Maritza, in the Los Angeles Temple. For all these things, I express my gratitude to my Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ.
I can say with President Harold B. Lee: “As you can see, one is converted when he sees with his eyes what he ought to see; when he hears with his ears what he ought to hear; and when he understands with his heart what he ought to understand. And what he ought to see, hear, and understand is truth—eternal truth—and then practice it. That is conversion.” (Stand Ye in Holy Places, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974, p. 92.)
President Ezra Taft Benson, at an area conference in Sweden in 1974, said: “It is not on the pinnacle of success and ease where men and women grow most. It is often down in the valley of heartache and disappointment and reverses where men and women grow into strong characters.” (In Conference Report, Stockholm Sweden Area Conference, 1974, p. 70.)
I know the meaning of repentance and forgiveness as part of the process of conversion through faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ. I have partaken of the blessings stated in Moroni, chapter 6, verses 1 to 4:
“And now I speak concerning baptism. Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.
“Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
“And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.
“And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.” [Moro. 6:1–4]
Brothers and sisters, I testify to you that God lives and loves us; that he sent to the world his Son, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer; that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, who was foreordained and raised up for the restoration of all things in this dispensation; that President Ezra Taft Benson is our living prophet, appointed by the Lord to guide us in the true church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and that the Book of Mormon and the Bible are testaments of Christ, the Messiah. That we may see, hear, and understand these things, and practice them, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.