The hands on the clock seemed glued in place. Every time I looked, they showed the same time. Why didn’t the teacher come to start the exams so that my agony could finally be over?
Like most Japanese students, I was scared to death by the college entrance exams. In our country, those who fail the tests aren’t allowed to attend a university. Students often stay up late all year long to cram, and they have a favorite saying: “He who sleeps four hours passes; he who sleeps five hours fails.” Like my friends, I had spent many sleepless nights in preparation and had received countless urgings from my parents to “make sure you pass those tests.”
For me, though, the exams carried even more weight. They might make a difference between whether or not my parents would allow me to be baptized. For four years I had been trying to convince them, especially my father, that joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be good for me. He would hear nothing of it, always insisting that, for now, schooling was more important.
If only I could pass these exams, college would be assured and the pressure would be less. Perhaps then my parents would grant permission for my baptism. I looked at the clock again. Three minutes to go …
I thought back to my first contact with Mormons. It was the summer of my second year in the junior high school, when President Kimball visited Sapporo. I had attended many other churches, but at that meeting, there was something new: a unity of all the members. It seemed strange at the time. At other churches, people came to meetings, sat and listened, and then returned home. At the Mormon church, they all seemed to be working at life, trying to love it and enjoy it in a way the Lord would want them to.
I thought of my second visit among the Mormons, too. That had been November 3 of the same year at the branch Thanksgiving party. My older sister invited me to tag along and told me all of the people there would seem like angels and we would be embarassed just to be in their presence. That’s exactly how they made me feel! I had never been part of such a spiritual, family atmosphere.
From then on I had attended church weekly and everyone welcomed me with outstretched arms and warm hearts. The missionaries taught me about restored gospel truths, and they taught me how to pray to know the truth for myself. No other church had taught me how to pray, but in this church even small children could pray. I read the Book of Mormon daily and prayed about it. Gradually I began to understand my purpose here on earth and what’s important in this life. But I did not feel, yet, that I had a testimony.
In April, the branch started a Young Women program. At first there was only one participant: me! Even when I didn’t go, the teacher would wait for me. That seemed strange, too. Why was she so patient? Why did she wait so long even when she wasn’t sure I’d show up?
About that time, the mission presidents changed and the Suzuki family came to Sapporo. There was a young lady in the family, Naomi, who was my age. We quickly became friends, since we were the only young women our age in the branch. She set a good example for me, and with her as a guide, I began to understand the patience of our teacher and the beauty of the gospel. Naomi’s example helped keep me going to church weekly and praying diligently. I was able to gain a small testimony and wanted from the bottom of my heart to be baptized.
I had talked to my parents once before about receiving that blessing, but they were against it. This time, armed with a tiny testimony, I tried again.
“Faith,” my father told me, “is not something that is grown in one or two days. It is the process of many years.” He felt that, to a student, school is more important even than religion, and he emphatically refused to give permission for baptism.
That had been a painful experience. But I got a grasp on myself, thought over what my father had said, and decided that one thing he had said was right. Religion should not be just a two-day spree, but a life-long adventure! I began attending seminary and studying the Old Testament in earnest. Fun lessons helped me gain insight into a subject that was new to me, and my knowledge of the gospel became fuller. However, I could not buy the home study manuals because that year was also the year for high school entrance exams, and my parents wanted me to spend time on school work, not religious homework.
I was overjoyed when the students in the class gave the manuals to me as a present! What could I give them in return? The best thing was to study those manuals hard. Even though my progress was slower than others, I was able to finish the manuals and turn them in to the teacher.
I also passed the high school entrance exams and felt relieved. My heart was lighter as I once again approached my parents about baptism, figuring I had proven I could be active in the Church and still succeed at school. Their response knocked me back into reality. “No,” my father said, “from now on school will be even tougher. You won’t have time for church and school too.”
My parents became increasingly upset by my diligence in attending Church meetings and would speak harsh words when I left the house on Sundays. After many months, however, they finally realized I wasn’t going to stop attending, and their resistance slackened somewhat. I continued studying seminary manuals, and my testimony grew more and more firm. But baptism still seemed impossible.
Finally, Naomi suggested that we should fast and pray about the situation. So every Sabbath day—for an entire year-we fasted. Naomi fasted and prayed right along with me. I could always feel God’s presence nearby, and my testimony became unshakable as we realized many other blessings that year. But my parents remained firm.—
Last of all, my thoughts drifted to the beginning of this school year-my last in high school, the year of preparation for the college entrance examinations. I knew I would not be allowed to join the Church until the exams were over. I also wondered if my parents would allow me to be baptized even after the tests. One thing was certain, though. If I failed the exams, my parents would say, “The reason you failed is because you spent so much time with that church!” I had to prove that what they were thinking just wasn’t right. Somehow I knew that passing those tests was the key to my baptism, but I couldn’t see how.
I studied harder than I ever had before. Schoolwork passed ahead of everything, even Church assignments. Seminary studies began to pile up, but I rationalized that in order to be baptized, it was worth neglecting seminary in favor of schoolwork. The lack of seminary study worried me, however, for it was there I had grown the most and felt the strongest testimony. Now that testimony seemed to be shrinking as 13 home study books cluttered my shelf. My conscience told me I wasn’t doing what was right, that even with school there should be time for Church work and seminary too. On February 25 I promised myself I would complete all 13 books by March 4, the day exams began. Sandwiched in between my other schoolwork, seminary workbooks became a welcome break. On March 2, I handed all of my assignments, completed, to my amazed seminary teacher.
“It’s time,” the teacher supervising the exam said. I looked at the clock and whispered a prayer. Like a squadron of robots, the college entrance exam candidates rose and entered the testing area. Reluctantly, I joined them.
I passed! I couldn’t believe it! I was so excited! But several days later, when the scores were posted, I was listed. I would be able to go to college! I rushed to my parents with the good news and also asked if now I could finally have my wish—to become a member of the Church.
“No,” my father said simply. He startled the words right out of my mouth.
But my mother, although she had never done so before, came to my defense. She reminded him that I had been true to my studies and true to my religion for four years. “That’s such a good church that I don’t think my daughter would be doing anything wrong by joining it,” she said. “It is such a good church. I can understand why my daughter wants to go to it all her life.”
The three of us talked for hours, and I slowly realized my parents weren’t against me but loved me. They were concerned for my welfare and didn’t want me doing something blindly. I’m grateful to have such wonderful parents. I think they realized, too, that I wasn’t joining the Church on a whim. They gave me permission to be baptized! I made that covenant and received that ordinance on the same day I graduated from the Young Women program. My friends from seminary helped plan the baptismal service, and most of my family attended.
Of the high school and college-age members of the Church in Japan, only about 5 percent have parents who are members. They may find that sharing the gospel with their families can be difficult and that parents of the Buddhist and Shinto faiths don’t always understand the joy that comes into someone’s heart through the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I truly believe that the Lord is mindful of us and will provide a way to help us. For me, it was through four years of patience that allowed my faith to grow strong.