I finally finished reading First Nephi when I was fourteen years old. Perhaps I did it partly so that I could say in Sunday School class “yes, I’ve read the Book of Mormon.” But beyond that, I felt within me that this was an important book that would have a significant impact on my life. My parents and others spoke of how they loved the book. I wanted to feel the same way and sensed that I’d feel that way sooner through my own reading than through listening to others.
For several “readings” I got a new copy each time, and was probably as interested in marking passages in red as I was in just reading. I loved opening it when someone was looking—in a couple of copies the passages that weren’t red stood out. Gradually, I found my pride in marking being replaced by a love for what was in this sacred book. I felt I knew some of the people, and I enjoyed going back again and again to be with them and to learn from them.
The idea that some Latter-day Saints in the world never had the opportunity to read even a page or two of the Book of Mormon had never occurred to me. However, when I was called to the Southern Far East Mission in 1962, I learned that there was no Book of Mormon in Chinese yet, and the realization that I didn’t appreciate the scriptures enough struck me deeply.
A few days after I arrived in Taiwan, I met Mickey Chang, a young man who had recently been been baptized. I shall never forget his coming to me to ask that I share something from the Book of Mormon. He wanted to know more about it. He wanted to read it. Once when we talked, Mickey cried while trying to express how difficult it was to have a testimony of the Book of Mormon without being able to read it. I began with increased understanding to plead with the Lord to make possible the sharing of the fulness of the gospel with every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
One of my most memorable mission experiences increased my appreciation for the scriptures. While I was serving in the Philippines, my companion and I met a wonderful, gentle soul who gradually responded to the spirit and source of the message we shared. He became hungry to learn and to read the word of God. He didn’t understand English well and asked if we could watch for a copy of the Bible in his native language, Tagalog. We found one in a bookstore in Manila and took it to him. He reverently reached out with both hands to take that Bible (Ang Biblia) from us. With much emotion he said, “I have never before held a Bible in my hands.”
Following his baptism, he continued reading both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, but oh how much more quickly he went, especially with the Book of Mormon. With the help of the Holy Ghost, he could understand much more of what he was reading. He couldn’t seem to get enough. When we visited, he showed us all the things he had written in the margins, and shared the thrill he experienced first-hand while searching and pondering God’s books. Watching others’ desire to feast rather than simply read helped deepen my own desires to search the scriptures.
Serving a mission in Indonesia in 1976, I was once again in a place where the Book of Mormon had not yet been translated into the language of the people who were joining the Church. I remember how our mission president, Hendrik Gout, took my companion and me to the city of Bandung, north of Jakarta, to visit the man who was translating this sacred book. We all prayed that it would be completed soon—especially Church members who were eager to have the privilege of finally reading the Book of Mormon.
I was there when that translation of the Book of Mormon was published and distributed. I think there may have been feelings as sweet and deep as those which were evident in 1830, when the first Book of Mormon was published. This thrilling event was a blessing of extraordinary magnitude. My two native Indonesian companions slept holding their copies of the Book of Mormon.
There are many people mentioned in the Book of Mormon whom I hope to know better some day. I wish the book were longer, with more details, with more experiences, with more information about what happened and why. I’d like to know more about what Jacob said and more about the fourteen years of missionary work done by the sons of Mosiah. I’d like to learn more from the brothers Nephi and Lehi (see Hel. 3:21, 5). I’d like to know more about what life was like during those two hundred years after the visit of the Savior among the survivors of the great catastrophes that followed his death. Yet I am thankful for the sweet, powerful, life-changing messages that this book contains. May I treasure what has been given, not just to remember where a particular verse is, but also to change my life and my heart, and to allow the spirit of God to teach me and help me as I strive for perfection.