Wouldn’t you get a little nervous if your high school counselor suddenly and unexpectedly called you into the office?
You would especially be nervous if you were Richard Aballay, a senior at a Catholic seminary in New York City. Richard had seen the commercials about the Mormon church on TV, had contacted the missionaries, and was baptized. But he hadn’t yet mentioned his baptism to anyone at the school, where boys prepare to become Catholic priests.
“How are you doing in your subjects?” the counselor began politely on that fateful day in late October.
“Fine,” said Richard, cautiously.
Then the counselor jumped to his real concern. “Are you affiliated with another church?”
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
“I have come to know the Savior better in this church. I know this church is doing more for me. It is the church of God.”
As the counselor began to lecture, warning Richard that being a member of a different church was grounds for dismissal, Richard thought how easy it would be to say he had made it all up. Then he could finish his senior year in peace.
“But I couldn’t do that,” Richard said later. “You can’t deny the truth when you have it.”
By the next day it was official: Richard had to leave.
The following week was torment, Richard said. But with much prayer, his family was able to find space for him in another good school.
“From that experience,” Richard says, “I have learned that the Lord will never abandon me.”
In fact, the experience gave Richard the chance to tell more people about the gospel, since his classmates wanted to know why he would leave school for his new beliefs.
Being dismissed from school is not the only challenge Richard has faced. He grew up in the Bronx, a borough of New York City. It is not an easy place to live.
“I know for a fact that if it weren’t for the gospel, I would probably have gone into something crazy,” he says. “The inner city is hard. But I know the greatest blessing in my life has been the priesthood.
“Ever since I was first ordained a deacon, I noticed a great change. I just felt that the Lord was with me. And I had a confidence—I could walk into my school where kids were doing bad things, and I could say no. It helps keep me straight. I’m always saying to myself, ‘I want to honor the priesthood.’”
The gospel has helped him in other ways, too. One is that since he joined the Church, Richard has been able to overcome a speech impediment. Before receiving the Holy Ghost, “I could not say a word in public,” Richard says. After his confirmation, he was able to bless the sacrament, give talks in church, and take roles in two road shows. “Like it says in Ether 12:27—my weakness became a strength,” he says. Richard used to go to parties a lot. But after the last one, he says, “I saw things there, and I didn’t feel right. For some reason I knew I didn’t belong.”
He left the party and vowed to become more involved in service, schoolwork, studying the scriptures, and listening to good music—and to not watch so much television.
“It was hard,” he says. “I wanted to keep up with things going on outside. I didn’t want to be a social hermit. But I felt that if I was going to go on a mission, and if I was going to get married in the temple, and if I was going to receive callings, I had to be worthy.”
Many of his friends think this is a strange road to take. They also think it strange that he decided to accept a call to serve as a full-time missionary in the Paraguay Asunción Mission. And Richard agrees with them.
“As I look at it, the life-style one lives as a disciple of Christ—as a member of the Church—is a strange one from the rest of the world. God doesn’t work or think in the same ways man does, and he doesn’t want us to act and think the way the rest of the world does. So because the Lord works in ways that seem strange to the world, we appear to be a strange and peculiar people. But I’m proud of being strange! I don’t think there’s anything strange with it.
“The truth is, now that I’m on the other side, I think the life-style that other people live is strange. I want to make their life-style one that I know will be better for them—and that would be bringing them to Christ.”
The Apostle Paul invited all to be “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints” (Eph. 2:19). Richard Aballay extends the same invitation to the strangers of the world. In doing so, the boy from the Bronx has become a man.