It always seemed to take a long time for my senior companion and me to do our home teaching. After we had made our visits, he would park his car on one of the shady, peaceful streets that are common in Carrasco, Uruguay. Then he would talk to me about his childhood and about the challenges of growing up as the son of a widow. And—just by coincidence—he would always talk about the mission he had served when he was young. He spoke of that experience with great emotion.
The year was 1968, and my companion was William N. Jones, then president of the Uruguay-Paraguay Mission.
Did President Jones realize that I, like thousands of other young people in Uruguay, was struggling to find direction in a sea of doubt? Political tensions were strong in the country, and I was confused about the role I should play in the political changes going on around me.
Nevertheless, there, in the shade of eucalyptus trees, my companion would speak to me so calmly and so convincingly that, for the moment at least, my mind would clear. In a most natural way, he invited me to plan my life. And whenever he saw me at church, he would give me a big hug and ask, “How is my future missionary?”
Often I would respond, mentally, Me? A missionary? I couldn’t project my life that far into the future. And as for the Book of Mormon, I accepted that the book was true—but only for historical reasons. I did not have a real testimony of it. President Jones had encouraged me to read the book. He had even written an inscription in my copy—“May the light within you shine even brighter.” But as the months passed, the shiny leather covers stayed closed.
Somehow, in spite of conflicting feelings, I decided to go on a mission. Once I had made the decision, I was elated, almost euphoric. But when I told my nonmember mother, she found the idea disagreeable. “I have lost you as a son,” she said, with great pain on her face.
In spite of my mother’s reaction, I had many peaceful Sundays and many quiet, confidential talks with Bishop Calvar. “Look,” he said one day. “Here are the keys to the church. Find a little room somewhere and get close to the Lord.”
Day after day after that, I would stop at his house and pick up the keys. I would stay at church for four or five hours, reading the Book of Mormon and other scriptures. I also fasted for the purpose of gaining a testimony of the book.
The bishop knew about the fasting, and he did not miss an opportunity to instruct me about the close relationship between the body and the spirit. He explained the importance of the Word of Wisdom and taught me how to seek personal revelation. I will never forget his teachings.
The hours I spent in that classroom at the church will always be part of my life. I cannot specify any particular hour or day when my testimony came; it was a gradual process. But slowly, each story in the Book of Mormon became my own personal spiritual feast.
Often, I felt as though transported from the cold metal chair on which I sat, or from the floor on which I knelt, to the ancient days of the Nephites and the Lamanites. I did not read King Benjamin’s sermon—I lived it. I imagined that I lay on the grass, surrounded by Nephite tents, watching people who had come to hear their aging leader. His speech answered many of my longstanding questions about the role of government, good leadership, personal worthiness, and the nature of true service.
From the beginning I had believed that the promise of Moroni would be fulfilled. But I had expected it to happen suddenly, as it had for others I knew. But though it came gradually, it came powerfully. I knew! I knew!
I left for the mission field surrounded by the love of Church members, as well as that of some of my family. My family didn’t quite understand what I was doing, but most believed it was something good.
How grateful I am to the Lord for that time of challenge! How grateful I am for the opportunity I had to represent the Lord Jesus Christ! During my mission, I bore my testimony of him and of the Book of Mormon often—a testimony which I had gained slowly, but undeniably, one conversation, one prayer, one page at a time.