I’m not sure why I strayed from the Church. Maybe it was because I grew up in the turbulent ’60s and took up the social causes of the day. Perhaps it was because I distanced myself from my extended family. Whatever the reason, I stopped going to church, and for many years I was less active.
I was attending a university in Idaho when a young Native American woman came to me and said, “I know you’re a member of my church. Do you want to go to church with me?”
I was shocked, to say the least. I wasn’t living the type of life Latter-day Saints are supposed to live. How did she know I was a member?
“Sure,” I replied. So Rosemary and I went to sacrament meeting together, and from there our friendship grew.
Just before summer break, Rosemary invited me to spend the summer with her family in Alaska. With no firm plans for the summer and wanting some adventure, I agreed.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when our airplane touched down on an emerald green island with peaks shrouded in fog. We were greeted by Rosemary’s three brothers in an old pickup truck. As we rumbled into town on the island’s only paved road, I suddenly realized I was in a special place.
I learned many things that summer. I learned how to slime fish at the salmon cannery. I learned to respect the ancient Native American customs and culture. I learned to love the sea as I explored the rugged, rocky, solitary beaches.
But most of all my heart began to be softened toward the Church as I was accepted by strangers who didn’t care what I looked like on the outside but cared deeply about who I was on the inside.
The branch on the island met at a deserted World War II Coast Guard base. As a handful of Native American Saints gathered on a Sunday morning, I was amazed to realize that the Church here was the same as the one I had known as a child. A feeling of comfort came to me, and I realized that even here, so far from home, I could worship as I had once been taught. I learned that no matter where one goes in the world the gospel is always the same and the Church is for everyone, regardless of culture or background.
I was forever altered by my stay on the island. When it was time to go back to school, I understood I had been given new insight into the meaning of life. My heart had been touched, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was beginning my long journey back to activity.
Several years later, after I was married, I gazed into the eyes of my firstborn child and knew I had to take the next step toward participating fully in the gospel that had taught me parents can be with their children forever. My husband, not yet an active member, understood and supported my decision to return to the Church. I finally committed myself to full activity, and with that has come a deepened relationship with our Heavenly Father and an appreciation for the Book of Mormon.
Ever since I committed my life to our Savior, I have been richly blessed. The final step of a journey that began long ago on a small emerald isle came when I attended the temple and partook of the spirit there. With the gospel fully part of my life again, I have renewed connections with family members, and my love for my heritage has increased. My testimony of a Heavenly Father who loves, forgives, and blesses us has grown.
Over the years, Rosemary and I eventually lost contact. But in quiet times my mind still wanders back to that magical summer when a dear friend and a small group of Saints on a starkly beautiful island helped reawaken in me a remembrance of my gospel roots.