“We are citizens in the greatest kingdom on earth,” says President Gordon B. Hinckley, “a kingdom not directed by the wisdom of men but led by the Lord Jesus Christ. Its presence is real. Its destiny is certain” (see this issue, page 4).
In this month’s First Presidency Message, President Hinckley identifies seven pillars of truth, eternal verities that do not change as the world shifts its beliefs and values. One of these pillars is “the kingdom of God is here.” This simple and fundamental truth confronts every soul who comes in contact with the Church and sincerely desires to discover its truth. As the following stories illustrate, this pillar of truth does not change, but as men and women gain a testimony of it, their hearts and lives do.
A Wonderful Gift for Me
I have been asked many times why I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I have always told the story of meeting the missionaries at the house of a dear friend who had just been baptized. But with the passage of time, I have realized that before that first meeting many things prepared me to accept the gospel.
I was an active and energetic young woman, and my life was divided between spending time with friends and working out at the gym. Nothing else interested me. I had a passion for martial arts. I lived for the sport; it had become a way of life for me. In effect, it was my religion. I was very good and had acquired much skill. My pride increased as I became more and more recognized by others, especially since I was a woman in a sport dominated by men.
As time passed, I began to feel an unsettling sensation after each day’s workout. Often I felt out of breath, and my heart would race.
I soon learned that the continuous pressure of such a strenuous sport had aggravated a genetic predisposition toward irregular heartbeats. The pain intensified, and sometimes I could not even stand. Almost overnight I lost my self-sufficiency. A series of unfortunate medical decisions worsened my condition, and twice I came close to cardiac arrest.
Over a period of five years, I had two operations and made many visits to doctors and hospitals. Eventually I needed constant care from my parents.
While in the hospital I saw much suffering and pain, and I learned the necessity of loving others. I began to understand what was really important in life.
My soul had been changed, and I felt that someone was giving me a second chance at life. I started to wonder about God, who until then, I believed, had played no part in my life. I began to study various religions, and I was impressed by their common denominator of love. Then a friend told me about the missionaries who had brought her such happiness. I met with them and was baptized one month later.
Now I am thankful that I suffered, because suffering opened the way for me to hear the gospel. God truly has unusual ways of preparing His children.
Since accepting the gospel, I have had the privilege of sharing the truth with others. I have also been to the temple and have been greatly blessed. I am thankful to God to be able to work for Him. His gospel is truly a wonderful gift for me.
I Refused to Hear
I have always had faith in our Father in Heaven and in Jesus Christ. But the Church was another matter for me. I believed it was like any other church; it was one church among many capable of leading me to salvation.
Why then was I a member? I had been searching for a church that fit my religious principles. When I found The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I knew I had found a “good religion,” one espousing doctrine I already believed from my study of the Bible. That knowledge was enough for me, I decided.
But as I attended church and listened to talks and testimonies, a desire began to grow in me to discover for myself if the Church actually was the restored Church of Jesus Christ—the only true Church upon the earth. I decided to read the Book of Mormon—something I had not done before. I realized, of course, from reading the Church magazines that I would not gain a testimony if I did not study with faith and a heart open to receiving a witness from our Heavenly Father. And so I studied, and I received a witness that the Book of Mormon is true.
Yet I still had doubts about the Church. I wanted a clear and definite affirmation from God, something remarkable that would make me feel sure. I knew I should not ask for a sign, but the thought dominated my mind and likely kept me from receiving the testimony I sought. The more I sought a confirmation in this way, the more rebellious I felt. Then I began to lose hope.
One day during an institute class, the teacher presented a video portraying a person much like myself—one who was not sure of his testimony. He sought counsel from his bishop, and the bishop explained that our Father in Heaven looks for moments to answer our prayers, but we must be attentive and receptive to the Holy Ghost. The bishop in the video also said that learning to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit requires time and a humble heart.
These words touched me deeply. I recognized that I had never listened to the voice of the Spirit regarding the Church because I had been unwilling to do so. From the time I began praying for a testimony of the Church, the answers had come to me quietly, little by little, but I had refused to hear.
During that institute lesson I felt a change in my heart that I could not understand, and the heavy burden of doubt I had carried for nine years left me. I now accepted what I had previously doubted.
But even then I was tempted to fight against the Spirit. I told myself that what I was feeling was just a passing impression, an emotional response to the film. This war continued inside me as I left the classroom, so I found a place to be alone. And there the presence of the Holy Spirit came to me more clearly and finally liberated me from my doubts. I was filled with incomparable joy. A weight was lifted from my shoulders.
Now I can say with full conviction that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true Church, restored in these last days by Jesus Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith. This testimony is precious to me. With it, I feel spiritually prepared to receive the greater light and knowledge the Lord and His Church have to offer.
From a Single Seed
One of the most discouraging parts of my mission was the four months I spent in Tulancingo, México. The work was difficult. Day after day my companion and I spent long hours tracting, and no one was interested.
Finally, we found two men who listened to our message. I was excited because I felt these men would be great assets to Tulancingo’s small branch. But when both decided not to accept baptism, I was devastated.
About this time a 12-year-old girl came to Tulancingo to visit a family in the branch. She became interested in the Church and readily accepted the gospel. A short time later her father gave permission for her to be baptized.
But this baptism did little to lessen the disappointment I felt regarding those two men. I had hoped they would help build up the Church in this area. Because the girl was so young and the only member in her family, I wondered if she would remain active. She soon left Tulancingo after her baptism, and I lost contact with her. In fact, I completely forgot about her.
It has been more than 35 years since my mission, and not long ago I unexpectedly received the following letter:
Dear Brother Cooper,
My name is J. Jovita Pérez Acosta. I was baptized on 1 December 1965 in Tulancingo. I always thought I would very much like to thank you for bringing the gospel into my life.
When you taught me the gospel, I was 12 years old and was spending the summer in Tulancingo. I remember clearly the day I heard the history of Joseph Smith. I felt it was true, and that same night I knelt for the first time and prayed as you had taught me. On that occasion I learned how to talk with my Heavenly Father.
My mother was angry with my father because of my baptism, and they sent me to a Catholic boarding school. There were no members of the Church in all the area. I didn’t even have a Book of Mormon. But I continued to pray, and the seed you planted in my heart began to germinate.
One day while analyzing my religious situation, I felt that Heavenly Father was not pleased with me. I was confused. I told Him I wanted to belong to His Church. I asked that He help me be a good daughter to Him. A little while after this, I felt compelled to write to the [LDS] Church school in México City to ask to be enrolled there. I was accepted. It was then that my testimony began to form.
Seven years later my three younger sisters joined the Church, and they also went to live at the Church school. My mother had us attend her church during the summers; but even so, we read the scriptures, and we began to have family home evening. Ten years after my baptism, my mother and my youngest brother were baptized. A year later my father was baptized. We were the first member family in our town and in all the towns roundabout. The nearest meetinghouse was four hours away. My parents would travel every two weeks to go to Church services there.
During this period I became very ill and went to live for some months with my parents. We had family home evening every week. My mother would invite almost everyone around, and about 30 attended.
One day I called the mission home in México City to ask that missionaries be sent, and this was how the first branch was born in all that region. My father was the branch president, and my mother was the Relief Society president. Now there are many branches in the other towns, and they have been formed into two districts.
My youngest sister converted the man who is now her husband, and they both served missions. He is a bishop in Ciudad Juárez, and they have five children. Two of my nephews and a niece have also served missions. My oldest son returned last year from his mission, and my daughter is currently serving in Washington, D.C. My youngest son leaves next month to serve a mission in México.
In all, my parents have 26 grandchildren who are members of the Church. As you can see, one of the little seeds you planted many years ago has been transformed into a tree, and it is giving fruit and producing seeds for new trees. Isn’t it glorious? When my oldest son left for his mission, I told him that all he had to do was plant with love in the vineyard of the Lord. Perhaps he would never see the tree grow and produce fruit, but the Lord would.
The gospel has given me much happiness, and without it, I don’t know what my life would be. I know that Jesus Christ is my Redeemer and that His work will move forward, blessing the families of the earth.
Your sister in the faith, Jovita Pérez
As I read this letter, I was filled with joy. I now realize that perhaps the most important thing I accomplished on my mission was something that had seemed almost insignificant at the time.
Missionaries are rarely aware of all the results of their labors. But if we do all the good we can, without wondering and worrying about the consequences, we will find true joy in sharing the gospel.
My Friend “Milkshake”
In February 1958, at age 17, I entered the United States Navy. I was assigned to an aircraft carrier, where I met Raymond Covington from Provo, Utah.
I thought Raymond was a bit strange—no smoking, no drinking, no cursing, no nothing. I asked him what he did for enjoyment. He said he did a lot of things, but mostly what he enjoyed was either starting or ending his day with one or two big milk shakes. So Raymond was given the nickname “Milkshake.”
At night, Raymond would tell me about his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was really quite interested, until he told me that if I joined his church, I could not hold the priesthood. That did not go over well with me. Seeing my agitation, Raymond expressed his feeling that perhaps one day the priesthood would be available to me.
As time went by I began to favor Raymond above all my friends because of the way he lived. After a while I found I had ceased to live the kind of life I had been living, and I wanted to do the right thing. He made me realize I didn’t have to curse or drink alcohol. I could make the choice to live a righteous life.
One day several of the guys were sitting on the deck gambling. One of them looked up at Raymond and said, “Milkshake! Say this curse word and you can have all the money in the pot.” I quickly counted the money and found the total to be two months’ pay. I figured since he and I were buddies, Raymond would give me half. But to my dismay, he would not curse. I pleaded with him, but he didn’t believe in that kind of talk. I knew then that to be a true Latter-day Saint was a sacred responsibility.
Raymond was discharged in June 1961, and I was discharged later that year. I often wondered what had happened to my old friend.
One day many years later, in 1990, while looking out the window of my home in the state of Washington in the United States, I spotted two nicely dressed young men. They were missionaries for the Church, and I invited them in. After talking with them a little while, I found out that Raymond’s hopes had come true: President Spencer W. Kimball had received a revelation in 1978 directing that all worthy males could receive the priesthood. I was elated. After receiving the missionary lessons, I agreed to be baptized.
About this time I told a neighbor, also a member of the Church, about my friendship with Raymond. I had no idea the neighbor would go to Utah and actually find Raymond. Two weeks later my old friend “Milkshake” drove more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) to speak at my baptism. He said he always knew I would join the Church.
In December 1997, I got a call from Raymond’s daughter, telling me he had passed away. I was saddened by the news, but I smile when I think of the reunion Rocky and his friend Milkshake will someday have on the other side of the veil.