Commenting on a young man who repented and became a faithful and good member of the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley says: “Is not this what the work is all about? Said the Savior, ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly’ (John 10:10). Without great abundance of the things of the world, these, my friends, live abundantly. People such as they are the strength of the Church. In their hearts is a quiet and solid conviction that God lives and that we are accountable to Him; that Jesus is the Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Life (see John 14:6); that this work is Their work; that it is true; and that gladness and peace and healing come in walking in obedience to the commandments of God (see D&C 89:18), as set forth in the teachings of the Church” (see this issue, pages 6–7).
As the following stories illustrate, the strength of the Church is indeed the faithful members who strive to become more like the Savior. This great work moves forward because of members who live the gospel, showing good examples of Christian living to their friends and neighbors.
The Lord’s Prophet
It was 3:00 P.M. on 30 May 1996 when my friend Lorna and I began our journey to Cebu—an island in the Philippines. President Gordon B. Hinckley would be speaking at a fireside there the next evening. A tricycle—a motorcycle with an attached sidecar—took us to the port where we and many other members of the Iloilo Philippines Stake would board a vessel bound for Cebu. My friend and I both knew that seeing the prophet would be worth any difficulties we might encounter on our trip.
As we reached the port, heavy rains began to fall. Would a typhoon spoil our voyage and ruin our opportunity to see the prophet? “First trial,” Lorna whispered to me. But later that day we forgot the cloudy skies. The other members’ excitement was contagious, and it seemed almost unbelievable that we would soon hear the mouthpiece of the Lord.
But our journey was not without inconvenience. Lorna and I were dismayed to discover there was no water for bathing aboard the ship. “Second trial,” I thought. Later we received more bad news: Because of the crowded conditions, our luggage would have to be left piled in the hall. Still, we remained positive.
After our boat came into dock the next day, we got in line to board one of the buses that was to take us to the coliseum where President Hinckley would speak. We watched in disbelief as we saw that the last bus was completely full. Lorna looked at me with a look that said, “Another trial?” But we did not give up. We hailed a taxi and were soon on our way.
By the time we arrived at the coliseum, its entrance was overflowing with people. “Will we ever get in?” I wondered. Discouragement set in. “Maybe we should just go back to the ship and wait for the others,” Lorna suggested.
Despite my doubts, I answered her in a determined voice: “Unless we get in now, we may never see the prophet.” With that, we moved resolutely through the crowd. The air in the large hall was so hot and oppressive I felt I would choke. But finally we found two seats together in the upper box of the coliseum, and we sat down to wait in the terrible heat.
Then at last I saw President and Sister Hinckley walking into the hall with Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Elisa. Suddenly, my worries and frustrations—even my awareness of the heat—vanished. The entire congregation stood and began to sing, “We thank thee, O God, for a prophet to guide us in these latter days” (Hymns, number 19). Tears rolled down my cheeks. Until this moment I had only read the prophet’s words in Church magazines and books. Now I was seeing him with my own eyes.
As I looked around I could tell that everyone was touched by the same spirit. All around me, men and women were wiping tear-filled eyes.
As I heard President Hinckley speak, a warm assurance touched my whole being that he is indeed the Lord’s prophet today. A scripture came into my mind: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).
At that moment my testimony of the Church, of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of His prophet was strengthened by the Spirit. I am grateful I was given the chance to see the Lord’s prophet and to feel the power of his testimony. Indeed, it was the greatest opportunity and the most priceless experience of my life.
“Just Call Me Brother”
The April morning sun colored each detail of the spacious, modern, cream-colored building. The building was surrounded by green grass, and it looked like it might be a school. We walked through the door carrying carpet-cleaning catalogs under our arms.
Erika, my fiancée, was helping me make sales calls; we were trying to find new clients for the company I represented. The heels of our shoes, worn down from walking, clicked on the red-brick floor. As we continued down the hall we both realized that this building was a church. We proceeded cautiously because we did not know what customs and rules might apply here.
I wondered if this church might have red carpets like the ones I had sometimes seen used for weddings. But everything in this building was simple, yet elegant.
A group of friendly children and young people greeted us, and Erika asked them who we should see.
“Robert Vázquez,” replied a small boy. “I’ll get him for you.”
I glanced at Erika and quietly told her that if they tried to convert us, we would say we had another appointment and escape to her house.
I was completely satisfied with the religion of my parents. Although I was not completely devout, neither was I a black sheep. I was one of those irregular little lambs who attended church according to the season. But through sermons, Bible study, and moral lessons, I had become convinced of the existence of a loving Heavenly Father; of His Son, Jesus Christ, who atoned for our sins; and of the Holy Ghost. I had been taught about commandments and ordinances. I also knew of our undeniable imperfection as mortal beings.
I considered myself against money offerings, idol worship, and every other superstition or precept not founded on divine love and justice. I had been taught to pray and worship God without the intervention of saints. I believed in love, humility, service, the dangers of judging others, and the balm of forgiveness. I knew many members of my church who were virtuous, righteous, and exemplary. It seemed just short of impossible to consider another religion.
Holding Erika’s hand, I arrived at a room that seemed to be a classroom. There I met Mr. Vázquez.
“What shall I call you? Father? Reverend? Pastor?” I asked.
“Just call me Brother,” he replied. He invited us to go with him to services on the following day, and I was surprised to find myself accepting his invitation.
The next day Erika and I went to a Sunday School class. We were introduced to names like Nephi, Moroni, and Helaman. I felt as if I were in a foreign land without an interpreter. Nevertheless, both Erika and I felt there was something familiar about the ideas we were hearing. They sounded similar to those in the Bible. And so I dared to raise my hand, and I stood and affirmed that Jesus Christ was our greatest example of humility because He always subjected Himself to the will of the Father. Brother Jorge Montoya, our teacher, agreed with what I said. That surprised me. What kind of church was this where even a heretic, which is what I thought I must be to members of the Church, could speak and have the teacher agree?
So we continued attending. I received a Book of Mormon and read it in a single week. I gained a testimony, took the missionary discussions, and was baptized and confirmed on 3 May 1996.
The next day I felt as if I were walking around with a 100-watt lightbulb over my head. I was so happy I went out of my way to help strangers.
The following month Erika and I were married. And on 29 September I had the privilege of baptizing her. A year later we were sealed in the México City México Temple.
Best of all, I never felt that I had to leave the road I had been traveling in my former religion. My former knowledge was embraced and perfected by the true Church of Jesus Christ. My conversion was like passing from the light of a cloudy day into the greater light of a sunny day—like rowing a boat and someone starts the motor.
I realize there are many righteous, good, and holy people in other religions. Although they do not have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, they are illuminated by the Light of Christ. Still I wonder how we can help these good people see that the exceedingly bright light of Jesus Christ makes the lanterns, streetlights, and candles of other beliefs inadequate. There is no greater truth than pure truth, and pure truth encompasses and perfects the true beliefs of all good people throughout the world.
I know now that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church that contains the fulness of truth. And I know that Jesus Christ has opened His arms and the doors of His house to all who wish to follow Him.
I did not sell any carpet-cleaning services that morning in April. In fact I have never sold a single square meter of carpet cleaning to any member of the Church. Nevertheless, I am sure that in that single day I gained more—a thousand times more—than anyone could have imagined.
A Gift of Eggs—and Love
I had been living for a few months in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, when the branch Relief Society president asked if she could come visiting teaching. I realize now that she waited so long to visit so I could have time to learn a little French. At that time our family was the only North American family in the branch. Some of the women spoke French, but the majority spoke Lingala, a tribal language. Although I tried not to feel alienated, I felt very different from the sisters in my branch.
The Relief Society president was a widow with two sons. She was always smiling a beautiful, big smile. When she arrived to visit me, she came accompanied by the Spirit of the Lord.
After greeting me, she asked me to get my English Bible. She spoke very slowly so I would understand her message. We read in her French Bible, and then in my English one, Ephesians 2:19: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
I smiled as I read the verse she had chosen. My Relief Society president understood the struggles I was experiencing.
As she prepared to leave, this sweet sister presented me with a gift of 10 eggs. I knew it was a sacrifice for her. I felt guilty accepting the eggs and tried to decline the gift. But her eyes told me they were given in love.
I accepted the eggs, and we basked in the love that she had brought. It filled the house and made everything seem brighter. After a prayer with her, I watched her leave the yard, her petite and gracious form wrapped in African cloth. I no longer felt a stranger, but at home with the Saints of God.