My family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when I was two years old. My parents were born in Germany and belonged to the Lutheran Church, but as I grew up, many of my friends were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
My friends and I were playing together one afternoon when one of them said, “We’re going to Primary. Would you like to come?” Primary was held on a weekday then. I went. I was interested in the lessons and being with my friends. I knew my teacher cared about me, and the Primary songs touched my heart.
After a few weeks, the Primary teacher asked me if I would like to learn more about the Church. She invited my parents to learn too. The ward missionaries came to our home. My parents chose not to join the Church, but they could see my desire and said I could be baptized. After my baptism, I continued to go to Primary with my friends but only occasionally attended Sunday meetings.
When I was 12 years old, my bishop said I was the right age to become a deacon. The bishop explained that Heavenly Father shares His power with the Church through the priesthood. If I kept the commandments, I could act for Jesus Christ—passing the sacrament, teaching the gospel, and someday giving priesthood blessings to help people who were ill or sad. I wanted to have the priesthood and become that kind of boy. I said I would come to Sunday meetings, trying very hard not to miss.
Soon I was prepared to become a deacon, and my parents came to my ordination. I remember the next Sunday, when I passed the sacrament for the first time. I was assigned to take the bread up to the bishop and then to the others on the stand. As I was walking up the stairs, the sacrament tray came detached from the handle, and the tray and the bread fell onto the floor. I felt as if everyone in the whole universe was looking at me. The bishop came over, put his arm around me, and whispered, “Let’s just pick up this bread and put it in the tray. Then sit down here until they’re through passing the bread, and you can pass the water.” Luckily, I passed the water without any problems. The bishop’s kindness and warmth helped me not to feel embarrassed. I felt a great love for him and was glad that he was my bishop.
When I was a priest, our quorum adviser promised us that if we would stop doing homework on Sunday and start studying the scriptures, our grades would improve and we would gain a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I had a strong feeling that if I would accept my adviser’s challenge, I would be blessed all my life. My study of the gospel helped me learn that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God who restored the Church in the latter days.
Throughout my youth, my Church leaders watched out for me. Because my mother died when I was 15 years old and my father had a serious illness, I needed to work at night to earn money and go to high school during the day. I wanted to serve a full-time mission, but I didn’t know how I could save enough money for it. Then the elders quorum president of my ward told me that the quorum would help support me on my mission. I was happy and grateful that they would help me be a missionary. With their help, I served a mission in Brazil. Years later, my wife and children came with me to Brazil while I served as mission president.
I encourage you children of the Church to watch how your leaders live the gospel. In your wards and branches there are many Saints who believe in Jesus Christ and try to obey His teachings. By following their examples, you will grow to be righteous leaders yourselves. Cultivate your sense of right and wrong; pay attention to how you feel when you go to Primary. Invite your friends to church and to Primary activities. They too can learn of Jesus Christ and grow to love Him, as I did when I was a boy.