I began as a nonbeliever, but that all changed when I learned about the truthfulness of the gospel.

All my life I was taught that there was no God. Little did I know how that would change when I applied to be a high school exchange student in the United States, representing the Czech Republic. When I filled out the application, one question was “What is your religious preference?” I knew most Americans were Christian, so that was what I wrote down. But I was a nonbeliever.

With anticipation, I awaited the outcome of my application. Where would I live?

I was assigned to the Grant and Jewel Hodson family, Latter-day Saints in Utah. Where is Utah? Mormons? Who are they? I looked up Utah in books, and I looked up Mormons too. The books said terrible things about the Church and especially about Joseph Smith. I spent my last night at home crying. I was terrified.

My mother assured me that everything would be all right, and if I didn’t like the family or Utah, I could come home or be assigned to another family.

When I arrived in Utah, Emily, one of the daughters, came to pick me up. She was 16 years old, wearing normal, casual clothes, and she was so nice. I thought, “Wow! This might not be that bad after all!” The whole family was warm and welcoming to me.

I experienced quite a cultural adjustment. I saw that my host family prayed before every meal and before they went to bed. They didn’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. They lived moral lives. Everything was totally opposite of how the teenagers I had known lived.

And it seemed that almost everybody I met was a member of the LDS Church. I was impressed that when these people spoke about their church, they would say, “I know,” not, “I believe.” Never before had I heard such conviction in religious statements. If these people could know, I reasoned, there must be a way for me to know too. I was the sort of person who had to know, because if I accepted the teachings of the Church, I would have to make changes in my lifestyle and in my future plans.

With a strong desire to know for myself about the truthfulness of the Church, I watched the example of my host family. They didn’t proselytize, but the way they lived made me want to know what was behind their actions. I had never seen such faith.

I heard a Church leader say, “People will want to know Christ because they know you.” I wanted to know Christ because I knew the Hodsons. They were a great example to me of the way a family should live.

I began praying. I prayed for three weeks and nothing happened. I was a little discouraged. I thought that maybe I was not worthy to feel God’s love.

That same week I decided to join the Hodsons’ traditional family testimony meeting on the first Sunday of the month. The mother, Jewel, asked me if I would like to say anything. I said, “Sure.” But I thought, “What am I going to say?”

Since everybody had expressed appreciation, I thought I could at least express my appreciation to the Hodsons for all they had done for me. They had been so patient with me. They treated me as their own daughter and had never pushed me into anything. I would express my true gratitude.

I was the last to speak. I stood up and started saying how grateful I was for their kindness and patience and also for their desire to teach me about God. All of a sudden, a strong, overwhelming feeling came over me. The language barrier was gone; I had no problem speaking English. I was fluent for the first time! I had never felt anything like this before. I spoke as I was inspired. It was such a warm, beautiful feeling. I was quietly being taught, “You know what you are saying is true. You know I exist. You know.

And I did know! With tears in my eyes, I sat down. I thought, “What was that?” Answering as though she had heard my question, my host mother quietly spoke, “What you are feeling is the Spirit.” All I could think was “Wow! It is true!”

With my parents’ permission, I asked my host father to baptize me into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a happy day for me. I felt so clean and fresh! In addition to my host family, I was surrounded by many members from my ward who came to support me. I appreciated that so much.

When I returned to the Czech Republic from Utah, I was the only member of the Church not just in my town, Chrastava (population 8,000), but also in Liberec (population 120,000), a city about six miles (10 km) from Chrastava. I worked as a hotel receptionist and taught English in a private high school. I was desperately seeking to find my new place at home. I was close to giving up. Nevertheless, I continued to kneel every night and pray for a miracle that would bring me out of my despair. I also tried really hard to stay away from my old habits and friends.

Finally my prayers were answered. The missionaries came to Liberec, where I was teaching. (I later learned that Brother Hodson had contacted the mission president for the Czech Republic and told him about me. Now there is a growing branch of about 40 Latter-day Saints in my hometown.)

I have since attended Brigham Young University—Idaho and finished my fine arts degree at BYU–Hawaii. One of the highlights of being at BYU–Hawaii was playing on the volleyball team. On that special campus, my testimony grew.

I have now returned to my home in the Czech Republic. I want to spread the gospel message. At first, my father and mother thought I was totally crazy to have made such a conversion. Now they support me completely, and they are grateful for my education.

Maybe I can also have an influence as a teacher in the arts. The people here need the gospel, and they need the arts. I wish they knew what I know. I want to teach them the true plan of happiness. I know Heavenly Father wants my people to have the gospel and all the really good things in life. I know my Heavenly Father loves me and will help me to do my best, even though I have imperfections. I continue to desire to be guided by Him always.

Illustrated by Brian Call

Vaclava, or Wendy as she is sometimes called, spreads the gospel message wherever she goes. She remembers the evening when the Spirit whispered to her that she already knew that Heavenly Father existed and this was His Church. (Photograph courtesy of Jewel Hodson.)

Vaclava Svobodova is a member of the Liberec Branch, Prague Czech District.