Stories from the General Authorities: My Conversion


My Conversion

During my childhood my father was an excellent example to me. He was as honest and honorable as any man I’ve ever known—completely just in his dealings with his fellowmen. I am convinced he would have walked ten miles to repay a debt of ten cents. If he gave his word, no written contract was necessary. He felt this was the only decent way to live. However, I must have wanted an outward sign as a child. I was confused. If he was religious, why didn’t we go to church? If he needed God, why didn’t I see him pray? It seemed to me, also, that there was an occasional inconsistency in his actions; for instance, at one time he caught me smoking and gave me quite a thrashing, but he had to lay down his own pipe to do it.

I really didn’t attend church regularly until was serving in the navy. We marched to divine services each Sunday evening in pre-flight training, and from that time on I attended regularly. Also, I read several books on religion and pondered a great deal on the subject.

The same contradiction or inconsistency I had felt at home seemed to run throughout this experience also—the difference between what is said and what is actually practiced. I noticed this in the churches whose doctrine I studied for many times their tenets did not square with scripture. For me there were many questions left unanswered.

“If you can’t explain it, then just believe it anyway,” a minister once told me. “Faith requires you to do nothing; faith lets God do it all. Just have faith.” This never did seem right to me.

One time while going through the St. Louis (Missouri) railroad station, I met a minister at the servicemen’s canteen. He invited me into a small conference room so that we could talk. He asked me if I belonged to a church; I replied that I did not. He said that in my career in the armed service I would, no doubt, find myself in company that would not be the best for me, that there would be girls who would desire my association and that my friends might try to convince me that it would be stupid not to take shrewd advantage of these situations. But he said that remaining clean and chaste was not stupid—it was very wise; and that although there were many who thought the life of Jesus Christ was a weak and senseless way to live, their opinion did not make it so. He said that a clean life was to be highly prized and that when I married—as I surely would some day—I should be as morally clean and virtuous as I would expect my bride to be. Living a pure life might be difficult, but it would be well worth my efforts; for one thing, I would be better able to draw strength and courage to meet the challenge of demanding situations in the military. He also said it would be best for me to make my decision about this right then, while I could still view it with a detached perspective.

That encounter was very impressive to me. I knew that what he told me was true, but I did not realize at that time that I had made a decision to follow his counsel. Afterwards I faced many dangerous moral situations, but somehow I came through unscathed, as though someone were protecting me.

The desire to know the truth was intensified as I studied and prayed and as I attended first one church and then another, but there was something missing in all of them.

I was released from active duty in the navy in 1947 and returned to my home in Missouri. There I married the beautiful little dark-haired girl I had met and briefly courted four years previously. I well remember the first time I saw her. She was walking down the street. I was eighteen and she was fourteen—and I knew immediately she was for me. I spoke to her that day and we got acquainted, and I later told her she had four years in which to grow up because I was going into the navy but would come back and marry her.

So, four years later I kept my promise, and came back home to court my sweetheart, and we were married five months later. When we were married, we read and discussed the Bible together. After the births of our first two children I was recalled with other naval aviators to participate in the Korean conflict. I was assigned to a squadron based in San Diego, California, and then ordered to Hawaii for thirteen weeks of special training. I left my little family in San Diego.

No sooner had I departed and my wife had moved our possessions into our rented home than the Mormon missionaries came by and knocked on her door. They were tracting, and many of the questions that they discussed with her were the very questions we had pondered together, so she was very interested.

In one of her letters to me she mentioned that two young men had called on her and asked a lot of questions about religion, to which they seemed to have all the answers. Well, that made me a bit angry. What were young men doing calling on my wife, even in the name of a church, while I was away? I didn’t like it, especially since they were answering questions that I had been pondering all my life.

When I returned home from Hawaii, the first evening Connie, my wife, told me the Joseph Smith story. When she said that he had seen visions and had revelations, it seemed so ridiculous that I laughed in her face, and this made her cry. I then saw how much this story really meant to her, and I relented and said, “Well, the least I can do is read some of the material they left for you to study.”

No sooner did I start to read the Book of Mormon than I knew at last I had found that for which had been searching.

While reading First Nephi, I remember saying to myself, “Dear God, let this be true; please let this be the truth—for if it is, it answers all the questions I have been trying to answer all my life.” I hadn’t finished Second Nephi when I knew it was true.

I had prayed one simple prayer to the Lord for many years: “Dear God, please show me the truth. Please lead me to the truth.” I had sought truth in many places. Now here were two young men, bringing the truth right into my living room. And although they were very young, they had great powers with them—truth and God. I could not argue against what they offered, neither did I wish to.

I attended church for only a few Sundays before it became time for me to leave for Korea. When I went aboard ship on the last day of 1951, I took with me a triple combination and the Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage. I read the Articles of Faith during the first month at sea. One evening in February I heard it announced over the public address system aboard ship that Latter-day Saint services would be held in the crew library at 7:30 P.M. At the appointed hour I went to the library where I found four young men who looked very much like the two young missionaries who had knocked on my door in San Diego. I told them I was not a member of the Church but was interested in studying about it. They welcomed me with much enthusiasm.

When we arrived in Japan in the latter part of February 1952, the group decided that I was ready for baptism. So they accompanied me to the Japan Mission home where I was interviewed and received a recommend. On February 25, 1952, in the garden behind the Japan Mission home in 30-degree weather, seven thousand miles from my home in Missouri, I was baptized. Later I was confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My wife was baptized four days later in San Diego, California. Our search had come to an end.

Once again the Lord had stood by his word: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matt. 7:7–8.)

[photos] the Rector farm, Missouri; Connie the year I met her; here I am the same year

[photos] in the air force; the Mormon group that baptized me; letter from Hartman; the married couple

[photos] an apple a day; the flying ace