Missionary Focus:
When Thou Art Converted

by James H. Young

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    I was born in a small southern Mississippi town in 1950. My father was a career army officer. As a result, although not completely due to his career, I became the product of a broken home. It was not until my teens that I became aware of this. It was a traumatic period in my life.

    My parents were strict, and I often was denied opportunities that many youth take for granted. One privilege I was allowed was to attend a local Baptist church where I gained an independence of thought and action. I felt I was somebody and had something to contribute to the world. I became a youth minister and had hopes of gaining a scholarship so I could attend a ministerial school. But the deteriorating conditions at home and diminishing faith in my religious beliefs changed that. I had increasing questions about life. I suppose at this point I simply felt sorry for myself.

    At 17 I left home. All I took with me was the memory of ruined yesterdays and a fear of uncertain tomorrows. I left in anguish and bitterness. Later I joined the United States Air Force. The first place they sent me was to Vietnam. This was a startling contrast to the sheltered environment I had experienced as a child. Needless to say, rather than helping to find peace and remedy my doubts, the futility and endless agony of life there served only to create more questions and to reinforce my defeatist attitude. I began to doubt there was a God or that there was any dignity or purpose in life. Was life just the means to an uncertain end? Where and why did it all begin? I found myself wishing that I had never been born.

    I left Vietnam physically well, but I was almost spiritually dead. However, something inside seemed to urge me to give God another chance, and I did in hopes that he would do the same for me.

    Upon my arrival in Misawa, Japan, I went to a Baptist missionary, but he was unable to answer my questions. He encouraged me to rely on faith, but I could no longer live on the innocent faith I had as a young man. The reality I found in the world as an adult was simply too great. I had to find the answers and I had to find them now.

    I was becoming desperate, so a friend asked me to accompany him to the Far East Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention in Shimoda, believing that these learned men would be able to answer my questions satisfactorily. Enroute to the convention, my friend made what he later determined was a great mistake. We stopped in Tokyo to see his friend, Bill Head, whom he had met in Thailand. Upon meeting Bill for the first time, I realized that he was different. Without him even saying a word I knew that he had something that I wanted. He radiated confidence, peace of mind, a love for life, and a love for people. He seemed to know who he was and where he was going. He had the answers I needed so desperately.

    I asked him why he was unique. Bill replied, “I am a Mormon.” He gave me some pamphlets to read, and I took them with me to that convention in Shimoda. I read the material. At first the Joseph Smith account seemed ridiculous, preposterous, almost absurd. I wanted to believe that God spoke to men today. I wanted to believe that the heavens were not closed and that God was real. I wanted to believe that he lived and cared about his children and had not left us alone to drift aimlessly through life for some mysterious end. I also knew that if ever the world needed another witness of Jesus Christ it was now. But because it was so new and because it had been such a long time since God had manifested himself to the ancients, I was skeptical.

    The next morning I attended a seminar at the convention. The seminar’s purpose was to discuss the anti-Christ ideologies. The first religion they attacked was not communism or some other godless ideology, but Mormonism. They had decided among themselves that Mormons worshiped Joseph Smith and ignored the fact that the formal name of the Mormon church was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If that name implied anything, it implied that Mormons were Christians of the highest degree, for they were the only people I had found who claimed the name of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t the Church of Joseph Smith, John the Baptist, Paul, Mary, John Wesley, or Martin Luther. It was the Church of Jesus Christ.

    I felt the Mormons were being misunderstood so I attempted to defend them. Now I probably made somewhat of a fool of myself in the minds of those learned people, but in the process of this defense, a still, small voice said, “You’d better find out more so you can do better next time.”

    I left the convention that day and returned to Tokyo. I found Bill and told him I wanted to learn more. He introduced me to a young couple, the Fredericks, who taught me the missionary discussions in two days. During that glorious two-day period the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in my mind fell together and I found myself and my true identity.

    “I am a child of God!” I exclaimed to myself. “I began with him. There is purpose and dignity to life, and a great destiny beyond!” I began to realize for the first time that I didn’t have to doubt, worry, be confused, or tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine because there is a prophet of God and twelve apostles on the earth today, just as there was anciently in the Church of Jesus Christ. I had found his Church!

    Less than two weeks later, on August 12, 1970, I was baptized in Kunsan City, Korea. I know that the gospel is true. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that we are sons and daughters of God.

    Since my conversion I have been reunited with my family and ordained an elder in the Lord’s Church. I am currently serving as a missionary in the Idaho Pocatello Mission. Like Bill, now that I am converted, I am strengthening my brethren.

    Illustrated by Hiram Richardson