Our new literature teacher, Mrs. Protschka, looked into the faces of 35 eager students and said, “In this new school year I want each of you to take a turn at the beginning of class in discussing with us the book that has impressed you most in life.”
After school was over I walked home, puzzled about what book I should present. Mother and I were living in Bonn, West Germany then, and I had just begun ninth grade at a German high school. I thought maybe I would introduce Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur. Roman history had always fascinated me. But was that really the book that had impressed me most in life?
I knew it wasn’t. I knew it was another book, the one the two young missionaries who had baptized my mother and me had given to me a few years ago—the Book of Mormon.
I was the only Latter-day Saint in school; could I dare to introduce this new scripture in my class?
“Why not?” I thought, and remembered how, by my 12th birthday, I had read this book from cover to cover, prayed about it with the faith of a child, and received a confirmation that it was holy scripture, and that the people I had read about had really existed. This knowledge helped me to enjoy life to its fullest by leading me to be at peace with God and the world around me.
When I told my mother about my idea she looked worried, yet encouraged me to do what I felt was right. The hard work began. I pondered about how I should introduce the Book of Mormon, and decided to start by explaining it like a story, beginning with Lehi and his family’s departure from Jerusalem and recounting their long journey through the desert and over the ocean. After much prayer and thought, I discovered that the right words began to flow easily into my mind. God was answering!
Patiently I awaited the day of my presentation. As it drew nearer, I noticed that the other students were presenting books like Dracula,The Godfather, and Rosemary’s Baby, books that in some way dealt with Satan and the dark side. I wondered again, should I really introduce the Book of Mormon in class? But I felt that now, more than ever, I had to do it. I wanted to be the Lord’s advocate to these people.
At last the day arrived. Usually the students wrote the titles of their books on the chalkboard at the beginning of their presentations, but since I feared that if the students saw the title first they would be less receptive I asked our teacher’s permission to save it until the end. I told her I wanted it to be a surprise.
Mother told me later how she had spent almost the entire morning of my presentation on her knees, praying that my report would go well and that the class would be receptive. And indeed her prayers helped. At the beginning, when I stood before the class and started explaining Lehi’s vision and his travel through the desert, some students wanted to make fun of it, “It’s the Bible! It’s the Bible!” But suddenly the class became quiet, and I could hear myself relating the history of the Book of Mormon smoothly and calmly, bearing testimony of its truthfulness. The Spirit of the Lord was so strong it seemed almost tangible. I spoke more words than I had ever intended to, and recall the attentive looks of the other students.
After about 20 minutes I finished my discourse, leaving my teacher and the class speechless for several minutes. Then Mrs. Protschka turned to the class and asked what they thought. They all began to speak very highly of me and expressed admiration for my courage in presenting such a religious book at school.
From that moment on, I made friends to whom I still feel very close, friends who defended me later in front of others. They even wrote and supported me years later when I served a mission in Spain.
For most of the remaining class period I was asked to talk more about the Church and my mother’s and my conversion. After class, some of the students even asked me for a copy of the Book of Mormon. One said I looked like a minister during the presentation; others remarked I spoke with the power of a prophet.
Weeks went by, and in our history class, with the same teacher, Mrs. Protschka, we began to study the ancient civilizations of America.
One night while doing my homework I felt the strongest desire to speak in class again about the Book of Mormon. For a moment I tried to put the thought aside, because I saw no way to do this. Then I knelt in prayer and asked Heavenly Father to grant me an opportunity to do so. After praying, I felt I should again prepare a discourse on the Book of Mormon.
The next day as Mrs. Protschka began class I raised my hand, planning to ask her if I could share some further comments on the Book of Mormon.
But before I could say anything, she looked at me and said, “Yes, Robert. Last night when I was preparing my lesson for today, I suddenly thought of you, and wondered if you wouldn’t have anything else to tell us about the Book of Mormon?”
I presented my speech, this time focusing mainly on Christ’s visit to the ancient Americas. I quoted from a book called Gods,Graves, and Scholars, which relates the legend of the Great White God Quetzalcoatl. The similarity between Christ and this Indian God was obvious. Again, I told my friends and teacher that Christ had indeed visited the people in the Americas; he had indeed taught them the gospel.
At the conclusion of my speech, Mrs. Protschka wrote on the blackboard: “The Book of Mormon is the best theory of how the ancient civilizations of America came to be,” and asked us to write it down in our notebooks. What a triumph! I felt like jumping for joy. God hears and answers prayers. He is indeed a God of miracles. And he knows how to soften the hearts of men for his purposes.