When I was seven years old, I promised the Lord that if given the opportunity, I would preach the gospel throughout the world. At that time I regularly attended the Baptist Church with my family. I did not understand many things. For example, I didn’t know why only the pastor and his assistants were allowed to speak. I felt that everyone should have the opportunity to share their feelings and beliefs about their church. However, my family and our church helped me to gain a love and appreciation for our Savior Jesus Christ and for the scriptures.
As I was growing up, my family lived less than five minutes from the Washington D.C. Temple. The temple just fascinated me as a young boy, and I always wanted to enter it, but my father assured me, “It won’t be part of your life. Don’t ever worry about that building.”
Every day I would watch my father study the Bible intensely. I knew my father was a man of God, and I began to pose many questions. He would always tell me to read the Bible and find out for myself.
A decade later, I was serving as a United States Marine security guard for the American Embassy in the Republic of Djibouti, a small country in northeast Africa. I decided to search for the truth, so I read the Bible cover to cover. As I grew closer to God, I came to realize that the Bible was the true word of God. I did not have to rely upon the testimony of my father, but I still did not have the whole truth. I longed to know why I felt compelled to live my life never drinking, smoking, or swearing and remaining morally clean. Why did I always strive to obey the commandments?
After 15 months, I was reassigned to the American Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. I was selected as the first black Marine security guard ever to serve in South Africa. In each place I was assigned, I was handpicked because of my standards. Interestingly, President Bill Clinton phoned to ask me to accept the South Africa assignment. Those were some of the reasons that I received many recognitions and awards.
It was in South Africa that I met the Cleverlys, who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The mother of the family invited me to their home at various times. She always told me about young single adult activities, but I could never attend due to my job schedule. Then she invited me to attend church, and I accepted. But before Sunday came, I had three nights of night-shift duty. I went downstairs to the library of the embassy where there was a computer with a huge search capacity. I just typed in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All this information came up, so I just read it for eight hours the first night, eight hours the second night, and eight hours the third night. What I looked at most of all was what Latter-day Saints believed and how they applied it in their lives. Did they live according to what they had established as laws or standards of the Church?
The week preceding my visit to church, I had a dream. I was sitting at a table, and there were two young men with white short-sleeved shirts and black tags. They were sitting on the sides of a table, and I was seated at the head. I woke up, but I didn’t think much about the dream.
The first time I walked into an LDS ward, I knew there was something different about this church. Also, it happened to be the first Sunday of the month, which meant that the members had an opportunity to stand and bear testimony. Now this is the true order of church, I thought.
I was introduced to two missionaries who began to teach me. One of the young men was one of those in my dream, the exact person. Sister Cleverly invited the missionaries and me to her home for dinner. She placed us at the table exactly as my dream had predicted.
Later, when we got to the principle about baptism for the dead, I thought it was so amazing that one could go to a sacred place and do these things for people who had passed away. I just thought that was incredible, and I thought about my two grandfathers and my grandmother who had passed away. That’s when I started to feel the Holy Ghost. The teachings sounded right to me.
We got to the next principle, which is about families, and I just always knew that was true. When I heard about eternal families, I told the missionaries, “I knew this existed.”
Then the missionaries taught me about the Word of Wisdom, and it was then that I had a discovery. I don’t want to call it a paradigm shift, but it felt like my soul unfolded, and I just shed this shell and a new person came out. I felt like I was three feet off the ground. I had always lived the Word of Wisdom, and I wanted to know why I was the way that I was. No one ever had the answer to that for me, but the Lord did through the missionaries and the discussions. I knew that everything they had taught me previously was true, and everything that they would teach me would be true. I never felt the Spirit so strongly reading scriptures before, and when I read Doctrine and Covenants 89:18–21 [D&C 89:18–21], I knew it was true. I always knew that my body was important, and I knew that it was never to be defiled.
From this point forward, I began to experience mixed emotions about becoming a member of the Church. I was concerned about my father’s opinion and his reaction to my decision. The night of the sixth discussion was a very eventful night.
During the sixth discussion, I received the message that I had an incoming call from my father. The phone rang. I picked it up, and it was indeed my dad.
He said, “Your mother informed me that you’ve made a decision to join the Latter-day Saints.”
I said yes.
He said, “I’m here to prevent that from happening.”
And I said, “You know what, Dad? I love you, and you’ll always be my dad. You’ve done a great job with me. But I’m 22. I’m a man now, and these decisions are for my family and my future. I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me and that you will continue to do for me, but this is my decision. I’m going to do it, and I know that the Lord wants me to do this.”
My dad wasn’t too happy when he hung up the phone. Immediately I got on my knees in the kitchen and asked the Lord to help me see and understand that what I was going to do was correct. I was thousands of miles away from home. I was all alone, and nothing was going right. Only when I was with the missionaries did I feel good. At that moment the Spirit testified to me that it was the Lord’s will and that the Lord wanted me to be baptized. It was a very clear voice that just said, “You’re to do the Lord’s will. You are to follow His example.” Then I knew. I never looked back after that. I was baptized on October 12, 1995.
It was a year to the day of my baptism, October 12, 1996, that I entered the Washington D.C. Temple to be endowed in preparation for serving a full-time mission to the Spain Madrid Mission.
During the first year of my mission, my parents were not supportive about my missionary service. The Lord revealed to me while I was on my mission that my family was fine, and they would be taken care of. Then things changed all of a sudden. The last six to eight months of my mission my family was very supportive. They said they were receiving blessings, and they knew it was because of my serving a mission.
After I returned from my mission, I stayed with my family for three weeks before I had to leave to enter Brigham Young University. Before school started, my father visited me, meeting my friends and seeing Salt Lake City. When I took him to the airport, he embraced me and told me, “Out of all 46 years of my life, never ever have I felt more love or the Spirit of God in my home than when you were home the last few weeks. I know that we owe it to the service that you gave in Spain for two years.”