Such a long absence seemed impossible now that I was home. Behind me was a year spent in Brazil as an exchange student. And here was Marcia, as pretty, smart, and fun to be with as ever. A year away at college had agreed with her, and I was glad we would have a few weeks together before she returned to BYU.
I had never known a Church member until I met Marcia. She puzzled and fascinated me. With our days full of schoolwork, school plays, and more, I found out she attended a religion class before school each morning. When our group of friends planned Sunday activities, she went to church instead of picnics, shopping, or parties. Despite our differences, our friendship deepened.
Marcia once gave me a Book of Mormon, but after reading only a few pages I returned it. I occasionally went to church with her—more frequently to church dances. I considered Marcia my best friend.
“What do you have in this suitcase?” Marcia grunted as we swung the enormous case onto my bed.
“Brazilian candy and a soda called Guarana. You’ll love it. Also, I brought some goiabada. I want to cook some Brazilian foods.”
“Are you telling me this thing is full of food?”
“Hardly. I’ve got tons of pictures, and some music, and …” I snapped the locks up, “presents for my friends!” I flipped the case open and began rummaging for Marcia’s gift.
“Jessica.” Something in Marcia’s voice startled me. Looking up I saw she was holding a Book of Mormon. “Where did you get this?”
I took the book gently from her hand and rubbed my thumb over the gold-embossed title. At the airport Marcia had remarked on the changes she saw in me. I was deeply tanned—a true first for my fair and freckled skin. My hairstyle and clothes had taken on a distinctly Brazilian quality, and I was having trouble completing sentences entirely in English. But the changes she hadn’t yet detected were lasting changes. I’d kept this information close to my heart, waiting for the right moment to share it with her. This was my biggest surprise.
“There’s something I haven’t told you,” I said, tears stinging my eyes. “I was baptized three weeks ago on July 10th.”
I was unprepared for her scream. She fell back on the bed and screamed a second time. She jumped up and, with tears streaming down her face, grabbed me. Hugging, laughing, and crying we spun together in circles.
I was really lost before I found the gospel. In Brazil the legal drinking age is 18. My host family offered me membership to their country club and a nightclub. It sure was exciting. But the excitement wore off. I got tired of the meaningless social scene and started craving spiritual things.
The only churches I knew of were Catholic, and so I started attending Mass regularly. About two months later a couple of elders showed up at my host home. My host sisters were wild with excitement and dragged me to the front gates so I could talk to another American.
On the day I was supposed to have the first discussion, I got cold feet. I was with a friend and told her I didn’t want to go home because some missionaries were coming to see me. She invited me to go to her house to avoid them, but we needed to go to the post office first. We got our mail and were leaving when the missionaries walked in. That was the day they taught me about the plan of salvation.
In telling Marcia about my conversion, I saw clearly that Heavenly Father had gone to great lengths to give me the gift of His gospel. God really wants us to return to Him. And Heavenly Father had provided opportunities through the missionaries for me to receive the gospel. He really wants us to find our way home to Him.