My, oh my! I can’t even say how awesome the last couple weeks have been! I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences as my mom and I took a trip to Nauvoo and Winter Quarters, then there was the Book of Mormon readathon for the youth in my ward. Oh, and of course, spending time with some wonderful friends and making new friends at game nights and date nights. My job is actually super fun and as I get ready to go back to school, well… Let me just say that I honestly can’t complain about my life. Even when it isn’t this good, I have nothing to complain about! And I think I’ve got it figured out as to why that is.
I am continually being converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yup. Simple as that. A lot of people say “Oh I was converted when…” or “I gained a testimony of that during…” Well I’ve got to tell you that gaining a testimony and being converted are things that don’t just happen once. If it did, then everyone who has a testimony or has been converted would be perfect and would have no further reason to be on this Earth. At least, that’s how I see it.
At the beginning of my mission, and in the few weeks or months before, I’d heard a quote by Elder Holland about how we should all have at least one convert on our missions and that convert should be ourselves. Being only 19 and having grown up in the Church, I somewhat smugly thought “Oh that’s not me. I’ve already been converted!” Hmmm, well I have to tell you that I was completely and 100% wrong about that. And I’ll never be that prideful again, in that regard. I think it was about three or four months into my mission before I realized that conversion is a process that happens throughout every day, week, month and year – throughout your entire life. It’s a process because there are constantly things put in our paths that we’re tempted with, mistakes we make (sometimes over and over again), and trials that try to shake our faith and things we’ve learned previous to that experience. I know for me, I’m strengthened and pushed closer to my Savior every day because of what I read in the scriptures, conversations I have both with my Father in Heaven and with friends and family (sometimes even with random strangers!), and activities or places I attend.
I had the great privilege of serving my mission in what we like to call “the Land of Joseph”. Sharon, Vermont is where the Prophet Joseph Smith was born and today there’s a beautiful memorial and visitor’s center there to remember him. I visited there two or three times with investigators and less-actives, but in my last area I also had zone conferences there. Even when I wasn’t close enough to visit the memorial, it was always in the back of our minds as missionaries. Rather, Joseph was always in the back of our minds, if not the front. Setting aside the fact that we were constantly teaching what he did for this dispensation in bringing back the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we were literally walking where the Joseph walked and doing exactly what he has done – doing everything we can to bring others closer to our Savior Jesus Christ.
I want to make a quick side note for anyone reading this who is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Joseph Smith was only a prophet, seer and revelator. Nothing more than that. We do not worship him, nor do we put him on the same level as Jesus Christ – Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and is unlike anyone else ever to walk this Earth. We simply revere Joseph Smith as a man chosen by God to bring the world His complete truth. I would be surprised if others in earlier dispensations didn’t revere Adam, Noah, Moses or other prophets for doing the work of the Lord and establishing the Gospel once again on the Earth. You can read more about why we might need a prophet on the Earth today by clicking here.
Serving in the land of Joseph was such a huge blessing and eye-opener to me. I’m sure I still would have gained a stronger testimony and conversion of Joseph Smith being a prophet wherever I served, by serving where he was born has made his story all the more special for me. Then last week, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Nauvoo and Carthage, Illinois as well as Winter Quarters, Nebraska with my wonderful mother. For those who may not know, these are some pretty significant places in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nauvoo was where the early saints went after being thrown out of the state of Missouri, where they were persecuted, tortured, and even killed simply because of what they chose to believe. Quincy, Illinois is where they went immediately following their sojourn in Missouri, but Nauvoo is where the Prophet Joseph Smith declared they would build a city and live in safety and peace. In the 1840s, it became a rather large and booming city where saints gathered and did live in peace and safety, but again, only for a time. Unfortunately, Joseph Smith had many enemies who believed getting rid of the Mormon leader would kill the religion for good. They continued to harass the Mormons and. in 1844, they succeeded in arresting Joseph Smith along with Hyrum (the prophet’s brother), John Taylor and Willard Richards (both were also leaders in the Church) under false charges. On June 27, 1844, while waiting in Carthage Jail for a hearing, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob not willing to wait for the hearing.
Whenever I hear stories of everything these early saints went through for the Gospel and the building up of Christ’s church, I can’t help but feel that it is true. All of it. Why else would they endure such hardships? There were times that Joseph was persecuted terribly. He was tarred and feathered at least once, and put in jail under false charges and in very horrible conditions many times. The saints experienced massacres and were often driven out of their homes, even in the dead of winter. As I imagine myself being in those situations and I think about why I would continue believing the things taught by Joseph Smith about Jesus Christ despite all the many terrible persecutions happening to me and my family and friends, I can only come to one conclusion: It HAS to be true.
Elder Jeffrey R Holland said in a 2009 conference address (which is even better to listen to rather than just read) concerning the Prophet Joseph and his brother:
“As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?
Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.”
To me, Joseph’s and Hyrum’s and every one of those saints’ testimonies comes through in their actions. Each of them, whether they realized it or not, whether it happened or not, were willing to die for what they knew to be right and true. They didn’t just sit down and give up saying “Well, these people hate us because of some whacko who thinks he saw God, so I might as well just stop pretending now.” Instead, they stood firm in their faith, perhaps asking a question here and there about why God would let those kinds of horrors happen to His chosen people, but still pressing ever forward and looking to their Savior, Jesus Christ. When Joseph was killed, the Church didn’t die out. They didn’t say “Hmmm, guess he wasn’t a prophet. I suppose it’s time to stop believing what he said and go back to the way life was before!” Rather, they stood and testified that Joseph truly was a prophet who had been called by God Himself to bring back the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Saints stood steadfast and immovable, and the Church continued on. Now look at it today! 15 million strong with over 88,000 full-time missionaries throughout the world! We have humanitarian services and are often first on the scene of natural disasters. There are 147 operating temples with almost 30 more that have been announced or are under construction. There are also 4 universities that are church owned and operated with institute buildings, seminary classes and other church centers throughout the world. While the rest of the world today is falling into a downward spiral, other churches are getting smaller and it seems everyone is turning away from God, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to grow and be a light to the world, shining truth in places many would rather have darkness.
As I said before, Joseph is no different from any other prophet in the scriptures. In the Bible, Noah was laughed at and persecuted when he claimed there would be a flood over the entire earth. Moses had one heck of a time getting Pharaoh to let the Hebrews leave Egypt, and then when they did leave and while Moses was conversing with the Lord on the mountain, the people started to murmur and wonder whether Moses was a prophet or not. Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den just for PRAYING! In the Book of Mormon, Lehi had to flee Jerusalem or be killed. Abinadi was put in prison and tried before the king who then sentenced him to death by fire. Mormon and Moroni had to fight for their lives in a world where the Gospel and righteousness was disintegrating. In every single one of these prophet’s lives, none of them backed down and denied their experiences with the Lord. Many of them even told of how they had seen God. All of them are persecuted in pretty terrifying ways. All of them face death at one point or another, in some form or another and yet, all of them testify that God is real and continue to preach about faith, repentance, and everything else that will bring us back into God’s presence. And it isn’t just prophets who do this.
Do you really think that ANYONE would give their life for something that they have any inkling of doubt might not true?
Jesus Christ is the ultimate example. He was persecuted in the worst ways – many who were against Him tried to devise anything that might trip Him up and get Him tangled in His words. Even the devil himself tried to tempt the Savior. Nothing worked and our Redeemer was beaten and hung on a cross without any complaint because He knew His Father’s work and He knew it is all true. He didn’t doubt, nor did He fear because He knew what was right.
I’ve thought long and hard about this, and because of my experiences that I have every day and because of my constantly growing testimony and conversion, I can honestly say that I am willing to give my life to defend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am willing to die rather than deny that the Book of Mormon is true or that Joseph Smith was a prophet. But most importantly, I would give up my last breath to declare that Jesus IS the Christ and the Savior of the world. Nothing will ever change that for me because I know through my conversations with God what’s true and what’s not. Yes, I will ask questions as I go through my life. Yes, I will run into things I don’t understand. But I’m finding that the more questions and misunderstandings I have, the more I turn to my Heavenly Father. He is the One we can turn to for answers and He is the One who will never lie to us and He will ALWAYS answer us. Our Father in Heaven WANTS us to understand His word. He WANTS us to have questions so that our faith can be made stronger. He loves us enough to give us the commandments to go to church, read our scriptures and pray because those are the places we find questions and answers.
The reason I’m so happy is because I have the fulness of the Gospel in my life and because every day I seek for answers and strength. Every day I turn to the Lord and every day, I know He is with me. I can feel the vast difference there is between having the Spirit with me and not. It’s uncomfortable, dark, and dreary when I don’t have His constant companionship. I hate that feeling, and am constantly working to be worthy of His presence.
I know this Gospel is true – every single bit of it. Heavenly Father has blessed me with that knowledge, even when I don’t fully understand it all. I know that the Book of Mormon is true – all it does is testify of Jesus Christ! Because the Book of Mormon is true, I know two things. First, that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, seer, revelator and translator. Without the power of God (the Priesthood), Joseph would not have been able to do what he did in bringing the kingdom of God to the Earth once again. Second, I also know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer, that He knows me and is aware of my trials and tribulations and that He loves me unconditionally. I am not perfect – I make so many mistakes and I don’t always do what I know I should do, but because of Jesus Christ, I can have second chances, and third chances and as many chances as I need to work towards being perfect, complete and whole.
Without Christ, I can become nothing, but without knowledge of who He is and who I can become, I am nothing.