The challenge was to do missionary work.
(This picture is of my brother and I at my baptism on the 6th of November, 2010 when I was fourteen and he was seventeen. He baptised me by the Aaronic Priesthood of God)
I thought about who I might be able to extend the invitation to the church to, but all of my friends are members. I don't work (Well...I do! But I babysit. I don't think a one year old and a three year old are going to accept an invitation to the gospel) and I don't attend public school (I do Open College online). So, I thought, who do I have to invite? I thought of personal and specific ways for myself and of people to invite, or at least to talk to about the gospel to. One thought popped up in mind;
SHARE YOUR CONVERSION STORY AND YOUR TESTIMONY ON YOUR PERSONAL BLOG
I was very excited and felt the Spirit confirm this idea. Not only is it personal to me, but it's a way I can truly get my feelings out in a simple and clear way. I'm not the most eloquent in speech, most of the time I just have verbal vomiting and nothing clear comes out. But on my blog, I feel comfortable enough to share these very special things to me, in hopes that it might bring anyone closer to Jesus Christ.
I'll begin with my conversion story. I have told this story many times, but each time has been different. It's been cut shorter, or more detailed, or incredibly brief. It's always been different according to the needs of those who hear it.
The first time I heard about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was from my Uncle (Mum's brother). He had been a member for a few years before I took any personal interest. When I think of it now, nothing really stuck out to me. I never took notice of things he did differently, or how he spoke differently. I was a selfish teenager who was focused inward on her own problems, her own insecurities I didn't think about others because I was so self-centred in my own problems and worries. I had my first boyfriend, but for a short time before he broke up with me (Oh, the teenager angst!). My best friend at that time was only thirteen and was actively drinking alcohol, shared with others of her sexual history, and consistently fought with me. We fought over many things, especially values and personal morals. I never wanted to drink, I never saw the allure of it. I never wanted to 'sleep around' before I was married (This was a principle my parents, who believed in God but did not belong to any church, taught me growing up. It was instilled in me, and I truly wanted to wait). My best friend and I then had our one last big fight over personal integrity, which led to us going on different paths. So at this time, I was around thirteen to fourteen a lost teenager who had the simplest and basic Christian morals that had no foundation besides knowing that my Saviour, Jesus Christ, died for me. I have always known, I can't particularly explain how or why I knew so fiercely. I knew that there was a God, I knew that Jesus Christ died for me. I knew I wanted to save myself for marriage, though I had no spiritual background or influence besides believing it kept me morally protected. I knew I didn't want to drink, smoke, or partake in any drugs or substances of any kind. I was always a modestly well-dressed young woman, who absolutely hated wearing low-cut shirts, short skirts, or revealing dresses. I didn't have any doctrinal background for that either, I did it because I felt comfortable with it, regardless of what others were doing. I was, in a way, already a latter-day saint before I was.
Now, knowing this background of my history, I will say that I wasn't depressed. I wasn't 'searching for happiness'. I was just an aimless teenager who had been broken up with, and lost her best friend. I was only upheld by my belief in God, though my problem was that I didn't actively do anything. I didn't go out to churches, I didn't pray to know, I didn't do anything. I was one of those, 'All I have is faith, and faith is enough' type of people. I just kind of drifted through life, going day by day, aimlessly like many other people do in the world. I have always believed in something greater. When others would tell me, "You only live once, Ash. You have to make the best of this life, so live in the moment! Get wasted! Be loose!", the only though that I would have was..."This can't be it. To live every day and then die. We weren't created from a blind accident, or a coincidence. There is a purpose, there is meaning. I just haven't found it yet'. I believed in Heaven, but I was hesitant about Hell... It made me disconnected from the Lord in a way. Why would a Father love only certain children? Why wouldn't He do as much as He could to help His children? Every religion I was aware of taught that you either follow commandments or you burn in hell. You either take this one opportunity to choose Jesus Christ, or you go to hell. You either go to Heaven, or you go to hell.
Now, for me personally, that made me even more confused. Thinking about it, all these questions and concerns I had led me to being baptised into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was being prepared before I was even aware of it!
I actually knew nothing about the " Mormon Church " . The only way I was aware of Joseph Smith and Mormons were from a South Park episode! It was absolutely useless in helping me learn more about the church itself, but it planted the name of 'Joseph Smith' in my mind.
Now, when older brother began to go to Church with my uncle, I will be honest - I did mock him. I have repented and apologised profusely for this with him, and gratefully he had forgiven me straight away. I was one of those people who had told him he was being brainwashed into a cult, that he was being conned. How foolish was I to mock something I didn't even have the slightest knowledge of! I was basing all these accusations and insults off things I heard other people say. I based them off the internet, an episode from a TV show that mocks everything. I was being a immature fool.
Though, during these mockings, there was always a hint of, "I want to believe it's true. Prove it to me" inside what I was saying. Sure, I'd say in the most sinister voice I could,
"You're a fool. You're following like a blind sheep to the slaughter house. You even told me that they ask you to pay tithing, and that it's a commandment! What commandment of the Lord asks you to pay money to go to Heaven? It's a cult, a lie, Michael. Don't be baptised"
Yes. I truly did say that. But looking back now, I saw that what I was really asking was -
"You're faithful. You're following the Saviour, who died for you and loves you. You love Him so much that you're willing to put Him first, above money and family, aren't you? You are righteously following the commandments. It's true, isn't it? Teach me, help me understand the things that you do. What is it that you know that I don't that makes you so happy? Please, lead me to baptism I want to love the Saviour too"
My heart knew it, but I wasn't going to let my pride be shattered. It was a few months after my brother's baptism, and months of persecution for his choice to be baptised, before he invited me. I was hesitant. (A quick note to those in the Church who want to do missionary work and invite your friends/family/strangers to the gospel. A majority of those whom you ask will not be offended if you ask. I believe this also, that if I were to ask my family members, they would scoff and decline, straining our relationship. This is NOT the case! You must be faithful in this. If they do become insulted, stay firm. Love them even more. Show that you care!) I wasn't sure, I was nervous and unsure of what to expect. He had invited me to come with him and my uncle to Church on the Sabbath day. I don't quite remember what I was feeling, or what went through my head when I made my choice, but I knew that I wanted to know more. I was not offended but in actuality, I felt my brother's love for me. He was his sister's keeper. He was looking out for my best interests, and that's what I felt from him. I didn't think he was just trying to trick me into a pool then baptise me without my knowledge! I didn't think they were going to pin me down and force me to believe, or walk into a room and everybody is wearing cult-like robes. I knew, from my brother's example, that they all loved the Lord and simply wanted those whom they love to feel that love also.
I actually went to church wearing jeans, my black hoodies and jeans, and black heavy boots. I was a borderline punk :P I was like 'Where's Whalley' but in a crowd of black suits and dresses. I was so nervous, especially being such a shy person, I felt like I was going to implode from being overwhelmed. So many people came up to me to shake my hand, some even hugged me! My brother led me around and I clung to his arm like a stubborn child. Some young women instantly introduced themselves and took me under their wing when Michael couldn't be with me. At no point did I ever feel lost, or alone. We sat down in the Sacrament Hall and they conducted their meetings (how funny is it that I didn't realize at that moment that I would be doing this for the rest of my life?). Prayers were given, the beautiful hymns played and the congregation (the members of the Church) sang in unison of love and praise for the Lord.
I want to stress this point.
I sat there, and with wet eyes, I felt like I had truly returned home.
I watched all those around me sit in absolute reverent silence as they ate and drank of the Sacrament. No one spoke, all bowed their heads down in silent prayer and reflection. I did not partake of it. I knew in my heart, my own Spirit, that this was something special and not for me. I watched my brother with innocent observance as he had the sacrament, and the passion in his eyes. I was like a kid in a toy or candy story. I just wanted to look at everything, take everything in and learn more.
After the Sacrament Meeting, all the members dissipated into different classes. Adults were separated into meetings called, 'Priesthood' and 'Relief Society' for men and women. The primary children all ran together, ranging from babies to pre-teens, towards their classrooms. I stood there, nervously, as my brother explain he had to leave and I couldn't come with. Another Young woman came up to me and guided me around, always sitting next to me and explaining anything and everything I didn't know or understand. She acted like I was her newly found sister, someone she had to look after and watch over. I honestly felt the love so strongly, and it was what I imagined, in a glimpse, of how the Saviour felt about me. I felt like I had worth, I was an individual child of God in the presence of other children of God. Never was I ignored, or the young women grouped off and excluded me. The Young women even went slowly during their meetings to spend time explaining everything they did, such as prayers, spiritual thoughts (Someone shares a scripture), singing hymns, and the lessons. I felt like someone had chucked me into a new culture, new words and new terms that I had never heard before, and my brain was in catatonic over flooding mode of information. I was absolutely stunned (and even shocked) at how often they prayed too! At the start of every meeting, they'd choose (or someone would volunteer) someone to say the prayer. At the very end of every meeting, the same thing would happen...for every single meeting.
After going to Church for the first time, I absolutely passed out on the couch. Every single time. I kind of felt like Moses, who after he was transfigured on the mount, he fell into a deep sleep. I felt crushed by the spiritual weight of everything that was coming at me.
I loved it.
I continued going to church for a few months, making some extremely close friends and learning more about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We had a lesson in Young women's about praying and asking in prayer if this Church was true, if the Book of Mormon was truly another testament of Jesus Christ, and if Joseph Smith was honestly a prophet called of God. That night, I prayed and received my answer.
It was true. All of it. Every single prayer, word, doctrine, it was all true. The Holy Ghost testified so strongly with my own Spirit, that I felt like the Lord was telling me Himself. I felt like a bright light had be switched on in the middle of a dark room, which was my soul and mind.
Now, I wasn't baptised on the spot. I didn't grab Michael, force him to baptised me in a kiddie swimming pool or anything. It was actually a few months later (One or two) where, in the middle of a Young Women's meeting, I just said out loud that I wanted to be baptised. In front of the Bishop (A man called to watch over the members of the Church is this area which is called a Ward). He instantly pulled me aside and asked me if that was true, and through tears I nodded my head. He assigned a young women to me while he found my uncle and older brother, and she took me to the missionaries. I hadn't actually even told my parents at this time! I explained to my brother, uncle, and the missionaries and we all decided of how we would do this.
My parents, when my brother was baptised, almost didn't agree to it. He was not yet eighteen, and not legally allowed to be baptised without parental consent. I was absolutely fearful of what my parents would say, how they would respond to this new found desire to follow Jesus Christ, and what they would do.
When I had told my parents, my Dad was the first to shun me. We didn't speak for a long time, though we lived in the same house. We gave the normal pleasantries here and there, occasionally he'd ask me a question concerning the Church, and then would quickly disappear. My mum was supportive, but was strained. On one hand, she had her two oldest children who were joining a religion they had no knowledge about and her husband and youngest child who were adamant about the church being a cult on the other hand. It was definitely the hardest time for my family, many contentious fights and arguments erupted before my baptism. Some even became drastic, but I was greatly blessed by my Heavenly Father for nothing to escalate too far. I was baptised on the 6th of November, 2010, by my older brother who held the Aaronic Priesthood of God. It was honestly the happiest day of my life so far.
You know that moment, after school or work, where you're absolutely gutted and exhausted and all you want to do is come home, throw everything off your shoulders and relax in the comfortable sense of familiarly of your home?
That's how I felt after I was baptised. An enormous weight fell off my shoulders and I, for the first time, felt like I was in my comfortable home. I felt a peace that is indescribable, a comfort that only comes from Jesus Christ and His infinite Atonement.
Now, it was so easy path from then on. I didn't get baptised and then everything turned good and well. Fights and arguments were still present. Tears of pain and frustration were shed in the darkness of night. It was tough. There were times where I really struggled and thought many times, "Is it even worth it? Why do I even do this?". I knew though, deeply in my Spirit, that I did this because I loved the Lord. Jesus Christ died for me because of love. I would endure persecution and trials because I love Him.
Slowly, but surely, my brother and I were able to slowly introduce the gospel into our home. My older brother spoke to my Dad and helped answer some of his questions and soothe his concerns. I spoke to my mum about what I had learnt in Young Women's, I asked her to help me sign off and plan goals and services projects to complete my Personal Progress (A program designed to help Young Women in the Church provide service opportunities), and she helped me memorise and sign off scripture masteries in my Early Morning Seminary Classes. Finally one of my Personal Progress challenges and goals was to invite my mum to come to Church on Sunday with us. I was super nervous, fearing that our relationship would be strained. I had asked a couple of times, but she politely declined due to work, or other busy appointments.
Finally, one Sunday afternoon as we began to leave for Church...I heard my mum call out from the other side of the house that she was coming and to wait for her. The first time she came to Church, she cried. She instantly took to the gospel, and accepted it wholeheartedly. We began working to have the missionaries teach my parents and little brother, and by May 2011, my whole family was baptised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
I joined the Church because I knew it was the Lord's church. As soon as I had sat in that first Sacrament Meeting, I knew that this was the restored church that Jesus Christ established when he was upon the earth. All my questions, concerns and deepest inquiries about God and religion were answered within my first lesson with the missionaries. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet called of God just like prophets of old, like Moses, Abraham, and Joseph of Egypt. As I learnt more about this faithful, righteous man, I saw the hands of God work through Him. The Book of Mormon was printed, and is another testament of Jesus Christ. It does not replace, nor disprove the Holy Bible, but it works together to clarify, explain, and bear a stronger witness of the Saviour. I know that there is a living Prophet in this day because God is continually revealing new truths unto His Children.
I know that this is the true Church. I have no doubt. I have seen wondrous miracles, I have felt the Holy Ghost testify to my very Spirit of the things I knew before. I have personally experienced things I knew could only be from God.
This gospel of Jesus Christ has rejuvenated my purpose in life. I keep the commandments and desire to serve a mission for 18 months because I love my Heavenly Father, my Redeemer and Saviour Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost that continually guides me. I was converted to this gospel because I accepted this gospel in the Pre-existence. I love my Father, and my Older Brother Jesus Christ. My life has dramatically changed since I've been baptised, and only for the good. Despite family persecution, despite more sacrifices and more challenges than I anticipated, I wouldn't give them up for anything.
I accept them as a disciple of Christ.
I desire that all could feel the power and love that Jesus Christ has for them, that they would have the gospel in their lives and to feel this continual peace and comfort that only comes from the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I want to leave this testimony, along with all the other testimonies that have been given from Prophets and Apostles of Jesus Christ. I know that my Redeemer Lives. He Lives. There is no greater truth than that.
These lyrics are from the hymn 193, "I stand all amazed". I want to leave this hymn, which is one of my personal favourites that has affected me deeply.
God bless you!
I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!
I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine,
That he should extend his great love unto such as I,
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!
I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!