This has been a long work in process, and I believe it's finally time to share it. With the encouragement, and inspirational loved ones around me (Friends and Family), I've finally found the courage to post up this very personal story to me...and one that I only really share when I go teaching with the Missionaries to help those who have not experienced the gospel to see how it is real, it is alive, and it has blessed not only me but my family.
This is the story of my Family's conversion to the Church of Jesus
You've read my own personal conversion story...but I wasn't the start of this story. I was probably the mid-point. The point that you reach after you've climbed the steep hill and you have that brief moment of, "Is this really happening? Have I really made it?"
My Uncle was the first to be baptised into the Church. He actually was in the Church for a while before we even began to consider joining the Church. I remember him coming over, and being very different. He was still my uncle, the one that I grew up with and said lame jokes like an Uncle would...but it seemed like nothing could ever really phase him. I remember sometimes swearing around him, and getting a sense that that was something we didn't do around him anymore. I didn't really understand why, being around the age of 10-13 and being a selfishly focused pre-teen.
But around mid 2010, my older brother began his own journey. He went through things that I won't share here, but he was able to spend time with my Uncle as he experienced things in life that he needed to talk to someone about, and as they both talked about gospel doctrines and my uncle was able to share his testimony where appropriate, my Brother (Michael) began to become curious about the church and began to 'experiment upon the word'. Now, at this time in our family, we weren't the closest. We were a normal family, with normal difficulties and normal issues that all families face. The teenage daughter who spends more time in her room than outside of it, an older son beginning the age of 17 and beginning to see a whole another side of the world which included alcohol, girls, and amongst other things, the complete lack of faith in God. I do know that Michael told me of a 'click' that happened for him, and through his own personal conversion and experimenting, he soon made the decision to be baptised.
This caused an utter chaotic confusion throughout the family. I'm not going to lie. You have my father, David, who already had a christian faith that he believed in...so to hear that Michael wanted to join the 'Mormon Church', my father was furious and completely believed that Michael was joining a cult. He began to believe that my uncle, Phi, had persuaded and convinced Michael to join this cult, and that was unacceptable. Then you had my mother, who while trying to be supportive and a loving mother, was torn between my Father's decision that this Church was no good and a cult and that Michael would not be baptised with my Parent's permission. My mum was curious, but this time in my family was very sensitive, and my brother's decision was kind of a tipping point for us. Then you had me, who was fourteen years old. The only way I had heard about the Mormon Church was through South Park, and even then it didn't even really make any impact of knowledge on me about what they believed, what they were about, and what they lived. I was still a selfish teenager who still believed that the Universe revolved around a Sun-sized Ashleigh and everyone else was kind of an orbiting moon, without their own goals or dreams or fears. I didn't really know how to react to Michael's decision, and so as I spent more time with my Dad who, in order to gain more insight on what Michael was wanting to do, started looking up Anti-mormon literature and other things that would explain to him the goods and bads (But mostly the bads), I got to hear more from my Dad's perspective and what his thoughts were...and being an impressionable teenager I just kind of believed what my Dad believed. I didn't actively mock my brother, but I couldn't help think he was a bit loony when I would over-hear what he was learning about at Church on Sundays. It took a couple of deep conversations with Michael and my parents before they finally gave him their permission, seeing as he was under 18 years of age. From where I was, I could definitely see this tear that was pulling at the seams of our family. Plans were set, talks were given, people were chosen for prayers and families were asked to bring meals to the baptism.
I still remember my Big Brother's baptismal day. My dad, myself, and my little brother (Who was only 11 at the time, and had become my Father's shadow) walked up to the chapel like it was a funeral. With happy smiles and cheers and welcomes all around us, it almost felt like they were mocking us and the fact that we didn't really consent to this. I remember staying fairly close to my Dad, and my little brother never left his side. The whole baptism, my Dad and little brother did not speak. As more and more people came up to us to welcome the family, I found myself inching closer to my mum and we were led to seats in the pews. As the prayers were given, the congregation introduced and my brother's beaming smiley face and white clothes glowed in the seat in front of me...I was confused by the emotions I was feeling. While I wanted to be angry at him for what he was doing, as I listened to the talks and looked at the faces, I could only feel happiness and a warm peace that felt like a tangible blanket covering the entire place. As I observed around the room, there was my Mother crying into tissues as my Auntie, her sister, was patting her on the shoulder. I haven't seen my mother cry like that since I was 10.
My brother was then baptised by my Uncle Phi, and to see his expression as he was immersed in the waters and when he was lifted up, I remember feeling very conflicted. Like there was a war inside of me, one I knew nothing about. I was happy for Michael, as he truly was happy and there was a light on his face that hadn't been there for awhile.
It was a tough time.
At that point, I was also personally struggling in my day-to-day life. In the previous year, I had a best friend that we had a incident and didn't talk anymore, I had a boyfriend and that broke up, and I wasn't happy with life. I took to gaming quite frequently and it became very addictive. There were nights where Michael and I would just stay up talking (And the water works begins...NOW!) because he was my closest friend at that time. I told him everything that I was feeling, he saw me cry plenty of times, and he was the friend there for me always. I looked up to Michael, and I still do. He was patient with me over the months after he was baptised, as he continued frequently to invite me to Mutual Nights with all the Youth on Wednesdays, or to Church on Sundays just to see the Sacrament Meetings...and every single time he asked I declined...but each time he did ask, I expected him to be offended and get upset...but he would just smile and say under his breath, "Okay, next time" and he'd move on in the conversation. Each time he did this, something inside of me creeped out because of curiosity. There were many times I just wanted to blurt out all these questions I had for him; "Why are you so happy all the time?", "Why don't you drink, swear, sleep with any or every girl that comes your way, and why don't you watch movies with us like you used to before?", and of course, "Why am I not happy like you?". He'd sometimes share scriptures with me really excitedly, even though I had no clue what he was talking about, unless it was about Jesus Christ. See, our whole family is Christian...but we hadn't gone to Church or anything a Christian does for a very long time. We went to a church when we were kids, but we soon stopped going for personal reasons. So I was curious about the God that my brother believed in, and why my brother often referred to him as 'Heavenly Father'.
At a certain point, my brother asked me if I wanted to go to Church with him and, in that split moment, I wanted to know what his happiness felt like, so I accepted. He told me that it was okay for me to wear what I felt comfortable in, and he was to eager to make me comfortable in any way. I was quite nervous, and I remember often thinking to myself - "What did you get yourself into...?" - but when I went, all I experienced was love. My brother led me to the Young Womens' room after Sacrament Meeting and I remember telling him that I couldn't do it because I didn't know any of them and it was weird but I trusted Michael when he said that they would take care of me, and that he truly couldn't come in with me. One of the girls, her name was Kiriwai, was the biggest help to me. She took me under her wing, sitting with me at every part of the activity and answering all the questions I had. She made sure that I was always in the loop and as I listened to the lesson that the Young Women were being taught, I could help but agree with it. It felt right to me, what they were saying and testifying of.
After that, I continued going to Church with my brother and Uncle every Sunday, and even bought my very first church dress from a thrift store, because I felt too uncomfortable to come in my jeans and boots. Soon enough, I was going to the Mutual activities and the Missionaries at that time would always go out of their way to say hello to me when they saw me. The first time I came to Church in my dress and flats, I distinctly remember the feeling that you get when you return home after a long, tireless journey. I remember feeling this sense of open warm arms from a parent. I wanted this feeling to remain for as long as it could.
Over the next couple of months, I spent more and more time with the Youth Program, making one of my closest friends, Savannah Dias, through it. As Youth, we were preparing for a 5-day half walk/half camp called 'Trek'. I was pretty pumped for it...not really knowing what to expect.
As it turned out. This is where my testimony really began to form. Trek is where I really felt my Saviour's love for me, and where I began to realise that the things I was learning, hearing, and even experiencing, were all true. I had a very special and spiritual experience on Trek that has stuck with me for a long time now as one of the most tender mercies the Lord has given me, and is something that when I reflect on, I know that He was there, waiting patiently for His Daughter to learn for herself and to come back to Him.
Around the mid of October, I began to experience mighty changes. I started reading the Book of mormon and had more and more late night discussions with my brother, and one night it happened. I experienced a light moment as I read and prayed that this was true, and he came into my room asking about something only to find his little sister crying her eyes out repeating, "It's true! It's all true". That Sunday, in the Young Women's class, I suddenly blurted out that I wanted to be baptised. With the Bishop in the class.
Everyone was freaking out, and he probably sensing by the look of utter shock on my face, escorted me out of the room and asked me if that was what I wanted to do. I nodded, and he sent me to get my Uncle and tell him. Standing beside my Uncle and Michael, we found the missionaries and began to set arrangements. Because I was only 14, I needed my parent's permission to be baptised.
I remember that Michael and Phi dealt a lot with telling my parents, as I was too scared to. My mum gave her permission, but my Dad thought about it for a couple of days without talking to me. There was a lot of tension in the family, and more outbreaks than there was after my brother was baptised. As my parents gave their permission to be baptised, and my Uncle made the arrangements, I couldn't help but think that perhaps this wasn't the greatest decision for the whole family. If one of us were baptised and it was that bad with fighting, how would it be with two members baptised?
A lot of prayer, fasting, and scripture reading happened in the weeks leading up to my baptism. I often prayed for extra protection from temptations that would make me doubt the choice of being baptised, I prayed for peace and for love in the family. It was a time where I truly relied on a higher strength that I knew that I didn't have. I was hoping everything would be okay.
Fortunately, the Young Women and the Leaders were a great source of strength for me. They prepared a song to sing to me at my baptism (Sisters in Zion) and some of them spoke at my baptism. They helped me to not be afraid, to follow the example of Jesus Christ.
I was baptised on the 6th of November, 2010, by my older brother Michael.
As the Sisters sang a beautiful rendition of 'Sisters in Zion'...
I saw my Mother cry for the third time in my life.
My Dad didn't speak very much to me for a time. It was always very strained, and awkward. He'd ask me what I had been up to, and I would tell him that I was mainly doing Church related things. I would try to speak to him about it, but you could tell it fell upon deaf ears.
For a time, I really turned to my mum for that support. But what I wasn't aware of, was that my Dad began talking to my Brother. He threw up the white flag, and surrendered his pride. It was small doses, but it was a real breakthrough. I didn't know for many months afterwards, but while I was working with my mum and sharing the things with her that I was learning about in Seminary, and also asking her to help me work on my Personal Progress, Michael was talking to Dad and sharing the gospel with him. This happened for a couple of months, until one day when Michael and I were getting ready for Church on Sunday one morning...we could hear the rustlings of someone running from the other side of the house and yelling out,
"Wait for me! I'm coming too!"
My brother and I were really astonished when my mum began coming to Church. Her first time she teared up during the talks, which still shocked me because it was weird for me to see my mum cry. I knew she was feeling the Spirit, and I knew that she was feeling the exact same sense of coming home too. After her first attendance, her first instinct was to tell my Dad. I heard them talking late one night as I was passing their room, and she was telling him all the things she experienced and felt, and how the Church was completely different to what she expected, and how he should just try it out. I could hear my Dad's hesitation from his voice, and left them to their conversation. My brother and I were keeping our hopes up, praying fervently and inviting wherever possible and talking about the Church when appropriate. While Dad and Mike worked on cars and other odd jobs, they'd talk about the gospel and particular doctrines my Dad had read on an Anti-mormon literature on the internet that was false or taken out of context. I continued to share my personal journey with my Personal Progress with my mum, and teaching her things that I had learnt in Seminary and Young Women classes. We were unsure, seeing as my Dad drunk alcohol, my mum drunk tea and there was still plenty of swearing in the house but quietened down whenever my brother or I were present in the room. We were hopeful, but sometimes times did seem really unlikely that anything would happen. We relied wholly on faith and prayer, as we continued to lead simply through our examples.
As weeks went on, my mum continually coming to Church. We had our miracle we had been praying for.
Dad got ready for Church.
As the family crammed into the car for an afternoon session of Sacrament Meeting for our Ward, I was spilling over with excitement but also subdued nervousness for how my Dad would react.
My brother led my Dad and little brother around, and I led my mum around to separate activities. It was probably the most exciting but nerve-wrecking experiences of my life.
After that experience, I noticed a significant change in my parents. My dad began to stop swearing, my mum didn't drink her tea anymore...and the biggest thing for me, and something that I had prayed for dearly, was that my Dad stopped drinking completely. It was gone. All of it. He didn't drink at all.
They continued attending Church, and It wasn't too long before my parents made the decision to be baptised together, and in March, 2011...my Dad was baptised by my older brother, and my mum was baptised by my Uncle Phi...and a couple of weeks later, my little brother was baptised too.
In September, 2012...we were able to receive one of the most beautiful ordinances this Church teaches so vicariously about, and is the only Church that does. In September, 2012, we were sealed as a family together for all time and eternity.
You may have the fanciest car, or motorbike, or house, or loads of cash and the most glamorous clothes and latest gadgets...but when you're standing there in front of your Loving Heavenly Father, will those things TRULY matter at all? Won't the things of most importance be your family, the ones who were there with you the entire journey of mortality?
I have been privileged to have had such an amazing experience of conversion. To see my loved ones be converted onto the Lord trumps anything else I will experience in this life (Besides being sealed to my future family). I know that this Church is the true and living gospel of Jesus Christ upon this Earth. It has been, and always will be. I used to say before that I believed it to be true, but through my own personal experiences and moments of tender mercies and love from my Heavenly Father, I know it's true. I know that Jesus Christ loves each and everyone single one of us, and because of that gracious and insurmountable love He died for us so that we would have a chance here in Mortality. The Plan of Salvation has been a hope and large part of knowing my purpose day-by-day here in this life, and it has helped me along the journey that I am making. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I've had experiences that I cannot explain without knowing and testifying the truth that God lives. The Book of Mormon is for every one, and that is especially for families. I know it's true. If there is one thing I'd give my own life for everyone to know, is that the Book of Mormon is the true and another living testament of Jesus Christ, and because of this, we have the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I wish everyone to feel the love that the Saviour has for them, and to experience for themselves the happiness and peace that comes from His gospel. This is my Family's conversion story. It is my personal testimony, a pinnacle and large part of my own personal testimony.
In the name of Jesus Christ,