My Conversion Story

I was raised as a  Catholic. My father was a devout Catholic his entire life, and my mother was a convert to the church.   We never missed church on Sunday.   They sent me to Catholic Grade and High School.  I was also an altar boy, which meant I helped the priest at Mass.  Actually I have some great memories of growing up as a Catholic, but as I grew older, I questioned things.   During my teen years, my mom and I had many discussions about religion, but despite her strong testimony of the truthfulness of the Catholic Church, my doubts were not resolved.

Jumping ahead a few years  – my college career at Virginia Tech was a turning point in my life in many ways.  It was my first experience of being on my own, it’s where I had my first date, where I met the first woman I fell in love with – followed by my first rejection.  It’s also where I had my first real exposure to religious beliefs outside the Catholic Church.  In particular I remember attending meetings of Campus Crusade for Christ and making some friends who were quite active in the group.  I wasn’t easily swayed, however, and could never quite embrace their beliefs or life-style either.

After college, the next step was to get a good job, get married, and settle down – at least that’s what I thought.  Instead I returned home to Ohio in the Summer of 1975 without any marriage prospects and for a while felt like my life was over.  I had a decent job as a mechanical engineer at the Timken Co. – I worked for them all through college as part of a co-op program.  Upon graduation, Timken made a good job offer although I really didn’t like working there very much.  But I only received one other offer – from an General Dynamics, an aerospace company in Texas – a lower offer and even less appealing than Timken.  So I chose the lesser of two evils and went back to Timken.

But the job I had disliked during college turned into a job I hated as a graduate.  In retrospect it wasn’t really a bad job, but the rest of my life was just not going as I had hoped.  I didn’t like the idea of living alone in an apartment, so I went back to the family farm to live.  Unfortunately things had changed while I was gone and I didn’t really fit in very well anymore.  There was no bedroom for me anymore so my mother let me use the front porch.  It was small and cold, but most of all, I remember feeling alone and almost in a hopeless situation, despite the fact that I had a good job and plenty of potential.  My failure to find a wife in college was now seeming like a major problem.  I didn’t feel there was a way of meeting anyone now.  While my brothers and sisters were enjoying their lives and friends, I was often alone, and feeling humiliated and depressed.

What I really wanted to do was leave everything and start a new life.  Summer was my favorite time of year, but the Summer of 1975 was not a happy one for me.  One August night when I was feeling particularly low, the thought came to me that I should quit my job and travel.  Initially the thought seemed like too much to bear.  Where would I go?  How would I survive?  What would I do at the end?  But the more I thought about it, the better I felt about it.  It was like a light had come on and I suddenly felt good and excited about my life.

I spent the Fall and Winter planning my trip.  I made of list of things I would need to take.  I made some modifications to my car so it would hold everything, including removal of the passenger seat and placement of a sheet of plywood which I could sleep on.  There was also room under the plywood for my bicycle.  I also bought an atlas of the U.S. and took books out of the library about national parks, and other places I could visit.  I had a purpose now, and felt good about things.

I quit my job in early May of 1976, having saved up over $10,000 (a lot of money in those days).  I had a number of college friends as well as family members that were scattered in various states.  They become my main focus, and gave me a kind of framework for my travels.   The first leg of the trip included Tennessee (visited Ed Seifert and his wife there), Virginia (visited Kevin (Rock Man – can’t remember his last name) and Steve Krawczel there), and Maryland (visited John Kysztofiak and his wife there).  Then I headed north along the coast, reaching Maine.  Then headed west into Michigan to visit Uncle Don (my mother’s half brother) and Aunt Isabelle.

That took about a month.  Although I didn’t originally plan to return to Ohio, I decided to return home for a few days and make some changes to my car so I could store things a little better.  Then I was off again – fist to Illinois to visit my Cousin Don and his family (son of Uncle Don).

I can’t remember exactly where I was, but one night it began to pour while I was trying to sleep in my car.  At one point, I discovered that the hatch window in the back wasn’t fully closed so I found a pair of plyers and tried to pull the window shut from inside the car.  The glass suddenly shattered into a million pieces and I had glass and water all over the inside of the car.  I wasn’t funny at the time, but seems that way now.

I also lost my wallet at some point so had to deal with that.

I’m not mentioning all the places I visited.  I spent a fair amount of time visiting national parks and other places of interest.

Anyway, from Illinois I headed straight to Texas to visit Dave Myers.  For a time, I considered settling down there even got a job as a draftsman  – there was a strike going on at the time so I had to cross picket lines to get to work – a new experience for me.

But after 3 weeks, I had tired of the place and decided to move on.  I headed toward the Northwest, stopping in Denver and Salt Lake City.  It was early August when I reached Salt Lake.  There I was introduced to the Mormons, which left a lasting impression upon me.  I still remember getting off the freeway (I-80) at State Street and heading north.  You can see the capitol building from several miles south and State Street is lined up exactly with it.  It was an impressive sight for me.  I toured Temple Square, met a man there who spoke with me at some length and gave me copy of the Book of Mormon.  He even offered to give me a tour of the area the following day.  I politely turned him down, but kept his name and address.  I spent the night in Salt Lake and continued on the next day, but had a special feeling about the place.

Next stop was Yellowstone Park where I got a job as a dishwasher and lived in a dormitory with other workers.   Then I had a car accident one day while doing some sight-seeing in the park – I rear-ended someone who had stopped to pick up someone.  No one was hurt, but the car (a AMC Gremlin) wasn’t driveable after that, and I couldn’t figure out how to get it fixed without spending more than it was worth.  I ended up calling a towing company who offered to tow it out of the park for free in exchange for parts.

I had always wanted to have the experience of hitchhiking so I now had an opportunity.  My next destination was Seattle, Washington where my mother was from and had family there.  I sent many of my things on ahead by bus, packed up what I could carry in a backpack, then found a spot along a fairly busy road out of the park, and waited for a ride with my thumb up.  I was there for quite some time, and might have been there for many hours, except a co-worker from the park stopped after recognizing me.  He gave me a ride to a major freeway and from there I easily got rides with truckers for the rest of the trip.

I stayed in Seattle with my Uncle Gene for about 3 weeks, purchased a truck and outfitted it.  Then I headed south to visit two uncles in California.  Shortly after purchasing the truck I discovered that the engine had a major problem – something about the pistons being loose.  It was driveable, but needed to be fixed.  While visiting Uncle Tony’s family in Carmel, I took it to a shop where they took the engine apart, but then had trouble getting new parts because of a strike going on at Ford.  After waiting over a week for parts, I finally told them to put the engine back together, and I traveled on.  I didn’t want to wear out my welcome more than I already had.

The next stop was Los Angeles to visit my Uncle Gary and his wife.  I was with them about a week I think, and then came the moment of decision.  It was now November and I had run out of places to go.  I didn’t want to return to Ohio.  The only place that had really made an impression upon me was Salt Lake City.  I also remember reading a story about the Salt Lake in a newspaper while in LA, which shed a positive light on the city.  So, after some thought, I made the fateful decision to return to Salt Lake and see if I could start a life there.

I arrived in late November, and without going into all the details, I found an apartment, a job, and was soon immersed in the Mormon culture.  I met the missionaries and they began teaching me.  I also attended church on Sunday occasionally, and even took part in young single adult activities.  In fact, after a while, many people began to think I was a member of the church.  You would think that baptism was sure to follow shortly, but I was stubborn.

Although I liked the Mormons, and even had a desire to become one of them, my lack of spiritual skills (that’s one way to describe it) kept me from accepting baptism.  I just wasn’t sure enough about the church to make that kind of commitment.  Things went on this way for some time.  I continued meeting with the missionaries and attending church, but also felt obligated to attend Catholic mass and meet with the local priest there in Salt Lake.

Time passed – nearly two years as a matter of fact.  In the meantime, I had purchased a house.  I was continuing to meet with the missionaries and in fact had gone through several sets of them and still couldn’t make a commitment.  I tried fasting a number of times – two days in a row one time and three another time (although I did cheat a little by drinking water).  The sign or revelation I was seeking didn’t happen.  In September of 1978 (approx.), the missionaries were teaching me a complete set of lessons for the second or third time.  After the final lesson, and with no real progress having been made, they weren’t sure what to do next.  We had set an appointment, nevertheless.  At our meeting, I was surprised when they announced that they were going to have to stop meeting with me.  They had prayed about it and felt that’s what they needed to do.  This was more than a surprise – it was a shock – and I found it quite upsetting.

After they left, I decided to go for a long evening walk to work off the depression I was feeling.  I didn’t live far from downtown Salt Lake and I made my way to the Temple and the adjacent Visitors Center.  Inside I met one of the workers and we started talking.  I’m not sure why, but I decided to tell him all about my experiences with the church and the missionaries.  I didn’t hide the fact that I was feeling low about what seemed like a rejection by the missionaries.  He then counseled me to pray – but not a normal prayer.  He felt impressed to advise me to pray until I received an answer – up to 4 hours, as I recall!  I returned rather late that evening to my house, but pondered his words, and then decided to try it without further delay.  I knelt beside my bed and started to pray.  I prayed and prayed and prayed.  I got sleepy and did fall asleep for a little while, but after 4 hours I still hadn’t received an answer and decided that was enough.  I got into bed and went to sleep.

The next day (I’m pretty sure it was the next day anyway), I went to work as usual, but was called into the boss’s office.  He informed me that they needed to lay me off.  What a shock!  That was totally unexpected.  I was told to leave as soon as I packed up my things.  I spent the next few days in a state of depression, but knew I needed to find something else.  One of the employment ads I answered led me to a recruiting agency where I was very surprised to meet the very same man I had met less than 2 weeks earlier at the Temple Square Visitors Center.  He was an employment recruiter.

To make a long story short, he found me a job within a week or so in Springville, UT.  I commuted from Salt Lake for a while and moved there in December 1978.  My next door neighbor was Bob Hatch.  He was a very spiritual man and a Latter Day Saint.  Over the coming months we developed a close friendship, although he was more like a father to me.  He invite me to church, and taught me more about the gospel.  He also helped me see that I already had a testimony, although I still was reluctant to get baptized.  The job in Springville didn’t last too long.  I grew bored and found a job back in Salt Lake City July of 1979.

In Salt Lake, I once again began meeting with the missionaries and also attended church there.  I should also mention that I had met a girl – Becky Smith – in Springville who also influenced me.  I fact I was quite in love with her, but she had made it clear that she couldn’t get serious with a non-member.

I knew I couldn’t continue on in the same way forever.  I had been investigating the church for 3 years now.  It was time for a decision.  I prayed fervently for an answer.  I also did quite a bit of fasting, but always felt disappointed that I wasn’t getting an answer.  I even began paying tithing at the suggestion of the Bishop.

I don’t remember all the details now, but after having a particularly good meeting with the missionaries, and praying some more, I realized that I had a tremendous desire to join the church.  Not only that, but I realized that I didn’t need the sign that I had been seeking all that time.  The sign (or rather whispering of the spirit) had actually been given to me 3 years earlier when I first toured Temple Square.  And the voice had grown louder and louder all the time.  When I finally made the decision to be baptized, it was like a tremendous load had been lifted off me and was just a wonderful feeling.

Bob Hatch baptized me in the Grant 8th Ward on October 13, 1979. I still remember exiting the baptismal font with Bob and feeling an overwhelming sense of joy.  I hugged him and exclaimed “I did it!”, although felt later it would have more appropriate to have said “WE did it!” because of all his efforts.

You can read more about the events leading to my baptism in a talk I gave in the Los Lunas Ward.

For weeks after my baptism, I remember how great it felt to finally be able to say “I’m a Mormon!”.  I had no regrets.  My first calling was as the Young Single Adult representative for the ward.

Now that I had taken the major step to join the church, I assumed I was finally ready to get married.  I was now 27 years old and had been wanting to get married for many years, but this goal continued to elude me.  Frankly, I was hoping that Becky Smith would marry me, but it was not to be. Shortly after my baptism, I lost contact with her forever.

As time progressed, I once again began to be eager for a change in my life.  I considered another job change.  I also considered joining the Peace Corp., but those options didn’t seem right.  The idea of serving a mission was not on my mind at all in the first few months following baptism – after all, I was well past the normal missionary age –  but the idea gradually occupied more and more of my thoughts.  About a year went by and after speaking with my Bishop, I finally had a firm feeling that serving a mission was the right thing to do.  At age 28, I needed special permission, but church leaders reluctantly agreed to let me go.

I had saved enough money to completely finance my own mission.  I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say that preparing for my mission – especially the last minute preparations – were quite an experience, largely because I had no family support.  I had to dispose of a truck, motorcycle, and airplane, along with everything I else owned before I got to the MTC.  Those last few days were exciting times!

I entered the missionary training center on Feb.12th, 1981.  Going there was a real shock to my system, however.   I was used to living alone, and suddenly being forced to live in close quarters with young men much younger than myself was stressful.  Added to that was the tremendous pressure to learn Japanese, memorize lesson plans and scriptures.  I was there for 2 months and steadily fell further and further behind schedule the whole time.  To top it off, I was made a District Leader, which meant additional responsibilities and time commitment.  Actually, the thing that really topped it off, was the fact that I felt I had an inadequate testimony.  It was a constant worry that I didn’t have a real testimony – kind of a continuation of the feelings I’d had the previous 4 years.

I will fast forward now several months into my mission.  I decided to hold a special fast one day in an effort to resolve my feelings of inadequacy as a missionary.  I selected a special spot to pray outdoors late in the evening for the purpose of gaining the sure knowledge that I felt I needed.  This is not unlike things I had done during the years that I investigated the church.  I’m not sure how long I prayed that evening – 1 or 2 hours I believe, and still didn’t get the special witness I wanted, but I did receive an impression – almost a voice telling me that I already had everything I needed.  I had enough knowledge to keep me going and remain fully active in the church.  Anything more than that was unnecessary, and in fact would have been a burden.

To this day, I feel that my testimony is inadequate and yet I do believe in the gospel with all my heart and have not had one day of inactivity.  I don’t think I am alone in this.  We all must live by faith.  Even the Prophet of the Church does not know all things.  I know that I have been given sufficient faith, and sufficient determination, to remain faithful.  I have met others who have received stronger witnesses than I.  Yet many of them have been unable to remain active in the church.  This only proves that spiritual signs and witnesses are not necessarily enough.

We have to resolve on our own to live by faith, doing what we know is right.  I know that the teachings of our church leaders are true, and that Jesus Christ is the head of this church.  I have felt Heavenly Father’s love and know he has a special mission for me, as he does for all of us.  I know that Heavenly Father deeply cares about all of his children – even those that the world considers unimportant.  As I write this, I feel the spirit touching me, and because of this, I know these things are true.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

One thought on “My Conversion Story

  1. In the final judgment we will not be judged by how our testimony compares with others or with some measuring stick. We will be judged by what we did with the testimony we had. Look to the Parable of the Talents. Whether we are the servant with 10, 5 or 1, the reward is the same if we magnify what we have.

    You have the marvelous Catholic gift: guilt, we have given the Jews a serious run on who has the most developed sense of guilt. We all need to get past it. Feel guilty for the unrepented wrongs you have done, repent of the wrongs you are responsible for and don’t worry about what you should have done, either do it or forget it.

    Analytical loners are the best. Social skills are not difficult: be kind, listen carefully and show love without shame to man and woman alike. It’s OK to say “I don’t know what to say”. It is part of honesty. But be advised, honest, open conversation will scare most people. I’ve made the change from loner to wanderer to social fish several times with success. You can too, if that is what you want.

    Cheer up, you’ve done most things right, if somewhat in unusual order. What you want most will be yours when you let it go. (this last is something heard from Baba Ram Das 40 years ago, it’s all mystic but its really about performance anxiety, “all the world’s a stage and we but players on it”)


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