Why I Became a Mormon: Josie’s Story

My high school days were coming to a close in the spring of 2012. I was saying goodbye to a chapter full of wonderful memories and anticipating what was to become of my future as a college student. But then, as reality began seeping in just shy of graduation, fear began to consume me. I was not quite ready to say goodbye to my life in Brooklyn Park and I soon clouded my thoughts with regrets. My fear for the future stemmed from the knowledge that nothing would stay the same once I leave. I could not quite wrap my finger around what I truly wanted or felt I needed but I wondered whether I could be any happier than now.

To get my mind off the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts,’ my best friend, Devon, invited me to a basketball game. I kindly declined his offer and asked for a rain check but he simply told me it was his last game of the year. My gut feeling was to spare an hour or two away from homework but I could not afford it. Minutes before the game began, I changed my mind and Devon was sure I would not regret it. As we arrived at the building, I realized this game was taking place in the gym of a church. I had no idea what to expect. To my surprise, everyone who greeted me was so nice and seemed so happy. I was puzzled. I wanted to ask them, Why are you so happy to meet a stranger? I could not understand.

After the game, I had so many questions for Devon. I felt so different, so light and happy. Words cannot describe the beautiful emotions I experienced. All I knew was that I did not want to let go of these new feelings I had recently discovered. I did not learn until later that night that my best friend was a Mormon.

The following week, my conversations with Devon were spent talking about the Church and gospel. I had never heard of these terms before and my interest in learning more grew and grew. He then invited me to attend seminary and I was surprised that I recognized half the faces in the class from school. I also started attending church on Sundays and Sacrament Meeting soon became the highlight of my week! So many kind individuals befriended me in the course of only a few weeks.

Josie wih friends

My incredible friends who share the same love for the gospel as I do!

Soon enough, Devon was off to Utah to attend a summer semester at Brigham Young University (BYU) before his two-year mission. At the time, I was not sure if he was the reason I had the desire to attend all these LDS events and meetings, but I remember vividly the day I walked into the chapel for Sacrament Meeting by myself and I felt this peace reside in the pit of my stomach before it enveloped my whole being in a matter of seconds. I was confident I was in the right place at the right time.

I began meeting with my original missionaries once a week for the duration of the summer with another good friend, Ethan. The meetings with the missionaries brought an excitement of learning about our Heavenly Father and the Plan of Salvation, which I learned was meant to bring happiness to all His children, including me. I also learned that the Atonement of Jesus Christ has given us the opportunity to repent of our sins and that His perfect example allows us to love one another fully. This new understanding filled me with even greater faith and peace.

Around my 18th birthday, my missionaries invited me to get baptized. I did not know how to respond so I told them that I wanted my parent’s support before accepting. That same night, I talked with my parents about the impact the Church had made so far in my life and about my desire to live the gospel. They were positive that my interest in the Church was a phase so they told me to think about what I was doing before I made any big, life-changing decisions. I knew their answer was ‘no’ so I continued to pray and read The Book of Mormon in hopes that they would change their mind. I asked them again weeks later only to get the same answer. I trusted Heavenly Father so I patiently waited for answers. I was sure that they could see the changes of my heart and again I asked, but for the next three months, their response was still ‘no.’

Disappointed, I tried to see things through their perspective and it made me feel terrible as a daughter. I felt like I was being disobedient if I persisted in going against my parent’s wishes. So, I decided that baptism was not going to be a part of my future anymore. I played it safe and went back to practice my family’s faith, Shamanism. September rolled along and I left home to move up to Duluth to further my educational career. By this time, my best friends had left on their missions.

For the first few months of college, my desire, and specifically my confidence in the truth of the restored Gospel, began to fade away at such a rapid pace. I truly felt alone on this spiritual journey once guided by my best friends. By November, I decided it was time to retire my interest and move forward with my life away from the Church. It was the hardest decision I ever made and the idea of giving up seemed so foreign to me, which made it even worse.

I felt it was only appropriate to write of my decision to Devon who was now on his mission. I cannot recall exactly what I told him but it was along the lines of thanking him for the time he spent sharing the gospel with me and showing me the love our Savior and Heavenly Father have for all Their children. I also included in this letter how much I dreaded informing my parents that they were right all along – that my involvement in the Church was simply a phase that would come to an end.

I wrote this letter the Monday before Thanksgiving because I was going home for the holidays the next day and I thought it was only right to tell my parents in person that I would no longer participate in any LDS activities. As I dropped this letter at the post office that Tuesday afternoon, I went straight to my mailbox to retrieve my letters, only to find a package – to my great surprise – from Devon.

Josie's pic from Devon

The photo of Christ I always keep close to me

In this package, Devon had sent me a personal letter and a Book of Mormon with my name engraved on it. He inserted a photo of Christ and the note attached to this particular photo said, “I always have a picture of Christ with me because it helps me always remember Him and keep Him close to my heart. So I thought you could do the same thing. I chose this one because just like he healed that girl, he can heal you from all your pains. Plus, he helped her reach her potential, the same way He will for you. And of course it is about Daughters of God.”

As I finished reading the remainder of the letter, I was at peace with myself for the first time in months. I knew what I needed to do. This personalized message delivered at exactly the time I needed it gave me a renewed testimony that my Heavenly Father loved me, and that He was aware of my struggle. When I saw my name on the Book of Mormon, I knew just how personal this gospel was for me and that I was meant to live it. Tears were streaming from my eyes but it was of sincere joy and gratitude. I decided I needed to build a firm foundation of faith in Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father by being baptized. I still get a little choked up remembering this, because through the power of the Holy Ghost, I gained my first testimony that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in fact the only true church on earth today and that the gospel has been restored.

(I would later learn from Devon that he felt prompted by the Holy Ghost in the MTC to inform me how important baptism was. He wanted to do something nice for me so he bought me an engraved Book of Mormon. Then there just seemed to be a problem every week he attempted to send it for a total of three weeks but he felt so strongly that he needed to send it right away. As we both look back on it, it was definitely from the Spirit because it came at the perfect time.)

That night when I arrived safely in my family’s home, I never ended up telling my parents that this all was a phase and that I will no longer seek a future in the Church. Instead, I shared to them why Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness mattered to me. They still held their ground on my decision to be baptized, thinking that I was too young to make any kind of rational decision. I informed them that baptism would continue to be part of my plans, if not now, then in the future. My parents loved me and only wanted the best for me. They were concerned I had a false impression of the Church. I reassured them that for the past eight months, I had the power to choose and think for myself of the things I learned from my missionaries and the scriptures. My inquisitive nature led me to ask myself why I was willing to sacrifice the life I grew up in for one that challenged who I wanted to be as a person. My answer was simple: I love the gospel and Church. I want to live righteously under the guidance of Heavenly Father and through the example of Christ. I want to be truly happy.

However, I still struggled immensely for several months with wanting my parents’ support. Could I forgive myself for disobeying my parents? Was baptism worth losing all communication with my family? How would I live with the consequences of my choices after baptism?

Josie with Elders

My missionaries who supported me throughout my spiritual journey

My answer came in a scripture one evening that put an end to all my questions and fears. “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39). Baptism was no longer a hypothetical situation, but a new reality I was going to take on. By the end of February, I prepared myself spiritually, mentally, and emotionally for this new chapter of my life. I was set on April to be baptized and I could not be any happier.

As my baptism was inching closer and closer, opposition struck at every corner of my life. I knew I would have to tell my parents of my true desires despite being disowned by them. I became well-aware that my parents would stand firm in their own right and I did the same in my faith. I was able to find the courage to tell them in a letter that I knew this was the right thing to do. It was important that they knew I would become a better person and daughter through the gospel. My decision would not change the love I had for them as my parents, but rather show me how to love them even more. With much hesitation, they gave me permission to get baptized and said they respected my tenacity. I remember that one ‘yes’ from my parents left me jumping for joy and nothing would be the same again from then on. I was content with change. Days later I would learn that they planned on attending my baptism as well!

Josie's baptism

My baptism, the beginning to a lifetime of happiness

My baptism finally came around. My smile that day did no justice to the feelings I had when I was baptized!!! I felt truly loved and supported to have my family, friends and members witness a part of my spiritual journey, one that would bring me closer to Heavenly Father and Christ. I knew how important this was for me and was glad they understood that too. It was uplifting to feel the Holy Ghost’s presence and I was comforted to know that I made the right choice all along. The next day I was confirmed and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, and it was then that I realized I could be happier than I thought a year earlier.

It has been seven months and counting since becoming a member and the blessings have been immeasurable. My relationship with my parents and family has grown stronger in love and appreciation. They have come to know that the gospel and Church has done immense good for me. Some of my siblings have followed my example and taken up an interest in the Church I love so dearly. I am grateful to have been surrounded by so many honest and loving friends who lived their faith in ways that helped me feel the truthfulness of the words of God He gives to each individual.

I always ask myself when I look back on this precious memory, what were the odds that I would receive Devon’s package on the very day that I was determined to give up on the Church. It was such a tender mercy from the Lord that taught me I did not need to worry about the future and that I would be in good hands. I have learned to rely on the Lord and act accordingly to what I know now. I know faith in Jesus Christ points toward the future and precedes miracles. I love being a daughter of Heavenly Father because His love has shown me the way to reach my potential. I am grateful for my experiences because it has helped me develop courage to keep my testimony burning brightly in the face of adversity. I strive to live the gospel every day because I know this is His church.

What was church like yesterday?

Dear Friend,

Since you couldn’t make it to church yesterday, I thought I’d give you a little update on what it was like. You may remember that our church service is made up of three different meetings or classes – each approximately one hour.

  • The main worship service is called Sacrament Meeting (70 minutes).
  • The second hour is Sunday School (50 minutes).
  • The final hour is additional small group instruction time for women (Relief Society); men and boys (Priesthood meeting); and young women (teenage girls). (50 minutes)
  • Kids between 18 months – 11 years old participate in Nursery and Primary during the 2nd & 3rd hours.

Let me tell you about Sacrament Meeting in our ward today.

The opening hymn sung by the congregation was hymn #277 As I Search the Holy Scriptures. Click on the link to hear the tune and follow along with the words. For me, the song captures some of the longing and the fulfillment I have felt in my life as I try to regularly study and learn from the scriptures, so it’s a personal favorite of mine.

The sacramental hymn, also sung by the congregation, was hymn #181 Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King.

The prayer over the sacramental bread was then offered, and some young men walked the trays of broken bread from row to row. The prayer over the sacramental water was offered next, followed by the young men passing the trays which hold little individual cups of water.

With this contemplative period coming to a close, the young men sat down and the sacrament program began. As usual, some preassigned members of the congregation stood to give some prepared remarks:

  • Speaker #1: A twenty-something year old woman from Orange County. Not a lifelong church member – not even a lifelong believer in God. Three years ago she said she had a wonderful life – she had a job, was going to school, and lived with a dog who loved her. One day she walked passed two women wearing black name tags. She politely smiled and said hello as she walked on, but said she felt immediate regret for not stopping to speak with them. Through several more serendipitous encounters with these women, she began meeting with them and eventually, after several months, she was baptized a member of the LDS Church. She compared her life before baptism to someone who’s color-blind but doesn’t know it – they can still have a good life, even if they don’t recognize or appreciate the richness of different colors in the world. But internalizing the principles of the gospel cured her color blindness and now she appreciates and values the things in life that she did not know were there.
  • Speaker #2: A mother of two young kids, also a registered dietitian, originally from Finland. Spoke about the importance of education – not just formal academic achievement, but of maintaining a love of learning throughout one’s life. She shared from her own experiences in college and graduate school that she felt more productive in her studies and learning when she first spent some time reading from and studying the scriptures. She retold a story from the Book of Mormon about two brothers who complain to their younger brother that they just don’t understand what their father recently taught them. The younger brother asks them, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” She used this to teach that God can help us understand and learn what we need to learn, whether that has to do with the gospel of Christ, or our physics lesson.
  • Speaker #3: the husband of speaker #2 – an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor). Time was running out, so he gave a very condensed version of his prepared message. But he continued along the same message of the importance of seeking to learn from the best books. He shared his testimony that learning and experiencing is one of the main reasons God put us on earth.  

The closing congregational hymn was hymn #304 Teach Me to Walk in the Light – a simple yet pleasant song whose message provided an additional reminder to seek learning and “loving guidance to show us the way.”

In another letter on another week, I’ll talk about the 2nd and 3rd hours. But hopefully this gives you at least a taste of what happened at church yesterday.

A Concluding Thought

The experience of being a Latter-day Saint is, of course, grounded in participatory learning and serving. The end goal is not just to assimilate knowledge and information – even scriptural knowledge, as helpful as it is. The ultimate objective is to internalize the principles of love, service, and Christlike compassion so that they actually change our natures, desires, and behaviors.

Dallin Oaks, an LDS leader, once saidIn contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.

The regular activity of church involvement – teaching, learning from, and working alongside others across the socioeconomic and ethnicity spectrums – help us internalize these truths and become something more than what we currently are. Our choices to exercise faith in the Savior and participate in such ordinances and service enable the grace of Christ to bring about this gradual transformation in our desires and character.

I hope next week you’ll “come and see” for yourself. Meetinghouse locator here, for wherever you are in the world.