Encouraged by MMM’s 2nd Annual Hug a Convert Day, I am sharing my own conversion story.
I was the first of my family attend any event at our area’s LDS church. I was in third grade and a new kid up the block who happened to be in my class at school invited me to the Primary Halloween party. The only stipulation (you know what’s coming): no masks.
To my good fortune, my friend was not stopped in his effort to invite me and within a month or two, I was attending Primary every Thursday afternoon with him and his brothers and sisters. Soon one of his sisters invited my older sister to go along, too. By February of the next year, our whole family was invited to their home for a Family Home Evening.
My mother, good southern girl that she was, knew she had to return the favor of an invitation to our home, but she elected only to invite my friend’s parents, not the entire family (including nine kids); they ate in the dining room (something we only did on holidays). And at the end of the meal, my friend’s parents invited my parents to hear the missionary discussions.
(This was not my parents’ first introduction to missionaries. On a couple of other occasions we had missionaries at our doorstep who did not, for whatever reason, return when invited to do so. We lived far from the church and assumed that’s why, so in retrospect, we were glad to have our friends move in up the street to introduce us to the church.)
I remember sitting on the living room floor listening to the missionaries – usually our two young elders, but once in a while they brought a stake missionary with them. I have bit and pieces of memories of flannel board displays from the various lessons (there were six in those days). I remember my baptismal interview, sitting in my bedroom with the district leader and answering and asking questions.
Only later did I realize that the baptism of a complete family of six was pretty special. My parents were well loved in our little branch, and both received callings right away. My sister and I continued to attend Primary and my other sister and brother attended MIA and early morning seminary. (Church was about a half-hour drive away and we made that trip every day at least once, often twice!) One of my father’s first assignments was making a food chest for the scout troop and I enjoyed watching him build it in our garage. My mother taught the three-year olds in Junior Sunday School and we’d help her cut out her pictures for her flannel board stories on Saturday night as we watched TV.
My friend’s father was our home teacher and he came like clockwork. We had those things President Hinckley taught years later we should have: friends, responsibilities and nurturing in the good word of God.
Less than a year after our baptism, we had special permission from Elder Benson of the Twelve to travel to the Salt Lake Temple and be sealed as a family. (Our anniversary would be in September, but an August trip allowed us to make the 1,800 mile trip each way before school started.)
I have memories of scenes in the temple – in the children’s waiting area, in the hallway en route to the sealing room, and in the sealing room itself. I remember kneeling there with my parents.
Participating as the missionaries taught our family, feeling the spirit the night of our baptism and confirmation, and feeling what I did in the temple as we were sealed provided a significant foundation for my personal conversion. Even as I passed through periods of apathy in my teenage years, I could not let go of what I had experienced, and a youth conference experience just before my senior year in high school reawakened and reestablished spiritual connections that had grown dim. By my freshman year at BYU, I was firmly on a path of growing testimony as I received my patriarchal blessing and prepared to serve a mission.
I have sought to relive my conversion experience by inviting others as my third-grade classmate invited me. Sadly, I haven’t been able to replicate the experience of my youth. But I am forever grateful for my friend who did not stop inviting me and for his parents who also invited us and for my own parents who were open to that invitation.