My Journey to gain my own personal testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is very profound and touching for me—something I will never forget, nor do I believe anyone could after having such an experience.
My parents joined the church after they had moved to California from Kentucky. My mother’s parents had found the church through a cousin when they had moved out there and when my parents arrived they also were introduced to the missionaries.
I had good, hard working parents, but many of the things that LDS people usually do, such as family prayer, FHE, reading the scriptures, we did not do as a family. We never missed church though and my dad NEVER missed having 100% percent home teaching each month. I was his home teaching companion from 12 years of age to 19. They also never turned down work assignments or callings, but their main focus was impressing upon my sister and me to get a college education. Neither of my parents finished High School. As a matter of fact, I was the first person on my dad’s side of the family to even graduate from high school, let alone attend college.
I loved sports, especially football, and had been a running back for 4 years in high school at Saddleback High and then attended Santa Ana Jr. College in hopes of picking up some kind of football scholarship. I had about $4,000 saved up, but because of a very humble upbringing, I knew the only way I would even have a chance of going to a good college was some kind of athletic scholarship. I had received a couple of letters from two or three colleges expressing some interest in me, Washington State being the most interested, so I thought I would go to a Jr. college for two years, get my AA degree and then transfer to a Division 1 school, if possible. This was my game plan in order to achieve that goal through a football scholarship.
I was never encouraged to go and serve a mission. Going to college was the BIG THING, the IMPORTANT THING to do at all costs. My first year at Santa Ana College was a good one. As a matter of fact, my very first football game of the season, after the kick off we had the ball on our 20 yard line the very first play and they were giving me, the fullback, the football. The play was a 36 Slant Veer right. So the very first time I touched a football in a college football game I ran for an 80 yard touchdown! The stadium went wild and it was the most euphoric feeling of my entire life up to this point, to be standing in the end zone with the crowd roaring and my teammates giving me kudos. Could it get any better than this?
At the end of my first year of college, right after football season, I had a full-time night job from 6 pm till 1 am and my job was operating a machine that polished the aluminum skin sections that go on the outside of commercial aircraft. Each day about 3 pm I would always go and weight lift and run a few miles, as well as lots of sprints. I always prided myself in working out longer and harder than most football players. I was VERY focused and serious about playing football and getting the best scholarship possible.
Then it happened . . . after I showered and was now heading to my car, a little convertible Datsun Roadster that I paid $800 cash for back then and wished like crazy I had it today. What a collector’s car! But as I was cutting across campus taking a shortcut, I came to the top of this small grassy hill and it happened: I heard a voice from inside my head, out of nowhere, that was so loud and distinct that it caused me to come to a complete stop as I was quickly walking to get to work on time.
The voice said to me simply, “Are you ever going to do anything for me?” I was so blown away with that question. It caught me so off guard that the only thing I could respond with was, “What do you mean am I ever going to do anything for you?” Immediately, as I muttered that question, the voice said to me, “Everything about your life is about YOU, Your playing football, Your sports car, Your savings account, Your schooling, Your Job, Your dating. What about ME?!!!” It hit me so hard I was speechless. I thought to myself at first, “I’m working SO HARD and all of these goals are good, aren’t they?” I slowly started walking again but was too stunned and trying to take all of this in as I was in deep thought about this experience . . . something that was so out of nowhere, I was seriously taken aback.
As I drove to work, the entire time at work, all I could think about was that question, “Are you ever going to do anything for me?” I then started to get a little defensive and started to reflect on the hundreds of hours I had worked over the years at church welfare projects, picking oranges dozens of times, moving water lines, paper drive projects to raise money for the building fund and many other projects. I did a lot. I was active in church and always helped when asked to. I felt I was a pretty good guy. But for some reason, as I had these thoughts flow through my mind, I was not at peace. There was something else to all of this.
After a couple of weeks of this experience consuming, at times, most of my free thinking time, it finally hit me how I could end this ONCE AND FOR ALL. I said to myself, “This is about getting me to go on a mission, I bet.” So I said to myself, which of course I knew the Lord was hearing and aware of all of this too. I said to myself, “I will read the entire Book of Mormon, from cover to cover. Then I will do that prayer challenge thing that’s somewhere in the back of the book in Moroni and then I will be free because I KNOW I’m not going to have some kind of dream, vision, or witness that I should change my course of action, let alone go on a mission.” By the way, I’m 19 and a half years old now and football season will be starting in just a few months.
Well, with this particular job I had, I was able to have breaks as I had to wait for the machine to do it’s part before I could go to the next process. So with lunch break and two outbreaks, I was able to get about two hours of reading in each night. I’m embarrassed to say that this was also the first book that I had read cover to cover to this point in my life. Sad, very sad, but true.
Right off the bat, I was so taken by Nephi and his two boneheaded brothers. I wanted to kick both of their butts for beating up and pushing their little brother, Nephi, around. Soon I was telling myself, “This is a pretty cool book !” I loved the action. I had no idea this book was like this. Nephi taking Laban out in order to get the Brass Plates. The whole thing was very enjoyable and being a football player, the physical contact and conflict was something I related to. I loved it.
Then I hit the Isiah parts and it was all Greek to me. Not one thing registered and it was so long and boring I almost gave up, but I said, “No Dude. You’re going to keep your promise and finish this and put this all behind you.”
Then came Alma, King Noah, Abinadi and it got very cool again. Ammon blew me away. WHAT A STUD! I loved this guy. He was my boy! All of the wars and conflicts — I was totally into this book and it’s stories and as I was reading I said to myself, “Nothing is really spiritually talking to me yet but it’s a great story or history of a people who lived a long time ago.” Then it came, like bold letters on a billboard: 3 Nephi hit me like a wrecking ball. My first spiritual scripture was 3 Nephi 13:21, “FOR WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS, THERE WILL YOUR HEART BE ALSO.” I read that at least a dozen times then closed it up. I could not read one more word.
I then asked myself where was my treasure and there I would find my heart. And sure enough, as I took inventory, it was just as the voice had said to me as I was walking across campus to my car. My love and heart was football, school, saving money, being cool in my sports car, dating, (which I might add at the time was the college Homecoming Queen). It was all about ME and the LORD was not even in the picture, or more correctly, He was in the picture but in the distant background of a painting that you would have to get up close to even see Him.
Well, I continued the next day to read the Book of Mormon. Third Nephi was an amazing chapter…. the Savior’s appearance, teachings and blessings, especially to his 12 apostles and the Three Nephites that came from those 12 apostles because of their desire to continue forever to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I then read how after a couple of hundred years of peace upon the earth between both the Nephites and the Lamanites, pride and worldly desires returned and wars started again. Then Mormon comes into the story and the amazing things he did to protect the Nephites. I then discovered where the first Navy Seal Team was started. It was by Teancum, ha ha.
What an amazing group of men he trained and what a loyal patriot he surely was.
The the book of Ether, Wow!!! What else can be said? I was so touched and taken by the brother of Jared and his great faith and his prayers to the Lord were so remarkable. I was spellbound by every word written. Then came the great words and challenge of Moroni, who finished the record after his father had passed away. I wanted to be like these men. I wanted to have their faith, courage, love and devotion to the Lord. I had so far to go and was so lacking in so many areas. I was in such deep thought about so many things and what I should do next. My life was so organized and planned out and now I just got clipped.
When I got off work that night at 1:00 am and headed home, I was thinking to myself, “So now you need to pray about this book you just read”. I pulled into our driveway. I slept in a 14 ft trailer that was parked beside our house. Our home was just a two bedroom home with one bath so my parents had one room and my sister had the other room, so I got the little trailer. As I opened the door to my humble abode, I just fell to my knees. I was so overcome with the spirit I could not even open my mouth or utter a single word for several minutes. I was so choked up all I could do was cry, something that I had not done much in my life. After several minutes I gained enough composure to utter the words, “I know what I have just read is the word of God.” I acknowledged to the Lord, “This is Your book.” I could not, nor did I even have to ask if it was true. To do so would have been an offense to God. I also knew that no man, not even Joseph Smith, could write such a book. This was the hand and voice of God being revealed through the Book of Mormon.
So strong and so consuming was the spirit in that little trailer that my entire mind, body and soul was consumed and filled with the Spirit of the Lord. Never had I experienced anything even remotely like this in my entire life. Never had I felt something so euphoric. I was enveloped with such joy and peace, I didn’t want this to ever go away. After several minutes I started to get some composure over my emotions. I knew what I had to do and I could not do it quickly enough.
First thing in the morning when my dad got off work, (he worked the graveyard shift for 30 years at American Medical Hospital Supply Company as the maintenance supervisor), I told him I had been thinking about going on a mission and putting off college for a couple of years to do so. To my surprise he said he would support my decision if that is what I wanted to do. I then told my mom. She was much more favorable to it than my dad, I could tell. But I did not tell either of them about this experience until after my mission.
Then the next part, which I knew I had to do right away or I would never go…. I had to tell my coaches I would not be playing again that year. That was one of the hardest things I had ever done in my entire life up to that point in my life. I had worked 5 long, hard years for this one big year to get my full-ride scholarship. When I walked into the coaches office all of them were present………