James, Lost Boy of Sudan

[one_half last=”no”]Summary: James Manyok Ayuen, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, endured trials that most of us can’t even imagine. Yet he remained faithful to his Christian faith and after migrating to the U.S., met the Mormon missionaries, and eventually joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is a brief version of his story.[/one_half][one_half last=”yes”][colored_box color=”blue”]The Lost Boys of Sudan
Lost Boys of Sudan Wikipedia Entry
Video: The Lost Boys, Part 1, CBS News 20/20 Special
Video: The Lost Boys, Part 2, CBS News 20/20 Special
The Good Lie: a recent movie about the Lost Boys[/colored_box][/one_half] lost boys of sudanA couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to hear a talk by James Manyok Ayuen, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. He gave a fascinating account of himself and thousands of other young people who had been forced out of the Sudan during that country’s civil war which began in 1983. James and the other youths walked over a thousand miles from Sudan to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. During the journey, nearly half of the group, and almost all of the girls, died from malnutrition and exposure. It was at this point that this group of thousands of displaced young men were given the name, the Lost Boys of Sudan.

A few years later, the Lost Boys again found themselves unwanted and were forced to make another trek of more than 1,000 miles, this time to a refugee camp in Kenya. Once again, they had very little food or other supplies, and many were naked, without even a shirt or pants. Youths who lagged behind or strayed from the road, looking for food, often fell prey to the lions and other wild animals in the area.

James was only a young boy when he made these journeys. He survived these difficult circumstances with a positive attitude, a fierce determination, and the wisdom and maturity of someone much older. James had the attitude that if the taller, older boys could do something, he could do it too. When the group was crossing a river in Sudan, many boys drowned when they climbed onto the shoulders of one another because they didn’t know how to swim. James seeing this disaster, wisely waited until no other boys were around to cross, so they wouldn’t trample and kill him. Though smaller than most of the others, James was able to stay with the group, by running to the front, then resting for several hours, as the group continued to go by. Then he’d get up and race to the front again, thus he was able to stay with the group and not fall behind and risk death.

These young men had been raised by good Christian parents, and according to James, most were Episcopalian. In their refugee camps, they did their best to educate one another in reading, math, and faith. Without paper, pencils, or other supplies, school work was done by writing with fingers in the dirt. Though poor as to worldly things, James was not poor in spirit and maintained his faith in God. During these difficult times, James often prayed for three things:

  1. A good education
  2. Clothes: a simple pair of pants and a shirt
  3. A bike

James AyuenEventually, through some UN and US intervention, James and many of the Lost Boys of the Sudan were able to come to the United States. Selection to come to the United States, though, was not automatic and James had to be interviewed on and off for five years before he was brought to the US with some of the other lost boys. With no good birth records, the Lost Boys had to guess their age. James had heard that if he was over 18, he would have freedom to do whatever he wants in the US, though it also put him on his own rather than with a foster family. James choose the over-18 route, and was sent to the US with other Lost Boys, given a three-month supply of food, and from there he was on his own.

Soon after moving to the United States, James had gotten all three of those things he had prayed for, and he had them in abundance. He got his GED and was enrolled in college. People had given him more clothes than he could handle and had to turn much of it away. He was able to get a bike and then someone gave him a second bike. He felt God had heard and answered all his prayers.

Meeting the Mormons

James was living in a Philadelphia apartment with four other Lost Boys, when he met the Mormon missionaries. He was glad to talk with them, though he was not initially interested in learning what they wanted to teach him. James was firm in his faith in God and in fact thought he could teach the missionaries more about God than they could teach him. He heard some of the missionary discussions, but did not have a desire to get baptized.

James did, though, offer to help the missionaries in any way he could, including giving them rides to their other teaching appointments. James would give the missionaries a ride and then would often stay and listen to their non-member discussions with other investigators. Soon he heard the missionaries talk about the doctrine of baptism for the dead and that was a turning point for him.

James had often wondered why his grandfather, who never had a chance to even hear about Jesus Christ, would be denied salvation because he wasn’t baptized. The Mormon missionaries teachings that the living could be baptized on behalf of their deceased ancestors, thus giving the dead the opportunity to accept Jesus and receive saving ordinances, made perfect sense to James. Other teachings like sealing families for eternity added new knowledge to the testimony James already had of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing taught by the missionaries seemed to detract from the gospel or contradict what he understood to be true, it only added new light and understanding.

James Ayuen at workAs James described his conversion to the Mormon faith, a quote from President Joseph F. Smith about spirit memories came to my mind: “All those salient truths which come home so forcibly to the head and heart seem but the awakening of the memories of the spirit. Can we know anything here that we did not know before we came?” (Gospel Doctrine, 13).

Soon, James was converted and baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Now James is a student at Brigham Young University, and he works at the Global Service Center for the Church. I am amazed at James’ example of perseverance and faith, and I am grateful to call him a brother in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Parley P. Pratt’s Conversion Story

Parley P. Pratt was a great missionary for the LDS Church in it’s early days. He was one of the original members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in these later days. Due to his extensive missionary travels and voluminous writings in the early days of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Parley P. Pratt has often been called “the Apostle Paul of Mormonism.” His conversion story is an inspiring tale one of diligently seeking for the truth and embracing the gospel once found.

Interest in Religion from an Early Age

Parley P. Pratt was born in Burlington, New York, April 12, 1807. From an early age, Parley had a keen interest in religion. Early in his autobiography he made note of conversation where he asked his father why modern churches were so different than the church established by the Savior and his apostles when they were on the earth. “To these inquiries my father could give no satisfactory answer; but observed that times and circumstances had changed. With this I was not satisfied, of course; for who had a right to change the ordinances, transgress the law, or break the covenant of the everlasting gospel? Such were my thoughts.”

“I still continued to ponder upon these things, and to search the Scriptures to learn how to be saved. I found the same principles and practice throughout [the Scriptures]… all were baptized when they believed in Jesus Christ and repented of their sins; and this as an ordinance connected with remission of their sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost. What, then, should I do? Where find one who was commissioned from heaven, and would administer salvation to me?”

A Holy Retreat: Winter Alone Reading the Scriptures

During the winter of 1826 to 1827, Parley had a profound spiritual experience studying the scriptures. He was 19 years old and he had left his friends and family to go west. He had used most of his money to buy a small pocket Bible, so he made his way west by walking or working on a steam ship. Eventually he made it to a small settlement 30 miles west of Cleveland, Ohio where he stopped for the winter. This is what he records next in his journal:

“Alone in a land of strangers, without home or money, and not yet twenty years of age, I became discouraged, and concluded to stop for the winter; I procured a gun from one of the neighbors; worked and earned an axe, some breadstuff and other little extras, and retired two miles into a dense forest and prepared a small hut, or cabin, for the winter. Some leaves and straw in my cabin served for my lodging, and a good fire kept me warm. A stream near my door quenched my thirst; and fat venison, with a little bread from the settlements, sustained me for food. The storms of winter raged around me; the wind shook the forest, the wolf howled in the distance, and the owl chimed in harshly to complete the doleful music which seemed to soothe me, or bid me welcome to this holy retreat. But in my little cabin the fire blazed pleasantly, and the Holy Scriptures and a few other books occupied my hours of solitude.”

Marriage to Thankful Halsey

At the end of the winter, Parley decided to go back to his native land where he grew up. For, said, he, “There was one there whom my heart had long loved, and from whom I would not have been so long separated, except by misfortune.” When he got back to his home town in New York, he went straight to the home of his childhood sweetheart, Thankful Halsey. “With a quick step, a beating heart, and an intense, indescribable feeling of joy, sorrow, hope, despondency and happiness, I approached the door of Mr. Halsey, and knocked.”

“I spent the day and evening with her; explained to her all my losses, my poverty and prospects, and the lone retreat where I had spent the previous winter; and the preparations I had made for a future home. I also opened my religious views to her, and my desire, which I sometimes had, to try and teach the red man. “In view of all these things,” said I to her, “If you still love me and desire to share my fortune you are worthy to be my wife. If not, we will agree to be friends forever; but part to meet no more in time.” “I have loved you during three years’ absence,” said she, “and I never can be happy without you.”

Sidney Rigdon

Parley and Thankful were married a short time later.

Meeting Sidney Rigdon and Joining the Reformed Baptists

Parley and Thankful returned to where Parley had spent the previous winter and made a home for themselves there. The cabin was replaced with a frame house. They planted a garden, an orchard of apple and peach trees, and vast fields of grain. About this time, reports Parley, “one Mr. Sidney Rigdon came into the neighborhood as a preacher, and it was rumored that he was a kind of Reformed Baptist… At length I went to hear him, and what was my astonishment when I found he preached faith in Jesus Christ, repentance towards God, and baptism for remission of sins, with the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost to all who would come forward.” Though Sidney Rigdon had yet to learn about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, like Parley, he was searching.

“After hearing Mr. Rigdon several times, I came out, with a number of others, and embraced the truths which he taught. We were organized into a society, and frequently met for public worship. About this time I took it upon me to impart to my neighbors, from time to time, both in public and in private, the light I had received from the Scriptures concerning the gospel, and also concerning the fulfilment of the things spoken by the holy prophets. I did not claim any authority as a minister; I felt the lack in this respect; but I felt in duty bound to enlighten mankind, so far as God had enlightened me.”

Meeting His Brother and Leaving on a Mission

About this time when the spirit of missionary work and a desire the share the gospel had descended upon Parley P. Pratt, he heard that his long lost brother William might be living nearby “residing about ten miles from me. On hearing this I ran nearly the whole distance on foot, and in about two hours had him by the hand.”

This was a joyful and unexpected meeting of two brothers. He immediately accompanied me home, and was introduced to my wife and our little farm in the wilderness, where we spent some days together. He admired my wife; but above all my farm. “Brother Parley,” said he, “how have you done all this? When we were last together you had no wife, no farm, no house, no orchard, and now you are here with everything smiling around you.” I replied that hard work had accomplished it all.”

Parley explained to William that though he was prospering from a material standpoint, he felt inspired by the Spirit of the Lord to leave it all behind and go preach the gospel. Parley “told him that the spirit of these things had wrought so powerfully on my mind of late that I could not rest; that I could no longer be contented to dwell in quiet and retirement on my farm, while I had light to impart to mankind.”

Parley reports “In August, 1830, I had closed my business, completed my arrangements, and we bid adieu to our wilderness home and never saw it afterwards. On settling up, at a great sacrifice of property, we had about ten dollars left in cash. With this small sum, we launched forth into the wide world, determining first to visit our native place, on our mission, and then such other places as I might be led to by the Holy Spirit.”

Discovering The Book of Mormon

Old Book of MormonWhen Parley and Thankful arrived in Rochester, New York, Parley felt inspired to linger longer. He sent his wife ahead and said to her, “I will come soon, but how soon I know not; for I have a work to do in this region of country, and what it is, or how long it will take to perform it, I know not; but I will come when it is performed.” Parley didn’t know it at the time, but he was about to encounter a life changing book, The Book of Mormon.

A man named Hamlin “began to tell of a book, a STRANGE BOOK, a VERY STRANGE BOOK! in his possession, which had been just published. This book, he said, purported to have been originally written on plates either of gold or brass, by a branch of the tribes of Israel; and to have been discovered and translated by a young man near Palmyra, in the State of New York, by the aid of visions, or the ministry of angels. I inquired of him how or where the book was to be obtained. He promised me the perusal of it, at his house the next day, if I would call. I felt a strange interest in the book. …Next morning I called at his house, where, for the first time, my eyes beheld the “BOOK OF MORMON” that book of books-that record which reveals the antiquities of the “New World” back to the remotest ages, and which unfolds the destiny of its people and the world for all time to come; that Book which contains the fulness of the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer; that Book which reveals a lost remnant of Joseph, and which was the principal means, in the hands of God, of directing the entire course of my future life.

“I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page. I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated. After this I commenced its contents by course. I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.

“As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists. My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices and toils of my life. I soon determined to see the young man who had been the instrument of its discovery and translation.”

Meeting Hyrum Smith

Parley went immediately to Palmyra, New York to find Joseph Smith. When he arrived he spoke with Hyrum Smith, who informed him that Joseph was away in Pennsylvania.

“I informed him of the interest I felt in the Book, and of my desire to learn more about it. He welcomed me to his house, and we spent the night together; for neither of us felt disposed to sleep. We conversed most of the night…He also unfolded to me the particulars of the discovery of the Book; its translation; the rise of the Church of Latter-day Saints, and the commission of his brother Joseph, and others, by revelation and the ministering of angels, by which the apostleship and authority had been again restored to the earth. After duly weighing the whole matter in my mind I saw clearly that these things were true; and that myself and the whole world were without baptism, and without the ministry and ordinances of God; and that the whole world had been in this condition since the days that inspiration and revelation had ceased–in short, that this was a new dispensation or commission, in fulfillment of prophecy, and for the restoration of Israel, and to prepare the way before the second coming of the Lord.”

Of the Book of Mormon, Parley P. Pratt said, “This discovery greatly enlarged my heart, and filled my soul with joy and gladness. I esteemed the Book, or the information contained in it, more than all the riches of the world. Yes; I verily believe that I would not at that time have exchanged the knowledge I then possessed, for a legal title to all the beautiful farms, houses, villages and property” in the whole state of New York.

Baptism of Parley P. Pratt

Parley demanded that Hyrum Smith baptism him, so the next day they walked 25 miles to the Whitmer residence where they received “a most welcome reception.” The Whitmer family had been instrumental in supporting Joseph Smith in the translation and publishing of the Book of Mormon.

“We rested that night, and on the next day, being about the 1st of September, 1830, I was baptized by the hand of an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ, by the name of Oliver Cowdery. This took place in Seneca Lake, a beautiful and transparent sheet of water in Western New York.

“A meeting was held the same evening, and after singing a hymn and prayer, Elder Cowdery and others proceeded to lay their hands upon my head in the name of Jesus, for the gift of the Holy Ghost. After which I was ordained to the office of an Elder in the Church, which included authority to preach, baptize, and minister the sacrament, administer the Holy Spirit, by the laying on of hands in the name of Jesus Christ and to take the lead of meetings of worship.

“I now felt that I had authority in the ministry.”

Immediately, Parley P. Pratt became a zealous missionary for the newly restored Church of Jesus Christ. On the day after his baptism, he preached to a large group of people (investigators, we might call them today), teaching by the Spirit. Said Parley, “The Holy Ghost came upon me mightily. I spoke the word of God with power, reasoning out of the Scriptures and the Book of Mormon. The people were convinced, overwhelmed in tears, and four heads of families came forward expressing their faith, and were baptized.”

May each of us be as diligent as Parley P. Pratt in seeking out the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And my we all catch the vision of the purpose of missionary work as he did, and do our best to share the light of the gospel with others.

Conversion of Jonas in Poland

The following story was related by my brother, Michael Smith, with is currently serving in the Warsaw Poland mission.

Meeting Jonas, Letter of 10-3-2011

Elder Smith in PolandWe had about 20 minutes until a session of General Conference so we decided to contact right around the chapel while we waited. We met this super super cool guy named Jonas. He’s irish/swedish and just got to the city of Lodz where he’ll stay for about three months for work. He was very open and we didn’t have an english Book of Mormon on us so we asked if we could come by his place the next day and give it to him. He accepted gladly. We got his address and headed to the General Conference broadcast.

We had our meeting with Jonas the next day and it went amazingly. He really is searching for the truth. After we taught a first discussion and bore testimony of the Book of Mormon and God’s love, he said, “I want to have that feeling.” He said, “I feel an emptiness inside and heard of other people tell of this feeling of God’s love and that he exists and I want to have that assurety for myself.” We assured him he could feel that if he reads from the Book of Mormon and prays earnestly wanting to know if its true. His eyes swelled up and he smiled accepting it and thanking us. We then invited him to watch General Conference that night at the senior missionaries apartment.  He said he would definitely be there.

He did indeed come to the Sunday morning session which was at 6 pm for us. He loved it, watched intently and told us after that he really liked the talk about the Book of Mormon (with the circle and lines through it). It it was very clear and bold that the Book of Mormon is either of God or of the Devil. There is no middle ground. Jonas even said it was his favorite talk. He’s already read up to Nephi 10 in less than a day and said “it’s exciting. Unknown. I know the Bible but these stories are something new.” Jonas truly is a miracle of God here in Lodz, Poland.

A Burning in the Bosom, Letter of 10-11-2011

This past week was probably one of the best weeks of my entire mission and it’s all because of Jonas. He is the most prepared of the Lord I’ve ever met and he is already strongly converted to the Gospel and just after one week! Every time we meet with him my testimony grows that those who are truly open and searching and read the Book of Mormon and pray to know WILL get an answer.

Jonas has been living in Sweden. He is an engineer and his company kept trying to get somebody to come to Poland, but NOBODY wanted to. They kept throwing more and more benefits to get someone to go and once they included a company car, Jonas was all in. His second day here in Poland he ran into the Mormon missionaries (us). He said in Sweden he never would have stopped and talked to us at all, but being in Poland he knew absolutely no one and had no friends so he willingly accepted the only two english speakers he had met.

When we taught him a first discussion, we challenged him to baptism on the 29th of October and to prepare himself for that day. He accepted saying however that he wants to be sure he’s ready, he doesn’t want to feel like he was tricked or something and go back to his old life style and habits.  He said he’s going to read the whole Book of Mormon, and we promised that if he sincerely read it and prayed to earnestly know if it’s true, he will receive an answer well before the end of the book.

A few days later we had a meeting with Jonas and taught a second discussion. He said that the strangest thing happened to him the previous night. He went home and he sat down and started reading. He was towards the end of 1st Nephi, and he thought to himself, “what did the missionaries say? Oh yeah, pray. Dear Lord, help me know it this is true or not. Help me find the truth and know of that feeling.” He said his chest just felt like it was on fire. He said then he just started to cry and he NEVER cries. Now he said he knows, and nobody can make him think otherwise. He said no scientific proof or anything. He knows how he felt and will never be able to reject or doubt that. We then asked him if he wanted to wait till Oct. 29th to be baptized or as soon as possible, this Saturday the 15th. He said as soon as posible.

This amazing spiritual experience has been the foundation of everything else: his testimony of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, sacrament meeting, and President Thomas S. Monson. Everything in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ he has fully, openly, and sincerely accepted because he has such an amazing spiritual experience. He always tells us that he couldn’t believe this could happen to someone like him. He was a strong agnostic.  He never thought he could have had that feeling that religious people have and be a religious person. And then he said he’s especially amazed at how quickly it happened. He thought it would take a month or two, if ever, to know. But 8 days. Wow! We told him when someone is ready, God doesn’t wait, and he was ready.

From this spiritual experience he had, he truly has changed his life. He used to drink beer all the time. After all he’s Irish! He said the past week was the first week since he was 16 that he’s gone without any alcohol. He’s only 21, but he had 5 more beers in the fridge when we taught him the Word of Wisdom. He said he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to go cold turkey so he’ll drink these last 5 and then start. He really wanted to do it HIS way. But he said that after we left he poured all 5 beers down the sink and threw out his cigarettes and coffee.

I have never met someone like Jonas on my mission. I can tell his conversion is true and real. I love Jonas for being so willing and for recognizing the Lord in his life and I love the mission for giving me the opportunity to play a role, as tiny as it is, and bringing this joy to these people.

Jonas’ Baptism, Letter of 10-17-2011

Baptism of Jonas in PolandIn the beginning of the week we looked everywhere for a pool and could not find one. We did however find a very nice small lake close by. It was really really cold but Jonas said that he still wanted to do it. Jacek, a young single adult in the who was baptizing him, was all for it as well. They were excited and scared and nervous but so willing to do it. All the members said that it was crazy and we should just postpone it to next week when we could find a pool, but we told them everything would be fine. We woke up on Saturday morning and it was freezing cold and raining on top of that. We stopped by Jonas’ place just to make sure he was okay with it and he said it was.

At the service before we went to the Lake, Jonas had the opportunity to bear his testimony. He told his conversion story with much more power than I ever could.  He claimed to be agnostic, and this was his chance to find out if God really did exist or not. If he didn’t find out now he would have remained atheist his whole life. He told about his prayer and how he felt the Spirit so strong. He told the whole branch that he knew without a doubt that this was from God. He said he will always have his proof that this Church is true.

We went to the lake and everything went perfectly. Without hesitation they walked into the lake and had a very calm, spiritual, baptismal ordinance.  When they came out, we had blankets and sheets for them to change. I asked Jonas how he felt and he said “it’s truly indescribable. I feel relieved and amazed at where I am and what I’m doing. It’s just simply put, wonderful.” It was an experience none of us will ever forget.

I love this work so much and am so glad to have been able to see the gospel really bless someone. Jonas has changed so much in the last weeks that it is undeniably the power of God. He felt it and knows it. We can all feel that love and power of God again and again in our lives. I love the gospel of Jesus Christ and the happiness is brings us.

Conversion of the Lescano Family

elder sanchez mormon missionary concordia argentinaIn April of 1997, I was serving in a city called Concordia, Argentina. This was a small city on the border of Uruguay, that I believe had three LDS Church branches. I was serving in the Universidad Branch. My companion there was Elder Sanchez, a native Argentine who spoke no English. This was in the second half of my mission, so my Spanish was pretty good by then, but it got even better speaking all Spanish, all the time with Elder Sanchez.

One day, my companion and I were street contacting (one of my preferred ways to open your mouth), when we saw a young man standing at a street corner waiting for a bus. We approached the man, introduced ourselves, and struck up a good conversation about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Soon the bus came, so we asked the man if we could come by his house some time to finish the discussion. He quickly gave us his address, then he got on his bus.

The next day, we went looking for the man’s address but we couldn’t find it. We found the street, but we couldn’t find the house number he had given us. At this point we noticed a man out working in his yard, so we went over and asked him about the address the man had given us the day before. The man out in his yard was named Jorge Lescano, and he confirmed that address we had was invalid. We told Jorge that we were missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we asked if we could share a message with him.

elder smith and lescano family concordia argentina

Jorge gave us a drink and we talked for a few minutes. It was a nice conversation, and we asked if we could come back to teach his whole family a discussion. Jorge invited us back, and a few days later we returned and met his wife, Beatriz, and their four kids.

The Lescanos were very receptive to the gospel message. Within a week or two of meeting them, they came to Church where they enjoyed the speakers and getting to know the other members. When we taught the Lescanos the second discussion, we invited them to be baptized and they accepted. After we taught them the third discussion, my companion and I got word that I would be transferred to another city.

When we told Jorge and Beatriz, that I would be leaving, Jorge was visibly emotional. It touched me that in those few weeks Jorge had forged a bond with my companion and I that brought him to tears at this moment. The Lescanos were a great family and I was sad that I wasn’t able to stay to witness their baptism. But I stayed in touch with Elder Sanchez, and a couple of weeks later, he sent me a photo of their baptism.

elder sanchez and lescano baptismThe circumstances that led us to finding and converting the Lescano family remind me of a scripture in which Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, is speaking to those brothers many years later:

“Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Gen 50:20

The man we met at the bus stop meant to deceive us with a false address, but God meant it unto good. Because of that experience, we met Jorge and Beatriz Lescano, their family was brought into the fold of Jesus Christ, and we were all greatly blessed.

The Conversion of Augustín Zapata: Loving the Book of Mormon and Following the Spirit

The conversion of Augustín Zapata is a story about the power of the Book of Mormon and the way faith can be strengthened by associations with other members.

Augustín-Zapata-beltran-ArgentinaI met Augustín Zapata after he had had his first discussion with the missionaries. I had just been transferred to the area, a city called Fray Luis Beltran. The previous Elders had found Augustine and given him a Book of Mormon. When my companion and I returned to check up on Augustín a few days after the first discussion, we found that he had read the entire Book of Mormon. He loved the Book of Mormon and couldn’t help but read it in its entirety and then start reading it again.

When I heard that, I thought Augustín was “golden” and that he would be baptized in short order. Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

We continued teaching Augustín the discussions. He greatly enjoyed our visits, he felt the Spirit while we were there, and he believed everything that we taught him. But when we invited him to get baptized, he said he wasn’t sure about that. His deceased father was a devout Catholic, and Augustín was afraid that he would offend his father if he joined another faith. I had no idea how to address his concern, so we encouraged him to continue praying and to come to Church with us to see how he liked the Church meetings and the people there.

Augustín agreed to come to Church but week after week, he never showed up. Eventually, we offered to give him a ride to Church, by stopping by his house, walking with him to the bus, and paying his fare.  Still, week after week, when we showed up at his house, he would come up with excuses not to come to Church.

Finally, one Saturday night he promised us that he would come to Church the next morning. When we got to his house, though, once again Augustín said he couldn’t come to Church with us. Well that did it for me; I got mad and did something I have always regretted. I was visibly upset, I called Augustín a liar, and I walked away, vowing to myself to never go visit him again.

A few weeks went by and we hadn’t seen or heard from Augustín. Then one day, Augustín saw us in the street and stopped us. He said he had had a dream, and his father came to him in this dream and told him to find the truth. Augustín said he thought the truth his father was referring to might be the Mormon Church. I was a little skeptical, but I challenged Augustín to come to Church on Sunday. I didn’t offer to give Augustín a ride, thinking this would be a good test to see how sincere he was.

Augustín Zapata baptism beltran argentinaTo my overwhelming joy, Augustín did come to Church, and he loved it. We sat in sacrament meeting together, and Augustine picked up a hymn book and began signing along with the rest of the congregation. In Sunday School class, Augustín actively participated. During and after the meetings, he thoroughly enjoyed socializing with the other members. He felt the same spirit at our Church meetings as he had felt during our missionary discussions and he knew the way to keep that feeling was to get baptized and join the Church.

Augustín was baptized a few weeks later on the 24th of November, 1996. It was a beautiful occasion, and I know that it was the converting power of the Book of Mormon, as well as the Spirit he felt during the Church meetings that helped Augustín Zapata make that decision to follow the Savior and join His true Church through baptism.

Conversion of a Sweet Family in Parque Urquiza, Rosario, Argentina

(Please Note: Names of the family in this story have been changed to protect their identity.) I met the Flores family, José and María, and their three kids, when I was serving in the Parque Urquiza ward in the heart of downtown Rosario, Argentina. It was summertime (December) of 1996, when my companion, Elder Wasden, and I almost literally ran into José on the sidewalk outside his home. José invited us to come back on another day to teach his family the full first discussion.

Humbled and Guided to the Book of Mormon

When we met José and his family, they were down on their luck. Just a few months prior, the Flores’ had been doing very well, they lived in a mansion, as they put it, and José had a job that paid very well. Then José lost his job, they lost everything, and wound up renting a small, humble house where we found them. While he was out of work, José had found an old copy of The Book of Mormon and began reading it. José felt the book was true, a got a new job, and was just getting on his feet again when we met him.

How About a Cold Drink?

When we sat down for the first discussion, José , wanting to be attentive to our needs, immediately sent one of his kids to the corner store. When he returned, he had a cold two liter of Cola. I was immediately faced with a very hard decision, risking offending this family by turning down their generous offer, or drinking something I thought I shouldn’t. I felt bad turning it down, but I grew up in a family where we didn’t drink Coke. Plus, our mission president had always urged us missionaries not to drink Cola. I wouldn’t have thought poorly of companion if he had taken the drink, but he too turned it down. It wasn’t until we got to the fourth discussion, on the Word of Wisdom, that they understand why we turned down that drink.

The Flores’ Were Prepared and Golden

Despite our embarrassment with having to turn down their generous cold drink, the first discussion and it went very well. They seemed enthusiastic about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and living prophets, and the Book of Mormon. In fact, José began testifying of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon to the rest of his family. María, the mother of the family, said that she has always wanted to attend the Mormon Church, but just never has had the opportunity.

Maybe They’re Not So Interested

We set an appointment to come back and teach the second discussion. But when we returned for the appointment, they weren’t home. For the next couple of weeks, we tried repeatedly to visit the family, but they were never home. Then one day, we were walking down the street, across from the Flores’ house, and we happened to glance over and we thought we saw that the parents were home.  We went and knocked on their door, but they didn’t answer the door for several minutes. Finally one of the kids came to the door and told us that their parents were not home. It was at this point that my companion and I decided to stop trying to visit with them because we thought they were not interested.

José Suddenly Shows Up at Church

Well, a few more weeks passed, then one day, out of the blue, we are sitting in sacrament meeting and José shows up at Church. This was a major shock, due to the past experiences, but also due to the fact that we had never told him where the Church was or what time we had meetings. After sacrament meeting, José  told us that he has attended many Churches in his life, but this is one where he finally he feels comfortable, and he was glad to finally have found it.

The Flores’ Are Baptized

We began teaching the Flores’s again. The following week the whole family came to Church. And a couple of weeks later the entire family was baptized, including their eight-year-old daughter. Once again, I was amazed and blessed to see the hand of the Lord in bringing another family into the fold of the Church and to the knowledge of the restored gospel Jesus Christ.

Conversion Stories: The Godoy Family

I met the Godoy family, when I was serving in the Godoy ward in the city of Rosario Argentina.  Carlos and his wife, Beatriz, were at a photo shop, with their two children, Carlos Jr. and Angelica, getting a family photo made when my companion and I walked into the store.  We commented on what a cute family they were, and we chit chatted for a minute, but we really didn’t talk about the gospel before they had to leave.

The next day, we were visiting a new member at his work and we just happened to run into Carlos Godoy again. This time we did talk to him about the gospel, and he seemed eager to learn more. We asked if we could come to his home to teach a discussion to his entire family, and we set the appointment for a few days later.

When we arrived at the Godoy’s home for the first discussion, we found their modest home in pristine condition. We could tell they really made an effort to prepare for our visit. We sat down with the whole family around the table and talked about the gospel of Jesus Christ, Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness, the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon.  The Godoy’s were eager learners, and they seemed from the beginning to be a ‘golden’ family.

godoy-civil-weddingWe scheduled the second discussion, and that lesson went very well. We invited them to be baptized, and they said they wanted to. Unfortunately, though, we found out that they were not legally married, which meant they couldn’t get baptized until that happened. Carlos and Beatriz had been together since high school, but due to the expense and other factors, they had never been legally married.  When 8-year-old Angelica heard that they couldn’t get baptized until her parent got married, she exclaimed, “Casense Ya!” (Get married already!).

So the Godoy’s immediately planned their wedding. They got married at city hall, and the mission president let my companion and I go, even though it was out of our area.  That night they had a big wedding reception, but, unfortunately, we couldn’t attend that party.  Then the following Sunday, July 13, 1997, the entire Godoy family got baptized. It was a wonderful occasion to see this beautiful family get baptized and start down the path to eternal life together.

godoy family baptism rosario argentinaCarlos, the father, was so happy to be baptized and have a new, clean start on life.  In his earlier years, Carlos drank and made other mistakes, but he has thoroughly repented and very happy with his life now.  Beatriz was so happy to see her entire family get baptized together; she loves her family a great deal. Beatriz did have some doubts about getting baptized because she talked to an inactive member who urged her not to get baptized. She expressed those doubts in her baptismal interview, so Elder Bray, who was conducting the interview, gave her a priesthood blessing of comfort. She felt the Spirit very strongly, and the Lord removed all her doubts, and gave her the courage to go forward and do the right thing of getting baptized. Little Carlos also said he got a little nervous prior to his baptism, but when he saw his dad and mom do it, he was very excited to get baptized himself. And as for little Angelica, what else can I say except she truly was a little angel.

Meeting and baptizing this family was another case of the Lord doing all the work and my companion and I being in the right place at the right time. We were so blessed to meet this family and see them become members of God’s kingdom on earth. And I can’t wait to see them again, whether it be in this life or the next.

Man of Faith: The Conversion of German Arrieta

I met German (pronounced Herman) Arrieta on one of my first days in the Godoy neighborhood of Rosario, in April 1997. The previous missionaries had found German and taught him and his wife, Sara, the first discussion.  Then I was transferred to the area and arrived prior to the second discussion.  When we went to German’s house and taught the second discussion, Sara asked lots of questions, and seemed genuinely interested throughout the discussion, while German remained quite and pensive.german arrieta family

At the conclusion of the second discussion, I decided to invite German and Sara to be baptized. Based on how they had reacted to the first two discussions, I thought for sure Sara would accept the invitation, while German, I assumed, would turn down the invitation to be baptized.  I was wrong on both counts.  When I invited them both to be baptized, German spoke right up and said he would like to be baptized.  Sara, however, was hesitant and said she would have to think about it longer.

Two weeks before German’s scheduled baptism, he lost his job.  I expected this to be a stumbling block to German’s progression toward baptism, but once again, German surprised me with his great faith.  He told me, with extreme confidence, that he would find another job and begin working by the day after his baptism.

We continued to teach German and Sara the discussions, but Sara continued to have her doubts about the restored gospel and about getting baptized.  In one of the final discussions, we taught German the principle of the fast: going without food and drink for 24 hours to strengthen us spiritually, and to receive special blessings from our Heavenly Father. It was about 9 o’clock at night when we taught the lesson, and German said he was going to start fasting at that very moment.  He invited us to come back for dinner the next night at 9pm to break the fast with him. german arrieta baptism

German’s fast was a success, and his break the fast dinner was delicious. German had many tests prior to his baptism: the loss of his job, and his daughter became sick (we gave her a priesthood blessing and she immediately began to get better).  Throughout it all, German showed that he was a man of great faith. He came to the required two Sundays of church meetings, and was baptized on May 18, 1997.  His wife, Sara, and their two daughters, attended the baptism, but only German was baptized.  The baptism was a great event for all who attended, and true to his word, and as a demonstration of his faith in the Lord, German got a job the Monday after his baptism.

german arrieta party A few months later I got word that I was going to be transferred from the Godoy ward. German, and many other ward members, several of whom I baptized, arranged a surprise going away party for me.  The first and only such event in my mission.  It sure made me feel good that the people in this area loved me and would miss me when I was gone. You’ll notice German in the picture, he’s in blue on the far right. He has a gloomy look on his face because, though he was a big, tough guy, he was sad to see me go.  I, of course, was saddened too, and will always have fond memories and remember German and his great faith in Christ and His restored gospel.

Conversion Story of Aldo

elder gertge and smith The conversion story of Aldo is perhaps the easiest conversion process and baptism of my whole mission. It was September 1996, and I met Aldo at Church my first Sunday serving in the city of Fray Luis Beltran, a little town north of Rosario. We were in Sunday School and there was a young man who was answering all the questions from the teacher. I leaned over and asked my companion, Elder Gertge, who this person was who was so engaged in the lesson. Elder Gertge told me his name was Aldo and he was not a member of the Church. Aldo lived in the city of Rosario, but his girl friend lived with her family in Beltran. I asked Elder Gertge if he and his previous companion had been teaching Aldo the discussions, and he said no.

baptism of aldo in beltran capitan bermudez After Church I went up to Aldo and introduced myself and asked him if he wanted to hear the missionary discussions. Without hesitation, Aldo agreed to hearing the discussions and we began teaching him that week at his girl friend’s home. Gabriela had told Aldo she would not marry outside the temple of the Lord, and therefore Aldo had been attending Church for the three months before I met him. I don’t know why the previous missionaries never pursued teaching Aldo the discussions, but I was very happy to do it. It is always a great joy to teach someone who is hungry to learn and take the next step in his eternal progression by getting baptized.

Aldo cruised through the six discussions and got baptized within a couple of weeks of our first meeting. While Elder Gertge and I taught Aldo and guided him into the waters of baptism, we really did very little other than being in the right place at the right time. It was his girl friend Gabriela, her family, the ward members in Beltran, and the Lord who prepared Aldo to become a member of the true Church of Jesus Christ. We missionaries just opened our mouths and invited him to come unto Christ. downtown rosario argentina 2

About a year after Aldo’s baptism, I was serving in the city of the Rosario. My companion and I were doing some street contacting along a major avenue, when a car pulled up beside us and Aldo jumped out. Aldo gave me a big hug and told me how he and Gabriela would soon be married in the Buenos Aires temple. I was so very happy to know that Aldo had stayed true to his testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and that he and Gabriela were going to be sealed in the temple for time and all eternity. And I was thankful that I had had a small part in the conversion story of Aldo.

Conversion of Juan Carlos Lopez

The following video is more lengthy than most of the ones I produce, but I think it’s inspiring and I hope you will spend the time to watch it or read the story below of the conversion of Juan Carlos Lopez.

Juan Carlos Lopez was a man my companion, Elder Wasden, and I met in the city of Rosario in late December of 1996.  We met Juan Carlos on my first day serving in the city, and actually, elder wasden and smith parque urquiza rosario argentinait was probably within an hour of me arriving in the city.  I had been serving in a city to the north of Rosario when I got the transfer call.  When I arrived in Rosario it was mid-morning and without even unpacking my suitcases, my new companion and I headed out to do missionary work.

Heeding the Spirit to Open Our Mouths

Within a few minutes of leaving our apartment, Elder Wasden saw Juan Carlos on the other side of the street, he insisted that we cross immediately and go talk to him.  It was a busy street and we were not at a cross walk, but knowing the charge to open your mouth at all times, we went and spoke to him.

Little did we know at the time, but that same morning Juan Carlos Lopez had been talking with his mother about the Mormon Church.  When we missionaries saw him in the street and stopped him to tell him about our message, he sincerely wanted to learn about the Church.  I’ll always be grateful to Elder Wasden for hearing and obeying the prompting he got from the Spirit to go talk to Juan Carlos.

We had a nice little chat with Juan Carlos.  He gave us his address and invited us to come to his home the next morning to teach him the first discussion.

missionary weekly plannerPlanner Disaster

Missionary planners, at that time in the Rosario Mission, were simply a simple piece of blue card stock with a grid pattern for each day of the week and each hour of the day.  The back was blank and we usually used it for taking notes, like people’s names and addresses.  We would fold it up and keep it in our pockets.  When we met Juan Carlos that morning, I pulled out my planner, scheduled the appointment and wrote down his name and address.

When we got home for lunch that day, I realized I had still been using my planner from my old area.  So I threw out my old planner, and started a new one. It didn’t even occur to me that Juan Carlos’ information was on the old planner.

The next morning we went out street contacting but we entirely forgot about our appointment with Juan Carlos.  When we were sitting in the apartment a lunch, we got a call from the mission office.  Juan Carlos was very upset about us missing the appointment, so he had found the mission office number in the phone book and had called them and asked them to send us to his house.  We rushed straight over to his home, apologized and made another appointment.  This time, we were extra careful to make it to the appointment.

juan carlos lopez home rosario argentinaFirst Four Discussions

The first discussion went well, so we schedule a second discussion.  At the end of the second discussion, we asked Juan Carlos to to follow the example of the Savior and to be baptized.  He accepted the invitation whole heartedly, and we made plans for him to attend Church, which he did.  We scheduled the third discussion and left him a little pamphlet about the principles of the third discussion.

All of our discussions with Juan Carlos took place around his dining room table shown in the picture to the right.  His mother, who you also see in the picture, listened to all the discussions but never wanted to be baptized.  I’m guessing we took this picture during the third or fourth discussion because the pamphlet for the fourth discussion, on the plan of salvation, is seen on the table.

Doubts Creep In Over Tithing

Prior to the fifth discussion, which talks about tithing, we left Juan Carlos the pamphlet as usual.  When we arrived at the appointment, I noticed there was a calculator on the table.  For the first time in all our meetings, calculatorJuan Carlos began to show doubts and concerns about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  He asked how many members there were in the world, and then began to make some calculations regarding average income and how much money the Church was bringing in through tithing.  He had a ton of questions about how tithing funds were spent, he stopped coming to Church, and we had to postpone his baptism.

For the next couple of weeks, we visited Juan Carlos as much as possible, and each time we did, that calculator remained sitting there on his dining room table.  We brought members with us to these meetings, we testified, and we encouraged Juan Carlos to continue reading the Book of Mormon and praying about the truthfulness of the Church and our message.  Finally, we set one last appointment with Juan Carlos where we planned to tell him that we would be visiting him less often, but he was more than welcome to come to Church if he ever wanted to continue the lessons.

Prayer and The Spirit Changed His Heart

When we arrived at Juan Carlos’s home and sat down for this good bye meeting, to our surprise and joy, there was no calculator on the table.  This calculator, which had been a symbol of a stumbling block stopping his progression in the gospel, was gone and I knew that Juan Carlos would begin progressing again.  Juan Carlos told us that he wanted to finish the rest of the discussions and get baptized as soon as possible.

baptism of juan carlos lopezI asked Juan Carlos what caused his change of heart, and he explained that the previous night he couldn’t sleep because of the hot, humid weather.  So he took his mattress up onto his roof, where it was cooler, and attempted to sleep there.  He said he was gazing at the stars and he felt like he should pray, so he knelt and prayed about life, about the restored gospel, and about the principle of tithing.  He said the Spirit of the Lord came upon him very strongly and gave him a slight rebuke and told him not to worry about the principle of tithing any longer.  The Spirit testified of the truthfulness of the gospel, and from that moment on, Juan Carlos knew he needed to be baptized.

Juan Carlos got baptized just a couple of weeks later and it was a great event.  His conversion story is a testament to the importance of missionaries following the promptings of the Spirit to open their mouths and proclaim the gospel at all times, and a testament to the power of prayer and the Spirit of the Lord to penetrate hearts and convert people to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.