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Great Testimonies 2

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Anne G. Osborn
Louis Novak
Victor Nugent

A Spiritual Odyssey
Anne G. Osborn

I was raised in a typical midwest, Protestant, religious family. Although we always attended church as a family and were considered "pillars of the church and community," at a very early age I sensed a lack of some essential ingredient in our family's religious life. Unsatisfied after many conversations with the local   ministers and priests, I stopped going to church when I entered college. I felt a sense of inadequacy in the Catholic faith and in the major Protestant faiths I investigated; and, despairing that I would find anything different, I rarely attended church. My only experience with the Mormon Church was occasionally hearing Tabernacle Choir recordings.


In the fall of my senior year in college my parents gave me a car as an advance graduation and twenty-first birthday present. My sister was to be a freshman at Stanford University, and she and I drove my new car across the country. One of our stops was in Salt Lake City. We had some automobile trouble and hence were unable to reach Salt Lake in time to meet the last guided tour on Temple Square, so we wandered around by ourselves looking at the sights and marvelling at the feeling of peace and serenity that was so apparent.

My first personal contact with a member of the Mormon Church took place during my medical school years at Stanford. One of the most highly respected professors on the entire medical school faculty was a Latter-day Saint. He was universally admired and respected by the students not only for his teaching and research abilities but for his personal qualities as well. His happiness, his zest for life, and the love he felt for his students were apparent to all of us.
I knew he was a Mormon but remembered only that Mormons had some odd reverence for a man named Joseph Smith and—a mistaken impression from our "self-guided" tour of Salt Lake City and Temple Square—that they seemed to worship seagulls! Although it seemed odd to me that a man of the professor's scientific and intellectual stature should worship seagulls, I was nonetheless impressed by him. His life literally bore testimony to the truthfulness of his religion.

During the summer after my second year of medical school, I was on the faculty of the Red Cross National Aquatic School. While at this camp held in the High Sierras, I met another man who was much older than the highly respected professor yet had many of the same outstanding personal qualities. One day I accidentally learned that he was a member of the Mormon Church. ] He responded eagerly to my inquiries, and we discussed the Church frequently during that two-week stay in the mountains. He challenged me to visit a local Mormon congregation when I returned to the Bay area and made me two startling promises: One, that I would find the most extraordinary group of people I had ever met; a group of people who had a unique feeling of love, respect, and concern for each other. Two, that if I were to go with an open mind and heart, I would find a religion with faith, depth, and meaning greater than anything I had ever believed possible.

Intrigued by his challenges, when I returned to Stanford I determined to visit a Mormon ward. The medical school professor (the only Mormon I knew in Palo Alto) was on sabbatical leave, so I looked up the address of one of the local wards in the telephone directory and went there the next Sunday morning. Although I knew not one soul in that entire congregation, I was struck very forcefully by the love and spirit that were evident. The feeling of strength and vitality exuding from that remarkable group of people almost overwhelmed me. That first Mormon service I ever attended was a Sunday School worship service. As a Protestant, I was astonished to see a young child stand before the large congregation and quote a scripture—the sacrament gem. Young men passed the sacrament with deep respect and reverence, and two teen-agers gave short talks, each in turn expressing his love for the Church and the gospel.

Amazed at what I saw taking place, I was touched in an unfamiliar fashion. I experienced a surge of conflicting emotions and felt as though I were literally being torn apart. Confused and bewildered, I rushed out of the chapel before anyone could speak with me. In my emotional distress I intended to leave and never return again. But as I set foot outside the door of the chapel, a voice inside my mind said as clearly and as distinctly as one person speaks to another, "Anne, turn around and go back."

I turned around, and the entire course of my life changed in that moment. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I asked directions for the "inquirers' class." I had the incorrect name, but the wonderful people I asked knew exactly what I needed! [p.39] I was directed to the investigators' class, which was taught by a man who combined a deep love for the Church with in-depth knowledge of the scriptures. At the end of class he bore his testimony to us, expressing his unshakable conviction that the restored gospel was true.

After class, I paused to ask him a few questions and found myself invited to his home for dinner that evening. The evening with that good brother and his family was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. He had four children, each of whom discussed the gospel with as much eagerness and enthusiasm as did their parents.

I was taught the missionary lessons in their home and, after much fasting and prayer, was baptized less than two weeks later. Two weeks seems like an incredibly short period of time to make such a profound decision, yet I feel that I had what Truman Madsen in his book, Eternal Man, describes as that "instinctive feeling of recognition." I felt—as surely as a migratory bird follows the unerring homing instinct—that after a long odyssey I had finally come home. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what I was being taught was strangely familiar. Somehow, somewhere, at some time I had heard those teachings before. They struck a familiar note in my heart, and I was blessed with the deep assurance that at long last I had found the restored gospel and the true Church.

Now, eight years later, I look back on my experience with a continued sense of awe and wonderment. It is a source of strength to me that I, of all people, should be so fortunate as to find this gospel, this pearl beyond price. Truly it is the greatest blessing in my life. My profession and all other concerns pale into insignificance beside the effect of the Church in my life.

The gospel has been an enormous help to me not only in my personal life but in my profession. It gives me a feeling of confidence and peace and allows me to tolerate high stress levels emotionally and physically. I see great triumphs and great tragedies in my work, but the gospel puts life and death, pleasure and pain, in perspective.

All the experiences that I have had, all that I have read and studied, and all that I have learned in the years intervening since my baptism, testifies of the truthfulness of the gospel. I bear my personal witness that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one true church and that its teachings are the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. With a heart full of love and joy I bear this testimony in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


What's in a Decision?

 

Louis Novak

Two of the Savior's parables have a special meaning for Louis Novak and his family—the kingdom of heaven being likened to a treasure hid in a field and to a pearl of great price. (Matthew 13:44-46.) In each case the finder sold all he had and with the proceeds quickly made the precious find his own.

The message is universal as to time: When you find the gospel, no price is too great to pay for it. In modern times as always, for some converts this means the loss of friends and family, the forfeiture of reputation, status and recognition—even the cutting off of a comfortable income.

Lutheran pastor Louis Novak and his wife Alice "had it made" in the worldly sense. Then, after years of inner spiritual dissatisfaction and yearning, they were unmistakably led by the Spirit to the gospel light. Would they pay the price?

The Novaks know better than most of us do what's in a decision.

Alice and I were born, baptized, raised, confirmed and married in the Lutheran Church. Our heritage rested firmly on staunch German Lutheran families for many generations, presumably to the very core of the Reformation in sixteenth-century Germany. My maternal grandfather, for example, was a prominent Lutheran pastor. It was with a sense of pride on the part of my parents and a sense of duty on my part that I went through two Lutheran private colleges and a Lutheran theological graduate school to become a pastor in the American Lutheran Church, one of the several Lutheran synods.

For nearly fourteen years my wife and I served in Lutheran churches and endeavored there to find spiritual peace and truth. During that period of time we attained a level of income, a style of life, a social stratum and an educational prestige which to external appearances left little to be desired. To the outside world we were living the good life with all its comforts; we were professionally sound; and we were located in a congregation which showed good growth and enviable statistics.

With such stability and with high approval from family, friends and superiors, one could say that we "had it made." Yet we were not satisfied. Something very basic and important was missing from our lives. There was a gnawing shallowness in our hearts and a haunting insecurity in our souls. Does a person remain satisfied by the approval of men and by the standards of the world? Or does he take the deeper look into the meaning of life, into the spirit's craving for the truth upon which to establish a firm foundation for the joy and gladness of heart characteristic of a freed soul? What's in a decision?

After spending half a lifetime which had yielded but superficial satisfaction for our souls and a spiritual void for our children, our hearts were finally willing to heed the call and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our conversion can be likened to a long road to freedom. That road had, let us say, numerous road signs along the way, many landmarks, seemingly endless hills and valleys.

The first road sign I recall was as a young boy growing up on a Kansas farm. I learned from my devoted parents, Sunday School teachers and pastors that the only people who could obtain salvation were Lutherans. This confused me a great deal because I had friends who obviously were very fine people and were dedicated to their respective churches. When I challenged my pastor with my notion that Lutherans did not have a monopoly on heaven I was quickly and harshly ordered to remain silent.

Further confusion of mind was caused by the existence of the several different synods of the Lutheran Church and the openly expressed ill feelings between them. The sacramental conflicts between the various denominations and synods were particularly confusing to me. I felt a mixture of frustration, spiritual anxiety and unrest. Years later I would note similar feelings in the person I know best, my wife.

The second road sign came while I was in high school. I was virtually forced into the Lutheran ministry by my pastor and parents, whose strongest form of persuasion was to convince me that I should avoid wasting time in military service and instead apply for deferment, the privilege of all ministers and those studying for the ministry. Despite this I avoided the parish ministry as long as possible, taking detours along the road.

My longest diversion was in the study of music, which I used as the major for my first undergraduate degree. I then continued to avoid the ministry by going on to earn a second undergraduate degree in music. The highlight of this degree was my privilege in meeting another music major, a beautiful young woman with whom I sounded lovely consonant chords! Alice and I were married a year and a half later. Still avoiding the ministry, as newlyweds we went to New York City, where both of us studied and I received a graduate degree in music two years later. It is interesting that after all of this lengthy side-stepping I still ended up taking the four-year graduate course for the Lutheran ministry.

The third road sign came when I did my intern work in a large Lutheran church in Seattle, Washington. (Each year the intern in this church lived in an apartment located between the offices and the educational wing of the church. You can't get much closer to the church than that!) During this intern year a group of people known as "those Mormons" had the audacity to build a chapel only a few blocks from our large and well-established church. I still remember how my supervisor, the senior pastor, became very angry when this chapel was built. I remember him saying that those Mormons were a sneaky people who managed to steal away the young people of his parish by enticing them to such sinful indulgences as dances! Furthermore, our Lutheran youth were being invited by LDS young people to a variety of birthday, Valentine and Halloween parties. Much to the consternation of the Lutheran leaders, our youth seemed to  enjoy these events. Through all this Alice and I remained relatively unmindful of any church other than the Lutheran.

The fourth road sign came after I was secure in my first parish in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin is Lutheran country and I was one of six pastors in a 6,500-member congregation. I learned that a "sect" was building a chapel on the west side of Madison, and I drove by on several occasions to see how the building was progressing. But it was hardly a threat to my security, in view of the size and social prestige of the church I was pastoring. I remember the day I drove past the new chapel after the sign had been placed in front reading, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." I knew that the official stand of my Lutheran synod was that the Mormons are non-Christian; and I remember thinking that this "sect" had outrageous temerity to put the name of Jesus Christ on their church building.

The greatest joys of Madison days were the additions to our family. Our son Kurt was born February 2, 1962, and two years later, March 19, 1964, marked the birth of our daughter Kristin. Alice and I recall our dutiful diligence to baptize each one shortly after birth. I shall never forget Alice's response regarding Kurt and Kristin: "They are a gift from heaven and we have them from God only on loan. They are ours to nourish and clothe, guide and motivate, love and treasure, and always we are grateful for each day we have them in our care."

It was only later that I realized how prophetic were Alice's words and how non-Lutheran and potentially Latter-day Saint was her attitude. Lutheran theology regards everyone as being born in sin and unworthiness, thus demanding infant baptism. Lutheran theology does not accept the fact of premortal life; it considers the family unit as existing only for this earth-life. It takes a nebulous stand on marital separation and divorce as well as on abortion. All this vagueness of doctrine was beginning to cause me greater and greater concern. Through the years that followed, my family would develop into a very close unit, and already we were beginning to think and live in ways very similar to the life attitudes and life styles of Latter-day Saints. We were as yet,  of course, totally unaware of this. We were becoming increasingly conscious, however, that we were drifting further and further from the mode of life of our associates.

Thus the fifth significant road sign deals with my response to the ministry. I experienced a deep and negative reaction to my associations with pastors. The strong and overwhelming stress on church politics, self-advancement, personal glory, financial achievements and congregational statistics made me feel that true spirituality was somehow seriously lacking. As these feelings became more defined I felt forced into becoming a kind of "loner," and I withdrew from my pastoral friends and associates.

Meanwhile my theological concerns were deepening. The ritual of the liturgy (order of worship service) seemed to me cold, impersonal and unimaginative. Then there were the creeds (Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian), the designs of committees of theologians who lived early in the period I now recognize as the apostasy, these creeds being extrabiblical attempts to define God as a Trinity. Particularly the Athanasian Creed was conflicting and edged dangerously close to what some thoughtfully religious people would call blasphemy.

The great stress on salvation by grace and the minimization of the need for works was another scriptural contradiction I found it difficult to merely pass over. On contemplating scripture I found that the number of "works" passages far exceeded the number of "grace" passages, and I began to realize that in placing his great emphasis on salvation by grace Martin Luther had overreacted to his contemporary theological conflicts. That was the reason this great sixteenth-century theologian desired to exclude from the Bible the Book of James, which he called "the epistle of straw."

I recoiled at my church's indifferent reactions to the Virgin Birth, the Creation, the validity of certain books of the Bible (such as Job, Jonah and The Revelation), modern moral trends, the wide acceptance and use of loose translations of scripture, and the general lack of response to basic Christian concerns. Moreover it was deeply disturbing to me that the various [p.46] denominations were in competition and contention with each other. And the openly expressed ill feeling between several of the synods of the Lutheran Church was profoundly disconcerting. Was God really dead? or had he gone into retirement and ceased to care about his creation? Why did he sink into a strange and sudden silence with that last word in the Bible? Was this all there was to Christianity?

My feelings of frustration, spiritual anxiety, and unrest now became powerfully realistic. Finally I requested and was granted a temporary leave of absence from active parish ministry. While our leave of absence brought scorn from some of our pastoral acquaintances and relatives, it also brought temporary relief to Alice and me. In addition it brought us financial security and material abundance, for we developed a successful business in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But this materialism soon became a god which was hollow, meaningless and vicious. There was surely more to life than this. Together we were more and more seeking the truth which would set us free, but we were not aware of James 1:5, to which the young Prophet Joseph had so wisely turned in his youth. Nevertheless Alice and I realized that we needed to become more involved in spiritual things, and we sought this involvement in the only way we knew—we requested a return to the active Lutheran ministry.

This leads us to the sixth road sign. On September 1, 1967, our family moved to Broomfield, Colorado, where I had been called to become the pastor of the Lutheran Church of Hope. This was the nicest pastoral position I had ever had. We lived in a beautiful parsonage and had an attractive church building and a very nice congregation. My parents were delighted because I was now back in the ministry. We were esteemed in the community and our financial situation was highly satisfying. These were very happy years for us, and once again from all outward appearances we had everything worth having. For all that, there was a desperate sense of something missing in our lives. I will never forget the feeling of spiritual hollowness in my heart, a feeling which Alice shared with me. What was wrong? What was missing?

At this point the Holy Ghost began to forcefully move in on us and, as we look back, we can see the powerful and exciting process through which he worked. What's in a decision? For us it came into focus when the Spirit began to move so mightily in our lives that we were finally forced into the reality of life and God's plan for us. So with Broomfield the road signs began to come faster and faster and the steps leading to our conversion became keenly positive and acutely convincing. How thankful we are that spiritual concerns took precedence over physical concerns and that we heeded the call!

The initial and very important development came through Alice, who is a music educator. Since the birth of our children she had chosen to teach piano, organ and music theory in our home. In Broomfield she developed an especially fine studio for her teaching. Interestingly, several of her first students were Latter-day Saints. It was not long before Alice started telling me about several of these particular students. There was something special about them, she said. They were characterized by a distinctive kind of joy and peace. They were not typical of her other students. They stood out markedly.

One evening at dinner Alice told me she had boldly asked one of these students if the Mormons were Christian! This interested me greatly because, as Lutherans, we knew that Mormons were non-Christian. But Alice had been surprised to find out that the student considered herself Christian! Alice had been touched by this young girl's testimony, and she hinted that all of her Latter-day Saint students seemed to live Christlike lives and that perhaps we should not be so quick to pass them off as merely non-Christians. Alice began to talk with and about these LDS students more and more. I recall how she grew to love them and developed a deep respect for and close relationship with them as well as with their parents.

During this time another area of my interest was being kindled by the Holy Ghost. Partly out of a deep desire for the truth, and knowing that I did not have it, I pursued a doctorate in Christian church history. Much of my energy was dedicated in this direction from 1971 to 1974. But the answers to my  questioning and searching evaded me. The deeper I researched, the further I felt that I was going from the truth. Especially concerning to me was the realization that Alice, Kurt and Kristin were not receiving the spiritual nourishment they craved. Our theology was wrong and I knew it in my heart. But where was the truth? Where should we turn?

The doctorate studies did not answer such questions, but I believe that they opened up the way for me to see, finally, that my quest for spiritual truth in Lutheran theology was in vain. There could be no satisfying future for our souls there. The door was gradually being opened to our making the great decision.

In February of 1974 one of Alice's youngest piano students insisted that our family be given an invitation to the Broomfield Ward open house on March 2. The parents resisted because they did not think it was appropriate to send such an invitation to a Lutheran pastor. But this little girl persisted to the point that her parents reluctantly consented. It is through her missionary spirit that a great step was taken in our conversion.

On March 2, however, Alice was unavailable to attend the open house and I was hosting a regional Lutheran meeting at the Lutheran Church of Hope. All morning long there was controversy at this meeting regarding issues centering around demonology. I sat there with a very unsettled feeling in my heart. I had virtually forgotten about the ward open house, when suddenly, about thirty minutes before it was due to begin, I experienced a strange and overpowering urge to leave the controversy and antagonism of the meeting I was in and go to the Broomfield LDS chapel. After much inner turmoil I finally yielded. As I left I had a sense of guilt at leaving an obligation behind, but nevertheless I felt powerless to resist the impulsion.

As I entered the Latter-day Saint chapel I was immediately met by a friendly, concerned gentleman. A deep sense of relief swept through me, a feeling of leaving behind evil endeavors and entering into the presence of Christian concerns. This brother talked with me and then stayed by my side for fully two hours, answering my questions and simply being supportive. As the program began, a member of the seventies quorum made a   presentation on the doctrine of the Church which thoroughly fascinated me and which I shall never forget. I am convinced that this man was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Later he and I realized that we had virtually had constant eye-to-eye contact during his entire presentation.

From the chapel we visitors were led to the baptismal font by a young priest who explained baptism according to the theology of the Latter-day Saints. This mature presentation by such a young man struck me very forcibly because I had seriously questioned the Lutheran theology of baptism for years. Furthermore, it was uncommon in my tradition to have young people as knowledgeable and active in church matters. I sensed that what this young man said was true.

Next we went to the Relief Society room, where we were given a beautiful and intelligent presentation which seemed remarkably wholesome and thorough as compared with what I had been familiar with all my life. To hear a lovely woman give such a positive and strong testimony was heartwarming to me.

Now came the seminary room, where we viewed the film "Christ in America." I could hardly contain my excitement as so many of my questions on Christian church history were suddenly answered. Here I was, my doctorate nearly complete, and my quest for the truth coming to a climax in the Latter-day Saint Church! It was probably at this time, at the culmination of so much presented so well, that I was actually converted. I knew that this must be the true Church.

My heart was ready, but how could I become a part of it all? How hard it is to give up physical security and comfortable tradition! I bought a copy of the Book of Mormon that day and went home very elated. I remember telling Alice later: "There is something special there. I really felt good at that church. They have something I have never known before."

The summer of 1974, after I had received my doctorate, I was in spiritual turmoil. The ward open house remained a haunting reminder that something better was available. And by this time Alice and I had grown to know and respect several Latter-day Saint families. One evening one of the good sisters phoned  about a musical question. For the first time I bared my spiritual turmoil to a patient and understanding ear. Not long after this our family was invited to a home evening of that sister's family. We came away remarkably warmed. Yet how impossible it seemed for us to make such a change. My job, security, comfortable life, social standing, family ties, house, pension—it all flooded through my mind. On the other hand, how does one in the name of Jesus Christ preach and teach that which he knows is not true? What's in a decision?

Finally, in the fall of 1974 the Holy Ghost seemed to move in our lives with even greater power and persuasion. Although things were still going well at my parish, I knew in my heart that a change was necessary. I had two serious visits with the Lutheran bishop, but these resulted in my receiving nothing but high commendation and praise. Nevertheless I knew I was spiritually starved, and I was even more concerned about the spiritual malnutrition of my family and those members of my congregation who were in my charge.

Thus it was that on October 25, 1974, an especially beautiful day in Colorado, as I left the University of Denver (where I was pursuing a second doctorate) a strange and overpowering urge came upon me to go to the LDS Colorado Mission Home. I had memorized the address long before; and now, although I had many other pressing matters to care for, my car seemed to refuse to go anywhere except to 709 Clarkson Street. I kept telling myself that I merely wanted to drive by to see what the mission home looked like. I did stop the car in front of the house, however, my intention being only to look the place over from the outside.

I remember sitting there for a moment intending not to shut off the engine, but somehow the engine did get shut off. I sat there and looked at my watch. It was 12:35 p.m. I told myself it was inappropriate to call on anyone during the lunch hour. But I got out of the car and walked very ponderously toward the house, one heavy step after the other. It seems that I remember each step, it was such a slow process. I remember standing on the sidewalk at the base of the steps, thinking: "This is a nice place, and I'll just turn around now and go back to the car. I have [p.51] no business here. After all, I am a Lutheran pastor." But instead I labored up those steps, all twelve of them, and across that expansive porch.

I must have rung the buzzer, because the door opened. There stood a bright-eyed missionary. He invited me in.

"I really shouldn't be here today," I said. "Besides, it's lunch hour."

"We are through eating," he said.

I heard people taking the dishes away from the table, and I knew they had rushed to finish. I almost panicked. Why was I here? How could I get out of this one?

"I want you to know something," I said. "I am a Lutheran pastor, and I'm here because I'm interested in all the world religions. I thought I'd stop by and see what the Mormons are all about. I don't want to take too much of your time because it is noon hour."

"We are through eating," he explained again.

Other missionaries appeared and we sat down. One thing led to another. All the while I was reminding them that I was a minister of the gospel and therefore not a good prospect for them as missionaries, and that certainly I did not want to take much of their time. Somehow we spent an hour or two. I apologized upon leaving that I had taken so much of their time. They assured me they had enjoyed it and that I was welcome to come back at any time. I wished them well, reminding them again that I was a Lutheran pastor and therefore not a prospect.

As I drove away I had a warm feeling in my heart over the experience and yet a nagging fear that these good missionaries just might believe that I wasn't a prospect. Well, was I? What's in a decision?

The next day the bright-eyed missionary who had met me at the door telephoned me at my office in the Lutheran Church of Hope, of all places! How glad I was that he called! During the conversation he asked if he and his companion could come over and meet my family. The next evening two missionaries came to  our home; and from then on the process of our conversion continued to develop step by step, logically and without hesitation. On January 25, 1975, exactly three months and five hours from the time I rang the buzzer at the Colorado Mission Home, our family walked into the waters of baptism at the Broomfield Ward Chapel. After half a lifetime of searching, finally our joy was full.1

Our brothers and sisters in the Church have supported, sustained, guided and clarified our initial growth within the Church. Our friendships and associations were totally changed as a result of our conversion. If it had not been for the total acceptance we experienced from the Church members—from a most unusual and spiritual bishop, from the stake presidency, from the seventies and missionaries and the numerous loving brothers and sisters—it would have been very much more difficult for us. As it is, our growth and experiences in the Church have been filled with joy and blessings.

Kurt and Kristin relished the new challenges and associations of the Church. They grew and matured beautifully. It was a joy to see them blossom as they learned the ways of Christ's true Church on earth. Alice and I equally relished the joy of having found the truth. Our hearts were finally at peace and our testimonies grew as we experienced the excitement of knowing the truth we had sought for so long.

We had a great desire and urgency to go to the temple and there to have our family sealed together for time and eternity. On several occasions I suggested to our bishop that we be sealed before our first anniversary as members of the Church. In his wisdom he said that we should wait for the required one year. As soon as we were able to go to the Salt Lake Temple following our first year in the Church, we eagerly went. The support of the many people who accompanied us was tremendous. The sealing for time and eternity was one of the most glorious occasions of our lives.

The reason for our feelings of urgency about the temple sealing soon became apparent. Just two weeks after the ceremony a tragic automobile accident claimed the life of our daughter, Kristin. As we stagger under the heavy loss and grieve her mortal absence in our lives, and as we examine and study the process of the accident, we know in our hearts that it was the will of Heavenly Father that her spirit be called into the spirit world. We are strengthened and comforted in the knowledge that there her joy is even fuller than it was here. We have gratitude in our hearts that the timing of our Heavenly Father was so kind and merciful.

At a time such as this we can only ask questions and stand amazed as we ponder the answers: What if we had not joined the true Church of Jesus Christ and given this gift to Kristin? What if we had delayed the conversion to a more "convenient" time? What if we had not gone to the temple with a sense of urgency when we did? What if we had not given Kristin the great joy of Primary, Sunday School, sacrament meetings, and family home evenings?

During the week before the accident Kristin had asked her mother if it would be possible for her to go back into the temple. She had loved the experience so much. How could she, an eleven-year-old, or we, her mortal parents, know that her request would be granted so soon and in an even more glorious way?

In a lonely Kansas cemetery there stands a gray monument. On it are the four names of our family members. At the bottom are engraved these words: "This family is sealed for all time and eternity." What's in a decision? Behind the tears of temporary loss our eyes show the clear and joyous knowledge that our decision was truly the correct decision.

This is our story, and it is the testimony of our hearts. How grateful we are to Heavenly Father for allowing us to experience the great moments of life through which we were brought to the knowledge, assurance, joy and testimony that this is the true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth in these latter days!


More Than Pride and Vanity


Victor Nugent

In the words of Job, "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble." (Job 14:1.) The Prophet Joseph Smith added that man is "as disposed to evil as sparks are to fly upward." Surely King Benjamin's declaration is true: "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

"And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent." (Mosiah 3:19, 21.)

Later King Benjamin added that every man will be "judged…according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil." (Mosiah 3:24.) Surely this is the measure of a man—that when he hears the message of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ he receives it with joy and holds fast to it no matter what the apparent cost or personal sacrifice.

Such a man was Victor Nugent—a black man, a searcher after truth, and a man with integrity which made him give up all his sins to obtain his pearl of great price when he found it.

The events that resulted in my conversion to the gospel are too numerous, and frequently too personal, to relate here, but perhaps the major events are sufficient to portray the picture.

I was brought up in a family of Jehovah's Witnesses, consisting of my father and mother and eight brothers and sisters. At an early age I learned to read the Bible, attended meetings three times a week, and learned to use scriptural quotations to "prove" doctrinal points. Soon I was actively propagating the doctrine from door to door, first with my
During my high school years I first began to entertain misgivings about the truth of the doctrine I had been taught. I was not entirely satisfied with the explanation that some parts of the Bible were not to be taken literally but had a "spiritual" interpretation. Who had the authority to "interpret"?

My faith weakened progressively during high school years. By the time I entered university I had stopped attending meetings. I elected to read natural sciences, majoring in zoology and chemistry. Soon I had embraced the tenets of evolution and rejected the teachings of the Bible. By graduation time I had acquired a considerable number of personal bad habits and was an avowed agnostic.

Soon after graduation I married Verna, a high school classmate. Over the next seven years she did a wonderful job of making a home for me and our two children, while I frittered away my time, energy, talents and substance in the pursuit of sensual pleasure.

On the way home one morning, while suffering from the effects of a particularly vicious hangover, I finally saw myself as I was. I was so disgusted at what I saw that I prayed for the first time in about eleven years: "Oh God, if there is a God," I said, "please have mercy on me. Please help me!"

I immediately felt better after I had said these words and my life began to change from that point on. This was sometime in 1970. I stopped going out and leaving my wife and children alone at home. I had been in the habit of drinking about a pint of alcohol every day for about seven years and stopped drinking in 1971. I had been a chain smoker but stopped smoking in April 1972.

] At this time I was particularly concerned about my children, for I had noticed that many of my vices had rubbed off on them and it seemed to me that I was beginning to bring up a pair of monsters. I gradually gave up all my vices and started reading some books on psychology, philosophy, and metaphysics. I was searching for a way—for the truth.

During my search for the truth I noticed that many authors quoted freely from the Bible while others plagiarized it shamelessly. The question came to me: "What if the Bible is true in all respects?" I was overcome by an overwhelming compulsion to read the Bible, but the feeling came to me that I should read it with belief in my heart. I was either going to accept it all or reject it all. I started at Genesis, but this time I was not just reading words, I was visualizing events. What an impact it had on me!

By the time I finished the book of Genesis I had a new lease on life. When I saw that the sequence of events during the Creation was exactly the same as that propounded by the evolutionists, I threw out the theory of evolution.

I began to develop an entirely new concept of God and his relation with his children on earth. I went through to Revelation (skipping only some of the prophets), then started again at Genesis. By this time I was convinced that there was no religious body on earth (that I knew of) that was practicing all the teachings of the Bible. I spent many hours at nights walking outside, breathing the fresh night air, gazing at the stars, meditating and praying.

During this period I understood clearly that I was an eternal being, that I was of the posterity of Adam, that God lives and can communicate with man. I felt that if I were only pure enough I would be able to contact him, but at this time I also felt a kind of terror at the probable consequence of my sins. I felt that if God wanted to send a message to mankind, he would do so as he has always done—through his prophets. I had a strong feeling that somewhere on earth there might be a prophet today, looking like an ordinary, average human being, and that I would like to hear from him.

Bible-reading enthusiasm had caused me to spend part of my lunchtime each day reading the Bible in my office. One day Paul Schmiel entered and noticed what I was reading. He wanted to know which church I was attending. When I told him none, he said he was a Mormon and would like to tell me about his religion. He asked if he could visit me at home to tell me and my family about it.

I had previously declined such invitations from friends of other faiths, but there was something different about Paul. He was living the principles of the gospel as I understood them. I felt that he could tell me something, so I accepted his invitation.

Paul came to our home one evening and showed us two film-strips, one entitled "Man's Search for Happiness" and the other "Meet the Mormons." He instructed us from his manual and left us some pamphlets to read. At the close of the session he showed us how to pray and invited us to kneel in prayer.

I shall never forget that evening. It was as if a messenger from God had come to visit. The message he brought was exactly what I had been looking for. I eagerly read the pamphlets and went out in my back yard to meditate and reflect on what had been said.

Everything fit perfectly. There was only one "fly in the ointment." That first night Paul told me about the position of the Negro in the Mormon Church. My ego was hurt, but I had a strong feeling that the message was the truth, and more was involved than pride and vanity. I sought the Lord in prayer and the answer came back loud and clear. It was the truth!

I had received a testimony of the truth through the Spirit. Reasoning from this revealed truth I came to more fully understand the Church's position regarding the Negro and the priesthood. In answer to my friends I have advanced the following reasons for my convictions in this respect:

1.    I believe that all mankind has descended from Adam and Eve. I do not believe in evolution and can no longer accept the theory that the differences between the races of Homo sapiens are the result of mutation or natural selection.

2.    I believe that our Father in heaven directs and controls the affairs of this creation. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The status of the Negro race on earth today vis-a-vis other races cannot therefore be due to chance.

3.    The body is made up of different parts. All cannot be head! I believe the priesthood will be conferred on members of my race eventually, but I do not expect this to happen in my lifetime.

4.    I believe that our Father in heaven speaks through the leader of his Church—that the President of the Church is a living prophet of God, that he receives revelations from our Father in heaven, and therefore all that he says I am obligated to accept and do.

5.    I am grateful that through the wonderful gift of the atonement of Jesus Christ a sinner like me can have a hope of salvation through obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel. Like David, I can say of the Lord: "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God." (Psalm 40:2-3.)

6.    "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." (Psalm 84:10.)

My wife shares my convictions.

Paul continued to explain the principles of the gospel to us. The more I heard, the more my joy increased that I had at last found what I was seeking. We attended family home evening at his home. We read the Book of Mormon, we prayed about it, we were convinced of its truthfulness, and our convictions grew stronger.

As a family we started to attend Sunday School and sacrament meeting. Associating with other Mormons showed us that the peace and harmony evident in the Schmiel family was not a fluke—living the gospel is a way of life among Mormons.

My wife, my eldest son and I were baptized on January 20, 1975. I will be eternally grateful to our Father in heaven for sending me the help I needed in answer to my plea.

Tremendous blessings have attended my family as a result of our efforts to live the gospel as worthy members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Best of all is the growth and development of our children, and a new cohesion in our family life.

I solemnly bear witness that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live, that God hears and answers our prayers, that he has restored the everlasting gospel in its true form on earth today through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is his church—the true church. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 May 2010 19:19  

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