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Home Scripture Testimonies Great Testimonies 5

Great Testimonies 5

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Bill Wait
Clifford J. Barborka, Jr.
Don Vincenzo Di Francesca

Bill Wait

Not everyone receives the gospel through formally-called missionaries. Sometimes it comes from a friend or a family member. Bill Wait received it through his older brother.

At first, however, he rejected it. "Tough, irreverent and worldly," in the U. S. Navy in World War II he had no need for religion and was embarrassed by his brother's conversion. Returning to civilian life he continued his search for "happiness" with the same attitude.

Bill Wait held out against the truth for seven years. This unembellished story of what made him change and how he found true happiness in Jesus Christ is not only of great intrinsic interest but will serve to encourage Church members whose loved ones have so far not felt to join them in their allegiance to the gospel.

When I was a kid, preparing for the weekly worship service was a hectic ordeal in our home. As the meeting time approached, shoes were still unshined, shirts were without buttons, ties were wrinkled, and tempers flared. Our suits were made of burlap interwoven with straw. The coarse fiber was irritating to tender skin, so many of us wore our pajamas under our Sunday suits. Arriving at church late, angry, and wrinkled, and smelling of Shinola shoe polish, we would sit in our assigned front row seats and brace ourselves for the fire and brimstone from the pulpit and the crashing thumps from the elderly deacons sitting behind us.

My brother was more spiritually inclined than I. He studied his New Testament and endured the minor frustrations. As I grew older, I swore I would never attend church again.

One Sunday afternoon, after having made this vow, I sat with my friend, Jack, in his living room, reading the Sunday funnies and listening to Glen Miller playing "In the Mood." The music was interrupted as we received news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. Our lives changed rapidly. Families and friends were separated, and the secure routine of life was abruptly changed.

My brother, two years older than I, quit high school and joined the Merchant Marine. A strange feeling of fear and nostalgia welled up in my heart as I stood in the early morning fog on the San Pedro water front, waving good-bye to my brother as he entered the gate to board his ship. Then for two hours I waited there in the fog for the Pacific Electric street car to take me home.

Weeks later, we received a phone call from New York. My brother was leaving his ship and coming home on a motorcycle. He arrived home suntanned, and filled with stories of great adventure on the high seas and across the plains of the western states. Within weeks he was gone again, this time with the United States Navy, as a seaman aboard destroyer escort on convoy duty in the North Atlantic.

Many ships were being sunk and many men were dying. My brother's greatest desire in life was to be married, and he was afraid that he might be killed in the war and never realize that dream. He had read in the Bible which he carried with him that there was no marrying or giving in marriage in heaven. He feared this meant that if he were killed he would never realize his greatest dream. As he stood on watch through the cold, dark, stormy nights, he would pray to know if this were true. After many long, lonely hours of deep and sincere prayer, he received a direct revelation that even if he were killed, he could be married in heaven.

This spiritual experience was so overpowering that he began to search for a church that taught this doctrine. As his ship would put in to port, he would buy books on different religions and study [p.69] them through his tour of duty at sea. Soon he was transferred to a torpedoman's school in Rhode Island. After graduation he was transferred to Barbers Point on the Island of Oahu. One day he took a tour of the island.

The bus stopped at the Mormon Temple in Laie, and the tour group entered the bureau of information. As my brother stepped inside, his eyes fell upon a rack of pamphlets on the wall. One was entitled "Eternal Marriage." Taking a copy, he ran back to the bus and read it through tear-filled eyes. The Holy Ghost bore witness to him that he had found the truth that he had so diligently sought.

Upon returning to the naval base, he sought members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He read the Book of Mormon, received a testimony of the gospel, and was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church. Overwhelmed with joy at his new-found truth, he wrote home and to me.

By this time, I was in New Guinea aboard a rusty old Navy ship. I, too, had quit high school and left home on my seventeenth birthday. I was homesick and discouraged, for I had left thinking that I would become a Navy hero aboard a destroyer or a submarine. But I was swinging around the hook in Madang, New Guinea, and cursing the heat, the ship, and the war. My brother's letter to me arrived with a package. I had hoped for goodies from Hawaii, but out dropped a book of scriptures. I was embarrassed in front of my friends to be receiving such a package, for we were tough, irreverent and worldly men. That night, I placed that Book of Mormon and some equipment of my shore-based days in the sea bag, and in the dark of the night I dropped it over the fan tail and gave the gospel light the "deep six." My search was for happiness, and I thought that it was not to be found in church.

My parents, knowing little of the Mormons, were shocked by my brother's decision and offered little encouragement to him. My feeling was that he had suffered too much of the pressure of war and had cracked under the strain. To me, church was an escape from life or an opportunity to make a living. I was embarrassed that a brother of mine had turned to religion.

The months rolled into years, and finally the war was over. My brother went home, and within a short while he was called on a full-time mission for the Church.

I had many months yet to serve on my enlistment, but finally we were all home as a family unit. I had been embarrassed in explaining to friends that my brother was a missionary. My concept was far different from what he had experienced. It was now my turn to hear, firsthand, his testimony and the plan of salvation. He wanted me to be baptized and join him in the kingdom of God. I was frustrated and disturbed by his strong desire. I tried to avoid him and continued my search for "happiness."

I had joined the Los Angeles Fire Department and was living the "Life of Riley." I had good pay, many hours off, good health, many friends, and could spend all of my time and money in the pursuit of pleasure. I was living at the engine house at the time, and I envied the firemen who went home to wives and families when relieved of duties. They, in turn, envied my freedom and lack of responsibility. But, inside, I was slowly dying because life was a meaningless rat-race.

The Korean War had begun. Friends were being called away to the horrors of war. As the empty days wore on, I became more and more discouraged. There was no apparent reason for my despair; I had everything that the world can offer—except happiness.

One night as we responded to an alarm of fire, a friend of mine, reporting from another engine house, fell off the tailboard of his truck and was killed. The alarm was false, and the futility of this tragedy, the return of war, and my futile search for happiness weighed heavily on me through the remainder of that night. When I was relieved of duty the next morning, I walked the streets of Los Angeles to where my friend had died.

Here, on Skid Row, as the smog hung heavily in the air, I found the tragedy of death which is a lack of reverence for life. All about me there was the stifling stench of sin. Obscenities were crudely written on the walls of the ugly buildings. Drunks were lying on the sidewalks, and the paddy wagon was making its  morning rounds. The newspapers on the racks gave detailed accounts of the battle dead in Korea, and my thoughts filled me with despair.

I walked down the street and prayed to God to know why I was alive, and with all the energy of my soul I told him that I
But in answer to my sincere prayer I was overwhelmed with a desire to read the books that my brother had been urging me to read for the past seven years.

Now, each morning as I left work I went to the library and read the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the New Testament. I knew that what I read was true; the Holy Ghost bombed me with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I knew of a surety that the words were true. I was filled with despair at the exquisite memory of the wasted years of my life in search for happiness. But at the same time I was filled with an even greater joy, with the
I began attending church, where I found not only the love of the Latter-day Saints, but also the love of the girl who was to become my eternal mate. Soon I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church by my brother who had tried patiently and long to bring this great truth to me. Not long after, he baptized and confirmed my mother and my father. Soon we were sealed for time and all eternity to one another. A far greater security than I had ever known was ours. The true happiness which I had sought was found in its only source—a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Clifford J. Barborka, Jr.

Material wealth, social position, worldly pleasures—these things have always been a threat to righteousness. Clifford Barborka almost succumbed to them.

His wife, the talented singer Melva Niles, accepted the gospel first. His resistance to it caused much conflict between them, and this tension was not eased by his health impairments caused by his heavy smoking and drinking. How was God going to reach down and lift a life like this?

The Lord's hand is indeed evident as the story unfolds. Today, many thousands of Church members and nonmembers alike from coast to coast have seen and enjoyed the programs presented by the talented Clifford and Melva as they, serve their full-time informal mission. In this way as well as during their formal stake mission, they have borne to multitudes the fervent gospel testimony they feel.

For their talents and services, this couple formerly received an annual income in six figures. But as the reader clearly sees, their real success and happiness came when they were "hired" by the Lord.

When Melva Niles and I first met in 1947, she was starring in "Song of Norway" and had accompanied the show on its national tour. As we progressed towards marriage she made great strides in her career. By the time we were married, in 1949, her manager was Mr. Edwin Lester, director of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Association, and he had just "sold" her to Cole Porter  for his new show, "Out of This World." Melva's income was up to $1500 per week. Fortunately, Melva has always been first a wife and second a career woman, especially after our two sons were born. This attitude is rare among talented women.

By 1956 Melva was recognized for her outstanding talent in both East Coast and West Coast theatrical circles. She had become a member of the Junior League and was a constant contributor to and participant in charitable causes. She donated her time to handicapped children and children's hospitals, made a benefit recording for Multiple Sclerosis, and so on. Personally, socially, and professionally, her life had been one of accomplishment and growth, and she was very much a part of the world and worldly ways.

In the meantime I became Midwest Sales Manager for John Blair & Company, which was the leader in its field and the first radio-television station representative firm to pass the $100 million gross figure. In 1958 I became vice president of that company, Director of Midwest Operations, and a member of the board of directors. Soon I would become the fifth largest stockholder of the company.

I mention these and other matters here, not for purposes of self-aggrandizement, but rather to set forth the background of our lives as they were when the gospel found us. Educated in mid-western private schools, and very much a part of the world both personally and professionally, I had never even heard of the name, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," and I knew of the Mormons only as a group headed by Brigham Young in a historical exodus to the west. My father's background was Catholic, my mother's family was Methodist, but we had long since fallen away from any formal religion.

For Melva and me, 1956 certainly was a great year, and it seemed to be the staging year for even greater growth. By 1957 we would enter our first of five years in which gross income would reach six figures. In short, the world was our oyster, for to us at that time it seemed that we had all that any couple could possibly desire.

One sunny day in July of 1956, my phone rang while I was in the midst of a most important meeting; Melva had called to tell me that she had been talking to two young men who told her about another young man who said he had seen God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ! This was so incredible to me that I told her to "get them out of our apartment and do so at once, and they are not to come back." This was the beginning of our personal Armageddon.

To Melva, this was the moment of truth for which her soul must have been thirsting, because she received an immediate testimony that these young missionaries were telling the truth. Subsequently she met regularly with them. Even I settled for two meetings at later dates. At one of these meetings, I tried to point out errors in the missionaries' teachings and presented an opposite viewpoint. Then I invited a personal friend, an Episcopalian priest, to have dinner with us and the young missionaries so that Melva might compare the learned with the unlearned, be brought back to the facts of life, and thus stop asking me to get involved. How well I remember that night! Intellectually, the priest dominated the young missionaries; however, I told Melva afterwards that I believed the two young men more than I did my long-time friend, the priest—but that, with all our other commitments and responsibilities, we could not get involved in a church.

Melva continued to go to church with the missionaries on most Sundays and occasionally to Relief Society. However, by worldly persuasion and reasoning I was able at this stage to argue her out of a firm commitment, to prevent the total involvement of baptism and membership. During this period I was asked by Isaac Smoot, the mission president, to speak to the missionaries on the subject of salesmanship, which was my specialty. I look back now and realize that while speaking to these young men I had an unusual feeling that could only mean one thing—a testimony.

My plan had been to demonstrate to the missionaries sample door approaches, showing them how they could get into more homes, how they could hold the attention of their prospects, and then how to present the material efficiently and effectively. As preparation for my presentation I read and re-read the Joseph  Smith Story which was the material the missionaries would be using. This pamphlet vaguely disturbed me. But it was not until I made the presentation before the assembled missionaries that I had the startling reaction to its message.

Suddenly, as I spoke, I felt as though I were alone, apart from the group which had become a blur in front of me—I felt levitated, disconnected from the floor. My fingers and toes tingled. I can recall this experience almost precisely, not because I analyzed it and understood it at the time; I was baffled! Once the sensation had passed, I concentrated on dismissing the whole thing as unusual but inconsequential. I turned my back on the first of three such testimonies.

I had graver things to think about! It was also at this time that my doctors gave me approximately ten years to live unless I changed my way of life. Life for me embraced a great deal of social activity including much professional entertaining. Every day I smoked three-and-a-half packs of cigarettes and drank from ten to fifteen drinks. Among my health impairments, I had developed a diseased liver, emphysema of the lungs, and high blood pressure—and I was only thirty-three years old. Life certainly had its conflicts.

After many pressures and arguments, I finally allowed Melva and our older son, Cliff III, to be baptized in 1960. At this point I began to lose my firm grip on Melva and the family, as our lines of communication began to pull apart. I discovered that in the highly-charged social atmosphere of New York, and more specifically Bronxville, New York—a very restricted suburban community covering about one square mile in area—our sons were beginning to experiment in undesirable behavior. It was also the year 1960 when I turned my back on another testimony.

It happened in a plush restaurant in New York City. A business acquaintance (who incidentally happened to be a good Mormon) was seated with me, and we were discussing uses of various sales tools.

"Do you really believe that Joseph Smith actually saw God?" I asked him without preliminary discussion on the subject. He then solemnly bore his testimony to me that he knew that Joseph Smith [p.76] did indeed see God. I shook my head in disbelief and wonder that such a sensible man as my friend would embrace such fantasy! He patted my hand and told me that I would understand it all better after I had become a member of the Church! A highly charged sensation surged through me and again my hands and feet tingled. But I was unwilling to recognize or admit that these experiences were witnesses of the Holy Ghost.

My interests were in material gain and not in changing our way of life. Nevertheless, a strong sense of disenchantment was setting in on me as to the manner in which we were earning our living. The more I came in contact with the Church, the greater this disenchantment became, and combining this with the fact that Melva could not save our boys alone and that they were beginning to drift, I knew that something had to be done to improve the situation. Thus it was that in 1961 I sold my interests in John Blair & Company and became an individual entrepreneur. This allowed me more time with my sons, but nevertheless as a family our lives were terribly discordant. Melva and I drew further and further apart. I would send Melva, the boys, and our household help to church by limousine, and then have them picked up just before final song and prayer, as I wanted them home as quickly as possible. It seems so ridiculous now that I wasted so much precious time and built so many frustrations into our lives, with so much at stake spiritually.

Melva made a tragically prophetic statement shortly after she was baptized (I did not attend her baptism). She said that if I continued to stay away from the Church and did not take it seriously, we would lose everything. I did stay away and I did procrastinate with my inner feelings, and her prophecy was true in so many ways.

I remained opposed to joining my family in the Church. In fact, I would not admit believing any part of it. Nevertheless, I accepted, even volunteered, involvement in projects where my theatrical acumen would be useful. The members were grateful for the assignments I accepted in the production of Promised Valley, the Mormon Arts Festival at Columbia University, and the World's Fair Singing Mothers. I did not resent any of the time spent on these performances; in fact, my business life did not [p.77] suffer at all from the little time that these projects required. However, I did begin to suffer new reverses in business. Every investment became unbelievably unprofitable. I could bet on a sure thing and yet lose. Determination to show Melva that I had everything under control drove me to make some foolish moves. I was desperate to show her that I could handle these affairs and be eminently successful as I had been in the past. To say the least, it was very annoying to see Melva's prophecy coming true as one venture after another failed.

Then in 1963 we had a particularly serious argument about religion, and the next morning I found a letter from my wife which caused me to realize the desperate and lonely situation that confronted Melva. She had gone as far as she could go without her husband. The letter truly touched me, and at this time I realized something serious had to be done. It was at this point that I began to accompany my family to Sunday School regularly and to study the scriptures and the writings of Church leaders. We invited the missionaries to dinner often, but still I was not really opening my heart to their message.

In studying the scriptures I discovered new and profound meanings. Especially was I amazed at how the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants supplement and add veracity to the Bible. Then in class on Sunday I began to feel a radiant spirit among some of the members, and my curiosity began to grow. Now gospel discussions were more common in my life, and soon it was apparent to me that the Book of Mormon was at least unique and exceptionally interesting.

While reflecting on all of this late one night, I realized that I was experiencing that same feeling from within that had been part of me that night in 1956 when I addressed the missionaries in Chicago, and then again in 1960 while discussing the Church with an intelligent friend. Now here it was again, and I knew for certain that the Book of Mormon was what it purported to be, and that therefore everything else must also fall into place. It was a thrilling moment.

I woke Melva, it being about two-thirty in the morning, and we assumed what for me was a very foreign position—we knelt [p.78] in prayer. While praying, we both experienced a deep feeling of peace and assurance that all would be well in the future. Afterwards I told Melva that I wanted to be baptized—but could I live the covenants, especially in the area of "kindergarten" called the Word of Wisdom? This was now May, 1964, and in an interview I set my baptism for the last Saturday in July. In retrospect, it is foolish that I chose to delay baptism for two months, since I knew the Church was true and I had made up my mind to live by its tenets. I could as easily have set the date for one month or even one week later. The course I followed was a very dangerous one, and I would not recommend it to anyone.

Now the torture began in earnest, and up to the last night prior to baptism, I could not seem to live the Word of Wisdom. We were out to dinner with clients, and I had martinis before dinner, wine with dinner, and a stinger after dinner. I remember I had a couple of drinks at intermission during the show we attended, and then left to catch the 12:04 a.m. train to Scarsdale. We got to Grand Central Station with about ten minutes to spare, so I took Melva into one of my favorite bars and I had two fast drinks. As I took my last puff on the cigarette I was smoking, it was four minutes before twelve and I knew this was it! Could I make it? Did I have a real testimony? I had no doubts about the Church, but did I have sufficient strength?

I determined to stay strong through Saturday; and then Sunday, being the Sabbath, would have to be observed. A doctor friend had given me some pills to help through the coming weeks, and I was armed for the battle.

After coming out of the waters of baptism, I had that exhilarating feeling that comes when the spirit has subjugated the physical man. It was so strong that I knew I had been "hired" by the Lord for his purposes and that I was truly different from what I had been the day before. Since I did not want to be "fired" from the Lord's employ, and since the priesthood was more important to me than any job I had ever had, I knew that the Lord and I would overcome my Word of Wisdom problem, so instead of pills I turned to prayer. Whereas I had been accustomed to having a fresh cigarette in my hand every fifteen minutes, it now became ]tter of a prayer on my lips almost every fifteen minutes. I will not detail the conquering of this habit—this minor requirement of gospel living—except to say that it was not easy. But I knew it was necessary, and ever since the day I was baptized, I have been able to testify to the truth of the Word of Wisdom, for I am still in better health than ever before, and the liver and lung impairments, while not cured, are surely arrested.

My father, being a doctor, is amazed at the improvement in me. He is a world-renowned doctor of internal medicine. Recognized as an innovator both in research and in treatment, he was Professor of Gastroenterology at Northwestern University School of Medicine and later was president of the national organization. He has been director of research for the World Medical Association, and has other honors too numerous to detail here. We were a family dedicated to achievement in the world, and were far removed from theology or theological issues.

Dad was pleased that my health improved after my baptism, yet any attempt to discuss the Church created an argument or disagreement. This finally prompted him to tell Melva that she must see to it that I stopped talking religion in front of him.

After six months in the Church, Melva and I were called on a stake mission for two years. This became another milestone in our lives, for we soon discovered that we had neither the desire nor the time to make money; so around April of 1965, we completely stopped working and made our mission a full-time mission. Now with our door open to the missionaries and a prayer that we might be of service to them in their efforts, we began to get calls to talk to investigators. Soon we were talking in sacrament meetings throughout our stake, and during the week we would be with the missionaries, with our own investigators, and opening our home for missionary meetings.

By 1967 we were presenting our program in wards and branches, stakes and districts, and by the end of that year we had completed assignments from Massachusetts to California with many stops in between. This was a labor of love, and we were constantly adding to and changing our format to meet the needs of the group concerned. Our mission was extended by six months, [p.80] and when it ended, we discovered that we were busier than ever. By the end of 1969, we looked back and found that we had crisscrossed the United States by car alone (not counting air travel) almost twenty times since 1965, had accumulated over 120,000 miles of missionary travel, appeared in over a hundred different wards and branches, and had seen the Church in action throughout the nation. Although an exact total is not available, we have had the privilege of giving over six hundred separate presentations with music and the spoken word.

In all this we received much more than we could ever have given. What a testimony it was to us! We found the Church to be the same in the East or the West, for everywhere the saints are striving for the same goal—eternal exaltation. To us, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a living miracle. Where else in the world will you find an organized religion, association, or group of any type that has so many people unselfishly committed to the same objectives?

It is interesting to reflect upon the way the gospel changes one's life. Among other blessings, since the day I was baptized Melva and I have not been separated for more than a day; and we work, play, and pray together in all things. Our lives have become totally inseparable both personally and professionally, and—contrary to the "old days"—we never have a conflict of interests. In fact, we love this great blessing of togetherness and are grateful for it. We have discovered that for life to have real meaning, it must give real service. Now we are happily rebuilding our lives, asking only that the Lord's will be done.

One day Melva and I sat reflecting on our blessings and the great opportunities we have to be of service to our Father in heaven. At the time we were with Melva's mother. We were expressing wonderment that the missionaries ever found us, when Melva's mother humbly admitted that she had sent them to our home.

Melva's mother was born to Mormon parents who both died when she was a child. She was raised by relatives, married while young, moved to California, divorced her husband, and married again out of the Church. (Her daughter, Melva, never knew about [p.81] the Church until years later, when she learned of it in the way I have recounted.) My mother-in-law reactivated herself after a series of personal tragedies and, unknown to us, committed herself to the gospel. She then sent the light of the gospel into her daughter's life, thus benefiting me and my family and my brother and his children—and so on it will go, particularly as we do our genealogical and our missionary work.

We are truly grateful for the adversities in our lives, and we know that if they had not come we would not have the gospel to enjoy as we do today. We are blessed by the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, which tell us that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a great prophet, and that there is a prophet at the head of the Church today. We know that the Book of Mormon is the work of God. Melva and I pray that we may be worthy servants in the Lord's kingdom and that we may endure to the end.

Don Vincenzo Di Francesca

This story spans an ocean and a lifetime. It takes the participant from his native Sicily to America, where he obtains a degree as pastor. More important, in a trash pile he finds a precious book of scripture. The book lacks only one thing—identification. It is without cover or title page.

The thrilling contents of the book now inspired Don Vincenzo's life and supplemented his sermons. But the ministerial reaction was the classic one—this must be heresy because it is not in the Bible. Don Vincenzo, however, had received the Spirit's witness that the book was true, and he would not retract. His account of the "trial" he received and his firm defense of the book without a name could almost make one think that a modern Luther was facing his accusers.

It took twenty years to discover the name and publisher of this precious book—the Book of Mormon—and another twenty before the eager convert could receive baptism. All that time Don Vincenzo was without Church association. The reader may well ponder whether his own faith would have stood that test.

Brother Di Francesca died firm in the faith in 1966. At his request, his story is dedicated to the Italian Mission.

Leaving the waters of the Mediterranean Sea on the north coast of Sicily about 80 kilometers east of Palermo, one can make his way up the steep slopes of the Madoni mountain range and eventually reach several small Sicilian villages, typically situated on the crests of the highest peaks. Passing through Santo [p.83] Gibilmanna one travels several more kilometers to the tiny city of Gratteri. This was where on September 23, 1888, at 9:00 a.m., Don Vincenzo Di Francesca was born and where on November 18, 1966, he passed from this life.

Many citizens of this tiny village experience birth, life, and death while never venturing more than twenty or thirty kilometers from their homes in all their lives. This might have been the lot of Vincenzo had not a sequence of events led him far away and eventually brought him to a knowledge and acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

From his very early years, Vincenzo was religiously inclined. After his elementary education was complete, his grandfather Antonine arranged for him to receive private religious training from the older man's cousin, Vincent Serio, who unfolded the Old and New Testaments to the lad. Vincenzo was so successful in all the lessons that his tutor praised him with the words: "Thou art blessed."

At the age of twelve Vincenzo was admitted to the Gymnasium Lay-Clerical where he studied religion for four-and-a-half more years.

His brother Antonine, who was then residing in New York City, invited Vincenzo to spend his seminary vacation in America, and he accordingly left Naples on a steamship. In New York he struck a fast friendship with his brother's friend, a Methodist pastor of the Italian Branch Chapel. Soon Vincenzo became a teacher of that congregation, and because of the merit of his teaching it was proposed that he take the Evangelical course of both Old and New Testament, at Knox College of New York, where he got his degree as pastor in November 1909.

Early one cold morning Vincenzo received a note about a sick friend. While he was on his way down Broadway toward the ailing friend's home, a strong breeze from the open sea rustled the pages of a book which had been thrown upon a barrel full of ashes ready for the city trash truck. The form and the binding of the pages gave him the idea that it was a discarded religious book, and curiosity pushed him to retrieve it. He plucked it from the ashes and beat it against the trunk of the trash barrel. He looked ] at the frontispiece and found it torn; the cover was completely missing. The fury of the wind turned the pages in his hand, and he saw names that he had never in his life seen before. In his haste to go on to his destination, he wrapped the soiled book in the newspaper he had just bought and continued toward his colleague's house, where he visited with him and consoled and advised him.

After Vincenzo's return home, as soon as he could get his coat off and warm himself, he opened the book and began to read. He came across some of the writings of Isaiah—a name he recognized—and was convinced that it was a fine religious book he had found. But he could not detect the name of it since the cover and some pages were missing, and other pages were too soiled to be legible. He went out to the drug store and bought 20 cents' worth of denatured alcohol, and with this and a cotton-pad he washed the remainder of the pages. Then he read them.

"I felt as though I was receiving fresh revelation and much new light and knowledge," he recalls. "I was also charmed to think of the source by which I had obtained the book. Many of the lectures in the book left in my memory a strong magnetic attraction, and I felt urged to re-read it several times, always satisfied that it fit very well with other scripture, as though it were a fifth Gospel of the Redeemer.

"The next day I locked my door and knelt with the book in my hands. First, I reviewed the 10th chapter of Moroni, and then I prayed to know if the book were of God. I also asked if I could mix the words of it with the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in my public preaching.

"While I was in that pose, awaiting a positive answer, I first felt my body become cold and my heart palpitate as if it would speak, and then I felt a gladness as if I had found something of extraordinary preciousness. It left in my memory sweet consolation and supreme joy that human language finds no words to describe.

"The book was easy to understand without effort. The more I read it and thought about it, the more I was impressed that I had received the assurance that God had answered my prayer and I knew that the book was of great benefit to me and to all who would heed its words.

"Within a few days my preaching was strung with the new words of the book, and the listeners became amazed and enthralled with the new power in these sermons, at the same time becoming indifferent to some of my fellow preachers. Thus while the esteem towards me grew, so did professional anger and envy and suspicion. One day I was interrupted in a meeting by the Vice Venerable, when he heard me talking of Mary the Virgin and substituting the vision of 1 Nephi 11:15-36. This arrogant authority encouraged my colleagues to sit in all my meetings and contradict any new doctrine! These contradictions and indignities made me rebel, and I became disobedient to the warnings for me to observe the strict methods of the sect.

"Next I was denounced to the Committee of Censure who, with fatherly words, counseled me to burn the book of the devil that had brought so much trouble to the harmony of the brothers who loved me.

"I testified to them as follows: 'I find the book precise under every respect to the writings of the prophets, and the words themselves testify that the book is of the God whom we profess to adore. I do not know to what precise church it belongs, but for certain it talks about the appearance of the Redeemer, after his crucifixion, to a remote people organized into a nation upon this continent, and the Redeemer himself there organized a Church with apostles and priesthood like the Church that he organized during his ministry among the Jews; and he gave commandments and laws. The great trouble with most of us is that we do not apply the teachings of the gospel to ourselves. We do not examine ourselves and find out wherein we are failing. Knowledge without practice is like a glass eye—all for show and nothing for use. There is nothing more true than the fact that it is works that count. Faith without works is dead, like the body without spirit. It is only a short time after death until we must bury the body. We cannot keep it.

"'The book that the Committee counsels me to burn talks of a church, but the missing pages do not let me know where it is. It is  better, instead of burning the book, that we practice what is in it, because certainly it gives us more light and knowledge and more faith to perform all our works, than the teachings of others. I cannot burn the book, because I fear God and I have asked him if it is true, and my prayer has been answered affirmatively, positively, without a shade of doubt. I feel it in my whole heart, mind, and body at this instant. Neither can I permit its burning, and since you insist on pronouncing the sentence to burn the remaining pages of the book which you say is of the devil, I tell you that it is the devil who suggests to you to persist in your decision in order to bring you into perdition as Judas Iscariot was, who sold the Redeemer for thirty pieces of silver. I am encouraged to tell you in this instant that your eyes are of glass and that you are all near to God with your words but far from him with your hearts and your works!'

"That was as the fire to the powder in the gun. The Committee got up and cried, 'It is enough! That book, which oppresses you, must be burned or you will incur the most serious displeasure.'

"I replied, 'I repeat, I will not burn the book. I prefer to go out of the ministry rather than burn the book!'

"In April of 1914, this heavy conflict had its conclusion before the Council of Peace of the sect, and I was invited to a conciliation. But I found that the subject of the judgment was not being changed. The Vice Venerable started the interrogation with affable manners, believing that my unyielding attitude had been provoked by the sharp rap administered by the members of the Committee of Discipline. He spoke with much benevolence, and then stated, 'You must be noble enough to burn that vessel of falsehoods that has brought bitterness to the Brothers of the Good Shepherd!'

"I replied, 'The musicians have changed, but the music is the same, namely that I must destroy the book with fire without anyone examining its contents. If I burn the book I offend the Godhead.'

"I was given one last warning: 'Repent of your stubbornness!'

"'No.' I stood with the contested book in my hands, listening to the words of the Judge stripping me of my degree of Pastor and of every right and privilege in the Church of the Good Shepherd.

"I left with fresh self-confidence at having defended my cause and that of the book of unknown name.

"On May 15, 1914, the Supreme Synod examined a list of member petitioners and reviewed my case of disobedience. They called upon me to be judicious and to abandon the "infidel book" and repent, as the Synod was of the intention to pardon my stubbornness. I refused, so they confirmed the decision, classed me as an habitual and incorrigible rebel against the ordinances of the religious sect, and pronounced definitely my removal from the body of the church.

"November 26, 1914, the Italian Consulate of New York called me to embark for Italy as a soldier in the 127th Infantry Regiment stationed at Florence, Italy. May, 1915, I was sent to the front. At one point I was seriously censored by the commander of the company on report by the Catholic chaplain who was aware of my loyalty to the book with no cover. I was punished with ten days in a tent with only bread and water, and was told never to tell anyone again about the history of a degraded people that are the American redskins.

"After my discharge in 1919 I returned to the United States, and there I met my old friend Mike, the pastor of the Methodist Church, who knew my preceding history and whom I greatly esteemed. He frankly interceded in my favor, asking that I be readmitted to the congregation as a lay brother, afterwards making steps toward a reconciliation. It was very hard, but at the end, being specific that they were conducting an experiment, they called me to accompany my protector abroad on a mission. We went to Auckland, New Zealand; and then to Sidney, Australia, where I found some Italian emigrants who had serious questions about certain gospel translations in some of the Catholic and Protestant editions of the Bible. They were unsatisfied by my minister friend's answers but, being in possession of the truth, I convinced them. When they wanted to know where I had learned such teachings, I spoke of the book in my possession. It was sweet for [p.88] them but very bitter for my colleague. At first he bore with me, but I could not resist the strong urge to preach the divine truth, and finally Mike denounced me in his reports. Again the Synod put in force the decision of May 15, 1914, and I was forever out of the Sect.

"In May, 1930, I stumbled onto the source of my precious book. It happened while I was looking in my French dictionary for the significance of a pulley invented by a Frenchman. As I was thumbing through the M's, my eyes fell upon the words "Mormon sect." I quickly wrote to the president of the 'University of Provo,' which was mentioned in the article, and asked for information about the remainder of the book that talks of Nephi, Alma, Mosiah, Mormon, Isaiah, Lamanites, etc. He passed my letter to the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in another month I heard from President Heber J. Grant. He sent me a copy of the Book of Mormon in Italian and said that he had informed the president of European Missions in Liverpool, England, Elder John A. Widtsoe, to arrange baptism.

"On June 5, 1932, Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Council of the Twelve came to Naples intending to baptize me, but a revolution between Fascists and anti-Fascists on the Island of Sicily caused the police of Palermo to prevent me from going to Naples, and I had to wait for another chance, like Moses in anticipation of the promised land.

"I was called to arms during the Italian-Ethiopian war in 1934, and this further prevented anyone with authority from reaching me for baptism.

"On January 14, 1937, I started correspondence with Elder Richard R. Lyman, European Missions President, and later with the president of the British Mission. President Hugh B. Brown of that mission eventually came to Rome intending to baptize me, but his letter of invitation for me to go to Rome was delayed until the day in which he and his family left Rome for America because of the outbreak of World War II, when the missionaries in Europe returned to America. Thus I was deprived of baptism, and cut off from any news of the Church.

"I remained a faithful follower and fervent preacher of the gospel of this dispensation, being in possession of the standard works of the Church. I translated those works in my idiom and sent the important chapters to persons of my acquaintance.

"On February 13, 1949, I started again the correspondence with Elder John A. Widtsoe and I asked him to help me to be baptized soon. He answered that he had written asking President Samuel Bringhurst of the Swiss-Austrian Mission to come down to Sicily and baptize me.

"On January 18, 1951, I was baptized by President Bringhurst in the Thermal Waters of Termini Irnerese, Sicily, in the South of Italy.

"In 1954 I made a trip to the Swiss Temple for my own endowments, and this first step was quickly followed by other trips to do temple work for my ancestors.

"You can see that I have toiled hard to find the salvation in the kingdom of God which was spoken of in the remainder of the pages of the book without title page or cover. I pray earnestly that my story will be copied into the historical record of the Italian District [now Mission] so that future converts can learn clearly that man does not live by bread alone but lives also by the word of God. To all the saints in Zion I clasp hands across the ocean in true brotherhood."

Brother Francesca's Christensen.

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 May 2010 19:18  

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