Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Conversion Story

By nature I am a storyteller, and I haven’t shared a story on Good News! for a long time. So today is story time—one of the stories from my book, Gospel Insights for Everyday Living. It is a conversion story shared with me years ago by a man named Pat Morgan.

Pat had been raised in the south by alcoholic parents who eventually died from the effect of alcoholism. The story began when Pat celebrated the birth of his second son by doing what his father had taught him to do: he went out and got drunk.

The next morning, hung over and feeling terrible Pat went to the mirror to shave, but it was not his own face he saw reflected. It was his father’s! Frightened, Pat spoke aloud, “I’m just like my dad!” And at that moment he committed to never drink another drop of alcohol again—a promise he kept.

Shortly after this experience, Pat was on a business trip when a man beside him on the airplane asked, “Excuse me, but are you a Mormon?” Irritated, Pat replied in colorful bar-room language that he was not.
A few months later while traveling to a seminar in Wisconsin, Pat caught the limousine service into town. A fellow passenger, the city manager in Juno, Alaska, was wearing a watch with gold nuggets attached to the band. Pat asked about the nuggets and the man told him he had panned the gold himself. After a few minutes of pleasant conversation th man asked Pat, “By any chance are you a Mormon?” Pat let out a stream of expletives and ended the conversation with an emphatic, “No!”

A few months later in an airport in Detroit, Pat was looking up, examining the beautiful domed ceiling when someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “Excuse me, but are you a Mormon?” Again Pat swore at the man and told him, “No!”

A while later Pat was in Texas in a taxi en route to the first day of a class to be taught by a scientist at NASA. As they approached NASA , one of Pat’s business associates told him, “Pat, during these classes you are going to have to watch your language. This scientist is a religious man and he will ask you to leave if you talk the way you usually do.” This irritated Pat, but he needed the information and so he grudgingly held his tongue as he sat through the classes.

A week later, his business partners needed some papers from the scientist, and Pat was the only person available to pick them up. Reluctantly, Pat agreed to go. When Pat arrived at the office, the secretary had the papers he needed, so Pat retrieved them and left, relieved that he wouldn’t have to talk with the “stuffy” man. But he only got a few steps down the hall when he heard someone call his name. He turned to see the scientist. They exchanged a few cordial words and then the scientist said, “I watched you during our sessions and couldn’t help wondering, are you a Mormon?”

By now Pat had grown very curious. He had no idea what a Mormon was, and since he couldn’t answer in his normal bar-room fashion, he simply asked, “What’s going on?”

For the next few hours while touring NASA, the scientist told Pat about the Church. Pat was impressed, so when he returned home, he looked in the yellow pages of his phone book for a Mormon Church, but could find nothing. For the next few weeks he asked everyone he encountered if they had heard of the Mormon Church. No one had. Finally someone answered him by saying, “Yes, I think the real name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” With that information, Pat went back to the phone book and found and LDS meetinghouse not far from his hom, and he attended a meeting there the following Sunday. Liking what he heard, he returned the next week. This was before the three-hour meeting block, and he happened to attend priesthood meeting leaving as soon as the closing prayer was said.

After Pat attended priesthood meeting for a few weeks, something unusual began to happen. Pat repeatedly awoke in the middle of the night with a feeling he couldn’t understand. The strange feeling would cause him to weep. He’d sneak out of bed and go to the living room where he would cover his head with a pillow so his wife wouldn’t hear him. Once “hidden,” he would cry uncontrollably. This caused him to worry that he was having a nervous breakdown.

Then, after priesthood meeting one Sunday, Pat was looking for a restroom and opened a door to what he later learned was a Junior Sunday School room. But before he could shut the door the woman conducting the meeting said, “Oh, children, look, we have a stake visitor with us!” As the woman promptly ushered Pat to the front of the room and sat him down, he thought, “Why does this woman think I look like a side of meat?” He was so confused he didn’t even try to protest.

When he finally was able to collect his thought, the meeting had resumed, so he stayed. That day the children were having a testimony meeting. He listened as one by one they came forward and bore simple testimonies of the church, the Savior, and modern prophets. As they did, the feeling that had awakened him during the nights began to seep through him and the tears began to come. But this time he recognized it as the Spirit of God.

It was only two weeks later that Pat was baptized. But the interesting thing about the story and why Pat gave me permission to tell it is that the first three strangers that followed the promptings of the Spirit and asked Pat if he were a Mormon were as instrumental in his conversion as the scientist at NASA. They softened his heart and made him curious--ready to listen. The question this story poses for each of us is what would we have done if we had been one of those people? Would we figure we hadn’t understood the Spirit? The next time we felt a prompting would we ignore it because of what happened the time before? God’s ways are not our ways. Our job is not to understand, our job is simply to obey.


Anonymous said...

I love this story. A similar thing happened to my husband, without the cursing. He is from California and was in the Air Force. Through his travels, he loved photography and loved to take pictures of churches. When I met him, along with some of our other friends, everyone thought he was LDS, and he was surprised by that because his father had been raised in Illinois, and had a true hatred of Mormons. It made him uncomfortable, but he would just say no, and change the subject. One night we had a get together and he brought his slides of his travels to share with everyone. He started showing the slides and there was complete silence. My Home Evening brothers thought he was playing a joke. He had many pictures of churches and every single one was an LDS chapel. They questioned him about it and showed him on the slide where it said "visitors welcome" on the front of the chapel. He was genuinely surprised, but after that, went through some real soul searching and was baptized a year later. Of course his father was furious and gave him a lot of grief, but he has never faltered. I always tell him he was born LDS and just didn't know it. The Spirit works in amazing ways if we just listen. Thank you for this post, it brought me many lovely memories.

Knowles Family said...

I love that story and I am enjoying your book so much! Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

I love this story too. Many times I follow the promptings of the Spirit in similar ways with strangers in sharing a Book of Mormon or saying something when prompted, but never have gotten to see the 'results' in others. It will be so nice someday (in the next life)to be able to check up on these strangers and to know that they ended up joining the Church.