I come from a small family, so having all these people supporting me made me feel like I belonged somewhere. That was one of the things that I was really searching for when I started investigating the Church. —Hannah
The New Girl at School
It was an ordinary start to a new school year, or so I thought. I’d attended the same school in Hawaii since kindergarten, but on the first day of sixth grade I noticed a new student. There was something different about the way she carried herself, and I decided to get to know her better. Her name was Natalie. My friends and I started eating lunch with her and quickly realized that she was a fun person to be around. It was through these school interactions that I learned that Natalie was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and cared deeply about her faith.
I never realized the impact that Natalie would have on my life. Throughout the next few years, I learned a little more about the Church and the Savior from her. When we first became friends, I noticed that she wouldn’t hang out on Sundays and that she carried her scriptures around at school. It was just these small things that introduced me to the Church and helped me learn a little bit more about her faith.
The Turning Point
In 2019 there was a series of events that changed my entire life. I was at a carnival with Natalie, and I said, “I want to join your Church.” I’m not sure what Natalie was thinking at the time, because it came out of nowhere, but from that point on Natalie began sharing more of her faith with me.
Finding New Family at Youth Conference
Later that year, I went with Natalie to youth conference. At the conference we were separated into “families,” where two adults served as our parents for the week, and we went to all our activities together. I come from a small family, so having all these people supporting me made me feel like I belonged somewhere. That was one of the things that I was really searching for when I started investigating the Church.
One of the last activities at the youth conference was a testimony meeting. I had never experienced something like that. I grew up going to Protestant churches, and there was never a time where all the youth would go up and voluntarily speak to the congregation. Natalie shared a special testimony that also motivated me to want to learn more and to keep coming back. If I could pick one thing in my entire spiritual progression that changed the course of it, it would be that day. I could just feel that this is where I belonged and that this feeling was going to encourage me to stay on the right path.
With the help of Natalie, her family, and my new ward friends, I continued to learn more about the gospel. During the process, I prayed to Heavenly Father, pleading, “Please tell me that this Church is true, because I need it to be true.” As I continued to search and gain a testimony, I knew it was all true. Later that summer, I became a member of the Church.
Sharing Doesn’t Have to Result in Baptism
Although I was baptized in the Church, I realize that success in sharing does not necessarily mean someone gets baptized. It’s more about being a good friend. If you have good intentions and righteous desires, then anything you do to participate in Heavenly Father’s work is going to be considered a success. Even if someone says no to an invitation to an activity, your friends still know you’re thinking of them, and that can strengthen your friendships.
President Russell M. Nelson said, “Anytime you do anything that helps anyone … take a step toward making covenants with God … you are helping to gather Israel.”1 Having a personal experience with being invited to church has really inspired me and motivated me to share the gospel with other people, because I know that my life would have been much different without it.
I am grateful that Hannah helped me through my sixth-grade year after I switched to a new school. She ate lunch with me and introduced me to new friends, but I never realized that at the same time, I was helping introduce her to principles of the gospel.
Over the next few years, Hannah and I became close friends, but she still surprised me occasionally—like the time we were at a carnival in 2019. Out of the blue, she told me she wanted to join the Church. Surprised was an understatement; I was shocked and even a little hesitant. My first thought was “I’m not sure if she knows how big of a commitment it is.”
I wasn’t sure what to do, but I give a lot of credit to my parents. They said, “She’s interested in the gospel. You should invite her to ward camp.” I thought it might be overwhelming for Hannah to spend the entire week with us and meet so many new people. But I took their advice and invited her, and she had an amazing time.
And then I invited her to youth conference. During a testimony meeting, I just felt like Hannah needed to hear my testimony even though public speaking was one of my biggest fears. She knew that I was afraid, and she admired the fact that I was willing to do it because I believed in the gospel.
I’m an overthinker, so whenever I considered inviting her, I thought, “She’s going to think that I want her to join my Church and I’m going to pressure her into things.” I knew those were irrational fears. People like to be invited to things, so I knew she’d enjoy it. In the beginning I had a lot of fears, and I was scared to invite her. But I think as time went on, I was more comfortable with sharing how I felt with her.
Sharing Is about Love
Sharing the gospel is about love. The Savior said, “Love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34). You never know how much you’re going to impact other people. When I share the gospel with friends, I know it won’t always have the same outcome as it did with Hannah. But down the road, they may have an experience where they’ll remember my invitation and act on it.
There is so much joy to be had in sharing the things you love and cherish the most. Hannah’s journey hasn’t just changed her life; it’s also changed my life and strengthened my testimony. I saw the change that the Savior made in her life, and it helped me recognize the Savior more in my life.
Hannah Ota was baptized into the Church in 2019 and considers herself blessed in countless, indescribable ways. In addition to serving in church and her community, she also enjoys dancing, playing the cello, creative writing, volleyball, being in nature, baking, and painting. She volunteers around Hawaii and loves spending time with friends and grandparents.
Natalie Umphress lives on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. She loves spending time with her family and their beagle. She loves doing service and uplifting others in any way she can. She has played the violin since third grade and enjoys cooking, baking, running, reading, and learning how to improve herself.
1. Russell M. Nelson, in “Hope of Israel” (worldwide youth devotional, June 3, 2018), ChurchofJesusChrist.org.