“Great-Grandmother’s Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Feb. 1983, 32
When people ask about my conversion to the Church, they are always a little surprised to hear me say, “Well, it all began in 1901.” That might seem a little startling coming from someone in her mid-twenties. Even I am amazed at the events of more than seventy years that led to my conversion to the restored gospel.
In 1901 my great-grandmother, Louella Smith St. John, was working in a garment factory in Lynchburg, Virginia, to support her four small children. Her burdens were increased when her youngest daughter, Lillian (my grandmother), became desperately ill. It was at this time that two Mormon missionaries who were traveling through the city stopped at Louella’s home. When they learned of the sick child, they anointed her and she was healed by the power of the priesthood. They gave a copy of the Book of Mormon to Louella as they left, and from that day until her untimely death a few years later, she insisted that the book always be kept in the family.
My grandmother Lillian grew up to work in the garment factories as her mother had done, but during the depression years she was sent to Salt Lake City to train and to work with the union there. She toured Temple Square, Brigham Young University, and several Utah cities. Although she did not visit an LDS church service during her stay, she returned home nine months later with a favorable impression of the Latter-day Saints. Sometime later, grandmother married and raised two daughters. When two LDS missionaries stopped at grandmother’s home one day, she invited them in for lunch and told them of her healing and her trip to Utah. They gave her a new copy of the Book of Mormon; and, true to her mother’s request, she always kept the new copy in her home.
In 1971, when I turned fourteen, I became seriously interested in religion and attended my Methodist Sunday School class each week. Our teacher taught straight from the Bible, using scripture chases and other teaching techniques to capture our interest. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and soon I was reading the Bible and praying nightly.
About this time, like other teenage girls, I began to take an interest in celebrities. One August afternoon on my grandmother’s front porch, as I sat in an old rocking chair reading about the famous Osmond family from Utah, someone asked, “What religion are the Osmonds?” Someone else answered, “Mormons.”
Mormons! The word practically jumped out at me. I had never heard the word, so I went into the kitchen where my mother and grandmother were cooking dinner and asked, “What’s a Mormon?” My grandmother looked at me and smiled, took off her apron, and led me upstairs to the back bedroom. There she opened a closet and reached for a black book lying between others on the shelf.
“Here,” she said, “you can have this.” And she related her experiences with the Church.
I read my grandmother’s Book of Mormon every evening for eight months. Although I didn’t understand everything I read, the Spirit whispered to me that it was true. I had a strong, growing desire to join the Church and needed someone to talk to, so I decided to write a long letter to a friend in Wyoming and tell her of my desire. “Mary Ellen,” I wrote, “you probably think I’m crazy but I want to join the Mormon church.” To my surprise she wrote back, “No, I don’t think you’re crazy—I’m getting baptized in August.”
My enthusiasm increased. I mustered up the courage to ask my parents if I could take the lessons and be baptized. They were actually quite understanding, but they knew nothing about the Church and were afraid to let their fourteen-year-old daughter join an unfamiliar faith. They decided, however, to invite our minister over to “tell us about the Mormons.”
He accepted my parent’s invitation; they explained the matter to him and asked for his guidance. I will never forget his words. He leaned back on the sofa and said, “This is very interesting. While studying in my seminary, I was given the assignment to study another religion in detail. I chose the Mormon faith.” Then he faced my parents and said, “If you allow your daughter to join that church, well—she’ll turn out just fine.”
That was ten years ago. Now, as a single adult working in the mission field, when I get caught up with worry over the details of my life and future goals, I reflect back over seventy years of events that culminated with my embracing the gospel. It’s at these times I realize that our Heavenly Father knows the end from the beginning, and that from small and simple things great blessings come into our lives.