“A Gift of Testimony,” Ensign, Aug. 1989, 60–61
Whenever I read the section of my patriarchal blessing referring to my “gift of testimony,” I think of a distant and isolated island in the Alaskan wilderness where I received my witness of the truthfulness of the gospel.
As a sergeant in the United States Air Force fire department in 1973, I was assigned to a very small island near Attu, at the western tip of the Aleutian island chain in Alaska.
Since my childhood I had dreamed of moose roaming wild and free and of grizzly bears feeding on salmon in Alaska. But nothing could have prepared me for the stark reality I faced when my plane taxied to a stop and the crew exit door was opened.
Instead of lush green forest, majestic mountain peaks, raging rivers, and abounding game—there was a flat, desolate island with nothing except tundra grass and a few scattered pre-World War II Quonset huts to break the horizon.
Our one-year mission was simply to “watch Russia watch us watch them.” During our first few weeks, much of which was spent in solitude, I did some very difficult soul-searching. I did not want this year of my life to be wasted, so I devoted myself to improving my spirituality. I had never really thought of myself as a righteous man, but now, more than ever, I wanted to be.
I had grown up in Indiana and was reared in a non-LDS family. Since early childhood I had been greatly interested in religion. After investigating several different churches, I was convinced that only one true church existed. I also knew that I hadn’t yet found it.
Hour after hour, I pored over the scriptures in the Bible as I had seen my father do during my childhood. But the question of which church was true continued to burn within me.
Weeks later, as I was going through some pre-World War II magazines in the base library, I found an advertisement inviting people to find out what the Mormons believed. Intrigued, I read it again and again. I decided to write to Salt Lake City for information, even though I did not know anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Actually, I doubted that my inquiry would reach its destination. The magazine was thirty years old, and because the 100-miles-per-hour crosswinds and subzero temperature made air travel difficult, mail frequently sat around for days and was often lost or misplaced.
To my delight, a couple of months later I received a package postmarked Salt Lake City. It contained a brief history of the Church, the story of the restoration of the gospel, and of course, a copy of the Book of Mormon. I began to read them at once. I was thrilled with what I read and could not wait to read more! I received answers to many questions and knew that I was learning the truth.
Alone in the arctic wilderness, I prayed aloud to Heavenly Father and asked if this was in fact his church. Before long, on that distant island, I received a plain but powerful answer in a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When I returned to the “lower 48,” I quickly sought out the missionaries. Halfway through the first discussion, I committed to baptism; and shortly thereafter, I became a member of the Church.
My time in Alaska had not been wasted. In many respects, it was the best year of my life.