I Couldn’t Read or Write
    Footnotes

    “I Couldn’t Read or Write,” Ensign, Oct. 1996, 52–53

    I Couldn’t Read or Write

    My father was a long-distance truck driver who drank alcohol and was prone to violence. On those rare instances when he was home, he often beat his four children. As a result of my home situation, I lacked confidence in my ability to do anything right, including schoolwork. I withdrew into my own world and couldn’t seem to learn anything.

    Once when I was a new student in a class, a girl taunted me, “You can’t read or write!” I’ll never forget how ashamed I felt at that moment. After six years in elementary school, I was sent to a special school for poor achievers. I stayed there three years.

    After leaving school, I drifted for several years. I had no skills and felt like a ship without a rudder. Then I met a neighbor who became like a father to me. He encouraged me to seek knowledge, to use my intelligence. One day I saw him compose a telegram. Sending a telegram would be a simple thing for most people, and I determined then that one day I would learn to read and write properly so that I, too, could send a telegram.

    I began to ask questions. The world suddenly became a fascinating place. I enrolled in an adult extension class and read my first complete book, a 150-page children’s book. Deciphering its contents occupied me for a long time. Next I enrolled in an evening middle school where I had a wonderful, caring teacher. Thanks to this dedicated teacher, I finally learned to read and write. Just knowing how to do these simple things that most people take for granted gave me a magnificent feeling.

    One day two missionaries gave my brother a copy of the Book of Mormon during a street contact in Cologne, Germany. I was curious about the book and began reading it. I caught the spirit of it. My desire to learn the gospel was insatiable. Then I read the Bible. Suddenly I realized that I, who had been a learning-disabled boy, had read the two most important books in the world!

    I wanted to find the missionaries and felt driven to travel to the center of Cologne, where I found the elders at an information booth they had set up. I received instruction from the missionaries, and a week and a half later I was baptized.

    Two years later I began a full-time mission in England and had to learn a new language. This successful experience was the crowning event of my life up to that time. My faith and my missionary experiences gave me great inner strength and confidence. I knew I really could do anything I wanted to do. My future depended only on what I was willing to work for.

    When I returned from my mission, I was allowed to enroll in a school equivalent to an American high school. A year later I graduated. An even greater blessing came to me when I qualified for advanced study at a university. For a learning-disabled boy who could neither read nor write, I acknowledge the loving hand of my Heavenly Father, who opened the way for me to overcome my challenges.

    • Gunther Steffans serves as a counselor in the elders quorum presidency of the Cologne Second Branch, Düsseldorf Germany Stake.

    • Paul Conners is a member of the Crescent 18th Ward, Sandy Utah Crescent Stake.