“A Wrong Turn at the Right Place,” Ensign, Aug. 2001, 62–63
“If this doesn’t work, then I’ll give up,” I muttered to myself as I wrote in my notebook. In a last attempt to reach out to a Being whose existence I was unsure of, I was penning what I thought of as a letter or prayer to God.
As a student attending college in Omaha, Nebraska, I had allowed my studies to lead me to doubt God’s reality. Gradually an emptiness came over me that work, school, or even family and friends could not fill. I became entangled in self-destructive behaviors, and it seemed nothing could bring me peace.
In these discouraging circumstances, I picked up a pen and pleaded for answers from God. I asked Him why I was here and how I was supposed to know what to do. I told Him I needed answers soon and without them I would find it difficult not only to believe in Him but also to feel accountable for my actions.
On a crisp autumn day not long after this, I traveled to the neighboring city of Council Bluffs, Iowa, to run an errand. On the way back to Omaha I took a wrong turn, and in the process of trying to correct my mistake I ended up in the unfamiliar territory of north Omaha. As I drove, trying to find my way back downtown to my apartment, a sign on the side of the road caught my eye. It directed interested travelers toward a visitors’ center. I turned down the street as indicated, not sure why I was doing so but thinking that at least I might get specific directions for getting home.
Upon arriving at the visitors’ center, I immediately spotted a sod house and a covered wagon, which sparked my curiosity. While I was looking over these things, an elderly gentleman came out of the visitors’ center building and greeted me with a firm handshake and a warm smile. He offered to show me around the grounds, and after telling me about the sod house and covered wagon, he led me up a hill to some kind of cemetery. The sunlight was spilling through the trees overhead onto many of the modest, weather-beaten gravestones. My guide told me of the families who had risked their lives to go west and how people had lost their lives here.
Then he said nothing for what seemed like a long time. It was so quiet; I had never experienced such silence. I stood among the gravestones, the sun warming my back against the cool breeze. There was such beauty here and I felt such a calm feeling that I didn’t want to leave. I walked around, bending down every few feet to read the gravestones. It saddened me to find that so many marked the graves of little children, even babies. I kept thinking, Why would these people risk losing so much?
My guide then asked me if I’d like to see a film about these pioneers, and being intrigued, I answered yes. We entered the building, and after the man introduced me to his wife, I watched the film. It related the story of Joseph Smith and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It also told of the persecutions that arose and how the Latter-day Saints had to leave their homes. They journeyed west, and many had died at this very location, called Winter Quarters, during the winter of 1846–47.
Most importantly, the film answered the question I had asked myself in the cemetery. These people had sacrificed and had risked losing so much for one simple reason: they had faith. They had faith in a living, active God who actually directed them as they prayed and as they heeded their prophet’s voice. God had not abandoned them but had led them by the hand, strengthened them, and given them the gift of courage in response to their faithfulness.
Before I left the visitors’ center, the couple asked me if I wanted to fill out a card so that missionaries could contact me. I did so, and as we said our good-byes they handed me a copy of the Book of Mormon. After what had turned out to be a most interesting detour, I had no problem finding my way back home to my apartment, even though I had completely forgotten to get directions.
Not long after this, missionaries contacted me and taught me about a Father in Heaven who loves me and about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Over time, my faith in God was restored. There was calmness, satisfaction, and a fulfillment I had never known before as I feasted on all that God had revealed and on His love for me. Feeling assured that it was the right thing to do, I was baptized on 20 March 1990.
I had not realized, however, how difficult the journey could be. I soon found out as I experienced criticism and opposition from family and friends. While I faced these challenges and adjusted to a change in lifestyle, I thought of the pioneers. As with them, I felt that God gave me the gift of courage because I had the faith to begin my journey.
I am grateful that as I reached out to Him who created me, He reached back and helped me find His Church. I feel at peace and know that God does not abandon us in times of trial but carries us as He carried many of His weary pioneers across that difficult trail that led to a place of hope and promise.