“It Started with Softball,” Ensign, March 2016, 56–57
I was raised in Tucson, Arizona, USA, in another Christian faith and was very active in that religion. I was particularly involved in its youth organization, which sponsored sporting events, dances, and weekend retreats.
During my high school years, however, funding for our programs ran low, and many of the activities were cut. One day at school I complained to a classmate, Gordon Luke, and told him I wished we had more activities.
Gordon, a Latter-day Saint, told me that his church had a softball tournament coming up and that they needed more players. He invited me to come, so I did. Over the next several months, Gordon and I became better friends, and I participated in more and more church activities, including Mutual, dances, and even a road show production.
I was a little bit of a debater and wanted Gordon to understand my beliefs, and I challenged him on many of his. I asked him, “How do you pay for all those activities?”
“Well,” said Gordon, “we believe that people should tithe.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means we pay a tenth of our income to the Lord.” He went on to explain all the things tithing was used for. I was very impressed—not only with the system but with Gordon’s understanding of it.
In time, I went on dates with a Latter-day Saint girl, and at Christmas, she gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon. She also gave me a copy of A Marvelous Work and a Wonder by Elder LeGrand Richards (1886–1983) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which I read three times before I graduated from high school.
When I began college the next summer, I sought out the missionaries at the institute and asked to learn more. Before long, we began the discussions.
The afternoon that the elders and I watched a filmstrip of the First Vision in a darkened room in that institute building, I was touched deeply. I could tell that they were too. The Spirit was stronger than anything I’d ever felt, and there was nothing I could do to deny it. I knew that God the Father and Jesus Christ had appeared to young Joseph Smith.
I took the rest of the discussions, read the scriptures, and prayed about the Church. I knew I needed to be baptized, but I was torn—I was the oldest male in a very close, very traditional Hispanic family, and my breaking from tradition would devastate them.
When I told my parents of my decision to be baptized, my father told me I could no longer live in their home. He also told me that he had trusted me to make good decisions and had therefore allowed a lot of freedoms, but now that I was making bad choices, as he saw it, my sisters would not have the same benefits. That, of course, created some hard feelings on their part.
When my father reminded me that for generations our family had belonged to one faith, I reminded him that our indigenous ancestors had given up their religious traditions to follow Jesus Christ. I said, “Please allow me to do the same. I will always be grateful you and Mom raised me with a strong faith in Jesus Christ.”
But my father held his position. Although I knew my decision was hurting our family, I moved forward and was baptized October 1, 1979. I’ve never regretted it.
Some young men I met at institute invited me to live with them. A year and a half later, I left to serve as a missionary in Guayaquil, Ecuador. When I returned, I continued my studies and I married my wife, Linnea. We have four children who have been sealed in the temple, three of whom also served missions, and I currently serve as bishop of our ward.
Today my family has softened somewhat toward the Church, and they have attended baby blessings and baptisms with us. I know they are building the kingdom of God in their circles of influence just as I am doing in mine.
I am grateful to my friend Gordon, who gave me my first taste of the restored gospel by inviting me to activities. And I am grateful to a kind Heavenly Father, who gave me a powerful conversion experience in a small institute classroom; whenever I face trials and challenges, I can go back to that foundational experience. My knowledge of the reality of the Father and the Son, of the Savior’s Atonement, and of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith has served as an anchor in my life.