Friend to Friend

    “Friend to Friend,” Friend, Mar. 1994, 6

    Friend to Friend

    And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things (Moro. 10:5).

    Elder Gary J. Coleman

    I am a convert to the Church. I was born September 18, 1941, in Wenatchee, Washington, and grew up on a wheat farm in Douglas County, Washington. My family belonged to the Catholic church, and I grew up wanting to be a priest in that church.

    I was the oldest in a family of five children, and I tried to set a good example for my younger brothers and sisters. But occasionally we got into trouble. One time, when I was about twelve or thirteen years old, my brothers and sisters and I were doing something our parents had told us not to do: play with matches. We were lighting long rye grass stems and holding them over the creek while we watched them burn. It was great fun—until some burning embers dropped on the other side of the creek and set the grass on fire. The fire burned about forty acres on our own and our neighbors’ farms. Hundreds of neighbors came to help put out the fire when they saw the clouds of smoke.

    Late that night, after the fire was out, my father came home. He thanked the neighbors, and they all drove away, leaving us there alone—Dad, Mom, us children, and the blackened hillside as evidence of our folly. Dad didn’t yell at us. Instead, he invited us into the kitchen, got out the five-gallon washtub, filled it with water, set five chairs around it, and put a full box of matches on each chair.

    “You like to start fires?” he said. “All right. I want you to light each match in your box, one by one. Let it burn down, and then drop it into the tub. I want you to get your fill of lighting matches.”

    We sat there virtually all night, lighting matches and dropping them into the tub. From then on, I could never again see a fire on a farm or in the forest without a pain in the pit of my stomach. I gained a great respect for fire—and for my father—that day.

    After I graduated from high school, I attended Washington State University in Pullman. It was there that I learned about the LDS Church through the example of two good friends—a returned missionary named John J. Madsen, and Judy England, who later became my wife.

    Judy shared with me her beliefs and hopes for the future. They included things I had never heard of: temple marriage, a forever family, and the celestial kingdom. Soon after that, John began to share literature about the Church with me. I read what he gave me, and I became distracted from my schoolwork because of my questions about religion. To help resolve them, John invited me to attend early morning seminary, which he taught. There I was, a 21-year-old college senior, attending class with the ninth-through-twelfth graders.

    I was introduced to the Book of Mormon in seminary. I read the promise in Moroni 10:4–5 [Moro. 10:4–5] and decided to ask God if the Book of Mormon was true. And one morning in November 1962, the Holy Ghost bore witness to me that the Church was true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon was true.

    That experience gave me confidence that Heavenly Father would answer my prayers and that I could find many answers to questions and problems in the scriptures. It was the beginning of my love for and faith in the scriptures. Moroni 10:4–5 [Moro. 10:4–5] is still my favorite scripture.

    Making the choice to be baptized was the hardest decision I have ever made. But nothing could have prevented me from joining the Church at that point, not even the opposition of my family and my Catholic friends. I knew that getting baptized was the right thing to do, and I have never regretted it. It has brought many blessings into my life and the lives of my family. My brother Jerry joined the Church ten weeks after I did, and eight years later, we baptized one of my sisters and her husband. I have also been able to do temple work for many of my ancestors, including my own father and my grandfathers.

    I became engaged to Judy shortly after I joined the Church. We were later sealed in the Alberta Temple. We have six children—four sons and two daughters. My family has been a great blessing in my life. All those years when I had wanted to become a Catholic priest, I could never bring myself to enter the Catholic seminary because I felt it was wrong for a man to live without a wife and a family. My wife has been a great influence for good in my life. Without her faith, testimony, and desire to do what the Lord wanted her to do, I may not have gained a testimony and joined the Church.

    I often think about how, as a young man, I enjoyed hunting and fishing. Then I think of Jeremiah 16:16 [Jer. 16:16], which speaks of missionary work. It says, “Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.” Today the Lord needs men and women to be hunters and fishers of men, to help bring them unto salvation. That is my pursuit in life today—to help our Heavenly Father bring His children back into His presence.

    I love the children and the young people of the Church. My witness to them and to all people is that we came to earth to gain a body and to gain experience so that we might return to live again with our Father in Heaven. The scriptures call this the plan of redemption, the plan of salvation, the plan of happiness, the plan of mercy, and the great plan of God. It is true and real and is available to everyone on the earth today.

    As a boy, Elder Coleman loved hunting and fishing.

    Elder Coleman (right) with his friend John Madsen a month before his baptism

    Elder and Sister Coleman with their family