“Friendship Made the Difference,” For the Strength of Youth, June 2021, 8–9.
I’m a convert. But it took me six years to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One of the reasons was that growing up, I didn’t have a very good opinion about the Church. If you’d read what I read about it in my school textbook when I was 12 years old, you might have been that way too. The things it said weren’t very nice. And since I’d never met a Latter-day Saint, I accepted what I read as truth.
I grew up in Kentucky, USA. Where I lived, there were very few members of the Church. So I was surprised when the Martinez family moved into our neighborhood when I was 13.
Everybody liked them. They were kind and easy to get along with. They had six kids—which seemed huge! And they had a son my age who quickly became my best friend.
Actually, I think he was everybody’s best friend. There was a light about Mateo that just drew people to him. So even though I thought his church was a little strange, pretty soon that didn’t bother me because of our friendship.
A couple of years later, Mateo and I entered high school. That’s when I met other members of the Church. There were several at our school, and others in the community. Over time, they would talk about their lives and bring up the Church naturally. Eventually I started going to Church activities, played basketball with other youth, and even went to early morning seminary for a few weeks.
I had a lot of good friends who chose to follow good standards, but there was something special about my Latter-day Saint friends. Of course, they didn’t drink or smoke or do drugs. And while some of my friends were getting involved physically with their boyfriend or girlfriend, these ones didn’t. But it was even more than that. There was a light about them that was wholesome. They never pushed the gospel on me—they just lived it. When the moment was right, they would share little things with me.
And the Martinez family was always so open and generous. I was welcome at their house anytime. And their kitchen was always open too!
Still, I was pretty set in my religion, and I still thought some of the things Mateo believed were weird. I also had a strong personality. Even though I mostly lived the standards of the Church, I didn’t want anyone telling me what my standards ought to be.
At the same time, I felt lost spiritually. I think that can happen when you feel drawn toward the light and goodness of the gospel but push it away. Though I believed in God, I struggled to accept that God could or would be actively involved in my life. And yet I was attracted to the light of the gospel in other people.
That’s probably why I decided to join my friends at a Church school when I was 18. We attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, USA, where I met even more members of the Church. Good people. Kind people. Filled with light, just like back home. And I still didn’t join the Church.
After that first year in school, I ran out of money and went back to Kentucky to live with my dad. I was 19, and all my friends began to leave to serve missions or were still in Utah.
But the amazing thing was that God put other awesome people in my life. The Martinez family still lived nearby and invited me into their home whenever I wanted. And I learned that there were other Latter-day Saints my age living nearby as well. All of them stood by me as I wrestled with my beliefs.
No one pushed me. No one pressured me. They were just good to me.
Finally, after six long years, I started studying with the missionaries. It took a lot of deep questioning, but with kindness and encouragement of friends, I was finally ready to open my heart, study and pray about the Book of Mormon, recognize the Spirit, and accept baptism.
Of all the things that helped me in my journey, probably the most important was the patient, kind support of other people.