“Still Riding a Bicycle,” Liahona, Apr. 1999, 27
Leon Bergant of Ljubljana, Slovenia, has raced bicycles since he was 11 years old. When he began racing, he also began winning. He has since collected more than 100 trophies from major European races.
Following high school, Leon became a professional cyclist and a member of the Slovene national team. “I trained every day for about 160 kilometers,” he says. His hard work paid off. He became the Slovene national champion in the under-age-23 bracket, and he competed in the world championships held in Spain in September 1997. One day he hopes to ride in the Tour-de-France.
The course of Leon’s life and professional career was altered, however, when he attended the annual Christmas fair held in Ljubljana in December 1995. There he noticed a display for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Two young men, Elder Shea Clawson and Elder Craig Tingey, stood by the display, talking to and answering questions for fairgoers. Leon was intrigued by the missionaries’ message.
Although his family did not have a religious affiliation, as a child Leon had searched for the true church. “I knew there was a God, that there was a true gospel,” Leon explains. “In my childhood I attended my parents’ church, but I never received answers to my questions there. So I left that church thinking there probably was not one true church after all. But I still had a testimony that there is a God, that there is something that is true. When I met the missionaries, my questions were answered. When I heard about principles of the gospel like the Word of Wisdom and charity and the law of chastity, they were familiar to me. They were the words I had been seeking my whole life. What the missionaries were telling me was so amazing and so good for me and my soul.”
Leon was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church on 5 January 1996, two weeks after meeting the missionaries. Leon remembers: “It was a day I will never forget. I had a very strong testimony of the gospel, and it grew every day. The missionaries were a great example, and I wanted to be like them.”
Indeed, Leon wanted not only to be like the missionaries but to be a missionary himself. His parents were not pleased with his decision to be baptized nor his desire to serve a mission. “My family thought the Church was something bad, but I knew everything would be okay,” Leon recalls. From the time he started racing, Leon had been saving his earnings for a car. “I still had all that money,” Leon says. “It had been to buy a car, but then I realized that money was saved for something else. There are a lot more important things than a car.”
Taking two years off during his prime racing years may affect Leon’s professional career. He feared telling his teammates of his decision to serve, knowing how shocked they would be.
In addition, all young men in Slovenia are required to serve in the military, so Leon’s desire to serve a mission had to wait while he fulfilled his military obligation. But Leon had many opportunities to do missionary work and to have others look to his example. “Since becoming a member of the Church, I have prayed in the morning and before going to bed,” he explains. “When I went into the military, I slept in a room with 30 people. It was hard to kneel down and pray. But I felt I had to do this no matter what the circumstances. The first day I asked the guy in the lower bunk if I could borrow his bed, and he said, ‘Yeah, sure, but why do you need it?’ I told him, ‘I pray. Could I use your bed for a few minutes?’ He said, ‘OK, no problem.’ So I knelt down and prayed, and the room went from being very loud to very quiet. I had a lot of opportunities in the military to talk about the gospel because when I started to pray every day, I became an example for my friends. They saw that I was different. They started asking me, ‘What are you doing and what are those books you are reading?’”
Following his military service, Leon was called to serve a mission. He is the third missionary to serve from Slovenia, where the Church is very new. Missionaries have been serving in Slovenia only since 1991. Slovenia is part of the Austria Vienna South Mission.
In October 1997 Leon Bergant received his mission call to serve in Croatia, also part of the Austria Vienna South Mission, and he entered the missionary training center in England on 17 January 1998.
Today Leon still rides a bicycle—but instead of wearing the colorful uniform of the Slovene team, he wears a white shirt, a tie, and dark pants. His purpose, too, is different; instead of improving his racing times, he is finding those interested in the Lord’s Church and helping them improve their lives. And rather than collecting a glistening trophy at the end, he will take home eternal treasures—a stronger testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ and prized memories of his experiences in sharing gospel truth, the truth Leon himself sought and fortunately found.