“Discoveries Abroad,” New Era, May 1976, 46
I was baptized about two years ago in New Zealand. I had lived in the United States all of my life until I became an exchange student. I believe the Lord knew I would have difficulty accepting the gospel at home in Hutboro, Pennsylvania. There were too many influences that had swayed me far from the truth. Friends, family, and my own closed mind would have kept me from seeing the truth.
For two years I had wanted to become an exchange student. I was really happy when I was accepted and told I would be going to New Zealand for the summer.
In New Zealand I found I had to accept new customs, people, and life-styles. Because I had to accept new ideas, I also found I could change some of my old ones.
At first I noticed the missionaries riding around on bicycles and I asked people who they were. I was surprised; I had thought that Mormons lived only in Utah. I had no idea what the Latter-day Saint Church was about, so I started asking people; but I made the mistake of asking nonmembers. I got all sorts of crazy ideas from these people. My curiosity was compounded by the fact that the exchange student who had been in my area in New Zealand before me was a Mormon from Utah. People still talked about and admired her even though she had left a year before I came.
One day I was walking home from high school with four friends. Somehow I managed to stick my foot in my mouth by saying something negative about Mormons. To my surprise three of these four were members of the Church. Very briefly they told me something about their religion, and they really seemed sincere about their religious beliefs.
One of the girls, Paula, was in several of my classes. She was becoming my best friend, and I began to bombard her with questions about the Church. She invited me along to some Church activities that I really loved. My questions were becoming more and more complex. I tried to prove the religion wrong, but to do this I had to read the scriptures. As I read I began to realize that the things Paula was telling me made sense. I was also coming to know the Strother family. There were 14 of them, and they were a really great family and a good example of the Church. One day I asked Bishop Strother a question. He talked to me for about an hour. The things that he said really awakened some spiritual senses.
I started praying, studying the gospel, and having lessons from the missionaries. Slowly I began to recognize the truth. No longer could I drink, smoke, or break any of the commandments without feeling guilty. The missionaries were very important to me. They were Americans, yet I had to come to New Zealand to meet them. The Lord was also helping me. He answered my prayers. Something inside me would not let me forget the Church. My doubts about its truthfulness left me; I wanted to be a member. My happiness depended on it. Soon I wrote home and told my parents that I wanted to join the Church. They said it was my decision and that I could join.
I believe that if I had not been given the gift of the Holy Ghost while I was in New Zealand, I never would have made it. Without the Holy Ghost the challenge of an unfamiliar ward and association with my nonbelieving friends and family would have caused me to give up my faith when I returned home. The Holy Ghost has been with me as a constant reminder of truth, good, and evil.
When I arrived back in the U.S., I found that the ward I was to attend, the Jarrettown Pennsylvania Ward, was less than five miles away. At first I was somewhat uneasy, but soon I felt as if I had known the people in the ward for years. I found out that it does not matter where you are—the Lord’s true church is the same.
I do have a strong testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. I believe in all that is taught us as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For me there is great happiness, pride, and joy in being a member. It has made a big difference in my life, and I thank my Eternal Father that I was able to accept the gospel.