Saturday, October 10, 2015

Lesson From Joseph

As I am sure most of my readers know, I served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from November 2010 to November 2012 in the Alabama Birmingham Mission. It was not something that I had planned on doing, having converted to the church just barely a year prior and under lots of pressure from my ward (local congregation) to serve in light of the fact that many of the young men in my ward who were scheduled to go that year did not choose to do so. It was in many ways the roughest two years of my life; I had some nearly faith-shattering moments during that time and gained a very strong skepticism of priesthood leadership (which I still maintain), but thanks to a few people what could have been my worst two years turned into a moderately ok two years.

One such person who radically helped me survive my mission was Joseph Fielding McConkie, son of the late Bruce R. McConkie and an emeritus professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. I had been a big fan of his father before joining the church, and due to the fact that my mission president was also a BYU professor, he introduced me to Joseph over the phone and the great man afterward wrote me letters throughout the rest of my mission. This was a great comfort in and of itself since my biological parents did not write me my entire mission. Even more invaluable was the advice given through the letters, which helped me to develop into a successful missionary.

Joseph passed away two years ago today, after a long struggle with colon cancer.  I miss him and think of him often. I will always remember that in spite of the great pain he was in in the last weeks of his life, he still had a large smile on his face and had a vibrant faith in the Restoration that I have never before in my life and doubt I will see anything like it now.

On one letter early on in my mission, he told me of the importance of testifying and having a personal witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith, saying that a testimony of Christ would only me a Baptist in temple garments. The argument was that if I did so, that those I testified to would feel the Holy Ghost testify of that and want to know more about the restored gospel. I applied that, and many more people than I ever imagined gained testimonies and entered the baptismal covenant, remaining faithful to this day. Suffice it say that Joseph was right.

But that is not the real lesson I want to bring up, because I don't think that that was the lesson that Joseph wanted to teach me. The real lesson that Joseph was teaching me was that gaining a testimony of the Prophet would keep me converted, even when times got rough. I sincerely believe that the most important convert a convert has on his/her mission is themselves. If they are not converted themselves, what will the rest matter in the end?

I did not fully understand that on my mission, but afterwards I learned why this was important. I was very conflicted with the church for a time, and sincerely considered leaving it. I had even made up my mind to join the Roman Catholic Church, and had begun the process of making that desire a reality. I had told my close friends about it, and felt pretty good about it except for one thing: Throughout all my time investigating the Catholic Church, I never got past the knowledge that I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon was true. Since those beliefs and the beliefs of the Catholic Church are incompatible, I stopped my lessons there and remain an active, believing Mormon with a stronger and renewed faith.

If it had not been for the knowledge of the Prophet Joseph that I had gained through prayer and close study of his life and teachings, I could well be on my way to being a priest in the Catholic Church. Because I did have that knowledge, I remain and have some optimism about the future. I am very grateful to Joseph for his wise counsel, and wish him the best as he serves on the other side of the veil. Thank Joseph, I miss you brother.

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