By Michael Vines
I would like to begin my testimony with a little background of my life in an effort to recount how I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and why.
The 1950s were a wonderful time to grow-up, especially in Southern California. I suspect it was a good time most everywhere in those days, but the west coast was a cauldron of post-war productivity and technological innovation that made each day an exciting adventure to my young mind. But as thrilling and as fast as technology was advancing, the science that I would make my career was on the verge of exploding with sensational electronic creations that would soon give birth to a diverse industry providing challenging and rewarding opportunities to many.
My upbringing wasn’t without its trials, but none of us kids had the least concern about drive-by shootings, drugs, or terrorism, because they simply didn’t exist then. I was raised in a Catholic home and easily embraced the notion of a living and caring God at a very early age. I learned to pray and to revere the concept of Jesus Christ dying for our sins long before I learned to read or write. These spiritual concepts were very meaningful to me and had always been part of my awareness, but in a very casual way. I felt the church that I attended provided no insight or enthusiasm for the Lord’s gospel. I was simply going through the motions for the sake of my parents, whom I dearly loved. I knew something was missing, but I had no idea how to go about finding it, or even what I was searching for.
School was interesting, although I wasn’t the best of students, but when I reached college my creativity grew with my interests. I soon found employment with a company in the 1970s that developed telecommunications computer systems, and I felt I had found my niche. In a few short years I was offered an engineering position with a large aerospace firm and found myself working with mathematicians and physicists and even some geniuses that would go on to found their own successful corporations in high technology. The projects I was assigned to were so interesting that I often couldn’t sleep at night and looked forward to the drive back into work the next day to continue where I left off. Success begat promotion, and I found myself as sole author of numerous technical projects, both here and abroad, and co-authored other scientific endeavors with doctors and scientists in disciplines that I had only previously dreamt about.
Although I look back at this exciting time in my life with reverence, there was something quite meaningful missing, and it took me more than 15 years to realize it. Secularism is common in most if not all technological fields, and it may be as subtly illustrated as the exclusion of religion as a topic in conversation or downright abhorrence by one or more at the mere mention of God. Although I’ve always respected another’s religious preference, I find it interesting how the first words out of the mouth of a devout atheist when confronted by adversity is, “Oh, my God!” It was shortly after my realization of this most fundamental spiritual concept missing in my life when things began to turn around. I believe this awareness was made apparent to me by the Holy Ghost in preparation for what was to come.
My father was diagnosed with leukemia in 1989 and died a year later from the effects of consolidated chemotherapy treatments shortly before his 69th birthday. Having lived through the Depression, World War II, and later raising two energetic sons, my mother had always been an emotionally strong woman. But, the passing of my father left her alone for the first time in 45 years. My brother was not dealing with his own problems very well, and friends and other family members had became aloof or troublesome. So, the burden of caring for my mother fell upon my shoulders, and it was a responsibility which I bore without remorse. While on his deathbed, my father told us we needed to watch over each other, he then turned to me and said something that will remain with me for the rest of my life. He told me, “You were always good.” I swallowed my heart and with a broken voice said, “I had a good teacher.” He died three days later.
Soon afterward, my brother’s lifelong struggle with alcoholism grew worse and required frequent hospital and therapist visitations. Although I believe I provided the emotional security my mother needed, her physical health gradually declined, and she too required numerous doctor and hospital calls, often in the middle of the night.
Two years later, due to political pressure, the aerospace industry was dismantled and put 6,000 engineers on the street overnight from my company alone. After almost 20 years of schooling and working in an industry in which I intended to retire, I was out of work without any prospects in sight.
After a particularly difficult period of dealing with family problems and failure, I found myself unable to sleep at night. I couldn’t believe how just within a couple short years I went from a man in complete control of everything, to someone in control of absolutely nothing. Problem upon problem was churning around in my mind until I became angry that God would let this happen to me. I turned to the only source of spiritual consolation I had, my church. The more I thought about how God had let me down the more furious I became until, late one evening, I got into my car and decided I would have it out with him on his own ground. I got on the road and sped towards the church ignoring traffic lights on the way. It was a half hour drive and I knew exactly what I would do when I got there. I was going to rip the doors right off the church, march inside and demand that God appear and explain himself to me!
I was steaming by the time I reached the church. I jumped out of the car and ran to the doors—and they were locked shut. I stood in awe for they weren’t simply locked, but bound with heavy iron chains through both handles. I stepped back in complete humility while gazing at the blockade. I’m not exactly sure why I took it so personally. Of course the doors were closed, it was after midnight. Or, maybe there was a recent theft or vandalism. It didn’t matter for what God had told me that night was, “No! You may NOT enter my house!” I knew I had been forsaken because of my own self-concerned actions. I wept, then turned in silence and left.
In a few more years more family and friends passed away. It seemed like everyone I ever loved or cared for departed at the same time, leaving me alone to handle things. My mother and brother continued their downward spiral and jobs became drudgery causing me to re-evaluate my existence. With the accumulation of sorrow, the feeling of worthlessness, hopelessness, and the thought of being rejected by God himself, I believed there was no purpose in life at all. I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually spent. I could not find a reason to go further, for I believed whatever substance I was born with was now depleted by life as it happened, and I had nothing more to offer anyone. That night I fell into a restless sleep and found myself standing in front of a massive stone wall in the dark of the night. I wept hard, not from the sorrow of losing loved ones, but from the prospect of living life without God, which was unbearable. This was well beyond self-pity. I cried over and over, “Please God, don’t leave me!”
It was then that I finally received an answer. The walls of stone didn’t come crashing down, nor did I see a brilliant image of God descending on silver clouds; instead, I received an answer by grace and by beauty. From the ground on which my tears fell sprang a tree. The tree quickly twisted up from the ground until it reached my height, then it blossomed. The blossoms touched my soul and told me there was indeed hope. The Lord had given me what I needed. I awoke refreshed and rejuvenated and was given the strength to go on and face life once again. It also told me, as Joseph Smith knew, that I needed to find the true faith in which to focus my worship. It would be a long but glorious journey.
I eventually found employment with a small laboratory and became close to engineers from other countries who were willing to discuss their faith. I was introduced to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shinto, but I couldn’t accept the concept of worshipping multiple deities. I believe the comparison of my Christian upbringing to these far-eastern religions presented too much of a contrast, until I met scholars from Israel and Africa who acquainted me with the Torah and the Koran. The Torah read just like the Bible, but Hebrew traditions regarding birthright and the low regard in which converts are held pushed me away. My Islamic friend was bright, courteous, and full of spirit. He enthusiastically welcomed me to the concept of Islam and gave me a copy of the Koran which I read with anticipation. The words of Mohammed did speak to me, but the contradiction and hypocrisy of the followers who demand the worship of the books depicting Mohammed’s life (the Hadith), which Mohammed himself forbade, again forced me to search elsewhere.
It was during this period when I met my beautiful wife, Gay, and after an extended courtship we married and quickly settled into a domestic routine which suited us both. She has been an LDS member for years and I’d met many of the members from her ward, but for some reason I felt put-off. Gay had made it a point not to push the church on me in the hope that I would migrate to it on my own. It might have been a proper attitude, but a slight nudge would have been okay with me. Close friends gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon, which I reluctantly accepted. I know now that Satan was already hard at work building roadblocks across my path to the truth. I opened the book in the middle, around second Nephi, and read about war and how this came to pass, and how that came to pass, and didn’t pick it up again for several years.
After the passing of my brother, and finally my mother and aunt three years later, there was little left to keep me where I had been born and raised. The land and the people had changed to such an extent that they were no longer recognizable. The atmosphere had changed from unbridled optimism to cautious ambivalence, and I wanted no part of it. We had the opportunity to visit my mother-in-law in South-central Kentucky for a week and fell in love with the people and the green rolling hills, so we sold our home, I quit my job, and we headed for Kentucky.
It wasn’t long before we both became acquainted with the members of the local branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who were personable and inviting. Although I had only attended a few sacrament meetings with Gay, I became fond of the members, especially the first counselor to the Branch President. Brother Porter had served twice as a branch President, and his quiet demeanor and undeniable faith in Christ grabbed my attention. He was also Gay’s home teacher, and we both looked forward with anticipation to his visitations. Occasionally the members of a church exemplify some of its best attributes, and, in my experience, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no equal. I had finally met people who took their religion seriously, and their love for God and his only begotten Son was beyond measure. I had a powerful feeling to know more.
One night during a home teaching visit, I informed Brother Porter that I was interested in joining the church. He didn’t seem that surprised as I’m sure my great interest in Gay’s lessons probably gave me away.
Brother Porter and missionaries, Elder Erickson and Elder McDonnell, were soon at our home, and I began my journey for the true path to God. Elder McDonnell soon returned to his home base in bowling green and Elder Killian took his place. I was touched by the testimonies of these fine men and their instruction was inspirational, but I was just not receiving any kind of acknowledgment or feeling about the Book of Mormon, and under no circumstances, I said, would I make a false testimony. I told them if and when I joined the church it would be because of my irrefutable love of Christ and what Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints had to offer. They smiled confidently and then proceeded with my lesson.
Several weeks went by, and even though my interest in the church had grown stronger, I was still troubled by the lack of any feeling towards Joseph Smith and his book. I related this to the missionaries and they suggested another course of study along with earnest prayer, which I tried to no avail. I became despondent at the thought of losing my chance once again to enter into God’s favor, but I was told that Satan really puts on the pressure when a person is near to seeing the truth. He was punching-in overtime with me.
Then one day everything went wrong. Almost every interaction at work went bad. I then came home to find our livestock had breeched their pens and bred out of season. Upon entering my home I found an old relic I had owned for decades had fallen off the shelf and shattered into pieces on the floor and caused an unnecessary argument with Gay. Out of frustration I asked her to call the missionaries and cancel the meeting we had scheduled for the next evening since that would no doubt be a disaster, too. I received a call from the missionaries the next day asking if we could still have the scheduled meeting, and that they had something that would help me. I needed all the help I could get at that point in time and agreed to their request.
The meeting went well although I received it half-heartedly since the previous day’s failures and my concern about Joseph Smith were wearing heavily on my mind. At the conclusion of the meeting the missionaries asked if they could give me a blessing. I’d witnessed the branch president and his counselors bestow blessings on my wife and they always seem to help her. I agreed and sat still not knowing exactly what to expect. I relaxed my mind with the laying on of hands and felt a quiet calmness as Brother Porter spoke. I let my mind go completely blank and felt a great weight lifted from my shoulders and sensed a still peacefulness in the air. But I didn’t expect what followed, for a clear and true image of Christ appeared and reached out his hand to me. He was dressed in the common garments he might have worn during his time with an outstretched hand inviting me to follow the footsteps to his kingdom. Oh, Joy of joys! My Lord had once again given me what I needed, only this time he has clearly pointed the way to my salvation and confirmed what I felt in my heart by quenching my thirst for the truth.
I now know that The Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and the prophet that we so desperately need does live today!
I wept and thanked Brother Porter and the missionaries for the gift they had given me. It was a gift of life, my spiritual life that will stay with me for eternity. I thanked them again but they insisted it was the Lord’s work and not theirs. I love the analogy Elder Erickson uses about walking at night in the forest during a storm when an occasional lightening strike illuminates your path, and how accepting the Holy Ghost is similar to using a flashlight that continuously lights your way. With their modesty aside I will say they are truly beacons of light in their own right, illuminating the path for those of us in search of the truth, and we are so grateful for having them as our guides.
I can now say that I savor each word of the scriptures as I read them and feel the spirit of the Lord with every verse. I was baptized by Brother Porter on October 18, 2006, and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Elder Erickson on October 22, 2006.
Do I feel the presence of the Holy Ghost? I can say during my confirmation with the laying on of hands my entire body seemed to resonate with an energy that came directly from my soul, and was both spiritually and physically fulfilling. And, finally, shortly afterwards, Gay and I were having lunch at a restaurant when I noticed an elderly woman who bore a remarkable resemblance to my mother. She brought a tear to my eyes as I recalled those times when I could have been a little more patient and a little more agreeable to her wishes, and wondered if she could ever forgive me for my shortcomings. Just then I heard a clear and distinct voice say to me, “If God can forgive you, your mother can forgive you.”
Jesus Christ in Mormonism
Book of Mormon