Hartman Rector, Jr. and his wife Connie were baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February of 1952. Seventeen years later, he was called as a General Authority into the First Council of the Seventy for the Church. He has spent his life in devotion to our Savior, Jesus Christ, and wrote a book compiling many conversion stories. Each story is unique and compelling. One story he recounts is of Bill Wait:
Not everyone receives the gospel through formally-called missionaries. Sometimes it comes from a friend or a family member. Bill Wait received it through his older brother.
At first, however, he rejected it. “Tough, irreverent and worldly,” in the U. S. Navy in World War II he had no need for religion and was embarrassed by his brother’s conversion. Returning to civilian life he continued his search for “happiness” with the same attitude.
Bill Wait held out against the truth for seven years. This unembellished story of what made him change and how he found true happiness in Jesus Christ is not only of great intrinsic interest but will serve to encourage Church members whose loved ones have so far not felt to join them in their allegiance to the gospel.
Bill had grown up in a home where church service was every Sunday, but he never wanted to go. He described his brother as being more spiritually inclined then he was. His brother had carried a Bible around and desired to be married. That was his dream, but he didn’t think he would ever marry, because he thought he would die in World War II. His brother went and saw the Laie Temple in Hawaii and read a pamphlet on eternal marriage, which brought him to the waters of baptism. From that point forward he tried to get his brother to join as well. In his own words Bill says:
By this time, I was in New Guinea aboard a rusty old Navy ship. I, too, had quit high school and left home on my seventeenth birthday. I was homesick and discouraged, for I had left thinking that I would become a Navy hero aboard a destroyer or a submarine. But I was swinging around the hook in Madang, New Guinea, and cursing the heat, the ship, and the war. My brother’s letter to me arrived with a package. I had hoped for goodies from Hawaii, but out dropped a book of scriptures. I was embarrassed in front of my friends to be receiving such a package, for we were tough, irreverent and worldly men. That night, I placed that Book of Mormon and some equipment of my shore-based days in the sea bag, and in the dark of the night I dropped it over the fan tail and gave the gospel light the “deep six.” My search was for happiness, and I thought that it was not to be found in church.
The months rolled into years, and finally the war was over. My brother went home, and within a short while he was called on a full-time mission for the Church.
I had many months yet to serve on my enlistment, but finally we were all home as a family unit. I had been embarrassed in explaining to friends that my brother was a missionary. My concept was far different from what he had experienced. It was now my turn to hear, firsthand, his testimony and the plan of salvation. He wanted me to be baptized and join him in the kingdom of God. I was frustrated and disturbed by his strong desire. I tried to avoid him and continued my search for “happiness.”
[After the war, I had joined the Los Angeles Fire Department.] One night as we responded to an alarm of fire, a friend of mine, reporting from another engine house, fell off the tailboard of his truck and was killed. The alarm was false, and the futility of this tragedy, the return of war, and my futile search for happiness weighed heavily on me through the remainder of that night. When I was relieved of duty the next morning, I walked the streets of Los Angeles to where my friend had died.
Here, on Skid Row, as the smog hung heavily in the air, I found the tragedy of death which is a lack of reverence for life. All about me there was the stifling stench of sin. Obscenities were crudely written on the walls of the ugly buildings. Drunks were lying on the sidewalks, and the paddy wagon was making its morning rounds. The newspapers on the racks gave detailed accounts of the battle dead in Korea, and my thoughts filled me with despair.
I walked down the street and prayed to God to know why I was alive, and with all the energy of my soul I told him that I wanted a reason for life, or I wanted death. And, at twenty-four, I would have welcomed a release from mortal life.
But in answer to my sincere prayer I was overwhelmed with a desire to read the books that my brother had been urging me to read for the past seven years.
Now, each morning as I left work I went to the library and read the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the New Testament. I knew that what I read was true; the Holy Ghost bombed me with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I knew of a surety that the words were true. I was filled with despair at the exquisite memory of the wasted years of my life in search for happiness. But at the same time I was filled with an even greater joy, with the sure knowledge that God lives, and that Jesus is the Christ, and that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God.
I began attending church, where I found not only the love of the Latter-day Saints, but also the love of the girl who was to become my eternal mate. Soon I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church by my brother who had tried patiently and long to bring this great truth to me. Not long after, he baptized and confirmed my mother and my father. Soon we were sealed for time and all eternity to one another. A far greater security than I had ever known was ours. The true happiness which I had sought was found in its only source—a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is a search for happiness that is within each of us. We can all come to find that happiness. God has prepared a way for that to happen. He knows our needs and is looking to help us come unto Him. The way can be made light and we can find happiness. The teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ offer the greatest security in this life.
This article was written by Mady Clawson, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mady Clawson is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (ʺMormonʺ single adult), with a zest for the gospel. She currently studies English, with an emphasis in Professional Writing and Communications at BYU-Idaho.