What a difference 20 years makes!

Do you remember the Johnny Depp movie “Benny and Joon?” Yea, probably not, but I certainly do. I went to see it with a friend from high school just after graduation. You may wonder what an obscure movie from two decades ago has to do with a blog about Jesus Christ. On the way home from the movie, my friend asked me a question. “What do you want most in life?” The conversation that followed changed my life.

The conversation ended with an invitation to read a few passages from The Book of Mormon and to meet with two missionaries who could tell me more about the Church. Over the course of the next few weeks, I did meet with them, I challenged them with questions, prayed for answers of my own, and made some big decisions.

baptismTwenty years ago today, August 1, 1993, I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that baptism is an ordinance that is essential to return to live with God after this life. We believe that it must be baptism by complete immersion in water, performed by someone who has the authority to do so (we’d refer to it as someone holding the priesthood). Jesus Christ set the example himself by seeking baptism from his cousin, John the Baptist. John held the same priesthood authority, and baptized Christ by immersion in the River Jordan (Mark 1:9). Immersion is symbolic of spiritual and physical death as well as spiritual re-birth and physical resurrection.

Baptism is also the way a person becomes a member of the Church. We make covenants, or promises between God and ourselves, to devote our lives to the service of God and His children. While baptism is a one-time event, each Sunday we take the sacrament (communion) and re-commit ourselves to those baptismal promises. The reason you may see your Mormon friends and neighbors doing service in the community or neighborhood is because of those promises to serve as Christ served. Any individual who is eight years or older and willing to live the standards of the Church may be baptized (read more about baptism here).

So I mentioned that one conversation changed my life. It did because it led me to the decision to be baptized. Because of that, I know my life has purpose. I know I’m not alone, that Christ knows me and my challenges. I know that we are all children of God, here on earth to gain experience and exercise faith. I know that my family can be together beyond this life if we all live true to the promises we make at baptism. I know that I have a responsibility to share what those things mean to me with others. I’d likely still be leading a happy life if I hadn’t been baptized 20 years ago today. The difference is that the happiness that I have in my life has eternal meaning and significance to me and my family.

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How does a Catholic kid in Kansas become a Mormon?

image from haunsgowest.com

image from haunsgowest.com

So how does a Catholic kid, growing up in a small Kansas town, become a Mormon? With the Lord’s guidance and a friend who wasn’t afraid to share her testimony of Jesus Christ, I suppose. Being from a long line of Catholics, my plan as a youth was to become a Priest. I attended mass several times a week, and studied in my free time with the priests in the monastery next to the cathedral (pictured).

That all changed my Junior year of high school. My parents divorced, and I started asking all the questions a kid asks himself when there’s a life change. Just what is the purpose of life? How can I be happy if my family is going through some rough spots? With so many churches, how do I know which one is right for me?

Shortly after graduating from high school, my friend, the ONE Mormon in town, asked me a question out of the blue one day: “what do you want most in life?” “To be happy,” was my answer. “…but I’m not sure what that means, honestly,” I continued.

Her response was simple: “Chris, that’s the purpose of life! And I have proof.” That day, I first held a copy of The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. We talked for hours about what she had come to know for herself as truth. She told me the Lord had again put a prophet on the earth to lead and guide His children. The priesthood, or the proper authority to act in His name, had been restored. Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, families could be together not just til “death do they part,” but for eternity.

She then invited me to meet with missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who could answer my questions and tell me more. The only problem was there weren’t any for hundreds of miles around. So I found out where they were, and drove to meet with them. Best gas money I’ve ever spent. Over the course of several weeks, I made the drive to where they were. They extended invitations to attend church, read the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and ask God if it was true. I learned that God answers prayers, and that the responsibility to find out answers to important questions was mine. I didn’t have to take someone else’s word for it, but I could really know for myself.

The rest, as they say, is history. “I’m a Mormon, I know it. I live it. I love it.”