Greetings Sharon, Sharon's friend and whoever else reads this
You have asked how and why I left the LDS Church.
I was LDS for 12 years, from 1973 to 1985. I was baptized into the LDS Church when I was almost 14 years old, although I was "raised" LDS, practically speaking. My father was agnostic and my mother is LDS. My father was not opposed to the children being trained in religion by mom and the LDS. However, he did not wish us to be baptized until we were a little bit older than 8 and knew a little better what we were doing.
When I was baptized, I believed that knowing and obeying God were of the greatest importance in life. After my baptism and until the time I went to college, I spent my Sundays in reading the Bible and LDS books. (The LDS teach that one should keep Sunday holy as the Sabbath. For me, that meant no TV, homework or recreation, and that left a lot of time for reading.)
I had questions at times about the things that I read. My questions were not enough to cause me to seriously doubt my LDS faith, but to seek. I would find the person who seemed to know best and ask questions about the LDS faith. During this time, I repeatedly heard from other LDS about prayers God had answered, about healings done, protection offered and miracles wrought. I was taught that other churches were apostate and that their apostasy was manifest by their lack such signs.
Because I sensed that these LDS friends were speaking truthfully when they reported these answers to prayers, I assumed that God was with them, and therefore that the LDS Church was true. During these years, I had occasional conversations with classmates or neighborhood friends about religion. I had several Lutheran neighbors and a few friends at school identified themselves as Christian. None of them presented to me any good reason to doubt my LDS faith.
During these years, there was one time that I asked God to send me an angel to teach me. At this time, I had read a great deal of LDS material and wanted to know God and spiritual things better. One of my LDS seminary teachers had said that one of the early LDS prophets had had angels appear to him to teach him when he was young. The teacher suggested that we also could have that same blessing.
So, on a subsequent evening, I prayed in my dark room that God send me an angel. I was hoping that a light would appear and in it an angel, but nothing happened. At least, nothing happened visibly. The next night I prayed again in the same way, with the same lack of result. After these two unanswered requests, I figured that apparently this prayer did not work, and continued with the rest of my life.
After high school, I went to BYU. Actually, BYU had made the choice easier, because they decided to give me a 4-year, tuition-paid academic scholarship. Someone there apparently felt I had some potential. During my first year and a half at BYU, I met three friends who were to dramatically influence my spiritual life. They were Brad Thompson, my elders' quorum president, George Pace, my stake president and Chauncey Riddle, teacher of my honors Book of Mormon class for returned missionaries. Though I was not an "RM," I took the class, believing it offered me the best chance to learn as much as possible from the best teacher.
Although these men are all LDS, they pointed me in some new directions. They fed spiritually in a way I had previously not been fed. Basically, these men encouraged me to be much in prayer, to seek to know Jesus personally and to hear His voice through prayer. (George Pace recommended 20 to 30 minutes a day in prayer; Brad suggested as much as two hours.) They encouraged me to ask God questions about doctrine and scripture when I did not understand. They said that God had answered such questions for them. As He was no respector of persons, he would do the same for me, if I sought Him.
Later in my life, I began to realize that these three men may have been the first of God's answers to my prayer for angels to teach me.
At this time, 1977, I began to regularly ask God questions about doctrine and scripture. Actually, I have continued to ask God questions since that time. However, at this time, and for the next five to seven years, it seemed that God was not answering. In fact, for those first five years I did not receive one clear answer to any doctrinal question I asked God.
I served a two-year-mission for the LDS from 1979 to 1981. Regrettably, as a missionary I lied when I said that I knew that the Book of Mormon and the LDS Church were true. When I was interviewed by my bishop before my mission, and then by my stake president, I was asked if I had a testimony of the restored gospel. I answered, "I believe that the Church is true, but I do not know that it is true." Both the bishop and George Pace the stake president nevertheless recommended me to serve as a missionary. George did encourage me personally to seek God in prayer for a testimony and he gave me two transcripts of speeches he had given in LDS meetings about prayer and its power. He suggested that as I sought God more deeply in prayer, I would receive the testimony of the gospel.
I continued to seek, but did not receive. LDS missionaries usually spend a month or two in what is called the Missionary Training Center before they actually go to their field of service. (At the MTC, they learn a foreign language if necessary, and, in 1979 at least, they memorized seven or eight presentations word for word called "the discussions.") While at the MTC, at my first "testimony meeting," I said, "I believe," rather than, "I know." (Testimony meetings are a common feature of LDS life, especially among missionaries. At such meetings, the participants tell of how God has shown them that the LDS Church is true and they may share other answers to prayer. They often express appreciation to God for the Church, their families, a modern prophet, and whatever else they wish to mention. "Having a testimony of the gospel" is considered a necessary stepping stone on the way to spiritual growth. It is also considered essential to the successful conversion of those with whom one shares the gospel. "A testimony of the gospel" is usually expressed in about this way: "I know that Jesus is the Christ and that He lives. I know that Joseph Smith was a modern prophet and that the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Gordon B. Hinckley is also a modern prophet and holds the keys for this dispensation." Those who can say this in good conscience are considered to have a testimony. Testimonies are said to come to a person by any number of means, from angelic visitations, to an inner witness of the Spirit, to the conclusion drawn from a life of answered prayer and experience of the Spirit's fruit. The Book of Mormon makes the promise that those who read it and ask God, will receive the knowledge from the Spirit that it is true.)
As I said, in my first testimony meeting at the MTC, I used the phrase, "I believe," rather than, "I know." Within a few minutes of the end of that testimony meeting, another one of the missionaries was speaking to me about how I needed to change what I said. Saying "I believe" was not satisfactory for a missionary. I needed to either obtain a testimony so that I could say, "I know," and then say, "I know." Or, I needed to realize that I knew, and to say "I know" based on the knowledge that I had.
(That an LDS missionary might not know that the LDS Church was true is not such a strange thing as one might imagine. In the LDS Church publication the Ensign, one general authority related how a missionary in a similar situation had received his testimony when the prophet was addressing the missionaries at the MTC. )
Heber J. Grant, who later became the Mormon leader and prophet, reigning during the depression, was earlier in life made stake president. In stake conference at the time of being made stake president, he bore his testimony, saying, "I believe the gospel is true." Some members of the church protested about this to one general authority. The GA replied, "He knows the gospel is true, but he does not know that he knows it."
Spencer W. Kimball, who ruled as prophet and leader of the Mormons in the 1980's also struggled in his conscience as a missionary over whether he should say, "I believe," or "I know." So his biography reports. After a struggle, LDS pressures won out over conscience, and he said, "I know."
About seven years ago, there was a PBS documentary done on the LDS Church and its missionaries. Several returned missionaries admitted that they did not "know" the church was true, even while they had said they did as a missionary.
So, for your information, one of the LDS secrets is that there is a great deal of peer pressure on missionaries to say, "I know," whether or not they do. When you hear a missionary or any LDS for that matter say, "I know that the LDS Church is true," ask them how they know. For anything other than that God appeared to them, ask them how they know it was God. Ask them what else "God" has told them, so that you can see what track record their god has. Feel free to tell them you know by the Holy Spirit that there is only one God. Ask them why you should believe what the "Holy Spirit" tells them any more than what the Holy Spirit tells you.
I had been praying to know whether or not the Church was true prior to this testimony meeting and the encouragement of the other missionary to resolve this situation increased my desire. I continued to pray, but God said nothing to me. I was at the MTC for two months, for I served my LDS mission in France. After having been at the MTC a few weeks, I went to my MTC branch president and explained my situation to him about not knowing that the LDS Church was true. We talked and prayed. After prayer, my branch president said he felt that before I left the MTC, I would receive my testimony.
I did not, but after a few more weeks I rationalized in my mind that I could say I knew the gospel was true. However, even as a missionary, I was reluctant to say this. I preferred to say that I felt the gospel was true, and so I said when I could.
I would note that while I lied, I did so while feeling caught by my obligation to serve God. I had been taught that it was my duty to serve God as missionary, that "every worthy young man should serve a mission." I had been taught those who prayed sincerely and in righteousness would receive a testimony and if they had not, one chief reason would be that they were not recognizing the answer God was giving.
Prior to my mission, I had been given blessings by Brad Thompson, and was set apart for my mission by George Pace the stake president. During my mission, I kept in contact with Brad by letter. In the blessing of Brad, the setting apart by George Pace and Brad's ongoing letters, prophecies were given to me of great success that I would have as a missionary. Among others, Brad prophesied that in my missionary success, I would change for the better the LDS missionary work in SW France, which is where I was a missionary. He said I would have such success that other missionaries would see it and come to me to learn how to copy it.
If such prophecies had been fulfilled it would have been quite clear. The year before I arrived in my mission, the average converts per missionary were less than one per year. Nevertheless, during my mission, I put my heart into seeing Brad's prophecies fulfilled. Brad had taught that for any blessing within the gospel, one may obtain it by discovering the law upon which it is predicated, and obeying that law. He believed that great things could be accomplished, by listening to the Spirit and obeying its promptings.
It should be noted that I had not put my trust in Brad "blindly." During the year that he was my elders' quorum president, he had given me three "priesthood blessings." (A priesthood blessing would be something like an inspired prayer and/or prophecy. The LDS believe that the blessings of Jacob and of Moses on the 12 tribes were such blessings. In these blessings, God may inspire the one speaking with fitting words of counsel, promises of healing and/or prophecy. In addition to all other Mormon priesthood holders, there are special men called patriarchs, whose sole responsibility in the LDS Church is to give such inspired blessings. Many such blessings come to pass, and this is considered one of the evidences for the truth of Mormonism.) In one of these priesthood blessings, Brad had repeated to me some of the words of my patriarchal blessing. He had never read it nor heard of it from me. To me, it was one of many confirmations that Brad did speak for God and did "see."
As I said, I put my heart into seeing these prophecies fulfilled, but they were not. My last year as a missionary was especially emotionally traumatic for me. Brad had taught me to seek to understand the laws upon which blessings were predicated, and I was seeking to hear from God. Presumably, if I heard and obeyed God, I could receive many spiritual gifts and powers. This would make me "great" as a missionary. The Book of Mormon promises thousands of converts to those who are much in prayer. As I sought to apply whatever laws might be appropriate to my case, I came to believe that I needed to desire earnestly the blessings I sought. (Both Brad and I were influenced to some degree by the LDS book, Drawing on the Powers of Heaven by Grant Von Harrison, which advocates earnest desire for spiritual blessings as part of the way to obtain them.)
At this time, it seemed to me that if I earnestly desired these blessings, that I would weep about my not having received them. So I began to weep much during the last year or so of my mission. For prayer, I would weep about God's not talking to me. As I wept to hear God's voice, Brad continued to prophesy blessings upon my mission. Yet, none of these prophecies were fulfilled.
By the end of my mission I was heart-broken and emotionally exhausted. It seemed that God had failed me or that I had failed God. I could not understand what had gone wrong. I remember jogging one day after my mission, thinking, "It sure seems like God aims to confuse me."
At this time, my prayers changed. I would weep in despair, or I would ask God to take my life. I said that if I wasn't going to know Him, that I would rather simply be dead. After the end of my mission, I never again told anyone I knew the gospel was true.
I did not kill myself, however, as I believed it was wrong to do so. I consulted with my bishop and with Chauncey Riddle about what had gone wrong. There was no clear answer given. Chauncey Riddle promised me future understanding, in a blessing.
I also confronted Brad, seeking understanding. Over the last few months of my mission and shortly after it was over, he gave several different possible explanations. These ran from 1) the prophecies would suddenly, dramatically be fulfilled in the last few months or weeks of my mission; 2) the prophecies were fulfilled, but I did not perceive it; 3) I had planted many seeds in many hearts, fulfilling the prophecies; 4) the prophecies would yet be fulfilled; & 5) he may have added to the prophecies out of his own mind.
This, the fifth explanation, was the last one he gave me. He said that he had prophesied about the mission of Blake Ambridge, but that only half of the prophecies were fulfilled. When he asked God what had happened, God had indicated that Brad had added to God's prophecies out of his own human mind. Brad suggested that he may have done the same in my case.
For me, however, even this explanation did not satisfy me. None of Brad's prophecies were fulfilled, except a sentence about my being hated. (This appears to have been fulfilled when we visited a JW meeting and afterwards discussed the gospel with some JW. I said that their lack of "signs" indicated their lack of faith. The JW was wildly agitated by my saying so, and the next day, someone had torn down our little church sign.)
At this point in time, I was greatly discouraged. Brad encouraged me to continue to seek, saying that his own spiritual growth had come after years of struggle. However, I was no longer sure I could trust Brad to lead me rightly. Though we remained friends, I ceased to look to him for spiritual guidance.
At this point in time, I realized that I did not know what I thought I had known about God. When I thought I knew it, it had gotten me into trouble and terrible pain.
After my mission I returned to BYU. I had not yet decided what my major would be, but I loved to read and learn. I sought God about what I should make my major, but it seemed as usual that He was saying nothing. As I consulted with others and thought within myself, I decided to major in history. I figured it was the closest thing to studying religion without majoring in it, or being caught in the speculative winds of philosophy.
It was during my first year back at BYU that I met two women angels who were to encourage me in my spiritual growth. At this time, I was not seeking God much, other than to read interesting religion books in the BYU library. (Prayer had not worked much.) However, the LDS Church encourages its returned missionaries to date and to marry. As I looked over the women I knew, I saw few or none I wished to date and those few generally were already attached. So, I began to intentionally say hello to new women.
As I did so, one of the women whom I met was Cindi Higbee. (She later married Ken Godwin.) Cindy and I got together to chat at times. She shared the story of her spiritual growth with me. She encouraged me again to read the scriptures and pray.
On our 2nd or 3rd visit, as we were talking, she said, "I have a message. As you continue to seek God, you will find Him, and you will become great." I thought, "I've heard that before. That would be nice, but so far I just strike out with God."
At this time, I would have considered myself a religious and spiritual failure. At one point shortly after I returned from my mission, I ran into Bruce Worthen on campus. Bruce had been the first counselor in the elders' quorum under Brad Thomspon, and he knew that many of the elders sent out from there had been trained and encouraged by Brad. Bruce asked me how my mission had gone. I said, "Badly." Without skipping a beat, he changed the subject.
I had tried to seek and find God and yet He had said nothing to me. Prophecies had been made about my mission and my life. Since the prophecies about my mission were not fulfilled, I assumed it was unlikely that any others about my life would be either. I wept.
Also, since I knew rationally that God can't fail people, I assumed that whatever had gone wrong must have been in myself. I must have failed God somehow, even if I could not understand how. For the LDS reading this, for what it matters, I was not guilty of masturbation or other unchastity. Many LDS would read what I have written and ask if there was not some secret, unconfessed and hidden sin in my life that was hindering me from hearing from God. I spoke honestly with my priesthood leaders in my interviews, and many of them, presumably inspired, gave me priesthood blessings of promise and glory.
I assumed that God would not use me much in His kingdom. I did not know if the LDS Church were true and thus would not say that I knew. In my BYU wards of mostly freshmen, I was a priori disqualified from any kind of leadership or teaching responsibility. This was true, even though, because of my continuous reading of LDS literature, I tended to know LDS doctrine far better than those called to lead and to teach. The best I could see, this situation was going to continue forever. I was despised and rejected of God. After all, if anyone was in a position to receive from God the knowledge of whether or not the Church were true, it should have been me, as an LDS missionary or beforehand.
Also, I had by this time began to wonder if I were not spiritually deaf. Just as some people are born physically deaf, I wondered if I were spiritually deaf. Most of my friends around me heard from God, or so they said, and yet I did not. Why? What was wrong? I had been seeking God earnestly for four years (1977-1981) and yet I was not hearing from Him like the others. Basically, I felt spiritually inferior and rejected.
In my prayers, I had not simply prayed for blessings and glory, but I had asked God to show me whatever sins and faults I might have within myself and to help me become more like the Savior. Brad had taught me that God can work in us more greatly as we put away even minor sins or faults that may be in our lives. He taught me to pray that God help me to become more like Christ and to be a blessing to other people. So, I had prayed, "God, show me my sins!" Yet, even to that prayer God had been silent.
It just did not make sense. If there was any prayer that God would be likely to answer, it should have been that one, or so it seemed. Yet God here too was silent, or I was not hearing. Either way, that meant woe to me. Woe, woe, woe to David.
So, I felt very badly about my relationship with God at this point in time. When Cindi promised me that I would find God and be great, I thought, "Yes, you and Brad Thompson my elders' quorum president in 1977, and Steven Broadbent, my elders' quorum president in 1978, and George Pace, my stake president, and elder Daniel Lemire, fellow missionary say so. The others have all been wrong." Yet, I hoped.
Now, as Christians evangelize, they are to bring the lost to an awareness of their lost state. "Before a man can be found, he must first be lost. Salvation begins with our recognition of our need for God," says the wise evangelist. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God."
I had never had a Christian tell me I was lost, not even while I was a missionary. Yet, I was as convinced of it as I could be, and still know that God had grace. I did not see myself as spiritually dead--only blind, deaf, dumb and unable to move. How I wished to see and hear, and yet I could not!! God's silence even led me to doubt His love for me.
After I left the LDS Church, I have told my story to other LDS. Generally,
I do not get far before they are explaining to me my spiritual mistakes. My
various spiritual mistakes, according to them, run as follows, though each
LDS has a slightly different list:
1) it was your first mistake to pray for angels to teach you, when you had bishops and other church leaders to teach you;
2) it was a mistake to give much credence to Brad, George Pace and Chauncey Riddle, if at any point they taught ideas not taught by the general authorities. Since each of them taught "strange doctrines," you should have disregarded their teachings;
3) it was a mistake to believe that an elders' quorum president could prophesy about your life in matters outside his jurisdiction as EQ president, specifically, about your mission and the rest of your life;
4) it was a mistake to insist about being absolutely certain about whether or not the Church is true, when in fact one must have some degree of faith;
5) it was a mistake to believe, based on Brad's teachings, that God might give you doctrinal information He had not given a priesthood leader of yours;
6) it was a mistake to believe that God would use you in a special way, above the way he was using your priesthood leaders;
7) it was a mistake to not know and believe that God honors His priesthood authority, by His telling His prophets, and by extension, all priesthood leaders, all that would be helpful. Thus, there was no need for me to expect any special revelation from God to me during my mission. There was, in fact, no further need to God to speak to me even after my mission, about doctrinal matters. My sole duty was to believe and obey what He had already revealed in and through the LDS Church.
Further, some suggest that I was emotionally ill. There is no doubt that I was. The only question is what was the cause and the exact nature of my "mental illness." They suggest that, in a mild form, I was suffering delusions of grandeur, caused by my close association with that other fellow, Brad Thompson, who happened to be my EQ president when I first came to BYU. He also, in his own way, suffered delusions of grandeur. In a way, this suggestion is no doubt true. The only question is as to whether Mormonism itself feeds such delusions.
In any case, there is a short answer to the charge that I made a series of spiritual mistakes that led me out of the LDS Church. The patriarch, in my patriarchal blessing, had promised, "When you serve your mission, you will have a correct understanding of the gospel." When I served my mission, I believed in full form, or in seed form, all the spiritual errors that the LDS later held to be responsible, first for my spiritual despair in 1981, and later, for my leaving the LDS Church in 1985. The only matter left unknown in 1981 was how my "spiritual errors" would resolve themselves.
So, there I was in 1981. I was in serious despair about my relationship with God. I considered myself rejected of God. Yet, I harbored hopes that I might find and know Him. I pondered promises/delusions of grandeur planted by four successive priesthood leaders/holders. Now another promise was being delivered by a friend I had met saying hello to unknown, attractive women on the BYU campus, looking for potential dates.
Before I go further, I would note that I seemed to be inadvertently applying one the principles Max Gunther discusses in his book the Luck Factor, (pub. 1970's). Gunther studied lucky and unlucky people. He found that there were five characteristics in particular that seemed to separate the lucky from the unlucky. People could change their luck by applying these principles.
The first of the five principles was what Gunther called the Spiderweb. He noted that lucky people tended to make friends easily and to keep in touch with friends. They were warm and at times helpful to others. They liked meeting new people. They enjoyed hearing of the lives and growth of others, and were willing to share their own. Generally, they did not let some flaw or defect prevent them from mingling. They unlucky behaved in the opposite way.
The result of this behavior was that a person would develop a network of friends. When good luck came or had come to one or several of those friends, they would often share it with their friends. Thus, the friendly person seems to have better luck in a large number of areas, compared to the unfriendly. However, some would not call it luck.
We see that this is actually a Biblical principle. The Bible says, "Be not forgetful to receive strangers, for in so doing, many have received angels unawares," Hebrews 13:2. Jesus says that he would receive those who take in strangers, and reject those who do not, Mt. 25:31-46. The Old Testament stories of Sodom and Gomorrah show the destruction God brings on those who mistreat strangers.
During this time, several men noticed what I was doing and asked me, "How can you go up and talk to a woman you don't know? I could never do that." I said, "As a missionary I knocked on thousands of doors of people I did not know. This is no different."
Some said, "It is not the same. Someone might reject you!"
Yes, I already knew that. How terrible!
In early 1982 I met Dawn Schroeder. The first time I met Dawn was perfectly normal. I said hello to her on the sidewalk and we chatted for a while as she continued on her journey. We separated and I thought nothing more of it.
About a week later, I was chatting with another woman on the sidewalk, walking west. That conversation finished and we separated. I looked around to see if there were any other women with whom I might wish to speak. On the same sidewalk, walking east, forty or so feet away, was such a woman and I decided to catch up to her.
I began walking quickly towards her. I looked away briefly. Then, she had turned around & was waiting for me! "Was there any particular reason you turned and waited?"
She said, "Yes. I felt to."
I asked her more about that. I said she was most unusual as only woman I knew to ever turn around and wait. Was there anything different about her to cause this?
She replied that, actually, she did spend 20 or 30 minutes a day in prayer, and she knew that most people did not. Here was the sister of George Pace, or, his daughter!
After I had finished my mission, and when I felt in great despair about my relationship with God, I wondered if God would send me any more "messages" as He might have through Brad, George and Chauncey. After my conversations with Cindi Godwin and Dawn Schroeder, in 1981 and 1982, it seemed that there was an additional message from God to me. It was, "Keep trying and you will find." God used the circumstances of my life to say that I ought always to pray and not to give up, Luke 18:1. With this further encouragement to be much in prayer, I continued my life.
In March of 1982, Bruce R. McConkie came to BYU and delivered a "fireside" message entitled, "Our Relationship with the Lord." The message was basically a correction to a book which George Pace had written on that subject. In this message, McConkie said:
"We worship the Father and him only and no one else. We do not worship the Son and we do not worship the Holy Ghost. I know perfectly well what the scriptures say about worshipping Christ and Jehovah, but they are speaking in an entirely different sense--the sense of standing in awe and being reverentially grateful to Him who has redeemed us. Worship in the true and saving sense is reserved for God the first, the Creator."
He also said the LDS "should not strive for a special and personal relationship with Christ." These words were "the doctrine of the Church" and "everyone who is sound spiritually and who has guidance of the Holy Spirit will believe my words and follow my counsel."
He says, "I shall summarize the true doctrine in the field and invite erring teachers and beguiled students to repent . . .There are yet others who have an extensive zeal which causes them to go beyond the mark. Their desire for excellence is inordinate. In an effort to be truer than true they devote themselves to gaining a special, personal relationship with Christ that is both improper and perilous.
I say perilous because this course, particularly in the lives of some who are spiritually immature, is a gospel hobby which creates an unwholesome holier-than-thou attitude. In some instances it leads to despondency because the seeker after perfection knows he is not living the way that supposes he should.
Another peril is that those so involved often begin to pray directly to Christ because of some special friendship they feel has been developed. In this connection a current and unwise book, which advocates gaining a special relationship with Jesus, contains this sentence: 'Because the Savior is our mediator, our prayers go through Christ to the Father, and the Father answers our prayers through his Son.'
This is plain sectarian nonsense. Our prayers are addressed to the Father, and to him only. . . Now I know that some may be offended at the counsel that they should not strive for a special and personal relationship with Christ. . ."
At the time, I remember that some of my friends and I felt sorry about this public rebuke of George Pace. I had not taken any religion classes from Pace, but I knew that as a religion teacher he was one of the most popular, if not, the most popular, on campus. BYU students were hungry to hear from this man who seemed to know Jesus personally.
In retrospect, I realized that each of my first three angels had been rebuked and muzzled at some point by ecclesiastical leaders for teaching some unapproved doctrine.
Nevertheless, I had just seen some of the results of some of this unapproved doctrine. Dawn Schroeder had turned around and waited for me on a BYU sidewalk.
I noted previously that by this time I had been brought to a point of great spiritual despair. At least McConkie will come to my aid, for apparently I was not alone. He says, "In some instances it leads to despondency . . ."
At this point, my life takes a new twist. I did not have any particular plans for the summer of 1982, and one of my dorm friends, with some other BYU students, was planning to go to Taiwan. One could study Mandarin and teach or tutor English to pay expenses. This idea appealed to me; I thought it would broaden my education. My parents were willing to pay for my airfare to Taiwan, and so I made plans to go.
I arrived in Taiwan around May of 1982. I settled into a simple life. For a few hours every day I studied Mandarin at a school. For another few hours I taught English to private students. There were no BYU women to pursue on the sidewalk, and within a few weeks I had read whatever English reading material I had.
During this point in time, I began again to try to take an hour every day for prayer. It is not that I necessarily succeeded every day. Sometimes I felt asleep when nothing was going on. Some days, my errands and other matters kept me tied up. Yet, many days I would pray for about an hour.
As an LDS, I had mostly thought of prayer as asking God for blessings and/or asking God questions. So, during my hour of prayer I would ask God for every possible blessing & for every possible spiritual gift of which I could think. I asked God every possible question. Perhaps we will laugh about it now, but back in 1982 I asked God about dinosaurs, about evolution, and about UFOs. I asked Jesus to show Himself to me personally and visibly. I asked God many questions about more ordinary aspects of LDS doctrine as well. I asked God for the gifts of prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, miracles, & a mouth and a wisdom that no one could contradict.
However, even all these requests did not necessarily take up an hour of time. So, during some of that hour, I would sit and think about anything other question I might ask God or any other blessing for which I might ask Him. As I remember, I even asked God to restore polygamy. Saying hello to women on the sidewalk was fun and I did not necessarily want that to stop even if I got married.
This time, compared to my missionary and pre-missionary prayer times, I was not particularly pursuing great glory by being of great service to God. I was simply doing what seemed to me to have worked in the lives of George Pace and Dawn Schroeder.
About six weeks after being in Taiwan, and after a period of relatively regular prayer time, I came across a Christian bookstore. As I wanted more English material to read, I went in and began to look over the biography section. (I figured that the Christians were more than likely seriously wrong in most of their books on doctrine. However, as a Mormon, I had been taught to keep a journal, and, at some point, to write a personal history. For a Mormon, his journal and personal history would be considered a form of scripture in time to come to his descendants, for they record the working of God in his life. So, I figured that the Christian biographies had the most chance of being helpful to me, and were the least likely to do spiritual harm. After all, the biographies were surely not written to persuade me to leave the LDS Church.) So I picked up and bought I Dared to Call Him Father by Bilquis Sheik and Lord of the Air by Tal Brooke.
These two books were the first two Christian biographies I read in my life. The closest I had come to reading Christian literature prior to this time was reading The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey when I was a teenager. (That was wild speculation about the book of Revelation, and it had been pointless in helping me grow spiritually.) Also, when I had been a missionary, I had met one family, out of the thousands of doors on which we had knocked, which attended "the evangelical church." The father told us that God answered the prayers of him and of his children. I remember wondering about that. Why did God answer their prayers and not mine, as an LDS missionary?
Then, at one point, as a missionary, we had even visited a Pentecostal evangelistic meeting. The speaker told of how he had been without God and seriously ill, and had been healed by the prayers of some Christian friends. He himself had then become a Christian. At times when he prayed for the sick, now, they also were healed. I remember being puzzled about this. Did God actually work through this fellow? Anyway, I took his printed testimony and glued it into my missionary journal. I remember some missionaries saying that this kind of healing was often the work of the devil. It was done, they said, to lead others away from the restored gospel. Others said that if a person had faith, God might heal even if the one praying did not have LDS priesthood authority.
Anyway, I read these two little Christian biographies. Lord of the Air is the story of how Tal Brooke had been a spiritual seeker, in the 60's I believe. He had traveled to India, met a bunch of gurus and got involved with Sai Baba. Sai Baba really did do actual miracles, but over a period of time, Brooke realized that Baba's power was not necessarily of God. Tal left Baba and became a Christian.
In some respects, I Dared to Call Him Father by Bilquis Sheik was more interesting. Bilquis had been a Moslem, but was seeking spiritual peace. Through a series of dreams and visions and other supernatural incidents, she comes to faith in Christ and the Bible, rather than the Koran. She hears God's voice clearly at one point. She was learning to pray and was troubled over which book was God's. Was it the Bible or the Koran? She called out, "Father, father, father," and as she did so, she sensed the presence of God enter her room. She then said to God, "Which of these books is your book, Father?"
God replied, "In which book do you learn to call Me Father?"
Bilquis realized that God was indicating that the Bible was His book. She began to walk as a Christian. Following God's leading, she baptized herself in her bathtub, and prayed to receive the Holy Spirit. Even after her conversion, visions, dreams and supernatural knowledge continued in her life. Together with these supernatural events, the Spirit would convict her of sin, at times. While under conviction, Bilquis would lose her sense of peace and joy; when she would repent, peace and joy would return.
As I read this book, I thought to myself how much this seemed like how the Holy Spirit should be operating in a person's life. Yet, this was a Christian biography. This was most peculiar!! I earnestly desired that God would work in my life as He had been in hers. At the same time, I wondered within myself if this was some sort of Satanic trick. Was this book to lead people such as myself or other Christians into believing that one did not have to be LDS and could still have an ever deepening relationship with God? As an LDS, I had been taught that nonLDS do not have the Holy Spirit as a gift. Yet Bilquis did. At least, she seemed to. Here I had another puzzle before me.
To be continued...