Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Rest of my Father-In-Law's Conversion Story

I posted a piece of my father-in-law's story yesterday.  His name is Norris Mills.  My father-in-law's story of his true conversion of heart, mind, and body has given many of us the courage to increase our efforts to change for the better... to try to be more Christlike- no matter how hard it may be.  To know that no matter how long we may have lived with our bad habits... change is possible.

After yesterday's post, one of my sweet readers asked more questions about my father-in-law's conversion.  That inspired him to put his story in writing tonight for the first time ever.  I am forever grateful for her sincere questions!

My father-in-law stayed up much later than he wanted to as he wrote his story. I sat silently beside him- feeling complete gratitude for his sacrifice.   I couldn't help but wrap my arms around him as he stood up from the computer having finished his testimony.  I continue to feel grateful that so many of you will have the opportunity to hear his story, but I mostly feel grateful that our children will know their grandfather on a deeper, more spiritual level.  What a gift he has given us!  Thank you Dad!

In His Words...

"As a child, I was more associated with the Baptist Church than any other. My mother sent us children to Church most Sundays, and I remember enjoying the stories about Jesus. As I grew up, circumstances moved me away from religion. Although I have always had a longing for a relationship with God, things like the protests against Brown vs Board of Education, Emmitt Till lynching in Mississippi, and Rosa Parks getting kicked off the bus in Alabama, changed the way I felt about a lot of things- including religion.

Still, as a young man, I didn’t press it. I joined the Army and left my small part of the world and was exposed to other cultures and people. The way people treated each other soured me on religion, and I didn’t think about it for a while. Still, I would always get this longing for a relationship with God. I mostly ignored it and indulged myself in the ways of the world. While I was in the Army, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and I wanted to be a part of that. I listen to Martin Luther King and Malcom X. I read everything they wrote, and I leaned more toward the aggressive militant approach and thought long and hard about joining with the Nation of Islam. A few things that I didn’t agree with kept me from making that choice. Still, I would always get this longing for a relationship with God.

After the Army, I became interested in Martial Arts, and I joined a group that had a religious affiliation. I was still a militant and this group gave me opportunities to express that in an effort to affect change in our community. As with any long and hard struggle it can cause one to become bitter. To want to cause the same pain you have felt on those who you felt were responsible. It was then that I knew I could not
be associated with Christianity any longer. I was invited to attend a meeting by my Martial Arts associate, and I joined their Faith. The religion was another American founded faith called Fahamme. It was founded in the 1920s by Paul Nathaniel Johnson. The basic doctrine is that there is one God but several roads to him; each person has their way to God, and he sent his Prophets to direct them. Paul Nathaniel Johnson was the Prophet to the black race, and Fahamme was their path.

I was very happy in this Faith, and I rose to prominent positions of leadership in the Faith. When I married my wife, I insisted she convert. She tried it to please me but soon began to miss Christianity. She left and began to attend her Father’s Church.

I stayed on with my religion until there was a conflict among the leadership about how to go forward. There was a split, and I decided to leave. Those who left when I did, suggested we start another congregation. One of our complaints about Christianity was that throughout its history when there was conflict they started another denomination. So I decided to pray, and I asked God for the authority to start another congregation. I felt an answer to my prayer was to review Christianity again. I knew that was wrong, so I prayed again and the same feeling came again. So I tried it. I visited several denominations, and there was always something I didn't agree with. I even went to my Father-in-law’s Church- same problem as the others. I could feel the stress it was putting on our family, and I prayed harder.

Soon after, my wife was home on a day that wasn’t planned for her to be home, and the missionaries knocked on our door. That started the long process that ended in our baptism 11 months later.

What Rachel mentioned in yesterday's blog post is only one of many humps we overcame to finally reach that day. When the missionaries taught Carol that first discussion, they asked if they could come back when I was home. She said I don’t think you can, and they said, "Would you please ask him?" When I got home, she said, "The missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ were here, and they want to come back when you are here." I said, "You mean the Mormons?"

Because I was looking at different denominations of Christianity, I said, "Sure, they can come back." Then I said something that reminds me to be humble; I said, "Don’t worry, we will never join that Church!" That was 32 years ago. I knew a little about religion, and I was prepared to challenge them on their doctrine. When they came to the appointment, I started firing questions at them right away. They told me to wait until after they had shared their message, and then they would answer any question they could. As they presented their message, all my questions were answered.

Still, this was not enough. My mother-in-law was dying, and we had to put the missionaries off until we had some time. Our life was about our work and being with her. She passed away and that was a sad day for our family. We didn’t hear from them again, and we were okay with that. We found out later that the area had been closed until some more missionaries could come to the mission. When the new missionaries looked at their area book, they asked the members of the local ward if any of them knew us. It just happened that one of the ladies in Carol’s carpool was a member and always invited Carol to their women’s meeting. She and her husband invited us to have a message taught in their home, and we went.

We had all kinds of questions. It felt good, but we had to know: "Was it true?" The Priesthood came up. I asked why blacks couldn’t hold the Priesthood. They said they could. I said, "Since when?" Well it was two years earlier that they got the Priesthood. The logical next question which I asked was, "Why couldn’t they hold it before then?" They didn’t know, and the mission President said no one really knows, but there will be many willing to give you theory as facts.

So there we were- feeling good about what we were hearing about Jesus Christ and his love for us- and all these other issues were just hanging over our heads. We had attended several meetings and felt the spirit very strong, but there were no blacks in the congregation and the thing about the Priesthood was the elephant in the room. The missionaries were feeling that we should have progressed enough to make a decision about baptism, and we didn’t want to keep them coming if we were not going to be baptized. Before we could do that, we had to know if it was true so that once we made that decision- no one could drive us way.

This all lead up to the point Rachel mentioned in her previous post. Since that day, I have learned a lot of things and forgotten even more. When I reflect on why the Holy Ghost didn’t bear witness at the first prayer- it is because I needed to humble myself and become committed to Christ and rely totally on him for all things.

As I think of how things come and go, the one thing I can rely on is:  I know that Jesus is the Christ- the Son of the Living God, and He Lives. I know He suffered and died for us and rose on the third day that all might rise again. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ is His Church on the earth today- that it was restored by him through his Prophet Joseph Smith, and I know we have a living Prophet today even Thomas S. Monson. I know The Book of Mormon is the word of God, and its truthfulness testified to Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. I am grateful to be a member of his Church, and I am truly blessed to have my wonderful eternal companion and family. I testify this is true beyond any doubt, and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ Amen."