I was baptised and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Februrary 19th, 1983. My mother, father and sister were baptised on that same day. I have not always been an active member of the Church--there have been periods in my life when I strayed from the path somewhat for varying reasons--but I have always had a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
At the age of 19, I enlisted in the United States Navy. During basic training, I took advantage of every opportunity I could to attend services at the servicemen's branch of the Church at the base chappel. Sunday school in this small and fluctuating group was divided into two classes. One was a regular Sunday school class taught by the Branch President or one of his counselors. The other consisted of the basic lessons taught by missionaries.
I remember Sister Williams teaching this class. I had brought with me a fellow recruit from my company who expressed an interest in learning something about the Mormons. At the time, I had been a member of the Church for ten years and I had only a few vague recollections of what I was taught when my family and I were still investigators. One of the few things I did remember was learning about Christ's appearance to His "other sheep" in the Americas and thinking to myself, "That makes sense to me. If there were people in this part of the world that weren't able to hear Christ's message then it makes sense that Christ would come here to teach them. Why would he leave anybody out?" When I decided to be baptised, I did so because my family was doing it. My conversion would come years later.
When I saw that missionaries were teaching their introductory lessons I decided that it was an excellent opportunity to reintroduce myself to the Gospel, starting with the basics—which was apropos since I was going through basic training at the time. ;-) I would start at the beginning with the missionary lessons and continue from there.
The other recruit that came with me that first Sunday spoke with Sister Williams about his struggles to understand what this life was all about. At one point he said, "The other day I saw a squirrel in a tree..."
Sister Williams and I looked at each other. We were thinking the same thing. About the tree in Lehi's dream. We both knew that it might have been a stretch to connect the two so we kept listening.
This young man, in relating his questions and feelings, then said, "I just feel like I'm lost in a fog..."
Sister Williams and I looked at each other again, our eyes wide with smiles on our faces and feelings of restrained delight at the thought that this just might be someone who would be open to receiving the message that we had.
Sister Williams gave this young man a copy of The Book of Mormon with Lehi's dream marked for him to read. After we went back to our compartment, he read the story and never came back to Church with me.
Not exactly a happy ending to that experience. I did invite him back a few times. His response was to say, "I've still got a lot of things to think about," which I'm sure he did. It's not everyday that you get the courage to ask a question that's been on your mind for years only to be presented with an answer that clicks. Some people are elated by such circumstance. Others might be suspicious or even scared. I can't blame any of them. I guess that's why I wasn't disappointed by his reaction. If anything, I was curious to know what exactly was going through his mind. My gut told me that he was scared of the explanation that he was offered. Perhaps it answered his question more precisely than he felt comfortable with. Of course, I don't know what he was thinking and I didn't think it would be appropriate to ask him directly. I didn't want him to think that I was putting any pressure on him. So I held back and hoped that he would find his answers on his own... when he felt ready.
I can't say that I've been the best example of a Latter-day Saint. In hindsight, I know that there have been times when my actions have most likely done a disservice to my faith. The reason for it is probably best discribed in The Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 9:28: "When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish"
That's the potential danger that comes with gaining new knowledge. You can get cocky, arrogant and self-righteous. Today, when I see that behavior in others, it hurts. It hurts because it reminds me of my past behavior and how it most likely turned people off to learning more about the Church. In my repentance for that behavior, I'm hopeful that I won't be included among those that "shall perish" but to this day, I'm not sure exactly how I can make ammends to those who I once looked down and talked down to. I tried to find a few that I could remember but with no luck. I want to be able to say that I'm sorry and to please try and forget that young, stupid kid who thought he had it all figured out and take another look at what it was that he was trying to share. I can only hope that perhaps someday they'll stumble on this message and perhaps forgive me. Even if it's only in their hearts.
I want them to know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the only true church on the face of the earth. This is not to say that all other churches do not teach truth--truth can be found in many sources both spiritual and secular--but the truth in its entirety, the pure unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ, can be found in only one place and that is in His Church.
I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and a true testament of Jesus Christ as much as the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. I had the unique opportunity of reading the Book of Mormon in its entirety not far from where the events of that book actually took place. I have prayed about it, asking my Heavenly Father if the things contained in that book were true and the truth of it has been confirmed to me time and again. I exhort all those who read these words to read The Book of Mormon, ponder its message and pray about it in the name of Christ to know for themselves that it is true.
I know, without a doubt, that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a true prophet of God as are those who have succeeded him and it was through him that The Book of Mormon was translated, that the Priesthood of God was restored to the earth, that the true Church of Jesus Christ was organized on earth again. I am so greatful for the restoration and rejoice in knowing what a marvelous time in history this is to be living. A time, once again, of revelation. A time where the windows of heaven are open and God is once again speaking to His children on earth through prophets and apostles.
I wish to share all of these wonderful truths with every man, woman and child I meet or who will read these words. I only hope that I'll be a better example than I was in the past. I invite you all to ask questions of other Latter-day Saints and of God with a sincere desire and love for the truth so that by the power of the Holy Ghost you can know the truth of these things for yourselves.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Joseph L. Puente