Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Story of a Convert

Here is a story of a convert that I love so I thought I would share it with ya’ll.

Tony was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints July 26, 2008.

When Tony was 9 years old his mother married a man who was in the Navy. His step-father had returned home and was working for a delivery company. There was an altercation between Tony’s step-father and his step-father’s supervisor about some money being withheld from a delivery and a fight ensued. His step-father’s supervisor was white. His step-father came home after the fight, thinking the whole issue was over, but about 3:00 in the morning carloads of policeman showed up at his house, took him out in the woods and beat him. His step-father decided he didn’t want to live in the South, so he moved to New York. Tony’s mother decided to follow her husband and left Tony in the care of his grandmother. Tony’s grandmother had two qualities he remembers. She was a strict disciplinarian and she was very religious. She wouldn’t let him leave the house unless he was presentable, that meant having his shirt tucked in and his hair combed. She also insisted on him attending anything that had to do with religion, even if it was only choir practice. He remembers having the mumps and his grandmother still making him go to church. Tony said he was the only one on the whole bench that day. He said one day he was sitting in church listening to the preacher, C. N. Ellis. Pastor Ellis had a gift for preaching and Tony was impressed with the words he used. Pastor Ellis said, “Don’t break the cords of life.” Tony decided then and there that he wanted to be able to talk like that. After this experience, he couldn’t get enough of church and went every chance he had. At 15 his mom came back and Tony had to quit school for a while to watch his siblings while his mother worked. But by then the seed was already planted and he knew what he wanted and his goal was to have his own church. At 16 he became an ordained preacher. He was still under the supervision of the Deacon’s Board, but he was allowed to preach and perform marriages. He went to college, and at 24, became a Baptist pastor at the Free For all Baptist Church.

At around this same time frame Tony became active in the Civil Rights movement. Through this association he met a man by the name of T.Y. Rogers. Rogers suggested he come to Tuscaloosa, Alabama because there was a church down there looking for a pastor. He tells how he caught a bus because he didn’t have a car and met the Deacon’s Board at the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. They talked with him and decided he would be just what the youth of the church needed and offered him the job as pastor of the Baptist church. He took the bus back to Atlanta, got a car from a friend and headed to Tuscaloosa to start a new life. He learned a lot about life and people. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t get people in his parish to help him. Deacon William Hughes told him, “you have to earn their respect, right now you are just their preacher, and you have to preach until they love you.” Tony said it took him about five years to earn that respect. During this process of becoming a pastor, Tony developed a relationship with God and learned not to be impulsive.

Tony had been watching the BYU channel and had heard Gordon B. Hinckley give a talk about how people in pre-mortal and the after life are pulling for us here on earth. He said, all of a sudden his face was wet and he realized he was crying. He says, “My bones were on fire. I felt the spirit and knew what President Hinckley was talking about was true.” It was the first time he had ever felt that way. Tony had been deeply touched by what President Hinckley had said. He said it was not a quiet feeling and he wanted to share it with everyone. He felt like he couldn’t contain it. He then started to watch the BYU channel and had been watching it for about two weeks.

One day shortly after this experience, Tony went to the post office in Montgomery. He had gone in there to mail some of his musical CD’s. He is a singer and was sending them to recording studios. His picture was on the front of the CDs. He was standing in line and a lady kept looking from him to his CDS. She finally asked if the picture on the CD was of him and he told her it was. She said, “I am a Christian,” and a conversation began. As he was talking to her, he noticed a couple of young men as they walked into the post office. They were wearing white shirts and ties. These young men just stood by the door looking in Tony and this lady’s direction. The conversation between Tony and the lady ended and one of these young men walked up to Tony and introduced himself as Elder Branvold. (He is Stephen Nels Branvold and was serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Alabama Birmingham Mission.) Elder Branvold told Tony he had over heard his conversation with the lady and he had a message for him and he wanted to come to his house and teach him about the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Branvold made one visit to Tony’s house and then was transferred and Elder Christensen and Elder Gordon came to teach him.

When asked how he felt about the message he heard from the missionaries he said, “I recognized it as the truth as soon as I heard it.” He said “when I learned about eternal families all the pieces finally fit.”

It took Tony a month before he was baptized. Tony is convinced that the Gospel is going to catch on like fire in the Deep South. To put it in Tony’s words, “The gospel is so greatly needed here. There is a greater amplification when you put the Bible and the Book of Mormon together. The greatest strength of any ethnic group is the family system. You need the family to stay together.”

This editor has talked to many African American members about their conversion in the Church and one common thread that runs through the conversation when asked about how they are treated by their friends, they say their friends tell them the Church is a white folk’s church and they are betraying their people by joining a white church. I asked Tony about this and he agreed that he had the same reaction from his friends, then he said, “I tell them, I am not joining a white folk’s church. I AM JUST GOING HOME.”

Even after his baptism Tony continued to preach in Baptist churches around the area, but he began preaching Mormon doctrine. Openly he got in trouble for doing that, but he had many pastors call him as he talked about the Plan of Salvation and wanted to know more about it and how he could back it up with scriptures. He has always replied to them, giving them references from the Bible.

I asked Tony how his life had changed since his baptism and receiving the Priesthood. He said he has had many difficult challenges since joining the church. Satan is working hard on him, but he says, “I will continue to be focused and will keep my eyes on Christ.” He says in spite of all his personal problems he has peace in his life.

When asked if there was one single event that influenced him to join the church, he said: “When I started going to church, I finally had friends. Members would come up to me and asked me if they could help me. Many members helped me in so many ways. They all asked what they could to do to help make my transition easier.”

Tony is very active in his ward. He was just called to be Sunday School President. He has done baptisms for the dead and on March 6, 2009, Tony took out his endowments in the Birmingham Alabama Temple. He said of his experience in the Temple. “I felt like I was home.” Tony is in the process of writing a book entitled; “Fire in My Bones.” Tony’s goal in life right now is to be a good missionary, and someday he wants to go back to the churches he preached in and tell them about the Restored Gospel.

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