My name is Jason Nemrow and I must admit that my parents are latter-day saints and that I was brought into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a child. In most cases and with most people, this would basically explain why someone "belongs" to something - just to honor our parents and heritage, which is reason enough. If you have spent any time with me at all, you would know that I am rarely motivated by tradition and I never follow a crowd simply for its own sake. I don't even like crowds. I also find traditionalism to often be mindless and I avoid doing anything in a mindless way.
Although I pursue religion in the same manner as my parents have, I most certainly am not a latter-day saint today to please them, anyone else, or to do service to some tradition. I am a latter-day saint because God has told me that the Book of Mormon was written and translated by men inspired by Him and that it contains information that God wants us to know and live by. My devotion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as an individual begins exactly there.
Let me tell you the circumstances surrounding my encounter with God.
Walking Away from Tradition
Traditionally, all latter-day saint boys go on a two-year mission for the Church. Of course, it is phrased more as a commandment from God to do so, but many do this more because of social pressure. If you read the previous section, you may know that I tend to ignore social pressure.
I was eighteen years old. My father had promised to pay for one semester of college and I decided to attend Ricks College basically because I was chasing a girl I liked. The college was owned by the Church and as part of the curriculum, I was instructed to take a "missionary preparation" class. The problem was that I had already decided that I was not going on a mission, though I had not sprung my decision on anyone besides my mother at that point.
You must understand that Ricks College is in far eastern Idaho, a totally frigid place in early January when I arrived for my promised semester. I am a kid from eastern New Mexico, that has some cold-ish nights but has quite mild winters. Needless to say, I very quickly got very ill due to exposure to the extreme cold. I could only attend classes fitfully and I got a visit from my Missionary Prep instructor, who just happened to also be the leader of the college church congregation to which I was assigned. His name was Hugh Romney.
Brother Romney (we call everyone "brother" or "sister" in the Church because we want to highlight our relationships as part of the family of God) gqave me the traditional blessing for the sick and I felt the need to tell him that I was planning to drop his class (before I failed it due to absense) and I was not going to go on a mission. He asked me a few questions and determined that I have never really read the Book of Mormon in its entirety and had never really prayed about whether it truly came from God. He said that I would not recover from my illness until I had read and prayed about this. I promised that I would read and pray. With that done, he left.
You must understand a few things about the Book of Mormon to better see why Brother Romney said what he said and did what he did. Many people are told that a man named Joseph Smith wrote the book, which is untrue. Is was actually compiled from earlier records by a man named Mormon (hence the name) that lived in the fourth century. Mormon's son, Moroni, added a bit more after his father died, including a promise to those of us who are skeptics that would read it centuries later. Here is a link to Moroni's promise. Exercising this promise, praying to know if the Book of Mormon is true and receiving an answer from God, is at the very heart of the devotion of most latter-day saints to God and to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Well, it took me a few weeks but I read the entire Book of Mormon while laying there in my sick bed. Then, I prayed. I prayed to know if the Book of Mormon was God's word to us. I really wanted to know if my parents were the "deluded fools" that most Christians considered them to be. I wanted to know if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was God's true church. I didn't just ask God in a casual way, like I ask him to bless my food or protect me from bullies: I really wanted to know the truth because I was pulling away from "Mormonism", my parents, and everything I have been taught as a child. Hopefully, you know that if I would have discovered that this was all a fraud and a silly tradition, I would have just walked away.
The Answer Comes
Shortly, the answer came to me. It is difficult to describe in words so I won't even try. I have heard that answers from God come in various ways to various people, but it is always something intensely personal and personally undeniable. I can only say that I quickly recovered from my sickness, got out of my bed, and went back to my Missionary Prep class! I thanked Brother Romney profusely for his challenge to me and a few months later, I was serving a mission for the Church, not because the other guys were doing it, but because God wanted me to do it and I wanted to do it for a God that was willing to answer the sincere questions of an insignificant kid like me.
That was a very long time ago and I have dome a lot of maturing and thinking since then. I got married to Lisa and we have six kids of our own. I have had a lot of jobs and been to a lot of places and seen a whole lot of things. Beyond that, I continue to read the Book of Mormon daily, work in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a volunteer and a leader, and pray for answers to the questions that I have about all sorts of things. In all of that time and in all of the things that I have done, I have never come across anything that has convinced me to deny the experience that I had with God in my Ricks College sickbed all those years ago. I know that God has told me that the Book of Mormon is truly another testament of Jesus Christ and also a true record. Over the years, I have had that early answer re-affirmed to me again and again.
My "Testimony" to You
Latter-day saints have a thing that they call their "testimony". It is simply their statement of what they know from revelation and inspiration from God. It is a strange religious term as it is rather unique to Mormons. It is a proper term as it is comparable to giving testimony in a court of law. Like standing at the witness stand, Mormons are often called upon to defend themselves and the "eyewitness" experiences with God to a "courtroom" of skeptics.
I will gladly put my hand on a stack of Bibles and confront what many think will be hell-fire to say that everything that I have told you is true. God told me that the Book of Mormon was inspired by Him. That book stands alongside the Bible as the word of God in my experience. Because I know this, I also know that Joseph Smith, the man who translated the Book of Mormon into English in a miraculous way, was led by God and became a prophet. Further, I know that the organization that Joseph founded, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is God's true church. I have prayed about all of these things (and much more) and God has let me know that it is all true.
You Can Know For Yourself
I understand skepticism, as you recall. I am often skeptical and I expect any other thinking person to be the same way. I don't expect that you will suddenly believe in the truth of God, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints only on my "testimony". My purpose here is to challenge you to do something, just like Hugh Romney challenged the eighteen-year-old me.
- Read the Book of Mormon
- The link above will take you to the official on-line version of the Book of Mormon. I challenge you to read the whole thing, though it may take you a long time. I promise that it will be time well-spent, especially if you continue onto the next challenge.
- Act on Moroni's Promise
- The link above will take you directly to the promise given by Moroni, the son of Mormon, that fourth-century compiler of the Book of Mormon. He tells us to remember God's willingness to reveal Himself and His will to people in the past (Abraham, Moses, Elijah, etc.) and to believe that He will do the same for you. He challenges you to read the Book of Mormon and then ask God if the things that you have read are true. Moroni reminds you that God doesn't reveal things in response to a casual inquiry - He answers those who really want to know and will act on the knowledge they receive, as I will challenge you to do next. That is the required sincerity that will bring an answer from God.
- Act on the Answer You Receive
- I think I got an answer from God because I was committed to changing the course of my life based on the answer. Either I was going to walk away from it all, or I was going to give up two years of my life to do a mission to tell other people about these things. I got my answer and I acted on it. You must exercise the same sort of conviction - that reveals the difference between "believing" and "knowing". I challenge you to act on the answer you get from God and to let the answer put your new-found knowledge into action!
I hope to see you on that road to exaltation soon!