Dear President Albright,

This is my “conversion after conversion ” story. I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico and arrived in NYC when I was 7. My brother, John, and I attended Catholic school in the Barrio in Manhattan, comprised mostly of Puerto Ricans. My black lineage comes from my mother’s side of the family. I married a young man, a white Puerto Rican, and had two beautiful children. We later divorced and I remarried Arthur.

In 1967 we moved to Old Bridge, New Jersey. My children attended religious instruction classes at the Catholic church until one day my son’s teacher told him that the Pope was infallible. My son and I disagreed, but he said his teacher had insisted this was true doctrine. I had already been very dissatisfied with the church for many years, especially since my divorce and remarriage. Now I decided it was time to find another church for my family.

On a Monday morning shortly thereafter, I visited my neighbor and told her that I wanted to attend her church. She insisted that I would not enjoy her church at all, and said, “No, you do not want to attend my church.” I asked why she attended her church. She stated that when they had moved here they had visited all the Baptist churches in the area and then chose the one that taught what they believed most closely. I was astounded and asked if they did not all teach the same thing and she explained to me that their beliefs and doctrines were determined by each board of directors. “But”, I said, ” You teach Sunday School.” She mentioned that yes she taught at church what they were told to teach by the board of directors, but when they returned home they privately taught their three small children what they really believed was true. What a crazy thing I thought.

We soon changed the subject and then she asked if I had decided on who to vote for in the upcoming presidential election. I mentioned that I had not yet made a decision. She said she was going to vote for Governor George Romney because he was a Mormon. “What on earth is that?” I asked. I had never heard the term before. She told me some great things about the Mormon faith and its people.

I went home thinking about religion and this new church and the very next day two very young men knocked on my door and stated that they were Ministers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints. I had no idea what this was. Then they told me they were Mormons. Wow, I nearly fainted, I had just heard that word for the first time the day before! I quickly made an appointment to learn more.

A few weeks later, I told my missionary that I wanted to be baptized. He very tearfully explained to me about the priesthood limitations for those with black lineage. Since I was partially black through my mother’s line, the elders briefly explained what the implications would mean. I asked one of the elders if he believed this and he replied with a resounding YES. “Well so do I,” was my excited response. On June 10,1968, my son Chuck (9) and I entered the waters of baptism in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Several months later I attended a ward Relief Society meeting in which the lesson was on eternal marriage and exaltation. It was then that I first realized what the real “implications” of this doctrine meant for me and my children. I was devastated. I could not believe this. It cannot be; I must have misunderstood. But I knew I had not. I went home in tears and had the worst day of my life. I had been warmly welcomed into this nice Mormon ward and was so happy. But now, suddenly, things seemed very different to me.

That night as I knelt to pray, I was in much pain. I prayed as I had never done before in my life. I had attended parochial school and we prayed all the time, but this was a different kind of prayer. This was my heart pleading with my Father in Heaven for something, anything, to help lift my pain and suffering. I prayed as a little child, asking if He loved me, telling Him how happy I had been in this new Church and believing that He had brought me to this Church. How can I return to this Church now? I reminded Him that my mother had been a righteous woman and a loving mother and very faithful, even though she had been raised in another Church and was a woman of color.

I needed to understand and to know the truth about blacks not being able to hold the priesthood. How can I raise my son, who was quite white with red hair and hazel eyes in an environment that said he was black and could not be ordained? How could I live with this limitation? I wanted to be part of this Church, but now I felt it would be impossible. I was shattered. My prayer was long and as a true Puerto Rican, quite passionate. I had never in my life prayed for more than a few minutes, but here I was almost a full hour on my knees. Luckily, my husband who worked nights was not home yet. My last question was, “Don’t you love me?” It sounds a bit pathetic now, but I really wanted to stay in the Church. However, I felt that with this new found knowledge, I could not.

I finally went to bed and fell asleep. During the night I had a dream, maybe I was asleep or maybe I was awake, I do not know for certain. I found myself in a white room sitting on a chair. Three women surrounded me. One was doing something to my head or hair, the other was doing something to my feet. The third woman was doing something to my arm. All of a sudden the room became brighter and brighter, so much so that we had to cover our eyes, the light was so bright. In the center of the light stood a man. He looked like what I thought Christ would look like. He stretched his hand towards me and said, ” All of my Father’s blessings will be yours! You shall have all of His blessings!” That was all and he then departed.

When I awoke I was calm and peaceful. I felt all would be well. My next question was, “Why?” An impression then came into my mind that in our pre-earth life most spirits did not want to come to earth with a body of this color. I was told that the ones who came forward were the bravest of all. They knew what they would suffer and agreed to come to earth in spite of the challenges and hardships they would face.

I had been told during that bittersweet Relief Society lesson the week before that the negro people had not been strong and faithful in the pre-existence and that was the reason for this so called “curse” being imposed on our people.Other members in the class had disagreed and a vivid and lively discussion ensued. This is what had caused me so much pain. But now I understood there was no curse and I happily returned to my ward meetings.

My husband did not join the Church until 14 years later.

We were then sealed together in the Temple. You can well imagine what I felt when I eventually entered the Temple to receive my own endowments. I knew that what I saw and heard that day in the Temple was completely true and correct, because I had seen it and experienced it many years before in my dream. This experience is what keeps me going in the Church, especially when things go wrong and others do and say unkind things.

I will always feel that I have seen the Savior and that He loved me enough to come to visit me and answered my prayers. I know that I am known and that I have not been cursed or punished. I know that people of all races have been blessed and a greater blessing awaits me if I remain strong and faithful. I am now a Temple Ordinance worker.

I truly wish everyone of color could have the same experience I had. I know that President Kimball was inspired to lift the ban, and I love him all the more because of this. My older brother hated the Church because of the priesthood ban but he did eventually receive a sure witness and was baptized 10 years after I was. Then 5 years later he baptized another brother, who had been in Vietnam when I was baptized. We three siblings have now been sealed to our parents and families who have gone before us. Two other brothers are still not convinced and may never be, but I know that the Gospel as taught in this Church is right true and very correct. I am grateful to Joseph Smith for his courage and perseverance on my behalf.

This is my testimony and this is the glue that keeps me strong, knowing that I am in my Father’s sight at all times and that He is mindful of all of us. Thank you for allowing me to share my story. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that something so profound could ever happen to me, a lowly person of no account, but now I know I am of some account. I hope my experience can help others in a similar situation.

Thank you,

Zulma Stevenson