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Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from David C. Dollahite’s book, God’s Tender Mercies: Sacred Experiences of a Mormon Convert. Click here to get your copy.

The Blue Book with the Golden Statue

I was 18 and a freshman at a junior college in Marin County, California. Raised an Episcopalian, I had not been to church since about age 12. I spent my youth playing with friends and playing baseball, basketball, football, and tennis. I cared nothing for books unless I thought they would help me with sports.

The day before Thanksgiving in 1977 I was relaxing in our comfortable wing chair, watching TV, when I had the strangest thought: “I should read a book; on my own; voluntarily.” And not one that dealt with sports. I thought that, since I was now a college student, I should begin to become an educated person and should read a book that was not assigned by a teacher (and those I mainly skimmed). This was a strange thought for me because the only book not required for school I remember reading before then was The Inner Game of Tennis (by Timothy Galway). I hoped to play professional tennis and then teach tennis for a living. So, I did not see much point in reading.

With this strange thought in mind I got up from the chair and went over to my mom’s wall of bookshelves. My mother was an avid reader and the shelves were packed with books on a wide variety of subjects. I was feeling ambitious and so thought that I should read not just any book, but a big thick one. I perused a number of books including The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (a thick book about Nazis with a large black swastika on the cover).

After a few minutes my eyes caught a little paperback book in the left-hand corner of the top shelf. I had a feeling that I should read that book. I pulled it down and looked at the Book of Mormon — a light-blue paperback with a gold statue of someone blowing a trumpet. I had a strong feeling to read the book. This surprised me since I had seen this book before and had had a negative reaction to it when I first saw it.

One day, months before, I had come home from school and seen that book sitting on the table. I rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh please, now my parents are reading the Mormon Bible.” My mom worked with a woman named LoDonna Leininger who had been telling her about her Mormon religion for a couple of months and gave my mom a copy of the Book of Mormon. On those occasions that I ate dinner with my family it seemed to me that my mom spoke quite favorably about the things she was learning about the Mormon Church — things like how the Mormons took care of their own, had strong families, and sent their young people out on missions at their own expense.

None of these things were of any interest to me but it seemed like my parents were impressed. In fact, my parents had even attended some kind of pageant at some kind of Mormon temple and a church picnic. When my parents had invited me to go along I said, “No thanks. Please keep all that Mormon stuff away from me.” Thus, when I had seen the Book of Mormon sitting on the dining room table a few months before, I assumed they were seriously interested in the Church. I teased my parents about joining this weird religion and told them that they should keep it to themselves — I was not at all interested.

So with this in mind I sat down and began to read this strange blue book. I glanced at the first several pages which had pictures of Jesus and someone called Joseph Smith along with a number of photos of gold plates, and ancient South American ruins. These were followed by some descriptive material about the book. Then I began reading from the beginning.

From the first verse of the book I felt a strange, but wonderful, feeling — a kind of tingling throughout my body. I had never felt this before and, at first, thought there must be a draft in the room. I checked the windows and doors but they were all shut tight. I checked the thermostat but it was quite warm in the room. I returned to the chair and the book and began reading. Again, I felt that strong, strange, and wonderful feeling and found myself deeply interested in what I was reading.

After about twenty minutes I realized that I had to get to work. I did not want to stop reading but I put the book down and drove to the Tamalpais Theatre for my evening shift. While driving along I thought about what I had read, and particularly about what I had felt while reading this book. I was not a religious person and did not give any thought to religious ideas or issues. In fact, although my early religious experiences were mostly positive, some recent experiences with religious people had not been.

After the movie began, I was sitting behind the candy counter and I began thinking that perhaps there was a God and perhaps I should look into religion. I was strongly impressed by that little blue book and the thoughts and feelings I had when I read it. Thus, I was looking forward to getting home after work to continue reading. In the midst of these thoughts I noticed an old man come out from the theater. Although there were a number of other people in the lobby, he walked straight up to me and pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket and, with no introduction whatever, said, “These are Kool cigarettes. I used to smoke Camels but God came to me and told me to stop smoking Camels and start smoking Kools.” He then proceeded to tell me a number of very strange things that God had told him to do. The look in his eyes made it clear to me he was mentally ill. After a few minutes of this he stopped abruptly, turned away, and walked back into the theater.

My thought was: “What a complete nut. Religion makes people totally crazy.” I thought about some of my other recent negative experiences with highly religious people: Our town had its share of “Jesus Freaks” or hippies who were on drugs and would preach to any who would listen (or to those who tried to avoid listening). I remembered some less-than-enjoyable encounters with some pushy members of other evangelically-oriented faiths. And my closest and longest girlfriend during high school was a devout Lutheran and while she was a wonderful person, her religious lifestyle meant she had many restrictions that I found bothersome.

But the most difficult experience I had was a couple months before that when my best friend and tennis doubles partner, Rob, had called me at work and tried to get me to accept Jesus as my savior. He had not been at all religious but told me that while he was in New York on a trip he had been mugged, beaten badly, stripped practically naked, and left in an alley. A minister had come by and taken him in and preached Jesus to him. Rob called to tell me about his experience and that he had been saved. He then said that if I did not accept Jesus I would burn in hell eternally. I told him I was glad he was okay and happy he had found something to make him happy (his father had died of a heart attack when Rob was young and that of course was very difficult for Rob). I told him I appreciated his interest in my eternal fate but I was not interested in Jesus.

He said, quite stridently, and in a tone that I had not heard from him, that I was a sinner and would burn forever unless I accepted Jesus. Again, I told him I was not interested but he continued to preach to me and would not let me change the subject. He became more insistent and I told him if he couldn’t stop preaching Jesus at me I would hang up on him. He kept at it until I finally had to hang up on my friend. I thought at the time that he was a completely different person from the fun-loving guy I had traveled with around California, playing in tennis tournaments. In fact, Rob had changed so much I thought religion had “made him nuts.”

These several thoughts led me to decide that since religion made people crazy I wanted nothing to do with it. I decided that I would not read any more from the Book of Mormon.

When I got home from work that night, at about ten o’clock, I was looking forward to going to sleep and went up to my room. But I had a strong feeling and thought that I should go downstairs, get the Book of Mormon, and read it. I said to myself, “I’m not going to read that book. Religion makes you crazy.” The strong feeling came again with the suggestion: “You should read the book.” I thought again, “No. Religion makes you crazy and I’m not going to read it.” Again, I had a strong feeling with the thought, “You should read the book.” I then thought that perhaps I would just read for a couple of minutes before going to sleep. So, I went down and got the book, brought it back up to my room, sat at my desk, and began to read.

Again, from the first verse I read, I began having the same strange but wonderful feelings. I wondered what this feeling was but continued reading, hour after hour. I was impressed with what I was reading although I did not understand many things. I came to certain parts of the book that I had a hard time understanding (for example, the Isaiah Chapters in 2 Nephi) but I had the feeling that I should just keep reading and not worry that I did not understand. Several times during what turned out to be my first of two consecutive all-nighters reading the Book of Mormon, I wanted to put the book down and go to sleep. I was tired, my eyes were sore and my back ached. But I kept having a strong feeling that I should keep reading. During that first long night, more than once I thought to myself, “I should be asleep, not spending all night reading. See, this proves it. Religion makes you crazy!”

I read through the night until about six in the morning. Throughout that day (Thanksgiving) I thought about what I had read and read for a few more hours. I was impressed with the prophets I was reading about. They were strong men who I could look up to. When I was younger I had developed the idea that religious people were weak. I am now ashamed to say that I even thought that Jesus was weak.

There were three reasons for this. First, it seemed that most of the sermons I heard focused on how Jesus taught that we should “turn the other cheek” and that he himself allowed others to hurt and even kill him. Second, the crucifixes that adorned the church I was raised in and the Catholic churches I had been in showed an emaciated man hanging on the cross and at that time to me this seemed the result of weakness. Third, although I cannot say that I was an especially observant boy, it seemed to me that most of the people who attended Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church were older women. I remember very few, if any, strong and athletic men at church and, like many young boys with interest in sports, I admired strength and athletic skill above all else.

Thus, by reading the stories about Nephi (large of stature, a builder of ships, a king and warrior who wielded the Sword of Laban), Enos (a hunter), Helaman (a captain) and the 2,000 Stripling Warriors, and Captain Moroni (a Nephite general), I came to realize that one could be religious and a strong man as well. I did look at all the pictures throughout the Book of Mormon, and the Arnold Friberg paintings of muscled prophets, generals, “ripped” stripling warriors, and the prophet-generals Mormon and Moroni contributed to this overall impression of masculine yet religious men in the Book of Mormon. 2

These prophets wrote about Jesus and prophesied that he would come to visit their people. I wondered what Jesus would say and do when he came to them. That evening when I came home from work, at about ten o’clock, I was looking forward to reading more but — given my lack of sleep the previous night — was looking forward to sleeping even more. So, I decided I would get a good night’s rest and finish reading the book the next day. But again I had a very strong feeling that I should read the book. So, I sat at my desk and began reading, thinking I would read for a little while then go to sleep.

I read on, through the night, feeling the same wonderful strange feelings of joy and excitement. As I read I had many questions: Could these things really be true? Could God really exist? Does God really know me? Could Jesus Christ really be the Son of God and the Savior of the world? Could I have my sins forgiven? Could I really experience the joy and peace and purpose that the people I was reading about felt?

My eyes were sore and my body ached all over. And again, many times during the night I wanted to put the book down and sleep, but each time I decided I really needed to get to sleep I felt strongly that I should keep reading. Though tired, my anticipation at the appearance of Jesus among the Nephites continued to grow.

Finally, I came to 3 Nephi Chapter 11. I read with great interest and was greatly impressed with all that Jesus said and did. He was not at all the “weak” Jesus I had remembered from my youth but rather, to my 18-year-old athletically-oriented self, was a strong man filled with both love and power. Here was someone I could count a hero and strive to emulate. I felt great love for Jesus and wanted to be with him and become like him. And although I did not understand the theology of the Atonement, yet I had read repeatedly that he had suffered for me and that I could be forgiven of my sins by believing in Jesus.

With renewed vigor and purpose, I continued to read the Book of Mormon. At about 5:00 a.m. I was running out of energy, was extremely sore, and was starting to nod off as I read. I was about twenty pages from the end of the book and I decided that I would get some sleep and finish the book later that day. After I had made this decision, and started to get up, I felt an overwhelming feeling and very clear thought that I needed to “finish the book now.” At the same time, I suddenly felt renewed energy. In fact, I felt as if I had just awoken from a good night’s sleep. And the soreness of eyes, neck, back, and legs disappeared.

So, I stayed in the chair and continued reading until I came to some verses that Mrs. Leininger had marked. She had underlined Moroni 10:3–5 in red pen and highlighted them with a yellow highlighter, and had written in the margin in all caps, “VERY IMPORTANT VERSES. READ THESE CAREFULLY!” I carefully read these verses several times and tried to understand what they were suggesting I should do. I came to understand that I should ponder certain things. I pondered about how good the Lord had been to the peoples of the earth and to me personally.

Then it came to me that the verses were suggesting I should pray and ask God if the Book of Mormon was true. In the Episcopal church, whenever we prayed we knelt. So, I knew I should kneel to pray. I knelt at the side of my bed and, with faith in the Jesus Christ that I had read about in the Book of Mormon; I asked God to forgive my sins and asked if the Book of Mormon was true.

It is not possible for me even to begin to adequately express in words what then happened. But I must try. I felt the same type of wonderful feelings I had felt since I first began reading the Book of Mormon, but at such an intensified level of power and depth that I cannot describe. I had never felt such power and love before. It was as if a river of pure water rushed through me, washing away all my sins. It was also like a raging fire purged away my old self. I felt completely clean and like an entirely new person.

And not only was there great power in what I experienced but the depth of love I felt was beyond description. I felt loved at the deepest levels of my soul. I felt that, although I did not know God, God knew me perfectly. And although God knew me perfectly — all my sinfulness, pride, vanity, selfishness — He still loved me in a way that I had never felt loved. And although I knew I did not know much about God — yet, somehow, I knew God in a way and at a depth that I cannot express.

Along with this came the certain knowledge that the Book of Mormon was true — was the word of God in every way. I knew with perfect certainty that this book was from God. The sure knowledge that the book I had just read was absolutely true in every way was seared in my mind, heart, and soul. No human or earthly power could possibly come close to changing what I felt. In fact, I had the thought that it would not matter if the Pope, Billy Graham, and all the religious people in the world tried to convince me that the Book of Mormon was not true. I knew, for myself, that it was the word of God.

I felt my heart and mind changed in a profound way. I no longer wanted to be what I was and do what I was doing. I only wanted to do what God wanted me to do. I did not know what that was but I was filled with a joy and excitement that is beyond my ability to express. I never wanted to do anything but love and serve as many people as possible. I wanted to tell as many people as possible about Jesus Christ and about the Book of Mormon.

I also felt that God had a purpose, a mission, for me. Somehow, I knew my life would not be at all what, until then, I had thought it would be like. I saw glimpses of myself teaching many people in various situations about Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon and I knew that this would be my future. I was incredibly excited about this new future. I did not know what to do to get there but somehow I knew that God would guide me along the path to fulfill what He had in store for me. For the first time in my life I openly wept tears of gratitude, love, relief, and pure joy.

This experience lasted about thirty minutes. Finally, I arose from my knees and climbed into my bed. I lay awake pondering what had just happened. I was more wide-awake and excited than I had ever been in my life. I could not wait to learn more about this book I had read, about Joseph Smith who translated it, about Jesus whose sacrifice had made possible what I had just experienced, and about the Church that had this book.

As I lay there thinking and wondering what I should do next I heard my mom downstairs in the kitchen getting ready for work. Without thinking, I went downstairs and told her that I had read the Book of Mormon and wanted to learn more about it. I said I had many questions and asked her if she would ask Mrs. Leininger to call me. She looked very surprised but said she would.

Tender Mercies & Lessons Learned

As I look back, after forty years, on those incredible two nights and on my first prayer that early morning, I marvel at the goodness and kindness of my Heavenly Father. I did not deserve to receive the gospel. I was a sinful, proud, vain, arrogant, sarcastic, cocky, worldly teenager. I am eternally grateful to God the Eternal Father, to his Son Jesus Christ, my Savior, and to the Holy Ghost for the witness they provided me of their existence, their love, and their willingness to forgive me and to allow me to become part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the kingdom of God on earth.

Over the decades since then I have felt the power and love of God more times than I can count. And I have had many other marvelous experiences that show God’s tender mercies for me. Yet I have never forgotten what I experienced during those two days and nights nor cease to feel eternally blessed by the gift of a sure witness of God’s existence, love, power, care, and willingness to forgive me of my sins.

Nor can I ever deny that I was given, by God, a sure witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I have since read many books and articles and heard many talks and lessons about the Book of Mormon. They have helped increase my knowledge of the book, its doctrines, stories, and lessons, and have increased my intellectual understanding of the contents of the book. Yet all of that pales in comparison to the power of the witness I received from the Spirit that November morning in 1977.

Over the years, I have also read many things that question, challenge, or attack the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I understand that many people, for many reasons, have difficulty accepting the Book of Mormon, the visits of the Angel Moroni, the Gold Plates, and the use of Joseph’s seer stones in the translation process. I understand that many people, for many reasons, cannot or will not bring themselves to honestly read and faithfully pray about the Book of Mormon. I have known others who at one point enjoyed a testimony of the reality of God, of the truthfulness of the restored gospel, and of the Book of Mormon but who, for one reason or another, have lost that sweet testimony.

Wherever you find yourself, my dear friend, I say to you, in love and humility: I know that God lives and answers sincere prayer. I know that Jesus is the Christ and only through faith in him and his atoning sacrifice can sin be washed and burned from the soul. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and a true witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. I humbly echo the words of Moroni and invite you to pray in faith to God the Eternal Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, and receive your own witness of these truths so that you too might obtain the joy and peace that God, in His tender mercy, has in store for you.