At the end of October 2019 general conference, President Nelson announced: “In the springtime of the year 2020, it will be exactly 200 years since Joseph Smith experienced the theophany that we know as the First Vision … Thus, the year 2020 will be designated as the bicentennial year” (“Closing Remarks,” Ensign, Nov. 2019). When thinking of this spiritually historic anniversary, I am reminded of my experience visiting the Sacred Grove. It has brought back a pivotal spiritual memory I had as a young adult. That experience made me personally question myself then, and it has become a foundation for my testimony all through my life.
Accepting a Mission Call
It was a great blessing to accept a calling as a missionary assisting with the performance of the Hill Cumorah Pageant: “America’s Witness for Christ” in 1972. There was a cast of 525 who performed this annual pageant on-site at the Hill Cumorah in New York State.
Volunteers, mostly sisters, accompanied by priesthood supervisors, travelled in six busses from Salt Lake City to Palmyra, which took about a week. The Pageant was the second week, and then we bussed back to Salt Lake the third week. We were billeted in meetinghouses along the way, and in homes in Palmyra. We prepared and performed for the week-long Pageant that attracted approximately 100,000 visitors.
As “bus sisters,” we lived by missionary standards according to dress codes, missionary schedules, and had assigned companions. We studied scriptures on the bus, had visiting teachers in a modified style, sang hymns with gusto, and immersed ourselves in being witnesses of Jesus Christ. Some of my favorite moments were the pre-pageant contacts we made before the evening performances as we greeted visitors and shared our testimonies about the Book of Mormon. I was deeply touched when a testimony meeting was held for a large group of the sisters and elders in the Sacred Grove.
A Witness of the Spirit
The culminating and life-altering experience I had was on our return trip to Salt Lake with our supervisor, Elder Brown. We were discussing our pageant experiences on the bus, and in doing so he read: “And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14).
After a moment’s pause, he then read from verse 26: “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).
Those questions I could answer with an absolute assurance that I had been spiritually reborn and had received a change of heart during my pageant experiences. I could daily feel the power of the Holy Ghost strengthen my testimony that Jesus is the Living Christ and the Book of Mormon is the word of God. My testimony was made firmer and stronger as I realized the spiritual witnesses I had received. My heart and soul were touched with a strength that I knew was from the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Developing and Sustaining a Testimony of Jesus Christ
Concerning conversion, Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained: “My testimony came in three ways: early in life came the witness of the Spirit, then the intellectual conversion, and then the experiential conversion, with the three ‘witnesses’ flowing together, resonating together in terms of the validity of the message of the Master. The witness of the Spirit is more sure, but the other witnesses corroborate increasingly the relevancy of the gospel for our time” (“Spiritual Ecology,” New Era, Feb. 1975; italics added).
Initially, as a youth, I felt the spirit of a testimony of Jesus Christ as my Redeemer and Savior. I also knew that I had a Heavenly Father who knows and loves me. My heart was changed. This testimony guided me in many of the decisions throughout my life.
A few months after the Pageant experience, I prayerfully accepted a marriage proposal from a worthy young man. We were sealed together for time and eternity in the Provo Temple. After marriage, many decisions were necessary for a young couple. We discussed our goals and frequently went to the Lord in prayer and back to the house of the Lord. Together, we planned major decisions, such as: our educational and professional goals, where we would settle, and our future family.
Often these choices were not what we would have first anticipated, but we felt guided by promptings from the Holy Ghost. These seemed to be the “intellectual” experiences of building our testimonies by seeking answers through study and prayer. In due time, many of those answers were made clear to us.
Now, in my senior years, I can see the “experiential” component of my testimony as described by Elder Maxwell. In my childhood I was taught to serve willingly in callings extended by leaders. I desired to serve, but sometimes I had a lack of confidence to accept a leadership position. These were times when I remembered that I had experienced a “mighty change” of heart (Alma 5:14). I felt the power of the Holy Ghost assisting me as I served where needed. Often, I felt much more blessed than those whom I served.
As we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the First Vision of Joseph Smith, we all need to have “spiritually been born of God” (Alma 5:14). Whatever trials or disasters we face—even the current pandemic—we need to continue to “sing the song of redeeming love” (Alma 5:26).
As President Russell M. Nelson recently stated, “These unique challenges will pass in due time. I remain optimistic for the future. I know the great and marvelous blessings that God has in store for those who love Him and serve Him. I see evidence of His hand in this holy work in so many ways” (“President Nelson Shares Message of Hope During COVID-19 Outbreak,” ChurchofJesusChrist.org Newsroom, Mar. 14, 2020).
It was a privilege to visit the Sacred Grove, Hill Cumorah, and many other historical sites, but feeling the Spirit of the Lord is what strengthened my faith that Jesus is the Living Christ. Like Latter-day Apostles, I can bear testimony: “He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth” (“The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles,” Ensign, May 2017). My prayer is to endure to the end and live worthy of the blessing of this testimony.