Renee Olson Full Testimony
Long ago, as I was on the verge of becoming an adult, good friends of mine lived right across the street from me. They were happy Roman Catholics (or so I thought). The wife had left the convent to get married and have children. They had been Roman Catholic for 28 years or so when they moved in. They were always bugging me to come to mass with them even though they were never interested in attending my church. One day they stopped pestering me to come to mass and starting talking about this new Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The wife would go on and on about something called the Relief Society and homemaking. She explained that this was where Mormon women were taught how to be better wives and mothers (neither of which I was at the time). They talked about these things so much that I felt it necessary to talk to my pastor about “The Mormons”.
He told me to stay away from them because Mormons brainwash their people into believing they are the only correct Church on the face of the Earth and only through them can one go to heaven. He was partly right. My friends did continue to tell me that their Church was the only correct Church on the Earth and that only through their Church could I achieve exaltation. That feeling alone was enough to decide my course. I needed to learn all I could so I could get my friends out of this cult they had been duped into joining. So I did the only rational thing I could think of at the time…I became an anti-Mormon.
I wasn’t really a happy Southern Baptist (SB) even though I was moonlighting as an expert in all things Mormon. And I really didn’t have a clue what it took to have a personal relationship with God. I searched constantly for some meaning to life as well as how to be the person God wanted me to be. But everywhere I turned, I came up short; never finding the answers I so desperately needed.
In my search for happiness and because of my profession, I was privileged to work with many people from other denominations including Methodists, Roman Catholics, Nazarenes, Lutherans, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. Everyone was enthusiastic to tell me about their beliefs (mostly because I asked) and some were quick to tell me that my SB religion was wrong. Some couldn’t tell me what was wrong with my religion, but they knew their religion was better. I never understood how one could know their religion was better than someone else’s if they didn’t understand anything about the other person’s beliefs and didn’t ask any questions. I dismissed these “holier than thou” types with a passing thought and never gave their religion any serious consideration.
Of those I knew and worked with, I didn’t really see anyone who could LIVE what they said they believed. They were great on Sunday and talked a good game; but, like me, I saw many of them leading a “double” life. Church never lasted past Sunday. By Monday they were gossiping, back-biting, yelling at the kids/spouse, swearing, and doing all manner of things unbecoming a “Christian”. I supposed that was why most of us had a midweek service…we needed the refueling to get us to the next Sunday.
As I stated before, I wasn’t really happy as a SB. In reality I was miserable and searching for a truth I didn’t know how to find. I loved my Southern Baptist church and of its many programs. I became involved in many of those programs hoping that would make me happy and bring me closer to God. The truth is that I had no idea how to have a personal relationship with God. I had been taught for many years about this loving Heavenly Father who loved me so much He sent His Son to die for me, but at the same time, would horribly punish me if I stepped out of line.
Then, after having worked as an anti-Mormon for a number of years, I met someone who would change my mind about everything I thought I knew.
By this time, I had met many Mormons who were more interested in shoving a Book of Mormon down my throat than in whether or not I was ready to hear the Gospel. I had also met many missionaries who were more interested in adding another notch to their baptismal belt than whether or not I had any kind of real testimony. Again, all of these people made it easy for me to dismiss them and their religion as a passing fad or an act of delusion.
This one person became very special to me. Not because we had so much in common, but because she was the first person I had ever met who had it all together….she actually LIVED what she said she believed! Of course I didn’t think it would last, but, again, she proved me wrong. She became my best friend, confidant, teacher and example. To explain how I went from anti-Mormon to LDS requires a bit of an explanation. So let me give just a few examples of how she did it.
First, after many talks on religion that went nowhere, we decided religion needed to be off limits. We were both stubborn and determined that our own respective courses of action were the correct one and the other was wrong. So we dropped the subject completely and moved on to common ground. She would only speak of the Church when asked.
Second, she used the common ground to develop and solidify a bond of friendship. She was genuinely interested in ME, my welfare and my family rather than telling me why her Church was better than mine. We had fun together and did things that involved just the two of us like going out for a sub sandwich.
Third, she met me where I was at. Meaning, she didn’t preach at me or talk about Gospel topics she knew I couldn’t understand and wasn’t ready for. It only took a few times of making that mistake for her to learn to wait until the student is ready or the result could be ridicule of things she held sacred.
Fourth, she showed genuine concern for my family. My family was a two income family. But for some odd reason we never had enough money to pay all the bills AND feed our two children. It seemed like it was always a toss up as to which we would do any given month. And yet, with only one income, she fed her large family AND my small one. She would also send me home with groceries from her own kitchen and food storage. As the old adage says, “Give a woman a fish and you feed her for a day. Teach her to fish and you’ll feed her for a lifetime.” She followed this precept and invited me whenever the monthly homemaking lesson involved food storage or emergency preparedness. Little did I know the RS would focus on a central theme for a year at a time! Needless to say, I went every month that I could. Those times became known as “girl’s night out” as we left all the kids with our husbands.
Fifth, she led by example. It isn’t enough to talk the talk. You’ve got to walk the walk too. I watched as she would hold morning & evening prayers with her family. (Yes, I was there many days from sun up until sun down especially during the summer). I observed that every Monday she set the evening aside to hold FHE. When my family was there or even if it was just myself, she would invite us/me to attend the FHE. I remember feeling very awkward because I didn’t know any of the songs.
Sixth, she was careful not to offend. If my family stayed for their FHE, she would focus her lesson on something from the Bible so as not to offend my family and our beliefs. She agreed never to discuss BOM things with my children when they spent the night and I knew I could trust her.
This sister understood the worth of a soul as defined by Heavenly Father. She patiently watered, nurtured and cared for our relationship even when it must have felt she was doing it all alone. She bore my many burdens, loved my children as her own and invested her whole being into showing me who I was.
Because of her patience, example and investment of time, today I am a happy LDS. I’ve been a member of the Church for ten years. I now know who I am, where I came from, where I’m going and how to get there. I have a wonderful relationship with my loving Heavenly Father. And I strive to pass this knowledge on to others so they can be as happy as I am.
Whether good or bad, examples have a “snowball” affect. Her good example has spread through me to affect the lives of others including my son who is now serving a full time mission in the Utah Ogden Mission; my grandmother who serves as second counselor in the RS of her branch and the many others who I’ve shared the Gospel with and continue to share the Gospel with through example.
Brow beating doesn’t work. Shoving a BOM down someone’s throat doesn’t work. Belittling someone’s religion doesn’t work. Alienating someone because of their religion/beliefs doesn’t work. Explaining why your Church is better than theirs doesn’t work. None of these things will bring someone closer to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But a life lived according to Gospel principles with a quiet testimony given by action rather than words and sincere friendship given without expectation will go much further to bring about the desired result of someone understanding who Heavenly Father is and how to have a personal relationship with Him.
I’m living proof this works. It took me TEN LONG YEARS after having met my friend for me to finally accept the Gospel. There was no fanfare, bright lights, marching bands or celebration to mark my change. I didn’t even tell her about my baptism until three months after it had happened. My change of mind came about as quietly as her example had been. Alone. In the quiet recesses of my mind, I began to play back all the things she and I had done together; the fun we had; the things we had learned; the homemakings I had attended; the example I had seen in her day after day…and then it all made sense. The only way she could possibly have lived like the Latter-day Saint she claimed to be was if she really believed everything she had taught me over the last ten years. I HAD TEN YEARS WORTH OF EXAMPLE TO EXAMINE. I knew she was no idiot. If the Church had been false, she would have sniffed it out years ago and left. Her ten years of examples proved to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that her Church held the keys to finding the happiness I had searched for for so many years.
One of my biggest regrets is her not being there for my baptism so she could see the sweet peace I felt upon coming out of the water and finally knowing/understanding the meaning of “born again”. I had been baptized once as a Pentecostal and twice as a SB. I had really felt nothing inside during any of them. So when I came out of the water this time, I knew it be the LAST time.
My other really big regret is waiting so long to understand and embrace the Church. I feel like I’ve wasted a lot time in the desert of doubt when Heavenly Father could have been using me to further His kingdom. But I understand that I had many years of “unlearning” to do and it was going to take a very special person with much perseverance and patience to work with and love me into the kingdom. I feel I was literally loved into His Church.
I often wonder how many people would be willing to invest of themselves as she did in order to bring just one soul with them into the kingdom of God. I’m proof positive when the Lord says, “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”