Thursday, January 20, 2011

Love + Example + Truth = Conversion

I've heard parents talk about their teenage children falling into "puppy love", dismissing the idea that any teenager could be capable of ever really being "in love". Not me! I'm here to declare that at the age of 15 I fell in love with Jim Phillips. I wasn't looking for love but Jim didn't give me much choice. He was truly amazing! He was perceptive beyond his years. He was passionate. He was loyal. He had an unbelievable ability to communicate in a way that I'd never been exposed to before. He deeply loved the Savior. And he was totally and completely whipped over me and didn't care who knew it! HE SAW ME!! How could a girl resist that?

Through the ensuing years I have pondered on why I met him at such a young age. I would never have chosen an 8 year courtship. But looking back I can recognize the hand of the Lord. I was sent to keep Jim safe from the world and to eventually be the instrument the Lord used to introduced him to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Not that Jim didn't know and love the Savior. I realized early on that even though Jim was a Catholic he knew Christ and loved him deeper than I did. It was this realization that propelled me, at age 16, to read "Jesus, the Christ" by James Talmadge. That book became foundational to my personal relationship with Christ and it was all motivated by what I witnessed in Jim.

For the first two years of our relationship our biggest disagreement was always about religion. Jim loved the Catholic church and I loved my Mormon church. In our immaturity we would begin by sharing, then debating, then disagreeing over doctrine and end in a fight over which church was right. It finally got to a point that we had to call a truce. Contention was not getting us anywhere!

During these years one of the great blessings in softening Jim's heart was my family. He came to truly love and value my parents and siblings. He had been raised in a wonderful family of truly great individuals, but because his dad, in his anxiousness to provide for his large family, worked every day of the year there was never any family time or creating memories together. No vacations, no parent participation at sporting events, each child ended up doing their own thing. My family was very different! Because of our understanding that families are eternal, our parents taught that no one was more important than each other. Our loyalty to family was first and foremost. Jim's first camping trip was with my family. It was my father who taught Jim how to water ski and drive a boat. Jim watched my parents attend EVERYTHING each of their children participated in. Jim found safety and acceptance in the sweet love and listening ear of my mother. He watched a father put his family's needs before anything else. He saw the gospel in action and he desired its fruits for himself.

Another turning point happened when Jim was in his freshman year at Cuesta College. He had been attending the Newman Center, a catholic youth group for college students. The priest that headed up this group had become a dear friend and mentor. Because of his popularity with the youth it caused a political upheaval in the hierarchy of the catholic church leadership and he was removed from his position. Jim was devastated.

Then another blow came. At this same time there came an edict from the Vatican headquarters announcing some changes to the doctrine and practices of the catholic church that had been in place for hundreds of years. Jim was baffled. He couldn't understand how something could be true for centuries and then be arbitrarily changed by men. It rocked Jim's world and his faith in the Catholic church was shaken.

The time was right! It was June, right after Jim's freshman year. He was 19 1/2 years old. I asked Jim if he would agree to taking the missionary discussions. He agreed to listen and also made a commitment to live like a Mormon for the next 3 months of summer. He would keep the standards of the church, read the Book of Mormon and study "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder". He would take the 7 discussions and at the end of summer he would make his decision.

I remember begging the Lord to send missionaries that Jim would be able to relate to. To my delight a new set of missionaries was sent that very month. One of the Elders fit my requirements perfectly. The senior companion, Elder Woods, was a tall, skinny, nerdy Elder from Springville Utah. He was exactly what I DIDN'T want. It was the other missionary that I was sure was sent by God to teach Jim. He was an Elder from Canada who had played football in high school and a year of college. He was big and buff and very "cool".

Jim took the discussions sitting at my parents' kitchen table. What a privilege it was for me to sit and hear the gospel taught to a non-member. As Jim was taught, my own testimony deepened and was enriched. It soon became apparent I had been wrong about which Elder was sent to teach Jim. Nerdy Elder Woods won both our hearts with his deep humility, gospel understanding and love for Jim. He taught with power and conviction. When he testified, no one could deny he knew what he was teaching was true. I will forever be grateful for our precious Elder Woods.

I will let Jim write of his marvelous conversion story.

I want to share one experience we had together before his baptism. He had informed his mom of his desire to be baptized. One evening about a week before his baptism date we were called to his home by his mother. When we got there we found his family had set up two chairs surrounded by a semi-circle of chairs in the back yard. The chairs were occupied by some of Jim's best friends, their parents and all of Jim's siblings and parents. Unbeknown to us, Jim's mother had in her hands one of the first copies of a horrendous anti-Mormon book. She preceded to bombard us with accusations and statements taken from this book. Others in the group would yell out their comments, demanding answers. We were both young and inexperienced. We simply had no answers for some of the things they were saying. It was horrible!

This went on for over an hour. Finally Jim stopped everyone and turning to his mom,with tears in his eyes, said simply, "Mom I don't know the answers to these questions. I promise one day I will. But right now all I know is what God has told me, that the church is true. So you go and fight with God."

It was after Jim's mission, driving his mom home from Santa Barbara, that he was able to finally answer all her questions she had demanded to know that horrible night. Then our precious Ysabel asked Jim's forgiveness. She told him, "I just don't know what got into me!"

That was a blessed and sacred summer. I got to watch the Lord turn Jim's heart. I witnessed the fire of the Holy Ghost burn a testimony into Jim's soul of the truthfulness of the gospel; a testimony, that in the 42 years since, has NEVER faltered. His decision at the end of summer to be baptized was met with horrible persecution. His family and friends disowned and shunned him. Yet, because of the power of his personal witness and conversion, he never was swayed. He was baptized on August 31, 1968 by my father and confirmed and given the Holy Ghost by our beloved Elder Woods.


  1. I have tears in my eyes. I have heard these stories a million times, but seeing them written was so powerful for me. Somehow I never knew the date dad was baptized. Wow! It makes it so sweet and real. Have you kept in touch with Elder Wood? I would love to know what happened to him. I love you sweet mother. This was a feast!

  2. I agree with Will! What a treasure these stories are. I didn't realize it was Grandpa Sten who baptised dad. I guess I should have assumed it, but I never did. How special for both dad and grandpa. What a story. What a legacy. What a gift you guys have given to your posterity! Love you both.

  3. LOVE THIS!! I too want to know what happened to Elder Wood. Im sure like we all do reflect back on our missions and remember the "Dad" stories that we got to be a part of. Im sure E. Wood thinks about it a lot. How cool...I too was stoked to see the date dad was dunked. And the story about how dad decided to take the cool. Keep em' coming Ma...These are priceless.

  4. Thanks for sharing this Starla. You and Jim have created such a beautiful family together. I love all of you.