Sunday, December 28, 2014

"My Conversion" by James Kerwin Phillips

He said “Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be open unto you, seek and ye shall find”. So that’s exactly what I did. Here’s the rest of the story that I’ve never written down.

This is about the night I was guided to receive the truth and the impact it’s had on my entire life ever since. Father in heaven chose to share it with me in a very specific way that I could never deny. I suspect I was blessed with an undeniable communication from God because of what I would be asked to sacrifice all throughout my life.

Everyone has gifts that God has given us before we ever began our sojourn here on earth. One of those gifts I have been given is to hear the voice of the Spirit and follow His directions. I have always been spiritually inclined and have never known a day I didn’t love my Savior. I have always been keenly aware of what’s right and wrong and wanted to follow the moral compass that was in my nature.  I was driven to know God more intimately and his son Jesus Christ, even when I was attending Mission Catholic High School. I wasn’t a good student but I was a good person and was drawn to my religion classes. The only A that I got that year was in religion and was given the Religion Award normally won by girls. That zeal for knowing the truth led me to Starla’s kitchen table that summer night and eventually to her driveway.

Mom has previously shared the events surrounding that summer when I began the discussions with the missionaries on the blog written January 20, 2011 "Love+Example+Truth=Conversion". The part that has been left out of the story is what happened that night at the table and between her dad’s cars parked in the driveway. I have never written my personal experience with prayer and the Holy Ghost confirming the truth of what I was being taught by the missionaries in any great detail.

I feel that it’s time to describe the experience that has shaped my entire life and each of yours. In the scriptures it says “If you’ve read my word you’ve heard my voice”. That was never as true for me as it was when the missionaries had me read the following scriptures.

Ephesians 2:19-20;
19. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20. And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone;

They asked me to carefully consider what apostles and prophets meant to the Church of Jesus Christ. 
I, of course, said they were crucial in the organization of our Savior’s Church. Then they built a “flannel board” discussion right in front of me using this scripture to put up building blocks that had at its foundation apostles and prophets, with Jesus being the chief corner stone. Then they asked me to go to the next scripture to complete Jesus Christ’s Church that He built when he was on the earth.

Ephesians 4:11-14;
11. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophet; and some evangelists (Patriarchs); and some pastors (Bishops) and teachers;
12. For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ;
13. Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
14. That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

I watched the elders use these verses to complete the Lord’s organization on the flannel board as the Master set it up when He came the first time.

Verse 11 was used to put the officers of the church on top of the apostles and prophets.

Verse 12 they then asked me what the role of the Lord’s assigned servants were. I told them it was to do what this verse said. They agreed.

Verse 13 they asked me if this verse had been fulfilled in the Lord’s Church yet? I said no. Of course not.

Verse 14 they then asked me does this scripture define the condition of the world today? I said yes it does.

Then it happened. They reached up to the flannel board sitting in the middle of the table and pulled the foundation of apostles and prophets from under the rest of the Church we had just built based on the scriptures we’d just read.

This was Father’s first revelation from the Holy Ghost to me that what the missionaries said was true. I watch in horror as the apostles and prophets and the rest of Jesus’s Church tumbled onto that kitchen table. I was stunned. The Holy Ghost reached into my heart and touched my understanding that this is exactly why the Prophet Joseph Smith was called in our day, to restore Christ’s church. And the Book or Mormon was God’s witness to the world that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God that had translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God.

I was speechless and just sat there stunned with the impact of what this knowledge would require. I understood what the implication of this truth meant regarding my Catholic belief. I had just been taught that everything that I thought was true was not God’s Church on the earth.

Starla asked me if I wanted to talk about it after the Elders left but I was in no shape to speak about what was going on inside of me. I just told her I had to go home and ponder what I’d heard. I left and got as far as the drive way. I went between the two parked cars and just fell down. I was totally overcome by the Spirit working on me. I laid there most of the night begging the Lord for understanding and then it happened. I can only describe it as coming out of a dark room. I looked up into heaven and my heart and mind was flooded with understanding that the Church of Jesus Christ was again on the earth. I can declare that I knew with a perfect certainty that left no doubt that I was being taught the way Father was willing to teach; by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Moroni 10:4-5 best describes my experience;

4. "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost,
5. And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things."

This is the best description I could ever give for what happened to my soul. It was like the veil was parted and I knew the “truth of all things”.

I had plead with God to teach me and let me know if the gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true as verse 4 said. I had a “sincere heart and real intent” but oh did I learn what that would mean later. Real intent meant I would have to act on the knowledge God had trusted me with that night. I would have to be willing to tell my mom that I was going to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This meant that I’d be leaving the Catholic Church and I had to be willing to live with the consequences of that decision.

I was terrified to face the reality of my answer from the Lord. I was overwhelmed with the implication of knowing what I had to do. I was wandering around town a few days after my answer and ended up outside one of my friend’s house that I seldom visited. It’s amazing to me how aware Heavenly Father is of our needs and will send additional help when giant decisions have to be made. The angel I needed appeared in the form of Gary Stanwick, and old team mate home from Stanford for a few days. We sat out in front of my friend’s house and started to catch up. Gary asked me what was going on in my life. I couldn’t help but bring up the challenge that I was facing. Gary was never the most religious guy I knew but as I described my dilemma he listen carefully and finally said, “You know what you have to do with that kind of an answer!” It was as good as a real angel bringing that message from Heavenly Father.

Father Steinke became my final messenger of light. Mom made me promise to go see this very influential priest in my life. He was my teacher that I had received the religion award from. He was a mentor to me. He had a huge following from the youth and my mother was a real supporter of him. Mom asked me to go see him before I made a final decision to join the Church, hoping he would be able to talk me out of my decision. I promised her that I would and went ahead and made an appointment. During our visit that lasted several hours he listen carefully and asked important, probing questions. It soon became obvious to him the power of the answer I had received from God. He sat back quietly and reflected. He finally looked at me and said, “I would never try to dissuade you from following an answer like that from God.” This was the final test that I had to pass before finally facing my mother.

The only thing that Satan had left was to use the love I had for my mother to keep me from moving forward. I look back now and realize why I needed the level of spiritual confirmation that I received. I could have never hurt mom without knowing it was true. She was devastated and declared that she would fight me to the baptismal font and if I were baptized in the Mormon church I would no longer be welcomed in their home. She did exactly that and had all my worldly possessions waiting for me outside my room when I came home from my baptism. This was my first great test of faith and I needed to call on the witness that I had been given that night; the witness that it was true!

The week before I was baptized I remember sitting in Mom’s backyard with everyone that was important in my life surrounding your mom and I. My mom had questions that I had no answers for, but I did have my answer from God, my Father. I was so frustrated when mom kept asking me questions that I had no clue how to answer. I finally had the sweet peace come over me and I was able to look my mom in the eyes and say,"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 GodlI also told her I didn’t know the answers to her questions now but one day I would answer every one of them

I kept my promise to my mom that I would be able to answer every one of her questions someday. It took five years and serving a mission after I graduated from BYU to get the knowledge that I needed to address her issues. It was never needed. The day I told her to go ahead and ask all her questions her response was how sorry she was and didn’t know what had gotten into her.

I am so grateful for my desire to obey the voice of the Lord no matter how painful or impossible it may have seemed at the time. I testify that the witness I received that night has been the foundation for all my major decisions in my life. “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. 


  1. What a treasure this is Pap! Growing up with this story has done much to strengthen my own testimony. I always knew that you knew and trusted you so much that I too knew it had to be true. I love you and your faithful believing heart. Thank you for recording this amazing story!