July 10, 2015
10 Years a Mormon
Ten years ago today I made a decision that forever changed the course of my life. That decision was to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In January of 2005, two Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Spitzenberger, knocked on my door in Cedar City, Utah. I was just completing my junior year in college and had been struggling with questions about the religion I was brought up to believe in.
For those of you who don’t know my full story, I was raised in a church formally known as The Apostolic United Brethren. Less formally, we were referred to as the Allred group. Allred being the family name of two brothers who were the leaders of this church. The church was known for their practice of plural marriage. A practice The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had abandoned over 100 years earlier after a revelation to stop the practice. The struggles I had been having in my mind were specifically about plural marriage.
The summer before starting my fall semester of my junior year I was excited about being part of “The Group,” a name we as members of this church had given ourselves. My excitement wasn’t over the practice of plural marriage but over other beliefs The Group proclaimed. Things like a belief that Christ was soon to return and that his return would bring about great destruction in the Salt Lake and Utah counties and that leaders would be needed to lead our people to safety. Each Sunday I would meet with other boys my age and we would discuss how we would organize ourselves in the event of an emergency and where we would go to take care of our members. These discussions excited me and gave me purpose and a vision of who I thought I could be.
After returning to school in Cedar City, Utah, I was away from that excitement and the hard facts of what my church really stood for began to settle in. I remember countless nights where I would cry myself to sleep in agony after pleading with Heavenly Father that plural marriage would not be something He would ask of me. As I look back on those months it was a very dark time for me. Eventually, as if to say it was time to make a decision, I had a dream. In my dream I was in the middle of a bright valley. The sun was shining and radiant and, for lack of better words, something was out there that just felt like freedom. When I looked down I realized I was standing in a hole and I was holding the lid to that hole. Inside the hole was darkness. I knew that if I went down into that hole I was closing the lid on my future forever. Eventually I made the decision to close the lid and retreat to where I had come from. Just as I closed the lid I woke up in a terrible panic with the feeling you have after having a nightmare. When I finally settled down I knew that the darkness I had receded into was my old church and that by choosing to stay I was choosing to live a life of darkness where light would never shine.
It was about a month after this dream that those two elders knocked on my door. They wanted to share a message with me about Jesus Christ and His restored church. As they shared their message there was something about it that felt hopeful. I felt like I was getting a glimpse of that light I saw in the valley of my dream. At the end of their message they asked if I would like to learn more. Almost instinctively I said, “Yes!” Meeting with the elders was one of the most special times in my life. When they taught me I knew their message was true. I knew it came from a loving Heavenly Father who had been watching over me and who had a plan for my life that was different from what I had been raised to imagine. They shared with me lessons about the restoration where Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His son Jesus Christ. Even though I had been raised hearing this story, somehow when they shared it the story felt innocent. Almost as if they had seen it themselves and their witness had no pretense or agenda but only to share what they knew. They taught me about a plan of happiness that had been prepared for me and that if I chose to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ I could be part of that plan. They taught me about faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. I learned about living prophets just like those in the Bible and Book of Mormon. Eventually I attended a conference where I heard the voice of then President Gordon B. Hinckley. As he spoke something inside of me told me that he was a prophet of God.
Everything felt so wonderful and yet the time came that I had to make a decision. Continue down the path I knew had no future or abandon the faith of my fathers and join this church that felt so bright and full of light. After several months of meeting with the elders, studying the scriptures, going to my church in the morning, the LDS church in the afternoon, and nightly firesides (sermons) at the LDS church I was beginning to burn out. One Sunday night I came home to my apartment and started talking to my roommate Daniel Gates. I told him how hard it was to make a decision and that I felt so many voices in my head all the time pulling me in different directions. He then looked at me and said, “Steve, ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” After he said this, I closed my eyes and said a prayer. The most incredible thing then happened to me. Almost in an instant all of the voices in my head disappeared. My mind was completely clear. I then heard a voice in my mind as clear and as calm as you can imagine say to me, “My son, this is my true church.” Heavenly Father spoke to me and told me The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was His church and that He wanted me to be a part of it.
Later that week I met with the missionaries again and we knelt in prayer and we each took turns praying that I might know that the priesthood (the authority to act in God’s name) was in the LDS church. Again I felt peace and I knew that every worthy male member of the church could hold that priesthood.
The Sunday after I received my answer of which church was Christ’s church I called my parents to discuss with them what I had learned. My mother was heartbroken and my father warned me saying I was making a terrible mistake. They asked me to drive back up to Riverton, a suburb of Salt Lake City, and meet with their leader Lemoine Jensen. I drove up and attended their afternoon services and then later Lemoine asked me to sit on the stand where everyone could see me and my parents told him about the situation I was in and that I wanted to join the LDS church. The only thing I remember him saying was asking me whether I knew black people were allowed to be members of the LDS church. Puzzled and not exactly sure why he was asking me this question I responded yes. He asked me if I was okay with it and I said I was. I think he was trying to warn me about black people being part of the LDS church and that they were now allowed to receive the priesthood and enter the temple. Looking back at this awkward meeting I can hardly believe how racist and self-righteous the people of this church are.
I left that meeting and drove back down to Cedar City, a three hour drive, and as I drove I felt like I was shedding off of me all of the ideologies I had been taught to believe that were keeping me from fulfilling my purpose in life and finding the plan of happiness the elders had talked to me about.
Because of my background and being raised in a polygamous church I had to go through several interviews to demonstrate I truly did want to join the LDS church and my purpose in joining the church was no to simply enter an LDS temple or to serve a mission and then ultimately return to The Group as members of The Group had often done. My first interview was with the mission president assigned to the area where I lived. He is a leader of usually 150 missionaries and holds the keys for convert baptisms. I remember feeling so naïve and not really understanding the purpose of the interviews. My next interview was scheduled with Elder Holland. Elder Holland is one of the twelve apostles called to assist the prophet but also sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator because of a special witness he has that Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer of the world.
The day came for my interview and I asked my brother John and his wife Cynthia to come with me since I was incredibly nervous. I really had no idea who I was meeting since I really had only been asked to pray and learn about whether President Hinckley was the prophet. As we parked in the basement of the church office building in downtown Salt Lake City we entered the elevator and went up to one of the top floors where we were greeted by Elder Hollands assistant. She showed us into his office and he immediately jumped up from his desk and came over and shook my hand and gave me a hug. I felt so loved by him even though I had never met him before. He did the same for my brother and his wife and then we all sat down. He asked me if my family was okay with me joining the church and whether I understood the LDS church was the only church with God’s authority and priesthood. I told him I did. He then asked me if I had any questions. Not having been more prepared for my interview, I thought inside myself what would be the one question that would answer all questions and I asked him how he knew Jesus Christ was the head of this church. He answered by saying he knew more surely that Jesus Christ was the head of this church and was leading it every minute than if I was to come over and punch him in the face. He then looked out the window and said he knew more surely than he could see the next building just outside the window. I felt the same feeling I had felt many times since meeting with the elders that what he said was true. We then left his office and he said to feel free to contact him any time with any questions.
After this interview I was interviewed again by the mission president and then I waited as the elders must have been finalizing things for me to get baptized. It might have only been a few months of waiting but it felt like an eternity. For some strange reason I felt like my prayers were not being listened to anymore. I felt alone in my decision to join the LDS church because I didn’t have those same feelings I had been having when I first was meeting with the elders. Looking back now I realize I was being tested to see if I would stay to course with the answer I had been given. Finally, on a Saturday night at a ward members home (the Seguins) I met with the elders again. As I sat in the lesson the elders stopped and looked me in the eyes and said, “Brother Washenko, will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized?” A flood of emotions came over me as if the culmination of all I had been feeling and learning finally came to a point where I had to choose whether I would act on what I had learned. I immediately answered, “Yes!”
No sooner did I say yes did the missionaries have me in my final interview the next day, Sunday, July 10, 2005, with their district leader. I remember them asking me if I believed that God was my Heavenly Father, that Jesus Christ was the Savior and Redeemer of the world, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the only true church, and that President Gordon B. Hinckley was the prophet. As I answered yes to each of these questions I distinctly remember my faith growing inside of me. An experience I have had each time I have been asked these questions since for my mission interviews as well as my temple recommend interviews. I love answering these questions.
I was baptized that evening. Daniel Gates baptized me. I came up out of the water and wanted to shout for joy. My brother John, Skylar Witman, and the elders confirmed me a member and gave me the Gift of the Holy Ghost. After those words were spoken I again heard a voice as clear as any voice I had ever heard say to me, “I am so proud of you.”
All my life I have wanted to be a good son and be part of something greater than myself. Being a member of the LDS church I know Heavenly Father is proud of my choice to join His church. I am part of something greater than myself and as I have served in the church I have found so much joy and happiness with my fellow brothers and sisters. I have not once regretted that decision I made 10 years ago today.
Membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
After joining the LDS church I enjoyed the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. I felt myself being taught constantly by the Holy Ghost and correcting in my mind things I had been taught about children taking the sacrament, the purpose of the Book of Mormon to be a second witness that Jesus is the Christ, and that our purpose in life was to have joy.
A little over a year after joining the LDS church I received my mission call to serve in the Taiwan, Taichung mission where I would need to learn Mandarin Chinese. I will never forget one of my first nights on the island of Taiwan when I laid in a bed half-way across the world from where I had grown up. I was in a different world, speaking a different language, and among people I didn’t know and began to feel alone and somewhat frightened. I looked out the window and saw the moon and felt in my heart Heavenly Father was somehow here on this island just like he was one the couch in my college apartment. He wasn’t just here for me but He was here for all of His children and I had been given a special calling to teach His children about His plan of happiness just as I had been taught. I loved being a missionary. Even now I look back on those two years as the two years that spring boarded my life into the person I wanted to become and the direction I wanted to go.
Sitting on the plane ride home from my mission I could think of only one thing: Sister Jacob. Ironically enough our first date happened to land on my 4th year anniversary as a member of the LDS church, July 10, 2009. Being with Shirley felt so incredibly right and wonderful. I proposed to her skydiving in Tooele, Utah, and she accepted. We were married on November 20, 2009 in the Salt Lake City temple.
Since being married we have been blessed with two wonderful children that have brought us more joy than we could have possibly imagined. Shirley graduated with her master’s degree in Piano Performance from BYU. I took the LSAT, twice, and was accepted into the J. Reuben Clark Law School also at BYU. While in law school we moved to Hong Kong for a summer internship. During my second year of law school I took the GMAT, also twice, I’m not a fan of these graduate tests just in case you were wondering, and was accepted into the Marriot School of Management MBA program at BYU getting an emphasis in supply chain. We completed my first year of business school and are now living in Cincinnati, Ohio where I am doing a summer internship for GE Aviation working as a contract administrator for a supplier in Turkey making sure parts are delivered on time and meet quality standards. I absolutely love this industry. We will move back to Provo and finish up my last year of school and next year I will graduate with my joint JD/MBA from BYU in April, 2016.
Just a few weeks ago I had the privilege of conducting the baptism for a new member in our ward here in Cincinnati. As I prepared to conduct the baptism I couldn’t help but think of my own baptism and realized that just 10 years ago the Lord had picked me up from a small polygamous church and had brought me into the light and blessed me more than I could have possibly imagined. I will forever be indebted to and am eternally grateful for those two elders who knocked on my door and shared a message with me and invited me to learn more.