As a teenager, I can recall asking my stepmother three key questions: where did we come from, why are we here, and—my greatest concern—where are we going after this life? Since she was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, her answers made me feel fantastic: like a light bulb illuminating my mind and my heart. I was soon taught that what I was feeling was the power of the Holy Ghost testifying to me about “…the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10: 5). As a result, my twin brother, Darren, and I had the missionary discussions and joined the Church. A year later, we were both called to serve as missionaries in England.
My father did not join the Church with us, but he very much supported his boys in their new chosen paths as missionaries. He was dedicated in writing us letters of encouragement with many faith building quotes and poems. Each month while I was in England, I anxiously awaited his uplifting words of support. He financially assisted the funding of our missions and defended our decisions to his non-Mormon family.
In my second area in Harlow Essex, I created and implemented a missionary approach that focused on being specific with the Lord in our prayers and actions. We used the full names of those loved ones we would pray for, asking in faith for the Lord to soften their hearts and open doors for their conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I called this program the “Celestial Card.” My card had my father’s name—Joseph Julian—on it. When we launched the program, I invited one of the Harlow ward members to speak on my cassette recorder and send my Dad a special message. I had no idea what this member would say. I will never forget his profound concluding words to my father: “and you will be baptized.”
Fast-forward 27 years. My father’s health was in chronic decline. He had battled cancer a few times plus various other ailments. His legacy was his work where he was one of the very best company accountants and controllers in the city. His major roadblock to following Christ was social drinking. He drank like most of his business associates and friends. He would say that he would stop drinking and join the Church if an angel told him to do it. When he retired, Dad seemed to live life with no hope or direction. He was not doing well. I almost gave up my hopes that he would ever change.
After months of chronic pain, my father was scheduled for surgery. After the surgery, he had serious problems in the recovery room. My stepmother (Sharon), my wife (Emilia), and I anxiously paced and prayed for him to pull through. The hospital staff asked us to go to his bedside in hopes that it would lower his blood pressure enough for him to be moved to his room. When I approached him, I will never forget the look of fear on my father’s face. Both Mom and Emilia suggested I give him a blessing. Dad agreed. For the very first time in my life, I laid my hands on my father’s head and proceeded to exercise the priesthood and blessed him to recover (Doctrine & Covenants 66: 9). After I finished the blessing, we were asked to leave the recovery room, but we were informed 15 minutes later that my father had been moved to his room to rest.
Mom would later comment that my blessing had sounded “like a goodbye.” Remember that. When my father returned home a few days later, my Mom said that he was acting very weird. He had no recollection of my blessing and believed his surgery was a month ago rather than days. During this time, the California Anaheim Mission, which was where our son Matthew was serving as a missionary, had “Miracle Month.” They prayed for miracles and added them to the Mission Office “Miracle Wall.” All of our prayers—both past and present—were preparing us for a wonderful miracle. I believe the Lord blesses the families of His servants, and two generations of missionaries have certainly blessed my father’s family and his descendants.
Then came a call I shall never forget. Dad was on the phone with Mom, and he told us that he had decided to be baptized. At first, I was silent while Emilia screamed. Then tears of joy came to my eyes as I wondered if I was dreaming. Dad told us, “It was time.” He explained that he had looked in the bathroom mirror when he came home from the hospital and “saw a ghost” of himself. He did not like what he saw.
When my father met with the missionaries, he told them that during their lessons together he “felt alive.” I explained to him that to feel “alive in Christ” (2 Nephi 25: 25) is part of conversion. I do not know what took place while my father was under anaesthesia, but I do know the Lord’s hand was in it. The blessing I gave that sounded “like a goodbye” really was—a goodbye to his old life and a renewal of his new life as a follower of Christ.
On August 19, 2017, my brother walked with our father into the baptismal font, while I stood as a witness. His baptism was so powerful and completing for our family. Our souls were bursting with inexpressible joy. To witness my father being baptized by proper priesthood authority was a dream come true and an answer to many years of prayers. I have always loved my father, but I never knew such love could grow to even deeper levels.
The scriptures tell us that we will receive “…a mighty change…in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5: 2). My father exercised that mighty change by entering the waters of baptism. He certainly is a changed man: learning to pray daily, passing the sacrament, ensuring his tithing is absolutely 10%, and reading as much as he can. During our November 2017 fast and testimony meeting, my father shared his very first testimony. These are some of the things he said,
“Good morning brothers and sisters. During all the years that I have occasionally attended The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with my wife, I never realized how blessed you were to be a member of this Church until after I was baptized. After my surgery this past July, there was a period of four days right after the operation that to this day I cannot remember anything about, including the blessing my son Jason gave me at the hospital. On the morning of the fifth day, I looked into the bathroom mirror and saw a ghostlike image of myself. For me, this was the beginning of my conversion. God works in mysterious ways.
“The Church has revitalized me and has given me a new way of life. I have never been one to do a lot of reading, but now I read many Church books: especially the Book of Mormon. I testify that it is true and is the keystone of our religion. President Hinckley has also given me a good understanding of bearing my testimony from his book Stand A Little Taller. I would like to share with you a quote from that book: ‘Faith and testimony are like the muscles of my arm. If I use those muscles and nourish them, they grow stronger. If I put my arm in a sling and leave it there, it becomes weak and ineffective, and so it is with testimonies’ (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 2016, Chapter 22).
“Something else I can testify to is that I have learned that the best form of spiritual exercise is to touch the floor regularly with my knees. I pray that I will become stronger spiritually with this exercise going forward. I’m so grateful for all the blessings I have received from our Heavenly Father, especially my conversion. God gave us 86.400 seconds in a day, and it only takes one second to say ‘thank you.’ So I say: thank you, thank you, thank you for God’s many blessings! I love this Church and testify it is true. I humbly say these things in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, amen.”
My father was always a good man, but now he is amazing as he embraces the gospel and serves the Lord. He is anxious for his new journey and all the blessings life has to offer him as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It is my prayer that this story may invoke new energy and hope for so many in similar circumstances. Heavenly Father knows His children and will provide a way to bless them if we exercise our faith and align with His will and timetable. My blessing in the hospital admonished my father to “be of good cheer.” His life is truly full of cheer as we witness the light in his eyes and feel the testimony in his heart. Life is great. As President Monson has counselled: “Let us relish life as we live it, find joy in the journey, and share our love with friends and family” (“Finding Joy in the Journey,” President Thomas S. Monson, October 2008 General Conference).