FIRSTNEPHI.COM

Personal Conversion Account
Sander J. Rabinowitz

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Preface: The page you are now reading began as a web site in 1993--indeed, it was among the earliest of pages ever posted by me to the Internet. The last revision of this document was 11 January 2009.

Copyright 1993-2009 Sander J. Rabinowitz, P.O. Box 7, Columbia, Tennessee 38402 U.S.A.


ACCOUNT OF CONVERSION

This is likely not going to be a complete account of my experiences with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even with the detail that I will endeavor to give it, for I have witnessed many wonderful and even sacred events in such a relatively short period of time. Not all these experiences will be outlined, partially because I do not wish for my message to lose focus, and partially because I fear I would be trifling in sacred matters. Even so, I hope that the things that I do write will present an accurate rendition of the events that were most critical in changing my life. Even more than that, I pray that this account be one of the means by which another soul can come to the truths and joys that I have experienced.

My background is as follows: I am the first-born of three brothers from righteous parents of a mixed religious affiliation. Through most of my life, I was raised in Farmington Hills, Mich., a town not very far from Detroit. After graduating from college, I moved to Tennessee in 1991, due to opportunities at the new Saturn site. My father owned a pharmacy within the Detroit city limits, while my mother raised all three of us at home.

Although my father was raised as an Orthodox Jew, and my mother had a non-Jewish background, we as a family were rarely religiously observant, but instead, took a largely secular approach in running the household. Consequently, as a family, we never attended religious services of any faith. As for myself, except for a brief exposure to Hebrew school as a child, I was also religiously inactive, continuing after this manner when I moved away to live on my own.

Looking back at my life, I am certain that there were a number of times when I inquired within myself as to what life was about, and what my role was within it. One of the earliest records I have of this is in my journal, shortly after my high school graduation, where I wrote the following:

        [8 August 1986] I'm supposed to be Jewish [Note 1].  I say,
        "I'm supposed to be," because I'm not sure anymore.  There is a
        God (maybe), but I do not have a personal relationship with Him
        like some have claimed to have.  I've been detached from
        [religion] for 99% of my life, yet I have never identified
        myself with the Christianity which I have been exposed to
        through the media thus far.  I'm not an atheist, yet I cannot
        consider myself a 100% God-believer.  In a nutshell, I am
        presently not [entirely] convinced that God exists, or heaven
        exists [...] but I sincerely hope my doubts are mistaken.  So
        where am I?

At about the time I began to investigate the Church, my views had not changed substantially:

        [2 January 1992] Right now, I am a person without a coherent set
        of beliefs.  I figure there is a God, but that's about it. [...]
        So questions go through my mind about life, and exactly what it
        means; and beyond that, whether this planet, or even me has a
        purpose in the total scheme of things.

Now there are a number of ways in which non-members become exposed to the Church. Looking in retrospect, prior to learning about the Restored Gospel, I do not think I was very receptive to the television advertisements produced by the Church (for my tendency was to lump the Latter-day Saints into the rest of the Christian world). Nor do I think I would have accepted an invitation by the full-time Elders to hear the Gospel message had they tracted into my apartment. What made the difference in my case was the actions of a coworker who was receptive to the Spirit.

As my story begins, I was still in my first year with my employer as a Systems Engineer-in-training at EDS, and was assigned to a team at the Saturn Corp. account that included only four other colleagues, including my manager. Three of us happened to live in close proximity to each other at the time, so the idea came about that they should have a traveling pot-luck party, held at each of the houses, to celebrate the holidays.

One cold, evening in 1991--sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, though I don't recall the exact date--we gathered at the house of Alan Rhoads, who hosted the first leg of the party. Shortly after our arrival, we found ourselves sitting at a large dinner table in the family parlor, where Sister Rhoads proceeded to serve all of us large bowls of French Onion soup. Now, as Brother Rhoads relates the account, he was debating in his mind whether or not to have a blessing on the food, for fear of offending someone; for at the time, he was the only member of the Church. Nevertheless, he felt prompted to pronounce the blessing, and proceeded to do so.

It was the first time I ever witnessed a family praying together. I am also certain that it was the first prayer I had ever witnessed apart from church, synagogue, or exposure to the media. At the time, I wrote in my journal that I was touched by the things that I had witnessed. But it was more than that. Although I could not articulate it in these terms when it happened, I can say now that there was a special spirit in that house. Feelings and emotions poured into my soul which could not be explained simply in terms of the interaction we have had with each other; nor could any other ordinary explaination account for the experience. There were feelings of love, peace and even joy, and these feelings magnified for me during the prayer itself. Although I made no religious inquiries at this time, what happened that evening left a powerful impression upon me.

Only a short time later, Alan sent notice to the workgroup that the Church was holding an annual singing of Handel's Messiah. Being curious, and with the earlier incident still in my mind, I accepted the invitation, and was the only person to have actually done so. Again, I felt that same spirit there. After the performance, I talked with Alan and several others about what I had felt, and was placed in immediate contact with two of the full-time Elders. The first attempt at the discussions commenced shortly thereafter, in February of 1992.

I say "attempt," because I called them off before the Elders had a chance to commit me for baptism during what would have been the second in the series. For I would suppose the thought that I was truly exploring Christianity came as a shock to me, and the addition of new scripture (the New Testament, let alone the Book of Mormon) came as a secondary shock. It simply was not yet something that I was prepared to open my heart to or accept. So after two visits, I politely excused the Elders, and contact with the Church briefly ceased. At the same time, I began attending Reform Jewish services at a congregation in Nashville, and was seriously considering whether or not I would be a member there. Even with this apparent setback, Alan and I became good friends.

One turning point came a few weeks later. Alan was planning a trip to Atlanta to perform temple work and asked me to house-sit for him. This task involved staying over and making sure the pets were properly nourished and that all else was well. I accepted, and found myself alone at his house on March 13-14, 1992. Having nothing to do, I proceeded to do two things. One of them would be to teach myself to play, albeit simplistically, a short song on their piano (having never really played one before). The second thing that I did was to read parts of several LDS books in the family's possession, and also to read several back issues of the Ensign and the Church News. I was touched and impressed by many of the articles and accounts I read. One that immediately comes to mind was the conversion of Robert E. Sackley of the Second Quorum of the Seventy (d. 1993). This was what I wrote in my journal in response to this account:

        [14 March 1992] But then [...] if I hear somewhere about someone
        who might have been heading into trouble, but then finds a way
        of loving God [...] and completely turns himself around to the
        point where he's doing well in both the secular and spiritual
        worlds, then I think that's a GOOD THING.

The exact sequence of events between March and May of that year are unclear. However, towards the end of May, I house-sat for Bro. Rhoads a second time, and in this visit, I continued to read about the Church. Again, as in the previous visits, the feelings of the Spirit were pronounced; so much so that I felt prompted of the need to begin attending services regularly, without anyone specifically committing me to do so; and except for another brief period of inactivity as an investigator, I've attended Church ever since. Shortly afterwards, I took all six of the investigator discussions.

It was now getting to the point where for the first time I was seriously considering baptism. In fact, I actually started bearing my testimony, even as a non-member. I remember one of these occurances in particular. Near the end of opening exercises at Priesthood Meeting, when the question was asked, "Is there anything else that ought to come before the body of the Priesthood?", the presence of the Spirit was so strong that I arose and bore my testimony right then and there. It created not a small stir among those who were present. Yet Baptism was still not immediately forthcoming, for I remained very hesitant.

This delay in acting upon the knowledge received thus far happened because I still had significant concerns. Part of my hesitation was that I knew, even from early in my investigative period, that I would be making commitments that were as at least as serious in scope as entering into marriage. For such decisions are the stuff that dramatically changes the course of a person's life. I knew that the things that I would incorporate into my life would become the core from which many future decisions would be made. I was determined, then, that I would not make such a decision lightly.

Notwithstanding this need to be absolutely sure about my decision, the biggest concern focused on how my parents would feel about the path I was contemplating. Originally, I supposed that since I was about to choose a spiritual approach that was significantly different than what either of my parents had known, that I would expect concerns to arise that would be rooted in these differences. To my surprise, that turned out not to the case at all. The experience of both of my parents, though, were at least in fraction ones where they have read about or even directly witnessed wrong or tragic acts committed under the banner of various faiths. Hence, they both developed a distrust for organized religion. The premise was that it is possible to be at peace with God without going through specific ordinances, attending a certain set of meetings, interacting with a formal network of religious leaders, or undertaking specific vows or allegiances. To them, it is important that the one remain intellectually independent from any of the faiths, even including their own. My father, for his part, told me that he would been concerned even if I were to decide to take an Orthodox path within Judiasm.

These concerns, which I seriously took under consideration, coupled with the added fear that any religious or philosophical differences that might develop could cause a rift within the family, caused me to examine the situation with not a small amount of anxiety. For I truly desired to do what was right, not only in the sight of my parents, and within the bounds of my own conscience, but above all, in the sight of God. It was a matter I pondered greatly and over an extended period of time.

I still was pondering the situation somewhat when I sent a letter to my parents. In that letter, although I was non-comittal on whether or not I would join the Church, I also noted that it was a decision that I reserved the right to make and that I would take full responsibility for its consequences. Although only my mother read the letter, the matter was discussed by both. It was a relief to have learned that they would accept whatever decision I ultimately made, notwithstanding they were somewhat puzzled as to why I would choose this spiritual direction.

Yet the biggest turning point, and the event which solidified my testimony, took place on 21 January 1993, only 48 hours prior to my Baptism. For on the day in question, things were especially tense-- perhaps the most tense they have ever been. I was having all sorts of bad thoughts about the decision I just made only a few days earlier, not only with respect to how my parents would ultimately react (notwithstanding the assurance I received), but extending also to the tithing commitment, and even to whether or not I would truly be happy with my new life.

Late that afternoon, I was driving back to my apartment after undergoing some medical tests at a doctor's office. I was on a roadway that, if I continued in the current direction, would very quickly turn into a freeway. But at the last possible place for a legal U-turn, I felt strongly prompted to turn the car around. This I did, but now I was even more tense and confused, for I seemed to be heading back towards my parent's house. I pulled off into a neighboring subdivision, then turned onto a roadway that was not frequently traveled, and finally stopped the car under a tree. As I recall, it was a cold, miserable, and wet, and it was also close to being quite dark. Shutting off the engine, I proceeded to start praying, even to pour my heart out to God.

I do not know many of the words I uttered in the course of my prayer. To be sure, it did not fully fit the method that was outlined in the standard investigator discussions; indeed, it was much closer to the way I would speak to another person. I remember speaking of many fears and doubts I still possessed. Indeed, I felt indescribably tense and anxious. I also felt forlorn and upset, even to the point of tears. In this frame of mind, approximately fifteen minutes into my discourse, I remember uttering this petition: "Heavenly Father, if you wish to use my life as you see fit, would you please do so at this time."

What happened next it almost beyond description. For within a scant several seconds of that utterance, all of the miserable things that I had felt were instantly replaced with calm and joy. Indeed, I felt as though I had a taste, albeit perhaps a very small taste, of the feelings that the son of Alma had, which he described in this wise:

I could remember my pains no more [...] And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you [...] that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you [...] that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy. [Alma 36:19-21]

There were no pillars of light, no audible voice, nor visions of "numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing or praising their God." [Alma 36:22] Yet the things that I experienced were as real and as undeniable. It was my confirmation--emphatically above and beyond any other witness I had previously received--that the Gospel was indeed restored to the Earth, that Jesus is indeed the Christ, and that the decision I made to join this Church was, and is, a correct one.

Because I was on temporary assignment in Michigan at this time, and most of my friends were back in Tennessee, I made the unusual move of flying back to Nashville for my Baptism on 23 January 1993. The event had already been arranged for Bro. Rhoads' oldest child, Crystal, who would turn 8; my own addition to the program was somewhat unexpected. Bro. Rhoads performed both of the baptisms, beginning with Crystal, and then with myself; Bro. Greg Westfall handled the confirmation ordinance. The program remained largely unchanged, so we sang selections out of the Children's Songbook. Which for me was entirely appropriate, for as the Savior told the Nephites, "[W]hoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for such is the kingdom of God." [3 Nephi 9:22] It had proved to be a very spiritual and joyous experience for all involved.


EPILOGUE

When my parents learned of my baptism, it was received with some reservations and concerns; even so, they were accepting of the decision, stating that they would be happy if the decision made me happy. I have always been grateful for this position, and for the love and support they have shown me; indeed it can be said that the support of my family has been strong to this day.  Sadly, my father passed away in 1994. 

Only weeks after my baptism, my employer allowed me to move back to Tennessee permanently.  I promptly relocated within the area known within the Church as the Franklin Tennessee Stake, where I have been ever since.

It has now been well over fifteen years since I was baptized. A considerable number of things have happened during that time.  In my first year, I received my Patriarchal Blessing and both the Aaronic and Melchezidek Priesthoods, and at the beginning of my second year, I entered the temple at Atlanta, Georgia for the very first time. At present, I am progressing in my family history work--although I will admit it remains in the beginning stages. In July of 2001, I married my eternal companion, Melinda Samson, within the walls of the Nashville Tennessee Temple.  In 2002, our family expanded to include our daughter Andrea Ruth, who now attends elementary school.  Most recently, in 2007, I was ordained to the office of High Priest, and presently serve as second assistant to the High Priest Group Leader, while Melinda serves as a second counselor in the ward Young Women's presidency.   

There is no doubt in my mind that other landmarks lie ahead, many of which will also prove to be of great significance.  When I contemplate the future, I am genuinely excited, and thankful for all the experiences I have had. Quite candidly, if I had to do it all over again, I would emphatically repeat the same course.

I will always cherish the friendships that have formed during this experience, and in the time since. Of my close friendships, the thought comes to mind not only of Bro. Rhoads, but also of Greg Westfall, as they both worked closely with me throughout my early experiences. They were both patient with me during the times when I seemed to persue other directions. They listened to me through all the times when I seemed to have question after question, even concern after concern. They were also with me through many of my choice and even sacred moments.

Indeed, I wish it to be said that my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in many ways nothing short of miraculous. I am convinced that many portions of my life leading up to my present experiences can be attributed directly to Providence. It was also a case where fellowshipping proved to be very critical to my conversion; hence, it can be said that many members of my Ward proved to be instruments of Providence.

Let me now conclude by bearing my own testimony of the divinity of this work, even a testimony that stands on its own. I can state emphatically, from direct experience, that God lives, for I have felt of His presence, not once, but repeatedly. I affirm that Jesus Christ is verily the Messiah, and that he came to the earth after the manner discussed in the first chapter of Luke [Luke 1:26-38]. I affirm also that Joseph Smith indeed was the instrument that God used to restore the Church upon the earth, that the Book of Mormon is truly a work of scripture, that the restored Church exists this day, and that it is guided by a true prophet this day. It is my prayer that I may be diligent in my life's mission that I have before me, that I faint not, that my testimony continue to grow, and that I truly endure.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

* * * * *

[Note 1] Actually, according to most interpretations of Jewish law, I would have been considered a Gentile, since it is the mother's religious affiliation that determines that of the child. Had I desired to formally affiliate with Judaism, I would have had to convert. Only under the Reform school of thought is the matter of the father's affiliation considered.


If you would like to learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its teachings, click here to reach one of the official Church websites. Additional information is also available at www.lds.org, including access to scriptures and talks from Church leaders. To request your own copy of the Book of Mormon, you may speak to a representative of the Church by calling 1-888-537-7111 within the United States. You may also write to the Church at 50 East North Temple St., Salt Lake City, Utah (USA) 84150. The Book of Mormon is available through the Church without charge or obligation.

This is not an official site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the views expressed are solely those of myself.


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