We are here again at the end of yet another month. Each one is radically different from the next, with new challenges, new lessons, and new family members. The end-of-month post is bitter-sweet, the one I dread the most.

Let’s see how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like the faiths before it, changed my life.

Burying the Hatchet:

In a faith tradition where repentance is key, I started off July with a confession of my own to the LDS Church. When I was in high school, I carried my Christian faith like a semi-automatic, ready to fire on anyone who believed differently than I did. Guess who one of my favorite targets were? I remember harassing those poor missionaries on their bikes like it was yesterday…

The only way to start things right was to clear my conscience of the guilt I had for mistreating  these people. So I asked the church for forgiveness. With their grace, I was redeemed and prepared for the month.

What I Learned:

If you would have walked up to me over ten years ago and told me how similar Latter-day Saint beliefs are to other Christian quarters, I would have smacked you over the head with my Bible.

The LDS Church believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who lived, taught, and died among us. For them, as with most other Christians, Jesus paved the way to the Father via his death and resurrection. Jesus bore the sins of every human being as he suffered and died on the cross. He is the “way, the truth, and the life” (John 14: 6).

Sound familiar?

But there is a difference, one that draws the line between the LDS Church and, well, everyone. That line is Joseph Smith, Jr. He claimed that at age 14, God and Jesus Christ visited him in a grove of trees and told him not to join any church, for they were all wrong. Joseph’s mission: Restore Christ’s true church on the earth with the priesthood keys and authority to carry out proper ordinances of the church, including baptism and temple sealing of families.

The other difference is the details about our relationship with God. Referred to as Heavenly Father, God is our literal father in heaven and we are his beloved spirit children. Jesus created our universe via Heavenly Father’s direction in order to give us a place to obtain mortal bodies and the experience required to become more like Heavenly Father. Heavenly Father and Jesus are also seperate and distinct persons, with glorified bodies of flesh and bone, while the Holy Ghost is a pure spirit (Doctrine and Covenants 130: 22). There is even belief among many LDS members that a Heavenly Mother exists. Apparently, she’s very mysterious.

The People:

Are just awesome and probably some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet. Because Church doctrine states that we are part of a heavenly family, our earthly families are extremely important. We are brothers and sisters of a common spiritual lineage and as such we should treat one another with love and respect. At no time did I feel unwelcome or unwanted in the church. Both my local church community and LDS members of the Congregation supported me through this month with any help I or others curious about the faith needed. For that, I thank you.

The Challenge:

The Latter-day Saints are the only faith group so far that actively solicited my conversion. Boy did I play hard to get. Every meeting with the two Elders, the young missionaries who served as my Mentors this month, began and ended with a friendly invitation to join the church. This jarred me at first. How could I focus or get comfortable when I knew that all they wanted was my membership in the church? But it was so much deeper than that. The Elders serve two-year missions and are sent all over the world to share the gospel. They are young, between 18 and 25 years old, and they have a passion and a love for those they teach. Eventually the frustration eased and we understood one another. I told them that, through Project Conversion, they could not imagine the lives they touch by their teaching. Judging by the reactions this month, I know their reach was far and wide.

What I’ll Take With Me:

One important lesson I should have learned long ago is that we should always look before we leap to conclusions. Had I given those young missionaries a chance to speak all those years ago, would I be a different person today? Perhaps even a member of the church? I also realized the power of humanity’s two greatest abilities: Forgiveness and love. If we cannot forgive ourselves and others, then there is no hope for love. If there is no love, then there is no hope for peace. Forgiveness and love are the fruits of humility. We must humble ourselves to one another and have the courage to leave our conditioned opinions about those around us behind. I will never judge a book by its cover–or even the first few pages–again.

Who am I now?

Andrew Bowen: Latter-day Saints Edition

I am Brother Bowen. Friend to the Lumberton, North Carolina branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am reconciled with those I wrongly judged and at peace. Through this month I also experienced the familiar touch of an old friend: The Christian faith. I am thankful that the months worked out the way they did, because coming from nothing (June) to something (Latter-day Saints) was rough enough. Having something familiar to land on cushioned the blow.

In closing I want to once again thank the Latter-day Saints community for their support, encouragement, and involvement this month. July has been one of the most interactive so far, and that always makes a difference. As much as I’d like to stay for a while longer, as with every month, I must pack my things and head off. After all, the show must go on.

I asked my Mentors what, if any, final thoughts they’d like to leave you with as we part ways. In true LDS fashion, I couldn’t pick a better one myself.

“We declare that God has once again reached out in love to His children and through His gospel authority and church to the earth through a modern day prophet in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We know that the knowledge of these things will bring great peace and happiness into the lives of all who are seeking truth. This knowledge can and will be gained through sincere study of the Book of Mormon and prayer.” –my Mentors, the Elders

Thanks guys. If you’d like to take up their invite to read the Book of Mormon for yourself, go here for details about a free copy. For more information about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please visit your local branch or ward, and visit www.lds.org and www.mormon.org.

Thank you everyone for following along this month and every month before. I look forward to seeing you all Monday when I begin the next month in the world of Islam.

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