Following Jesus Christ?
Not that I, Rodric Johnson, am a famous person, but I am a person. As just another person, I would still like to tell about how I found Jesus Christ through The Book of Mormon, which led me to become a Latter-day Saint. I was told my story is interesting because I am a Black American. Read further and see if it is true!
I found Jesus Christ at an early age, which does not mean I followed His teachings. The way I spent my youthful days were in play and fighting. Sure, I knew about God and Jesus. I loved going to church; however, many of the things I heard did not always mesh together with reason in my mind. What I learned from my experiences up to about 14 years of age was that it did not matter what I did as long as I professed Jesus.
It did not make sense to me that all I needed to do was profess His name when I read that He did more than declare His own name. Deep down, I knew there was something more. I had read the scriptures that teach of the works of Jesus. I remember being taught to do the works for Christ–and I had a good teacher and example, my Aunt Patricia. All that came to me in church was “How good God was.” And “How he can do anything!” What was I suppose to do in return to show my appreciation?
Being a Saint?
At the age of 15, I started going to a church where one of my childhood bullies attended, being that his parents were pastors of the church. We put our difference aside and I joined with them. Though the social aspect of attending this church felt great, something was missing that I could not quite figure out.
A guest preacher took the podium by storm one night providing me with what I took as a clue to overcoming my nagging feelings. I sat in the congregation enthralled by his words. He spoke of being sanctified through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. My heart raced and my soul yearned for that! I knew what was missing in my life. I had never felt the Holy Spirit before–not with recognition! This minister’s words rang true! I needed to become a saint through the Holy Spirit. I needed the fire of purification!
I approached the minister afterwards thirsty. He was the first person to bear witness to my soul through the Holy Ghost of the truth of becoming a Saint and I recognize it!
I expressed “I want to be a saint. I want to have that sanctification. What do I need to do to become a saint through Christ?”
I could feel my soul yearning and my heart expanding until he said, “You believe in Christ right. You are already a saint.” He smiled at me jovially. My heart dropped and my soul deflated.”Make sure you buy one of my other sermons on the tables outside.”
He left me stupefied. I felt like a bushy headed kid who’s hair he had just ruffled playfully for asking a silly question. I thought in my head, I do believe in Jesus, but I do not know how to worship Him. I did not really know how to approach Jesus or God, even though I read the scriptures. I never paid attention to Aunt Patricia on that lessons I gather.
I viewed the minister’s tapes on display before I walked outside of the church alone and looked up at the stars. The minister also spoke of hell, fire, and other frightening things. I yearned in my mind as I gazed heaven-ward: I hope God kills me now because I don’t think I am going to feel like this tomorrow. I do not want to go to hell and the yearning feeling I have in my heart at this time I believe is going to leave. What that minister provided for me that night felt right–to become a Saint of Christ through the Holy Spirit. I did not feel like I had it with my then level of belief.
At home, I told my mother about my feelings. She forbade me to go to church there afterwards because I went too often and stayed out almost to midnight. I did not argue. I did not want to go back because I knew that there was no reason anymore. My hopes were dashed because I was already a saint according to the preacher.
If what I had was enough to be a saint, it was not worth the trouble I determined.
I started to reflect on my life. I began to disbelieve in God when scandal rattled the local churches.
I tried drinking, and hated it. I tried smoking and did not enjoy it. I tried intimacy but could not find a partner to practice it.
I concluded to myself “Christianity is a joke. Even the preachers of the word do not live it. Jesus Christ is nowhere now. The church is dead.”
I left Christianity.
After I left the faith of my youth, I decided that there was no God. That lasted for maybe a day or two. I needed something to believe in besides science. I then decided that God exists, but no one could prove it. Yeah, that is what I decided to think for some time.
That soon was not enough either. I desperately needed something to believe in! I heard about the Nation of Islam. I loved the way those guys dressed and they stood for something. I did not see any Muslims betraying their faith. Actually, I saw no Muslims because there were none in my small Georgia town of Nashville!
I stared claiming to be a Muslim and trying to find out information about their belief system. As misguided as my attempts were at the time, I had a purpose again. I did not have to be like the Christians, fake. I took a trip to the school library to research Moors of Northern Africa. I wanted to find out as much as I could about being a Muslim, a Black Muslim in particular.
I searched along the shelf and found a few books but one stood out. It was sky blue with clouds all over with a golden man blowing a horn on the cover. I thought that was interesting. I pulled the book off the shelf and the letters announced The Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon Converted Me to Jesus Christ
As I read on, I saw that those people testified of Jesus as The Savior. I read on and was convinced again that only through Jesus I could be saved. I learned that I could stand as a witness of Him no matter what others did. I was being persuaded to believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world!
The book came due at the library, but I keep it and read on. The most poignant chapter that stood out to me highlighted my error in abandoning Jesus Christ in the first place. Mormon Chapter 9 was written for me! The following verses resonated in my heart:
1 And now, I speak also concerning those who do not believe in Christ.
2 Behold, will ye believe in the day of your visitation—behold, when the Lord shall come, yea, even that great day when the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, yea, in that great day when ye shall be brought to stand before the Lamb of God—then will ye say that there is no God?
3 Then will ye longer deny the Christ, or can ye behold the Lamb of God? Do ye suppose that ye shall dwell with him under a consciousness of your guilt? Do ye suppose that ye could be happy to dwell with that holy Being, when your souls are racked with a consciousness of guilt that ye have ever abused his laws?
4 Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell.
After reading that, I shouted for joy, literally, because I knew it was true. I knew I had made the right choice to become a Christian again! I would not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ anymore. I numbered myself with the believers again after my brief sojourn in the land of Agnostics.
Actually, I did not find it. It found me. I was a clueless child. After I became a Christian, I started hanging around my cousin Skeeter. Skeeter was the coolest kid in our high school and I wanted to be just like he was. He went to this weird church and invited me to go to a dance with him there.
I initially declined. The last thing I wanted to do was go and dance to some gospel music. I mean, I knew I was a Christian again, but that was just too much. He laughed and said that normal music would be playing. He also told me we would be going with White people.
I stared at him blankly as if he told me he had murder his parents. I had lived long enough to know that White people and Black people did not go to the same church! He cajoled me with the promise of a good time and assured me it would be cool. Cool is such an ambiguous word. I just pictured some of those old movies I had seen where the Black people were made to sit in the back upper level of the church. I trusted my cousin though.
I asked him if there would be Black girls there for me to dance with. He avoided the question. I went anyway and had a good time. I did not get to sit because the girls there asked me to dance! White girls!
I had been taught by my third grade teacher that Blacks and Whites did not go together! She was apparently wrong! I enjoyed it and wanted to go back. My first time at a Mormon church and I did not know it! I did not know Skeeter was a Mormon. I did not know the name of his church. It never came up! You would think I would have seen a sign, or heard someone say, “We’re Mormons.” Nope! Not me. I was too busy have real fun to see what was in front of my face.
Skeeter said that I had to go to regular church next time. He told me that I could not go to his church for the girls. It wasn’t necessarily the girls I was looking for, but the strange and peaceful feeling I had from being at his church. I could not articulate it at the time, however. He told me he would send some missionaries to my house. So, I waited. And I waited until I finally marched myself over to Skeeter’s house and demanded he send the missionaries as he promised. He gave me their number and told me to call them myself. I did. They never showed up and my family moved to a different location in the city.
I stopped harassing Skeeter after that. I went on living my life as an independent Christian going to whatever church, Black church, that suited my fancy. I eventually returned the Book of Mormon to its rightful place.
I started noticing this Christian foundation that aired commercials about families and the Book of Mormon. I assumed it was a foundation because it had a long name. The commercials made me feel good about being a Christian.I felt so happy that I decided to believe in Christ again and have something in common with other Christians.
I saw a documentary about the Greek Church that spooked me. I recall that it, the Greek church, did things a little differently from the Catholic Church. I considered gong to the Catholic Church since it was the most well known and the largest Christian denomination. What spooked me was the way the priest executed the sign of the cross.
The commentator said that fewer and fewer people did it with three fingers instead of two. I know that is a silly thing to get bothered about, but my concern was something else–deeper. The commentator asked what if the three-fingered cross goes away. Would we be losing the true method of performing the Cross? Could true Christianity just go away with the decline of the Greek Church? I still needed more and did not know where to find more!
My concern was what if the true Christian church went away and I could never find it? Again, my heart felt troubled. I started wondering where were our prophets. Mohammad was not a prophet because he did not preach Jesus. Where are the Apostles of our day? The Book of Mormon taught that God is the same today as he was yesterday and will forever be the same! Where was my prophet!
I sat pondering this question one day, even expressing my concern with my parents. I heard a knock at the door. My mother and stepfather saw who had come a-knocking and hurried to their bedroom with instructions for me to tell the people at the door to leave.
I left my bedroom, I approached the door and opened it to two well dressed White men. They were smiling and appeared to my 15-year-old self really big and old–old to be riding the bikes I gathered they pitched up on! They introduced themselves and asked to come in. I politely allowed them to the consternation of my parents who stayed hidden in the bedroom.
I could not say no. Though these men were physically imposing to my 15-year-old self, it was not their intimidating size that made me say yes to their request to come into my home. Something about them made me trust them, even though they were White. (Well, they still are White.) I could see it in their eyes. I immediately learned from them that the foundation that advertised on TV was not a foundation but a church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I laughed at how long was the name of the church. They smiled in response. I thought the guys both had the same name of Elder until they explained to me it was their title.
I asked of them before they started to teach me anything, “Do y’all have crosses on yawl church? I don’t believe in using crosses ’cause that is what killed Jesus. You might as well tell me now.”
They looked at each other and revealed that they did not have crosses on their church and commenced teaching about God the Father and Jesus Christ.
I wanted them to leave! They started teaching about God and Jesus Christ. I already knew all of that stuff! I knew we were all children of God and that Jesus was my Savior. See, in 1992, when all of this went down, the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent its missionaries out with 6 discussions used to present the church teachings to people who they called investigators. In the first discussion, the missionaries taught about God and Jesus among other things.
I just did not want to hear anything about what I already knew. I exhibited all the social queues hoping they would take a hint and pack-up. I did not want to be rude. I could not force them out. So I sat waiting for the right time to kill the discussion. Right about the time I was about to end it, one of the missionaries mentioned prophets. An alarm went off in my soul and my whole spirit listened!
It was as if a choir started singing and was approaching the loudest part of the crescendo–right before the ending hallelujah! No one existed but those two men in my life from that point on as they opened the bible to share Amos 3:7
Surely the Lord God will do nothing, abut he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.
As they spoke, my soul vibrated with excitement. I knew they were about to tell me we have a prophet!I knew that if they told me that, I would believe them. I would do whatever they wanted me to do if they told me about a living prophet!
Then they told me about Joseph Smith, a White man. I actually did not care any more about his skin. They told me he was a 14-year-old boy seeking for truth about what church to join.
My heart leaped! He was just like me, save I was 15 years old. Then came the part that caused all time to stand still and my soul left my body because my heart learned what it felt all along was true.
I never thought that God and Jesus were the same person, but there was some creed that a Christian was supposed to believe that God was this unknowable being–unapproachable. Muslims also taught that God was unapproachable, so I never felt a need to approach Him like that. They read the account of Joseph Smith, Jr., who went into the woods to pray for the first time vocally. I had never prayed, really prayed before. This boy Joseph did right to pray. In James 1:5-6 it reads:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
In answer to his prayer, God the father and Jesus Christ appeared to him.Two people appeared not one with two bodies! I could not speak. I knew it was true from the moment it left their lips.My body felt a thick gentle heat that consumed me with love and pure understanding. My ears grew warm and my mind was experiencing the vision with Joseph! I was alive as never before! My mind had transcended time and eternity for a few moments of bliss before one of the missionaries called me from my spiritual high. God visited a mere boy like me in answer to his prayer! God really revealed Himself!
At that moment, one missionary asked me to be baptized. I immediately said yes. I would have done or believed anything they said at that point. I knew they were true messengers of God. They talked about the Book of Mormon and were surprised that I was already familiar with it. My missionary called me a Golden Investigator.
My missionary (that is what I called the one who eventually baptized me) told me not to believe it because he said it.
I asked him, “Don’t you want me to join your church? I know it is true what you say. I believe all your words.”
He said, “Ask God to let you know personally without us here.”
All of my life I was told “believe it or go to hell.” Never did anyone ask me to pray to God and ask for myself.
I did not even know I could do that! I did not know I could pray. I loved these men! I could actually talk TO GOD!? HE IS Approachable. I could go to Him myself!
I could have gathered that from the scripture they shared in James or the testimony of Joseph Smith Junior. To actually hear it was both frightening and blissful!
They told me to ask God if he is really there and if what they told me was true. I knew it, but I promised that I would. I say I knew it, but I should say I felt that it was true because the elements of my body would have flown apart at the mere suggestion that what these Men of God had delivered to me was anything but truth!
I felt the truth of it and believed it with my whole heart. That was not enough for these good news bringers; so, it would not be enough for me. After they left, I went to my room and knelt in the middle of the floor. I had never really prayed before about anything.
I believed in God surely. I prayed, but I never really talked to God. My prayers before the missionaries came were more like wishing and hoping that God would hear and answer and rote prayers. I was taught He was not approachable; that He had no passion or parts or substance yet He was everything–a tree, a book, name it. Now I believed He had ears to listen if nothing else!
Instead of believing, I would know. I asked God in all sincerity of heart if He was there. The most peaceful feeling surrounded me as if hugging me as the word “YES” filling my heart and mind with knowledge and power. The tears came easily. I do not remember what I did, but I remember how I felt.
For the first time God had spoken to me and I heard Him. It changed my life. Never would I deny His existence again. I was just a 15-year-old boy who did not know how to pray, but He still answered me!
I felt brotherhood with Joseph Smith Junior who only sought to know which church to join. Like Joseph, God visited me. I saw no people appear as Joseph did, but I felt God’s presence through the Holy Spirit.
I then asked Him was my decision to continue with the elders and with my baptism a good choice. I received a warm feeling to continue. I was born again March 29, 1992. My missionary, Elder Russell Sheridan did the honor of immersing me in the waters.
I joined The Church of Jesus Christ because I had found where I could be a Christian and never doubt because I could ask my Father in Heaven without going to a preacher. I could know that He hears and answers me.
People tell me because I believe in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ that I don’t believe in Jesus Christ. I say to that, I am a follower of Jesus. I know that He is my Savior and my only way back to my Father above. He suffered for the sins of the world and saved all humanity from death. I know that He rose from the grave and appeared to many. He also appeared after His resurrection to the saints in America in 34 AD as is recorded in the Book of Mormon. Jesus also appeared to Joseph Smith Junior and Sidney Rigdon on February 16, 1832. I also know that dozens of men testify as apostles of Jesus Christ that He lives (see here).
I add my witness that Jesus lives and I know and love Him. If you don’t think I am a Christian that’s fine. I Know that I am a Christian, because I found Him and will keep Him and follow Him.
Russell and me at the MTC before my mission.