The day of my baptism was a day of opposition. On the one hand, I was thrilled to show Heavenly Father my complete commitment to the church I had been looking for all my life. But that excitement was threatened by a persuasive atheist, not two hours after the sacred event took place. Can you imagine a more mixed set of emotions? Like a lamb before a hungry wolf, I was no match for his logic, his whit, and his persuasion. But I had something he did not—the gift of the Holy Ghost—which proved to be a protection I will never forget, nor can I deny.
My husband and I were living in Japan when I met the missionaries. I had a great testimony of Christ from my childhood upbringing. I had been searching for more truth about Him ever since I was a child and especially now being a new bride with a stepson to raise. I knew a little about the Book of Mormon and Christ visiting the American continent from a friend in high school who was a member of a splinter group of the Latter-day Saints, but I had never heard the full story of the restoration. When the missionaries came to our apartment in Japan, their message filled in all the questions I had had since childhood. I was happy to set a baptismal date. But an atheist who was my husband’s friend had planned to vacation with us the very week of my baptism. I wanted my husband to be present but I didn’t want his friend’s spirit to disrupt the most wonderful time of my life. So our guest did not attend, but he was waiting for us when we returned home.
That night he and I had a one-sided conversation on religion. He dominated the discussion, telling me about his falling away from God, his disillusionment with religion, his disdain for doctrine of any kind, and his enlightenment at the realization of atheism. He was a smooth talker, the kind of man I would imagine Korihor to be (an anti-Christ character in the book of Mormon.) I was not equipped to have a Bible-bashing type debate. I knew the church was true, I knew my decision was right, but I had a young and tender testimony. I didn’t know where to find the scriptural references to back up my decisions. I’m not a verbose person. I’m more apt to contemplate things deeply and I was taught as a child to quietly respect your elders. So I sat there and listened, praying all the while to remember the feelings I knew were true and to simply get through the night so I could call the missionaries the next day and have them help me get over the ugly feelings I was having during this conversation.
After about three hours of listening to his biased debate, a thought came to my mind. I felt a sense of confidence buoy it up, so I took a chance and let it out. “If you’re right and there is no God, then when we die, we’ll never know. But if I’m right, when you die, an angel will meet you on the other side. He’ll introduce himself as the angel Moroni and he will welcome you to “Phase Three” of your life, where you’ll learn all the lessons of the gospel that you didn’t have the opportunity to learn during “Phase Two”.” The atheist finally stopped talking. A gleam reflected in his eyes and a smile broadened his face. He stared back at me in silence for what seemed like an eternity, and then he asked, “Is that what you believe?”
My atheist friend had never heard of the plan of salvation. He had rejected his religious upbringing—doctrine that focused on Christ but had lost plain and precious truths like the plan of salvation. He had never thought of an afterlife with a purpose, where those who did not have a chance to hear or accept the gospel would be given that chance. He had clouded his mind with the image of a cruel God, merciless to those who would not subject themselves to his will, quick to punish with an eternal wrath. The plan of salvation was a startling new idea to him. For the first time he learned how it maps out a loving step-by-step guide of mankind’s progression beginning with a pre-earth life existence, a chance to come to earth to learn and grow, and a post-earth life existence where all of His children will have the opportunity to learn and progress even further. This plan is one of love and acceptance, not hate and exclusion. It offers opportunity to all of mankind, regardless of one’s social, geographical, economic, or political upbringing. The pompous will be made humble and the meek will rise to their level of exaltation—equally loved in the eyes of the Lord. It means even the vilest of sinners can repent and start over if they are willing to listen and to have a change of heart.
I could tell he was intrigued—why wouldn’t he be? All his life he felt death was a dead-end to happiness. If he died unreconciled to God he would be damned, so in order to avoid such a dismal eternity, he decided God did not exist. His alternative was equally dismal, but I suppose it offered him some degree of comfort because it absolved him from responsibility for his actions. But the plan of salvation was an alternative he hadn’t considered before. The light in his eyes was new and fresh, like he had just come up out of a pool of water—invigorated from the cool wetness softening a rough and dry exterior around his heart. Without even knowing it, he was receiving a prompting from the very spirit whose existence he vehemently denied.
The power of the Holy Ghost goes beyond our earthly ability to persuade. We have been taught that the Holy Ghost was sent by Jesus Christ as a Comforter to his followers after he left them. The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead and is vital in testifying of truth—all truth—but especially the truthfulness of God’s eternal plan. He speaks in a still small voice that often comes to us as impressions or thoughts. Training your heart to recognize it can take a lifetime, but it gets easier when we live our lives according to the gospel truths we have been taught. Listening to the promptings from the time I was a young child led me to the fullness of the gospel as an adult. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism allowed me the privilege of His companionship as long as I remain worthy to receive it. Witnessing the spark in the eyes of our atheist guest was a testimony of the workings of the Holy Ghost in another person—bearing witness to truth.
It was twenty-six years ago this weekend when I received baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. I have spent years doing my best to follow the promptings in my everyday life. Some days are better than others, but the promise is still binding—by the power of the Holy Ghost you may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:5.)
I wish I could say this man’s heart changed permanently that day. In reality, he was too set in his ways to explore further. I had my own struggles, being a new and tender branch of this discipleship, in need of protecting my own growth from the elements of doubt and scorn. But what was born witness to me that day was truly unforgettable—the Holy Spirit whispered a truth to me that I was able to convey in a way that made sense to our guest. And while it was not enough to change an atheist’s heart overnight, it was enough to strengthen my own testimony at a time when I needed it—perhaps more than he—for it made clear to me my relationship with God, His love for me as His daughter, and the true and undeniable pathway to my heavenly home.
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.