By Jon M. Taylor
Before my mission, I had many questions about the Church even though I had attended seminary and read all four of the standard works. Then while attending our local university, I studied philosophy from a professor who loved to make fun of religion. Also, my anthropology teacher was big on evolution, and I went to his lab to see the skulls of ancient apes from which we had supposedly descended. What I had learned in seminary and in the scriptures certainly did not square with what I was learning at the university.
My faith in God and the Church was shattered. I confided this to a woman in the ward who I trusted. She wisely urged me to continue my search for the truth and not just accept what I was learning at the university.
So I made a study of world religions, especially the major Christian denominations – and compared them with our church doctrine for doctrine. I even organized a group of friends to visit other churches to see what they believed and how they worshipped. When I accepted a call to serve a mission, I did not yet have a testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the only true church. But in my opinion, none were better. I still had to study and pray a lot on my mission to gain a more spiritual witness.
My first assignment was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For some reason, we encountered several ministers and Jesuit priests in training. We discussed our differences, and I was well prepared because of my study of different religions. But arguing points of doctrine did not make converts. As time went on, I became more dependent on the Spirit and experienced the joy of teaching and baptizing some wonderful converts.
However, all during my mission, I had a fantasy that kept coming back to me. That was to preach to a whole group of ministers – and to invite them to involve the members of their congregations to study the restored gospel with them. Why not? My great-grandfather, John Taylor, and other early missionaries preached to whole congregations and saw thousands come into the Church.
The opportunity to fulfill my dream came towards the end of my mission. While in Waterloo, Iowa, we were invited to speak at a luncheon of the Waterloo Ministerial Association, made up of over 100 ministers in Northern Iowa. They wanted us to explain why we were proselyting members of their congregation – since they were already Christians.
I was so excited for this wonderful opportunity that I studied night and day for three days before the appointed gathering. I prepared an airtight sermon from their own Bible to prove that there would be a general apostasy from the truth and eventually a restoration of the fullness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ by heavenly messengers, including the coming forth of the Book of Mormon – as prophesied. I would give chapter and verse to support each point.
When I awoke the morning of the meeting, I thought “Oh good, today is the day!” But when my companion, Elder Peterson, saw me, he said, “Elder Taylor, maybe you should look in the mirror.”
“Why,” I asked. “What’s wrong?”
He told me, “Just look in the mirror.”
I did – and saw bright red spots all over my face and hands. I had come down with the measles!
What to do? I thought of going anyway, but the spots were too obvious. And I didn’t think I could send my companion, as he had come from a farm in Central Utah only three months before, had no college, and knew little about other religions. I was sure they would make mincemeat of him.
So as district supervisor, I called another elder who was nearing the end of his mission and could probably handle the situation. I stayed back at the apartment with his companion, who had just recently arrived in our mission. So the senior elder went with my companion.
A couple of hours later they returned, excited and eager to tell of their experience. “What happened,” I asked.
This is what happened. The luncheon was to be followed by the missionaries addressing the group of ministers, and then there would be a question and answer period.
After lunch, the senior elder stood and told the story of the First Vision, the appearance of Moroni, and the miraculous translation of the golden plates. He then spoke of the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood by John the Baptist and of the Melchizedek priesthood by Peter, James and John. He spoke of the sealing power restored to earth that makes it possible for couples and families to be sealed together forever in his holy temples. He then bore his testimony and sat down.
Then my companion – the youngest and least educated person in the room – stood. As I recall from their account, this is what he said to the ministers:
“Ladies and gentlemen, you have heard what my companion had to say. Now let’s look squarely at the facts. Either a 14-year-old farm boy named Joseph Smith, saw and talked with God the Father and his son Jesus Christ in a grove of trees in upper New York state in 1820, or he did not.
“Either the Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph in 1823 and revealed the hiding place of the golden plates and provided a miraculous means for translate them into the Book of Mormon, or that didn’t happen. The same is true for the ordinations of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to the Aaronic priesthood by John the Baptist and to the Melchidezek priesthood by Peter, James, and John – either it happened or it did not.
“And either this is the true church of Jesus Christ – the greatest truth since the mission of Jesus Christ himself – or it is all a lie. And I challenge each of you to learn more about the Church, to read and study the Book of Mormon and pray directly to God to know if it is true – as I know it is true. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
And he sat down.
Silence. . . Just continued silence. Not one of those hundred ministers spoke – or raised a question. What was left to be said after such a simple, but powerful, testimony?
Finally, the leader of the group stood and dismissed the meeting and everyone went home.
At first, I felt cheated at missing the opportunity to give my great speech to those ministers. Then I realized that this experience was as much for me as for them. I was humbled, especially as I felt prompted to read from a revelation from the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamities which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
“And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets –
“The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh –
“That the fullness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.” (Doctrine & Covenants 1:17-19,23)
My measles was one of the great miracles of my mission.