My spiritual development
Before my conversion
I had a wonderful, peaceful, and happy childhood, with great, kind, caring, self-sacrificing, but non-religious parents. My grandparents on one side were Roman Catholics and on the other side were Calvinists. My parents, who were atheists, considered it important during my upbringing to teach me about different religions, philosophies, and cultures of the world, therefore they took me to different kinds of temples and worship ceremonies and gave me a wide variety of scriptures, religious history, and popular science books.
The idea of an immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient, but unknowable and ever unreachable God, who exists outside of this universe, as taught by “mainstream” Christianity, Judaism and Islam, was unintelligible to me. I saw no reason to assume the existence of such a God, since it did not explain the meaning of either divine or human existence and predicted a very hopeless, meaningless future, a world where human efforts were useless.
However, in certain biblical descriptions (e.g. Exod 19: 16-20, 24: 9-11, 33: 18-23, 34: 28-35, Ezekiel 1: 4-28, 3: 12-15, 10: 9-22, 2 Kings 2:11) very realistic events are reported which refer to real encounters with highly advanced celestial beings.
Ever since I can remember I have always wanted to be a biologist. I have been mainly interested in global ecological issues, tropical flora and fauna, and climate change, but I really like history, philosophy, literature and art as well. As an ecologist working on problems in the field of tropical soil zoology, sustainability and global quantitative ecology, I had the chance to travel to tropical areas of Africa, South America, South-East Asia and Australia. During my research in the tropical rainforests I realized the wonderful organization and efficiency of ecosystems, in which I saw God’s face.
Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:
Romans 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.
My way to conversion
Returning home from my Australian expedition I met the full-time missionaries. The sisters organised free English lessons in a meetinghouse that proved to be very useful. After the lessons I stayed there to discuss God and the restored gospel. They were very kind, highly educated, and they knew the scriptures very well. It soon became clear to me, that the nonsensical theology that I formerly got to know is the consequence of the Great Apostasy. I clearly understood that it was not the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, but only a product of Emperor Constantine’s political genius.
I understood that we really are children of our heavenly parents, and that they did not want to end the relationship with us, but it was we who turned away from them. Communication through revelations and prophets is an essential characteristic of God, and the disconnection is not a divine intention, but a human error.
Amos 3:7 Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.
Through the teaching of the sisters, some Bible references that are emphasized both in the Old and New Testaments that I previously found incomprehensible became clear to me. (Ps. 82:6 and Jn. 10:34-36, or Ps. 45:7 and Heb 1:8 -9). The sisters called my attention also to the fact that 1 Cor.15:29 is completely incomprehensible without the light of the restored gospel and knowledge about the work in Holy Temples.
For a long time, however, I viewed the Book of Mormon with suspicion and distrust, because it seemed like a fairy tale, and I found almost nothing in it of all of the clear teachings that the sisters talked about. I identified the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price as true scriptures from God much sooner than the Book of Mormon. As a biologist I found a number of things in the Book of Mormon that at first sight appeared inaccuracies, but these did not really bother me because I clearly understood and highly appreciated the last sentence of the Book of Mormon’s preface:
And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.
The scriptures are inspired by a perfect God, and they carry a perfect divine message (kerygma), but this message has been put into human words by a nonperfect yet righteous man, who is under natural human limitations.
The first change in my relationship to the Book of Mormon was when I read a secular study about the ancient Qumran rolls. It turned out that a unique ancient object was found on this archaeological site after 1945, which neither the scientists nor the theologians had expected before. It was a brass (copper) roll—i.e., a document whose material is not papyrus, parchment, tile, stone or paper, but a metal plate. No one had ever found or presumed the existence of such a thing before; it was only mentioned in the Book of Mormon, which had been brought to light already in 1830 by the prophet Joseph Smith, as firstly mentioned in 1 Nephi 3:3:
For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.
The truth struck me with great force that the real Church of Christ has to be led by such prophets and apostles who are called by Him. It was also logical that if one of them steps through the veil, he should be replaced with a new one by the power of God, as is also indicated in the Book of Acts (Acts 1:26). It is obvious that without priesthood authority nobody would be able to act on behalf of the Lord.
I was glad when I found out that there are no paid clergy in the Church, as it is well known that the bribed witness is not credible, neither would be accepted by any serious court. It has strengthened my testimony, when I read that the people who serve in the Quorum of Twelve Apostles had civil professions formerly and did that with great success and public recognition (e.g. one of them was a well-known heart surgeon and medical scientist, another was a pilot and a leader of a big airline company, a third one was a nuclear engineer), and they were full-tithe payers all their lives and served in several church callings for decades without payment. Therefore, they did not need the help of the Church to become important figures, but they had already been significant and successful personalities who served voluntarily and joyfully in the Church of Christ. Obviously, they are not bribed witnesses, but excellent, honest men who sincerely believe in the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Before my decision about baptism I collected all the available resources that were written by the opponents of the Church and the restored gospel and I carefully studied them based on the ancient Roman principle of “Audi alteram partem” (“let the other side be heard as well”). This work has enabled me more than anything else to freely stand up for the restored gospel truths.
However, I only received the solid testimony which is required for baptism when I understood that anyone may request a personal revelation from God (if he or she does not feel wise enough in a certain question), and “…God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5)
I prayed and by the power of the Holy Spirit I gained a strong testimony that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and that the restoration has truly happened, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by a true prophet and apostles, and the holy scriptures (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the teachings of living prophets) really contain messages from God.
Just before my baptism I was still worried about the principle of tithing, because as an Assistant Professor I had a very small salary, and I wanted to continue helping my parents, as well. I prayed and I decided to be baptized and to be a full-tithe payer. This was in December. A few days after my decision I was informed by the university’s management that a new academic research group was being formed and that from next January I would be appointed as Senior Research Fellow; therefore, my salary would be even higher after the deduction of the tithe than it was before.
1Nephi 3:7 …the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
First steps as a confirmed member of the Church
After my baptism I was soon called to serve as the ward Sunday School president, which was a great way to learn, because those who teach learn the most, and the president of the Sunday School needs to be prepared to teach any class any time, as he never really knows where a replacement will be needed. After this calling, for five years I was a member of the stake high council and I served as a teacher at CES Institute, where I taught the wonderful “Church History In The Fulness Of Times” curriculum. When one has an overview of the historical context and transformations of the organizations and programs, it is the most powerful opportunity to get testimony about the revealed way of everyday functioning of the Church.
In the sixth year of my membership, I was called to be the bishop of our ward and, almost at the same time, to serve with my wife as a temple ordinance worker at the Freiberg Germany Temple. I felt that the purpose of all my former callings was to prepare me for this period. The bishop’s office provides a unique opportunity to acquire life experiences and, serving as a temple ordinance worker, I felt that I could peek a little bit into the celestial kingdom where Christ will personally lead us.
It was a great pleasure to me that as a “church member missionary” I could bring the message of the restoration firstly to my parents, my sister, and her children, and later I had the opportunity to baptize them. It was also a special experience to serve together with my father as a stake high councilor and later as a member of the same bishopric, while my mom served in the stake Young Women presidency and my sister later became the first counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency. My wife and I met in a church summer camp; she had been baptized in the early days, before the first stake was formed in Hungary, so she could tell me a lot about those early days of the Church in Hungary. I am happy that the church has gone through such a huge development in the last twenty years in my home country.
The testimony that one can obtain through church service over the years is inexpressibly more powerful than the one felt at the time of baptism. Still, the experience of baptism accompanies one through their entire life.
Nowadays, in university’s auditorium
It is a well-known phenomenon in the Church that our own testimony is strengthened when we share it with others, and, similarly, our evangelical knowledge often develops by teaching others.
At the university where I work, I have a course on global issues, climate change, social inequalities, and the sustainable lifestyle that responds to them. As part of the course, I always mention related statements and programs of various religious organizations (Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, adherents of Krishna Consciousness, Buddhists, etc.). As some of my students know which church I belong to, recently one of them asked the question as to what Mormons are doing to create a sustainable society? Suddenly the thoughts began to flow in my mind, so I answered in more detail than I usually would. First, Mormons offer more than 10% of their income voluntarily for their community, for charity, and humanitarian purposes; if all people did that, then a significant part of our social problems would be solved. This is essentially a global voluntary public taxation that requests more burden in proportion from the richer and supports the poor in various ways. The Church’s General Education Fund and the BYU Pathway program can be a huge help for many to overcome the personal disadvantages deriving from global issues, among other things, and to gain a chance for a successful life. Furthermore, we Latter-day Saints do not smoke, and we do not drink alcohol or hot drinks (coffee, tea), either. At present, 124 countries of the world produce tobacco on a total of 4.3 million hectares. If no one smoked, then we could install climate-protection forests on this vast area and create other natural habitats that could significantly reduce the effects of climate change, environmental pollution, and damage to nature—and we have not talked about the losses and expenditures of society that have to do with the health-damaging effects of smoking. In addition to tobacco, we produce sugar cane, grain, and grapes, which are grown in huge areas and which are used for the production of alcoholic beverages and not for food purposes. If all gave up alcohol, following the Mormon example, no one would have to starve anywhere in the world and the world would be more peaceful and safe in many other respects.
God does not give us commandments to restrict our free will or to reduce our joys, but on the contrary, these are counsels and guidance that can help us avoid a series of misfortunes and lead a happier, more successful life. If we obey the commandments, even without a special extraordinary Divine intervention, it will, by itself, bring blessings to our lives.
Levente Hufnagel is an associate professor of ecology, environmental science, and biometrics at Szent István University (Gödöllő, Hungary), and Head of the Laboratory of Biometrics and Quantitative Ecology. He studied at Eötvös Lorand University, Corvinus University of Budapest, and Szent Istvan University, receiving combined BSc-MSc (biology, ecology and evolutionary biology), PhD (agricultural science), PhD (freshwater ecology), Dr. Habil (agricultural technology), and two additional Postgraduate degrees (first, food safety engineer specialist and, second, translator in agricultural and natural science). He has more than 140 scientific publications, more than 500 independent citations, and more than ten years of experience as a forensic expert in ecology and conservation biology. He is the Editor-in-Chief of an international scientific journal, Applied Ecology and Environmental Research, and is a visiting lecturer at the KAZNAU University, Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Levente Hufnagel is happily married to his wife Réka Homoródi. In the church he has served as a ward and stake Sunday School president, institute teacher, temple ordinance worker, stake high councilor and bishop.
Posted September 2018