As I reflect on my spiritual development and particularly my testimony of the Restored Gospel / Church I feel that many of us have some predisposing tendency in our life and the influence of a loving Father in Heaven that are factors in the matter. In my case, growing up during the Great Depression and the onset of World War Two, my inclination towards spirituality was derived from my mother. She was the first surviving child born in America of an immigrant, convert family. She had a fervent testimony, but ironically, was not active in attending Church meetings (my parents, like many members in the 1930s and 1940s, were only occasionally active in the Church). Nevertheless, at home my mother taught me Bible stories and especially taught me the importance of prayer. When I left for the war in the Pacific with the Japanese at age seventeen, the habit of prayer served me well in having the influence of the Holy Spirit at times of stress, temptation, difficulty, etc.
In the service I became involved with an LDS group of Marines that included an Italian convert, a returned missionary, and other LDS men on our bases near Pearl Harbor. I felt very comfortable with this group. We soon became involved in helping a rather small, defunct LDS branch in an isolated home-stead area at Nanakuli, Oahu. There I experienced rather unique “cottage” meetings, some in the Hawaiian language, and I became involved in various efforts to reactivate lapsed members. I look back on the experience as an “apprenticeship” for a mission.
Later I was also introduced to a group of Japanese converts. This was a special experience, because I had been propagandized, conditioned to have a negative view of our Japanese enemies. However, learning of their conversions and testimonies had a profound effect on my feelings about the gospel, especially in contrast to some “Navy low-life” that was part of my work environment on my Navy airbase. Some of my Japanese acquaintances were “special spirits” who later became mission presidents, temple presidents, and general authorities. I have enjoyed their association all my life. During the above experiences, as my own testimony grew, I determined to become a missionary. I had not been raised to think in such terms. For me, after a special mission I was never the same in testimony and commitment to the Gospel.
My experience has inclined me to believe that testimonies may come: 1) As a sudden revelation of the Spirit; 2) As the result of a process of living certain gospel principles over a period of time. I have experienced both. For me the first type of testimony came as I was reading the Book of Mormon down in the hold of a Navy ship in the Pacific Ocean. As I was reading the sacred record such an intense feeling overcame me that I could not continue to read. I went up and walked around on the deck of the ship. The second process, according to my experience, was that a strong testimony came over an extended period of time by living the principles of the Gospel. Jesus explained: “If a man will do his will, he shall know the doctrine, whether it is of God.” (John 7:17).
Furthermore, it is my experience that testimonies grow and change. My testimony matured and became more firm as I served a mission among the Japanese, our former enemies. This included the experience of going “without purse or scrip” multiple times, once for as long as three months, depending entirely on Japanese families in the countryside for food and a place to sleep. Later, during two missions in the Republic of China (Taiwan), as a Mission President and a Temple President among a special people, my testimony matured. Again, during a period in the People’s Republic of China (1991-1999), commissioned by Elder Neal Maxwell, I taught religion to classes of Communist Party members. They were prospective officials to coordinate religious affairs in China. This was a special experience at the Central University of Nationalities in Beijing.
During my experience among the Chinese, I observed at first hand how the Restored Gospel affects people’s lives. One special case was that of my counselor, a former Chinese Catholic priest of some twenty-three years and a convert who eventually became an LDS temple president in the Republic of China (Taiwan). I add that my testimony was also influenced by at least two experiences in which my life was miraculously spared. One was quite recent—my life was saved from an advanced case of cancer, this by a priesthood blessing of my neighbor, a former mission president in Belgium. Also important were prayers at the altars of the temple and those of my family.
In an earlier situation, as I was preparing for my first mission, my life was spared from certain death as a large wooden spear was forced into the cabin of a truck I was driving loaded with war surplus. I was prompted in a split second to turn my body and the spear came so close that it tore my shirt as it penetrated the cab of the truck but missed my body.
Paul V. Hyer (Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley), professor emeritus of history at Brigham Young University (BYU) and executive director of the International Society, has been a prominent Asian specialist for over fifty years. Focusing on modern Chinese history, he has published numerous articles and books, taught at major universities, traveled extensively throughout Asia, and resided in Asian countries for over twenty years. As a professor he taught and conducted research in five major Chinese Universities. He was the first Asian Studies professor at BYU, establishing courses and lecturing in Asian History. Over the years, he was active in various academic associations, such as the Mongolia Society and the Association of Asian Studies (AAS). In 1960, he organized the Asian Studies Program at BYU and he has been involved in training two generations of Asian specialists. Dr. Hyer served as president of the LDS mission in Taipei, Republic of China (Taiwan), from 1982-1985 and as president of the LDS Taipei Temple from 1988-1990, and has been involved in many special projects in Taiwan, Mongolia, and the People’s Republic of China. He served an LDS Church Japanese mission in Hawaii after he returned from Pacific Theater naval service in World War II. His major research emphasis and over eighty-five journal articles have been concerned with the China borderlands of Mongolia and Tibet. He is fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese. All three of his sons served Asian missions; one, Eric Hyer, is professor of Chinese politics at BYU.
Posted April 2011