The first thing I have to admit is that writing a testimony for me is like stepping on sacred ground that has been kept in a very sacred place in my heart. So when I started wondering how to express the testimony that I gained about my Savior, Jesus Christ, through so many years of prayers, trials, and wonderful spiritual experiences, I understood it has been a very long process, of which the foundations were laid many years before I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The first thing that comes to my mind is that I did not know how to pray expressing my own feelings. I was raised in a very traditional Catholic home, in the industrial city of Santo André in Brazil, and the only form of prayer I had learned was the Hail Mary and the Lord’s Prayer, repeated at home and in regular church meetings. But my parents always taught us two important values: the value of knowing that there is a living Father in Heaven who listens to our prayers, and the value of education. So my first question was how could God answer a prayer that was just a daily repetition? How could we express intelligently our feelings to Him? After considering my prayers’ restrictions, my second concern was about how to be educated and at the same time keep the faith in things that I did not know and that, many times, we were not even allowed to talk about. The two values learned at home took me to make my own decision to look for a religion that could fulfill my spiritual needs and teach me not just the answers to my existential questions, but also the way to communicate with my Father in Heaven. Deep in my heart I felt that “the glory of God is intelligence,”1 but somehow I could not reconcile religion and secular knowledge.
Being of a young age, I did not put a lot of thought into these questions, believing that time would take care of them—until one day when I found a magazine in my parents’ library, something called The New Era, dated 1966. I had never seen such a publication and my English reading knowledge was not enough to understand what it was about. For some unknown reason, I did not ask for my parents’ help in translating its content. All I knew was that some missionaries from the “American Church” had brought it to my family once, with the promise that they would come back to teach our family about their church. But they never came back. I found inside the magazine some interesting pictures of a campus. I had no idea where or what it was, but I immediately knew that, one day, I wanted to go there. This was around 1975; I cut the pictures out, taped them in my closet door, and set a goal to find out where such a magnificent place was. I was familiar with several other similar university grounds, but this one had something different that attracted me. For years these pictures haunted me, and my interest, or maybe curiosity, kept increasing. It was in 1977 that some missionaries from the “American Church” knocked again on our door and talked to my parents. One more time, they promised to come back, but again, they never did. Until one day, a friend from São Paulo invited me to visit her and to go to hear and see the prophet and apostles from her church. At that time, to go from my hometown to São Paulo meant something like two hours in a very crowded commuter bus. I got the permission to go from my mom and I took the bus to meet my friend. When I got there, instead of a man with a long beard wearing a long mantle and holding a long staff, I saw the friendly and calm face of an old man in a very nice suit, soft-talking and acting as if he knew each person in the audience. On this same occasion, I met the two missionaries who had talked to my parents a few weeks before, but this time I made sure that they would come back to answer all the questions I had had for such a long time.
It took me four months to receive the lessons from the missionaries and change my life forever. Meanwhile I learned about Brigham Young University, the place in the mysterious pictures that I had had in my room for years. More than solving a puzzle, I felt a peace in my heart telling me that I had finally found a purpose in life through a living religion that could combine faith and education, a religion that could teach me about prayer, about a Father that does listen to our prayers, and a religion that could value treasures not from this world. At that time, I did not measure the consequences of my decisions. But, today, I can certainly see and understand the long and straight path I took, covered by unforgettable events and many tears.
Because I was the only member of my family to join the Church at that point, one of the greatest challenges I faced throughout my conversion was getting other people surrounding me to accept and understand Joseph Smith’s sacred mission in restoring the gospel. Because our family valued education so much, we were always surrounded by books, scholars, and lectures that would enhance our intellect and worldly knowledge. So it was natural always to be questioned on many aspects of Mormonism by inquiries like, “How can you believe in a man like Joseph Smith?” or “Don’t you know that Mormons are racist?” or even “How can you believe in somebody who says he saw the Father AND the Son?” “How can someone believe that God and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bones?” For many years, all I could do was to put my eyes down and be quiet. Nothing would come from my mouth. I had a testimony in my heart, but I felt I did not have the secular knowledge to rationally give an answer, nor enough courage to express it. As years went by, I learned how to trust in the Spirit more than in the books, and instead of just letting words come out of my mind, my way of living became a vivid testimony for many who knew the struggles I had gone through in life.
However, one of the main aspects of my personal testimony came from Joseph Smith and the lessons he taught us through his faith and example. It was this man who had only a few years of formal education who was chosen by God to restore His Gospel in the later days. Like Moses, who had limited speech skills but was chosen to lead Israel, a man with very limited writing knowledge was chosen to translate a book which became another testimony of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith gave us much more than the Book of Mormon. Through his example, we come to learn that God does answer our prayers when we ask Him in faith. More than that, Joseph Smith never asked us to blindly believe in his words, but, instead, he opened the possibility to all of us to find the answers for ourselves and to know Our Lord Jesus Christ by ourselves. More than that, through Joseph Smith’s example of faith I learned to appreciate even more the education and the awareness my parents gave me, which created in me the desire to search for the Church of Jesus Christ and the roots of the testimony I have today.
After coming to BYU for my master’s and earning my PhD in Portuguese from another prestigious university in the United States, I understood how limited my secular knowledge is. I still have so much to learn and to understand about language, literature, poetry, people, history, and the things related to my field of research. But despite my professional achievements and schooling I also understand how little we are and how limited is our knowledge of eternal matters. I still have so much to learn about my Savior and I truly believe that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”2 Each day for me is a living proof of the Lord’s love for me, and it is my honor to be a witness of his love for us in these latter days.
1 Doctrine and Covenants 93:36
2 John 3:16
Vanessa C. Fitzgibbon is a Brazilian native who has lived in the US for the past nineteen years. She is an Assistant Professor of Portuguese at Brigham Young University-Provo. She received her master’s degree in Luso-Brazilian Literature from Brigham Young University and her PhD in Portuguese from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her main area of research is contemporary Brazilian literature and film, with emphasis on racial discrimination and resentment in the establishment of the Brazilian identity. Some interests also include poetry and theater as well as cultural and historical studies in Brazil and Latin America.
Posted January 2011