There was a time in my life when I was touched by love and the light of Christ. My life has since changed forever.
I know how it is to live without the gospel. I lived that way for thirty years. I was born in Russia of goodly parents. They gave me tender love and care and an opportunity to have a good education. They did their best for me to be happy. For most of my life, I lived in Siberia. When I grew up, I got married and gave birth to a lovely baby girl. Soon I successfully graduated from the university and got a job I really liked. And yet, regardless of everything, I was far from being happy.
From the beginning, my marriage did not seem to work and gradually fell apart. Economic situations in Russia were getting worse every day. I was hardly able to provide simple food for my daughter and me. I sinned. I made one wrong choice after another. Hunger, depression, and poor decisions made my life miserable. I was blaming bad fortune, not realizing that in many ways I was suffering the natural consequences of my sins. But how could I know that? Sin did not exist according to what I had been taught. Let me explain.
Religion in Russia was prohibited after the Communist Revolution in 1917.10 I was taught from kindergarten that there is no such thing as God and that only the Communist Party and Grandpa Lenin could bring happiness to the Russian people.11 Religious people were badly persecuted in our society. Believers lost their jobs, were not allowed to go to school, and were labeled “crazy.”12 Everybody was required to take atheism classes at the university, where we proved that God does not exist. Although over time socialism in our country collapsed, and communist ideology proved to be not viable, atheism still lived in people’s minds. It had deep roots in my mind also. I just did not think of God. Yet I felt pain in my heart about my poor choices. Later I would learn that the pain I felt was the Light of Christ giving me a sense of conscience to tell right from wrong.13 But society opposed my feelings of pain. In other people’s eyes, I was not doing anything particularly bad.
Elder M. Russell Ballard said: “The standards of the world have shifted like the sands of a wind-blown desert. That which was once unheard of or unacceptable is now commonplace.”14 That’s how I lived. If there is no God, there is no sin; if there is no sin, it is absolutely up to you what you do with your life. Enjoy it. Take advantage of it. Because when you are gone, everything else will be gone also.
In the Book of Mormon, I have read about this same philosophy taught by the anti-Christ, Korihor: there is “no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fare[s] in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prosper[s] according to his genius, and … every man conquer[s] according to his strength; and whatsoever a man [does is] no crime.”15
This philosophy appealed to me at first, but after a while, life seemed to me like a dark tunnel with only the grave at the end. I felt I was slowly dying. It is written in the scriptures that men are to have joy.16 We came to this earth with the instinct to seek happiness, no matter where we live—in Russia, Africa, or blessed America. I did not know how to pray, so I dreamed. I am a big dreamer. I dreamed that one day I would run away from everything miserable in my life and would start again from the beginning—happy and bright. I wanted so much for my daughter to have a better life than I did. I dreamed about America. Somehow Russian people, and probably many other people in the world, associate America with a good life, success, and happiness.
Even when we do not know God’s ways, he knows our hearts and listens to our dreams. One day a retired American doctor came to visit my city in Siberia.17 His name was Dr. Woodmansee, and he was a Mormon from Utah.18 All I’d heard about Mormons was that they did not drink tea and coffee, and that seemed strange. I was assigned to show Dr. Woodmansee around the hospital where I worked. At the end of our fifteen-minute visit he asked me, “Would you come to America to continue your education if I helped you?” Later he told me that in coming to Russia he never planned to make such an offer, but he followed a sudden prompting of the Spirit.
After that, for ten long months I corresponded with Dr. Woodmansee as we arranged for my coming to America. His acquaintance, Brother Ray Beckett, helped us communicate through the Internet and proved to be the best LDS missionary I’ve ever known.19 Very often he shared his testimony with me. In one of his letters he promised me that my coming to America would change my life forever. He saw God’s hand in what was going on in my life. He also arranged to send my documents through the church mail system, so that I could pick them up at the Novosibirsk mission office in Siberia.20 That’s how I met the LDS missionaries, who gave me a Book of Mormon. I was not interested in reading this book and put it somewhere on the shelf. During my next visit to the Novosibirsk mission home, I was given an Ensign.21 I was trying to learn English at that time, so I was very glad to receive such a present. It would help me in my English studies. The first article I read was about how the Book of Mormon had changed the lives of so many people, bringing them happiness and peace. These stories intrigued me and I decided to look closer into this book.
That is how the Book of Mormon came into my life. I read one chapter every morning before I went to work. Reading this book, I learned that God lives, that Jesus is his Son, and that he came to this earth to help sinners like me. The more I read this book, the more I saw the gap between the teachings of Christ and the way I lived. I learned that was why my life was so miserable. I felt pain and I had a great desire to change.
In 1997, President Thomas S. Monson said: “The decision to change one’s life and come unto Christ is, perhaps, the most important decision of mortality. Such a dramatic change is taking place daily throughout the world.”22 At this time in my life, I received a new vision and understanding of life and could no longer live the way I had before. I was ready for a dramatic change. I will always remember the night in Russia when I cried the whole night through, realizing that my life was not good, that my poor decisions had hurt people I loved the most. It was the most painful experience of my life. I sobbed and pled the whole night, “Lord, please, help me!” By the end of the night I was exhausted and had no more tears. When the first morning light broke through, peace and relief came to me. I heard the words: “Here is my hand. I will lead you and guide you. But you have to promise me that you will change.” And I did; I promised. I wanted this guidance and help more than anything else.
Alma the Younger related a similar experience to his son Helaman:
But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, … and that I had not kept his holy commandments. …
And … while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.23
I did not know, on that painful and joyous night in Russia, how great Christ’s promises are. I did not know then that in just a little while I would travel to America where I would learn more about the gospel, and I would soon be baptized. I did not know that in less than a year from that eventful night, I would marry a wonderful man with three beautiful little children, a man who is so precious to my heart now, and with whom I want to live forever. I did not know that my daughter would come to America to join us in happiness with our newly formed family. Oh, I did not know then how great his promises are.
Now I know how much every soul is important to God. For me to get baptized, he took me out of cold Siberia and put me in sunny Utah to warm up my heart with friendly and kind people. He gave me so many miracles that I did not have even a little chance to doubt his divine hand in my life. I agree with President Monson. The decision to get baptized was the most important decision in my life, and my conversion was the biggest miracle for me.
But what about after my baptism? Do miracles still happen? Yes, they do! The fact that I no longer live with pain but with joy is the miracle that I have now daily. Like everybody else, I have my up and down days, but I have found true happiness on this earth. I was looking for it for thirty years, but I searched in all the wrong places, following the directions of the world and not knowing the Spirit.
Many other miracles, small and great, have come about in my life. And what matters most is what I have learned from them. First, I have learned that almost every miracle I have experienced since my baptism has come as a result of prayer and effort. God requires effort and faith on our part. Second, I have learned that the faith and testimony we gain require constant nourishment. Daily scripture study helps us to do that. Without effort on our part, our testimonies will fade, and the feelings of joy will fade also. If we don’t go forward, we will go back. The third lesson I learned was that to receive daily miracles, we need to ask for them and then recognize them when they come. We recognize them not only to thank God, but to bring to our own awareness the ways in which God has blessed us. This process builds further faith.
Now in my dreams and in my letters, I return to Russia, to my friends, to people I love, and ask them: “Do you know who you are? Do you know where you come from? Please, listen. Listen to what I’ve learned.” The fire burns in my soul day and night. The fire of joy, the fire of love, the fire of gratitude. And I cannot be still. I need to tell the whole world what I know now. Once I was blind, and now I see. Once I lived in darkness, and now I live in the brightest light.
Walk with Christ! Hold onto his hand! Feast upon his word. Drink in his light with your every pore, with all your soul. In times of hardships, you won’t be left in a dark tunnel but in the light of his love with brighter light always ahead of you.