I've experienced three distinct conversions in my life where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is concerned.
My first conversion was on paper when I first joined the Church at the age of nine. I joined because it was something my family was doing together. I remember being taught by Elders Gunther and Johnson about Christ coming to the Americas and thinking, "Well, that makes sense. Why wouldn't Jesus come to America? Why wouldn't he want to share his message to as many people as possible?" It just made sense... and it still does.
During my first decade in the Church, I largely went through the motions, did as I was told but kept the faith, even in the face of bullying from other members, in particular other Aaronic Priesthood holders who would neither support nor sustain me.
My second conversion was a conversion to the doctrine. Ten years after I joined the Church, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy and while in bootcamp I had the opportunity to hear the missionary discussions again. It had been a decade since I had heard those lessons and I wanted to reintroduce myself to the teachings that my family had embraced. Prior to that, I wasn't the most active member of Church and I knew that being in the military would present different challenges to me and I knew I needed help to remain true to who I was and what I felt was true. This sparked a great deal of studying and learning and I wasn't disappointed by how much the gospel stood up to my questions. However, I still wasn't the best example of a Latter-day Saint, falling victim to pride and unconsciously emulating those warned about by Nephi who said, "When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish." (2 Nephi 9:28)
Thankfully I eventually opened my eyes and saw what I was doing and did not perish.
My third conversion was to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When I came to an understanding that the Church is a tool to bring us to Christ and not an end unto itself. That there is a difference between the Church and the culture of its people. That while I may become discouraged by the attitudes and actions of members, even those "in good standing," that it isn't their approval I must seek. And that God is much more forgiving and understanding than they are. That I can let go of the spiritual poisons that are guilt and shame, which are not Gospel principles. That I can open my mind and still be true to the Gospel and my covenants. That God wants me to think for myself, to question and to challenge and that as long as I am humble, those questions and challenges will be answered.
In the name of Jesus Christ... Amen.
Joseph Louis Puente