The first time I heard of the Mormons was in 1923. I was then studying with a friend of mine and was reading a book about western traveling. In this book was a short account, perhaps a page or two telling about the Mormons. I asked this friend of mine what kind of people are they? He said he had a brother that had been in Salt Lake City and has seen this temple and that an old man which was very friendly had showed it to him. This friend of mine further stated that they believed like the Israelites of old in giving tithes etc., and that they had a book that they had found buried on the Atlantic Coast, where some Israelites that had visited this country long ago had buried it.
I soon forgot all about the whole thing. The next time, I heard about the Mormons as I remember it was while reading Mark-Twain’s book, “Roughing It”. This was about 1930. Up to this time I had been very little interested in religion. Although I had been brought up in a home where I had been taught to pray and believe in a God. But, in the years just before 1930 I had been almost an atheist at times.
I started farming in 1923 and was batching it alone most of the time. In the winter of 1931 I read some books that made me very much interested in religion, in fact, by the end of that year I was firmly convinced of the Divinity of Christ and had experienced a true repentance. But it seemed the more I studied the Bible and the more I listened to the different ministers the more confused I would get. I could not accept the teachings of any church, for they seemed not to teach according to the Bible.
One day I met a Lutheran Minister at one of my neighbors. We discussed religion for about 12 hours. This was the first time I had ever really talked to a minister. I especially tackled him upon the subject of baptism, as it seemed to me the Bible taught baptism by immersion, plain enough for any one to understand. He offered, at length to take me out and dip me in the farmer’s water tank, but by now, I had lost all confidence in him, as I had from childhood had the opinion that a minister was a wise person that could answer most any question regarding religion and I had found him, it seemed to me, very ignorant. From that day the reverence I had had for ministers left me.
During the year 1930 and 1931 I studied religion very extensively and yet I had not found a church that seemed to teach according to the Bible.
In the spring of 1932 the idea came to me that perhaps if I studied the heathen religions perhaps I would find something that would be better than the teachings of some of the religions I had studied. So with this in mind I went to the free library in Gettysburg, S.D. sometime in March 1932 and asked for the Koran. The librarian told me they did not have the book but she would send to the state library and get it. As I was about to leave the librarian said, “We still have a religious book you have not read, ‘The Book of Mormon! A man here in town tried to read it, he found it so dull he went to sleep but perhaps you would like it”. I said “I have heard about the Mormons but their religion is of little importance I want to study the leading heathen religions first.”
As I was leaving the building the thought came to me that if I was to study all the heathen religions (I considered the Mormon a heathen religion) I would have to study Mormonism sooner or later, why not study it now while waiting for the Koran? So, with this in mind I returned and told the librarian I wanted The Book of Mormon. She told me I ought to read a book by the name of “Brigham Young” first, then it would be easier for me to understand “The Book of Mormon”. So I told her to give me both.
As I read the book “Brigham Young”, it seemed to me the writer had the intention of speaking as much evil of the person as he could. Many places I found where the writer contradicted previous made statements in the book. This made me lose confidence in the truthfulness of his writings.
Having finished the book I started on the “Book of Mormon”, and naturally I felt I had started to read a book of fiction. I had not read many pages before I discovered I had found a most remarkable book and the tears started to run down my cheeks and the most sweet spirit seemed to be present. I may here mention that it was customary with me as I worked around the place that perhaps several times a day if the work was not rushing, I would run in the house and read for a while. If I read fiction, I did not bother to take my cap off, but if I read the Bible, I would remove my cap, as I considered it a sacred book. I had my cap on as I started to read the “Book of Mormon”, but before long I felt a man ought to read such a book with a bare head.
As I remember it I read the book in about three days and it seemed to have the sweetest spirit with it and as far as I could see the book could be true, but yet I had the feeling that by and by I would see where the book would contradict itself. I thought the book so remarkable so I took it to a religious neighbor of mine and told him to read the book, but that I would have to return it to the library in three days. I felt my neighbor would be very enthusiastic about the book, but when I returned in three days, I found him scoffing at the book, saying it was all made up with a lot of names borrowed from the Bible. I returned the books to the library and all summer I often thought of the book and yet I could see nowhere the book contradicted itself nor the Bible.
That year (1932) my brother was working for me and one Saturday evening in the fall as he was preparing to go to Gettysburg, I told him to go up to the library and tell the librarian I wanted the Book of Mormon. The next morning being Sunday morning, as I got up I saw the book lying on the kitchen table. I started to read as soon as I had my stock fed and that night before I went to bed I had read the Book of Mormon through. I was more impressed with the book than ever. I read the book through once more before I returned it to the library in two weeks and by then I knew that it was true.
As I returned the book I told the librarian to write to the state library and tell them to send all the books they had on Mormonism. The answer came back that they had no such books but they sent the address of the Deseret Bookstore in Salt Lake City and told me I could get some books there. Consequently I wrote to the bookstore and told them to send me a price list on all the books that Joseph Smith wrote. The answer came that Joseph Smith wrote no book only a pamphlet entitled “My Own Story” I could have for 10 cents. They also sent me a book catalog on L. D. S. literature. I immediately ordered a Book of Mormon and a book by the title of Latter-Day Revelation also Pearl of Great Price. The books impressed me very much. I could not see how books like the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price could exist without everyone talking about them.
In about two weeks I ordered “The Articles of Faith” by Talmage and the “Falling Away” by Roberts. Up to this time I had been of the opinion that there was not a church upon the earth that did teach according to the Bible but after reading the “Articles of Faith” I felt that perhaps the Mormons did.
In the following months I sent for many L. D. S. Books and as I see it now I am sure I was inspired of the Lord to order the books I did. Naturally after I had read some books I had numberless questions I would like to have had answered. I must say that the Spirit of the Lord revealed many things to me which I in later study found substantiated by the authorities of the church.
By 1933 I had a testimony, yes I may say a burning testimony of the restored gospel and I taught it to my friends. In July 1934 while reading the Argus-Leader I saw a notice in the paper that the new mission president would be in Sioux Falls and that a meeting would be held there, from where he would reside. There was also a picture of the new mission president (I believe his name was Wilford Richard) the picture showed him wearing glasses and the thought came to me why does he not have some elders administer to him that his eye sight may be corrected.
I immediately wrote to the address where the meeting would be held stating I would like to be baptized. The letter came back in a few days stating that there was no one living there.
The year 1934 was a crop failure and in September I hired a man to take care of my cattle for the winter and started out in my car alone for Salt Lake City to be baptized and stay there for the winter. On the third day I arrived in Coleville, Utah, just inside the state line and as it was getting dark, I decided to stay there for the night and drive into Salt Lake the next morning. Being I was in Utah, the thought naturally came to me that there ought to be some Mormons there, for up to this time I had knowingly never seen a Mormon. So I went into a restaurant and ordered my supper and watched the people closely to see if I could pick out one that wall a Mormon. I may say I felt I wanted to see a Mormon rather badly for in my heart there was a great love for the Saints.
After having eaten my supper I was still in a doubt if there had been a Mormon in there (in later years I have been informed that the populous in Coleville are nearly all Mormons) I went to a hotel to get me a room for the night and I felt that the manager there perhaps was a Mormon as he spoke very kindly to me, however I could not get up courage to ask him as I felt it would be a bad insult to him in case he was not. But I was determined to see a Mormon before I went to bed that night as I drove up to a filling station to have my car filled up. After getting my gas I sat down to talk to the man as there was no one else there. After awhile he asked me where I was going, I said to see Salt Lake City. I asked if he had ever been there. He answered good many a time. I said from what I have heard there are mostly Mormons, I have never seen a Mormon. He said I am a Mormon. I was rather surprised and I told him that I was going there to join the Mormon Church. He said, that’s fine. Then I started to ask him a lot of questions and I found to my disappointment he knew very little of the doctrine. He said he had been ordained to a deacon years ago but hardly ever goes to church, but said he had a brother who was always studying the gospel. He did not care to discuss Mormonism but invited me back in the fall and we would go deer hunting. As I remember it he smoked a cigarette and I told him I thought the Mormons was not supposed to smoke, I had myself quit smoking while studying the gospel.
The next morning I drove in to Salt Lake City and the first thing I knew I was driving north on the west side of the temple block so I parked my car there and walked in through the West Gate (I had seen pictures of temple block in the books I had read) and this being Saturday they were baptizing in the baptistery under the tabernacle. The first man I met was the door watch and he told me I could not come in there as they were baptizing. (The man later became a dear friend of mine. ) I told him I had come there to ask to join the Mormon Church. He told me to go up and see the guide that was talking to a group of tourists in front of the museum. I had a hard time to keep my emotions under control. I was so happy to be there and the most wonderful spirit rested over me.
I followed the group of tourists until they were dismissed inside of the Bureau of Information then I stepped up to the guide and told him I wanted to join the Church.
He looked at me rather surprised and after talking to me for about half a minute he told me to go with him to see Brother Perry the Temple Block Mission President. So I was introduced to him where I immediately stated my desires. He looked at me rather sharply and said, where did you contact our missionaries? I said I had never contacted one in fact I have never seen a Mormon until last night. He said, What do you know about us and our doctrine? I said ‘ I know it is the true church. He said, How do you know? I said, Through the books I have read, Then followed the questions. Have you read that book? That book?, etc. I mentioned about 25 books I had read and I could see that he looked at the guide and marveled, He asked, do you know that you are supposed to pay tithes? I said yes. Then he called in several guides and I told them how I was converted while they asked questions. I was under the impression that it was an every day happening that people came there and asked for baptism, However, I know different now.
After awhile Brother Perry said I could be baptized any time but being it was Saturday he asked it I would wait until Monday. Then he took the guide I had contacted and said, Brother Christensen it will be your duty to find Brother Sandberg a good hotel and take him to one of the chapels in the morning. I spent a delightful day on temple block listening to the guides explaining the Gospel to the tourists but under a great emotional stress, being so happy. My guide took me to the twentieth ward chapel Sunday morning and being it was to be conference next week they had put the fast Sunday one week ahead so it was fast meeting I first attended and there I bore my testimony of the gospel in front of the whole congregation after which my guide told of my conversion, and how I rejoiced to hear the Saints bear their testimonies. I knew then why I had a great love for the Saints in my heart. I was at last among real brothers and sisters. After the meeting it seemed that most everybody came and shook hands with me.
I was baptized the next Monday being the first of October 1934 and my guide asked if he could baptize me before a group of tourists and I said it would be all right with me. The baptistery was almost full of tourists when I was baptized and after I came out of the water standing by the edge of the font I bore my testimony of the Gospel before the group of tourists. President Perry told me to come back the next day and they would confirm me.
That night was one of the most miserable nights I spent in my life. It seemed something told me to leave Salt Lake City immediately for if I did not have hands laid for the Holy Ghost I could not sin against the Holy Ghost. As I remember it I did not sleep any all night and I suffered some awful mental agony being continuously urged to leave the city. The next morning I went to the Bureau of Information on Temple Block and told President Perry how I had suffered all night and told him if he wanted to confirm me he better do it right away for I was not going to spend another night like it and may leave any time. He listened to me very attentively and said, Why Brother Sandberg you have been tempted by the evil one all night. I was confirmed that very hour and have never since been in that mental agony. May be mentioned that during that night it never came to my mind once that I was tempted by an unclean spirit.
I stayed in Salt Lake City until the 14th of February next spring. Working a few days in a packing plant but spent by far most of my time on temple block visiting with the guides and tourists and attending church Sundays. Also attended night school. I was ordained an Elder before I left Salt Lake City in the spring and needless to say I had gained a better understanding of the gospel and the Mormon People.
Gale is Managing Editor for More Good Foundation. She is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.