Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Converted by a Stolen Book of Mormon

One of my favorite stories about the converting power of the Book of Mormon is printed in a talk by President James E. Faust entitled "The Message: Ten Things to Know Before You Go" (New Era, July 2005):
Elder F. Burton Howard of the Seventy acquaints us with a strong testimony of the converting power of the Book of Mormon: Sister Celia Cruz Ayala of the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission decided to give the Book of Mormon to a friend. She wrapped it in attractive paper and set out to deliver her present.

On the way she was attacked by a bandit who stole her purse and with it the wrapped copy of the Book of Mormon. A few days later she received this letter:

Mrs. Cruz:

Forgive me, forgive me. You will never know how sorry I am for attacking you. But because of it, my life has changed and will continue to change. That book [the Book of Mormon] has helped me in my life. The dream of that man of God has shaken me. … I am returning your five pesos for I can’t spend them. I want you to know that you seemed to have a radiance about you. That light seemed to stop me [from harming you, so] I ran away instead.

I want you to know that you will see me again, but when you do, you won’t recognize me, for I will be your brother . . . . Here, where I live, I have to find the Lord and go to the church you belong to.

The message you wrote in that book brought tears to my eyes. Since Wednesday night I have not been able to stop reading it. I have prayed and asked God to forgive me, [and] I ask you to forgive me. … I thought your wrapped gift was something I could sell. [Instead,] it has made me want to make my life over. Forgive me, forgive me, I beg you.

Your absent friend (Church News, Jan 6, 1996, 16).
Such is the conversion power of the Book of Mormon.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Such is the never-ending mill of fabricated FPRs from the "church."

Aren't you embarrassed?

Anonymous said...

Not as embarrassed as you should be for being a troll....

Mormanity said...

When a faith-promoting story gives specific details, such as the name of the person and the location of the event, it is much less likely to be merely a rumor.

There have been some faith-promoting rumors that had no substance, especially when the stories come from anonymous authors on the Internet or from endlessly forwarded e-mail. We need to be careful before accepting such rumors. If we don't know and trust the source, that's one red flag right away. If the story fails to give details that could be used to verify the story, that's another red flag. (And if the alleged miracle involves penny stocks, look out.)

On the other hand, I've had a couple of experiences investigating faith-promoting stories with a suspicious lack of the kind of details I like to have, stories that I just thought were "too inspiring" to be true, only to encounter evidence that it wasn't just a rumor and that the lack of detail in the published story was due to sloppiness by those who shared the story with others.

As for the story of the stolen Book of Mormon, it sounds like your reason for rejecting it is that you don't like the Book of Mormon, rather than any prima facie reason for treating the story as a fabrication.

But if any of you are familiar with the details of this story and can provide insights into its accuracy or inaccuracy, let me know. But anonymous pot shots or allegations won't carry any weight. Give your name and the details of whatever evidence you may have for or against.

Bookslinger said...

I was tempted to research the details given, but even if it is true, and Sister Celia Cruz Ayala swore out an affidavit, and sent him a notarized photocopy of the mugger's letter, along with a notarized translation by a certified translater, and sent him photos of the repentant mugger at his baptism, he still wouldn't change his mind about the Book of Mormon, and would still doubt her whole story.

He's made his conclusion, and any evidence to the contrary must have been fabricated. But that's okay, because God doesn't want us to rely on physical evidence to believe. That's not faith nor revelation. I believe God wants us to exercise a little faith, and then he wants us to learn to recognize and follow the Holy Spirit and develop spiritual knowledge in that manner.

Like Jesus said about the Pharisees, even if Lazarus rose from the dead and told them the truth to their face, they still wouldn't believe it.

Personally, I'm not comfortable with glurge stories, such as the railroad switchman, or the kid who donates blood to a sibling thinking he's going to die if he gives blood.

I don't always accept at 100% face value the "I heard" or "someone said" stories. Too much false doctrine gets transmitted that way, and it can confuse or even hurt people who are new to the church who take those snippets as gospel truths.

On the other hand, I have my own Book of Mormon miracle stories that I can attest to in the first person. I was there. I either did it or saw it with my own eyes.

In 1975, Henry N., told me about what he called "God's official church", the Mormons, and about a book that came from a gold book. To make a long story short, in 1982, having forgot all about Henry, I finally got around to praying to God "Which church should I join?" Then, all I could think about for two weeks was what Henry said.

I didn't like that answer, so I prayed and prayed, but nothing came to mind other than Henry's witness. So I figured that might be the answer, and looked up the church in the phone book, found the local missionaries, and told them I was interested in learning about their church. They invited me to a "fireside" (no bonfire, and not even a fireplace), and gave me a blue book with a picture of a gold angel statue on the cover.

Shortly thereafter, I read the places where they told me to read, prayed to know if it was true, told God I'd join this church if it really was the "official" one, and do whatever he wanted me to do. Before I got up from reading, I received the answer in the form of pure and powerful revelation, "pure intelligence flowing into me" just like I read later in a book of Joseph Smith's teachings. Not only did Moroni's promise come true in me, I later read Joseph Smith's description of how it's like, and he was right on.

(That's the short version of my story. I've told other versions at other times to other people, and because I don't recount every aspect at every telling, please don't accuse me of contradicting myself.)

So could the story about the stolen book be true? You bet. I know from personal experience that it could happen.

I also know from personal experience that God arranges things in both subtle ways and in miraculous ways to get the Book of Mormon into people's hands.

On June 18, 2004, I was prompted of the Spirit to put the African language translations of my Book of Mormon collection in my car. Within a few hours, while doing errands, I stopped at a gas station to buy some soda pop that was on sale. The only reason I stopped there was to buy some 2 liters. I had no idea what was going to happen.

The cashier was a black man who spoke with an accent. The proverbial light-bulb above my head turned on! He was from South Africa and spoke Zulu. I offered him a book in Zulu that I had in my car and he didn't believe me. But I went out and got the books, and gave him a Zulu and English Book of Mormon, and he was ecstatic! (Again, there's even more to the story, this is the short version.)

In the 14 months since then, such events have repeated themselves about 400 times. The vast majority were just coincidences, or maybe "divine appointments." But a percentage were actual promptings of the Spirit.

No one that I know of has joined the church after having received a Book of Mormon from me. So I'm doing something wrong, or I've just been called to be a "seed planter", and others more worthy than I will do the harvesting.

Shadow Spawn said...

I like hearing cool stories like that. But, as indicated above the Book of Mormon is and always will be a personal conversion. Until you've had it personally, the stories remain only stories.

Natalie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Capt Jack said...

The one thing that stands out to me is that they use US dollars in Puerto Rico, not pesos, thus making the thief's letter sound fake.

Maybe some overeager, undereducated junior editor made the change, maybe she lived in another country when it happened, or maybe it's indicative of the believability of the entire story.

Tom said...

Look for magic and you will find it. Jeff, as a magician you should know that not every thing you see is every thing to be seen. There are many faith promoting stories that are highly questionable and I think the first anonymous poster on this topic was referring to some of those when he mentioned the fabricated FPRs from the church. Like the story of Joseph Smith and his surgery as a young boy. I heard it from a missionary not too long ago. She said that it was proof that Joesph Smith did not drink alcohol. I mentioned to her that even at BYU church historians mention JS's drinking and tobacco use. She would not accept what I said and said that she had prayed to God and he had told her that JS never drank alcohol. She has received an answer from God to her sincere request to know whether or not JS had drunk alcohol, and God said, NO he did not. The surgery story sure is faith promoting and paints JS in a good light, but the truth is that members use that story to illustrate a point that is in actuallity false. The point they try to make is that JS did not drink alcohol. I think the missionary was sincere in her answer to me, but she must not have been that in tune with the spirit as JS did drink alcohol. In fact he even had a bar built in the Nauvoo house. Emma would not stand for that though. She told him either the bar goes or she goes. Joseph got rid of the bar. Good for Emma, she had a lot to put up with already.

Bookslinger said...

I want to thank "anonymous" for prompting me to spend $20 for a subscription to the Church News, in order that I might research the story in their online archives.

The mention of pesos instead of dollars, and the apparent literacy of the mugger also raised my suspicion, and finally prompted me to action.

Pesos were indeed used in Puerto Rico through 1899. See: http://welcome.topuertorico.org/reference/money.shtml

However, the Puerto Rico San Juan mission was not started until 1972. See:
http://www.mission.net/puerto-rico/san-juan/presidents.php

Also, the story mentions a blue soft-cover edition of the Book of Mormon which also indicates more modern times.

Perhaps the Puerto Rico San Juan mission also covered other islands where the "peso" is the currency, but the story indicates that the mugging took place on the streets of Ponce Puerto Rico.

I think this might be something that illustrates Jeff's "Lie Chart" principle. Perhaps the person who submitted it to the Church News, Elder F. Burton Howard, was just plain mistaken about pesos versus dollars.

Elder Howard has long been assigned to oversee (in exactly what capacities I'm not sure) many parts of Latin America. So he might have gotten the currencies confused. Big deal.

Or, perhaps at the time of the story, dollars really were referred to as pesos in every day street language.

Or, perhaps Sister Cruz had recently come from another country and still had some real pesos in her purse.

The letter did sound a little too erudite for a mugger, but that could just have evovled in the retelling, or in the translation from Spanish to English.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I just want to commend you for your positive outlook! Too many people are so busy looking to tear down beliefs and views that they are left in a negative, and quite frankly sad state. You are a strong person for not only staying true to your beliefs, but also for trying to uplift others that share your beliefs.

Please don't let those whose life are consumed with merely finding fault with others, rather than finding good be a weight upon your soul, and know that your positive nature inspires many.

I think it takes a strong person to put themselves out there with their faith and their views, when they know darn well others are waiting to tear them down.

Thank you for sharing your views and your messages and although I am sure you aren't worried about what others say, know that for some reason people are more eager to complain than to compliment, but your message is shared with those who can appreciate your time.

Also I agree with the BOM Indy guy, that whether or not this story was a "factual" reflection or complete and correct in every detail is not really significant, because it is a reflection of MANY true stories that have occurred. It is a reflection of the power of the spirit when someone is willing and open to search for it.

Amour

Anonymous said...

For the record, dollars are referred to as pesos by Puerto Ricans.

Bookslinger said...

Yes, they are! (Dollars referred to as "pesos" in Puerto Rico.) Here's a link:

http://escape.topuertorico.com/resource/before.shtml

And the quote is:
-----------------
Puerto Ricans call dollars "pesos," quarters "pesetas," niquels "vellón" or "fichas", and pennies "centavos", "chavitos" or "chavos prietos".
-----------------

To the Anonymous who signed "Amour", I do think it important that faith-promoting stories be more-or-less factual, even if not accurate in every detail. Memories can fade over time, and details get confused. I'll allow (and I have used) a little poetic license for good story telling, in addition to just plain forgetting some details.

But there are enough true stories of faith that we don't need to manufacture them from nothing. If something is fiction, it should be described as fiction, as something made up. That's what got Elder Paul Dunn in trouble, he went beyond using a little dramatic license. Since then, the editors of church magazines have gone to great lengths to include end-notes and sources with the articles.

Since the original story of the stolen Book of Mormon appeared in 1996, and was reprinted in the July 2005 New Era, it was probably fact-checked more rigorously than it would have been in the 1980's or prior.

But here we are, trying to dissect Elder Howard's story, some trying to make him an offender for a word, some ridiculing him and Jeff for repeating faith-promoting-rumors. And, as it turns out, further research merely adds to the plausibility of the story. I'm ashamed that I even doubted it now.

Amour said...

BOM in Indy,

I, of course, agree that stories should be at the very least "non-fiction" if that is how they are presented, but I was referring to the fact that Jeff presented the story here for the purpose of sharing it's meaning, which btw you added to - thank you. (o;

Amour

Mormanity said...

Natalie, sorry, the use of profanity results in deletion of comments. But so you all know, Natalie rebuked me for my pathetic gullibility in believing faith-promoting stories about the Church. Perhaps she doesn't realize that I, like many LDS people, have personally experienced stories every bit as faith promoting as the one I shared. She insists that there is "NO ONE TRUTH" - as if that were the one self-evident truth. And then she used profanity to express her feelings about my views on truth, indicative of her open-minded philosophy. Nice try, Natalie.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, you should feel flattered. Natalie quotes you on her web site.

Robert O'Brien said...

"And, as it turns out, further research merely adds to the plausibility of the story. I'm ashamed that I even doubted it now."

What further "research"?

Natalie said...

My apologies for using profanity. You state quite clearly it is not allowed on your blog. I just got a little empassioned....

It won't happen again.

Bookslinger said...

Robert,
I call it research when I use Google or other sources to check things out.

1. I signed up for LDS Church News, and verified that they did at least print the story that Elder Howard quoted, on the date indicated, Jan 6, 1996. The New Era article only exceprted the original story, not printed the whole thing.

2. When the excerpt said "of the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission", it left open the possibility that the mission covered other islands (missions sometimes cover more than one territory or country). So maybe the event took place in a location that used Pesos.

3. The archive of story indicated the mugging took place in Ponce Puerto Rico.

4. I found a web page, that seemed legitimate history, that said Puerto Rico used PESOS until 1899 and then the US converted the island to dollars.
http://welcome.topuertorico.org/reference/money.shtml

5. I looked up the mission's web page at:
http://www.mission.net/puerto-rico/san-juan/presidents.php
and it listed the mission presidents going back to 1972. So the mission was probably not there prior to 1899.

6. Then I "researched" some more, using Google, and found this web page:
http://escape.topuertorico.com/resource/before.shtml
which *does* indicate that dollars are referred to as pesos in the vernacular in Puerto Rico.

So, that the mugger wrote "pesos" instead of "dollars" in fact adds to the plausibility of the story.

At one point I was tempted to track down sister Celia Cruz Ayala, and maybe get an affidavit or a notarized statement of her story. And, ask her to send me a notarized photocopy of the letter. (Not notarize the letter, but make a photocopy of the letter in the presence of a notary and have the notary notarize that the photocopy is an accurate photocopy of the original as presented by Sister Cruz Ayala.

I suppose we could get the original letter from the mugger, assuming Sister Cruz Ayala has it, analyzed to see if it was altered in any way, and we could hire licensed and bonded couriers and private investigators to ensure the chain-of-possession from Sister Cruz Ayala to the document analyzing experts.

If she has them, we could also ask for scans of any photographs there might be of the alleged mugger's baptism, again asking a notary to supervise the process to ensure no alterations have been made.

And if Sister Cruz Ayala remembers the man's name, maybe we could track him down in Puerto Rico, or wherever he is, and have licensed polygraph experts get his story and administer polygraph tests. But then we'd also have to do a criminal background check to see if the man has a history of allegedly deceiving polygraphs.

But even if we did all that, it still wouldn't convince anyone. So what's the point?

Jeff responded well in the next blog entry. The story is merely representative of many other conversion stories, and is not meant to convert anyone else. Perhaps the story is meant to inspire and motivate other seekers of truth to get their own testimony of the Book of Mormon.

Is it far-fetched that a mugger/thief would have a change of heart and convert?

Here's a story of a Mafia member who turned around and joined the LDS church:
http://www.cedarfort.com/catalog/1555177948.html

There are many personal testimonies and conversion stories in the Mormon Blogosphere or "Bloggernacle." Check out Jeff's links to other Mormon blogs.

There are more famous conversions of infamous people, who joined various christian denominations. So the idea of a street mugger converting is not far-fetched. I'll throw out a couple names: Harry Reems, Betty Page. But I'll let you do that "research."

Anonymous said...

Funny how we revert to profanity when we get emotional. One more indication of our evolutionary past!!! Any ideas how to document 'prehistoric slime' on my family group sheet when I get back that far?

CS
Fort Worth, Texas

Anonymous said...

My name is Carlos Ulloa, and I am a member of the Church. I'm also tri-lingual, Spanish being my native language. I worked for 6 years as a law-enforcement tranlator. And I have many aunts who have married Puerto Ricans (we are from Costa Rica). Let me assure you that we latins call dollars "Pesos". We call quarters "pesetas".

As for faith-promoting stories, most every member of the Church has their own. We almost expect miracles, because we have witnessed them ourselves before. Everything from healings to angelic visitations to powerfull and undeniable spiritual feelings. Sometimes it's the Lord's hand intervining in our lives to create those "coincidences" that leave you full of awe. This is the Church of God, and as such, there is real power in it. If these things are not in your live, may I invite you to learn more of this True Gospel.