Agusta’s Testimony – From Mormonism To Christ
Are You There, God? – by Agusta Harting
It was early spring, 1966. I was lying in the emergency room of a Pittsburgh, PA hospital. I looked up at my husband, Dan, and said, “Honey, I think we should be baptized into that church.”
The Mormon missionaries had been teaching us now for a few months and I had been feeling a big ‘tug-o-war’ within me about consenting to their continual “baptism challenges.”
Some months before the Mormon Elders came to our house, I had been looking at the starlit sky wondering if there really was a God up there. You see, I was born and reared in Iceland where almost everyone is born Lutheran unless someone has “mixed them up” somehow. I don’t remember ever having learned about salvation or having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
As I looked up at those millions of stars I asked, “Are you there, God?” Instantly it was as if total love and joy filled my whole being, and the room seemed filled with whatever this was. I became so startled and excited that I could hardly contain myself. My thoughts started racing on about what I should do now.
I have to go to church. But where? What church?
The Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists…my mind wandered but suddenly came to a screeching halt. The Mormons! I had known a Mormon family in one of the numerous locations Dan and I had lived, but what did they believe? I knew they did not drink or smoke and I had heard that the Mormons had practiced polygamy at one time. This was my total knowledge of Mormonism. I drifted off to sleep having decided to contact the Mormons in the morning.
At 9:00 the next morning the phone woke me up. The caller introduced himself as Elder—-from the Mormon Church. “My companion and I would like to visit with your family to tell you a little bit about our church.” I froze. Could this really be happening? I stammered my consent and that very same evening I sat staring into two pairs of blue eyes which looked at me earnestly as they assured me that their appointment with me was no coincidence.
I was plunged into the most dizzying whirlpool of indoctrination I had ever experienced. Fascinating tales of golden plates, hieroglyphics, angels popping in and out of woods and bedrooms, prophets and priesthoods complete with visions of the Father and the Son putting their blessing on the whole thing–while condemning all of present day Christianity as corrupt and utterly apostate. I sat stunned at times as my mind was cleverly manipulated into agreement with questions posed in such a way that to disagree would have made one appear to be utterly idiotic.
I was given a copy of the Book of Mormon. The Elders told me it was “the most correct book on Earth.” I was told to pray about it expecting God to manifest its truthfulness by a burning in my bosom. This seemed a little strange and rehearsed to me, but I was becoming very fond of our Elders. They played with our children, shared our meals and joked with Dan.
After months of studying I became ill–thus the trip to the emergency room. Was God telling me that I should no longer delay my baptism into the Mormon Church? It frightened me a little when Dan eagerly responded to my suggestion to be baptized and just for a moment I felt slightly trapped. But when we later broke the news to the beaming Elders I was happy. How could it be wrong? Church was so reverent and spiritual, and the people were so good and kind.
After our baptism a flood of new ideas and schedules overtook our lives. Endless meetings, dinners, shows and more meetings, as well as lessons to be learned and manuals to be followed. I tried my best to soak it all in and to conform to this new life. After a time Dan was ordained an Elder “after the order of Melchizedek” (Mormonism’s higher priesthood) and we began to understand the deeper doctrines of Mormonism.
We entered the Washington, D.C. temple where we were “signed and sealed” (but not delivered!). The temple ceremony made me uneasy, but I did not dare tell anyone since the grey-haired temple worker told me that if you did not “feel good” about the ceremony you were out of tune with the Holy Spirit.
The following years were a blur of activity. I was becoming well versed in Mormon doctrine, and consequently a little uneasy about the teachings, but my trust level of Joseph Smith as a prophet and revelator was at top peak level.
However, all was not well in my heart. Could I live up to the perfection that was expected of me? I dared not question the inconsistencies that I had begun to see in the church teachings. I began to see Heavenly Father as a grim, demanding, unloving figure. He seemed a perfect version of Brigham Young–stern and unyielding. I learned that God had once been a man and had obtained his godhood by obedience. I was continually told that I, too, could become a Goddess, and that Dan, if worthy and perfect, would become my God. But I was struggling with the knowledge that, even though I had a valid temple recommend at all times, I was falling short of perfection.
I wished to know God better. I often asked Him what He wanted from me. “I am doing all that I can; why do you keep demanding more of me when I am so tired? Are you some kind of monster? Why, God, why?” Silence!
Then one December eve in 1979, as I was bending to chose a Christmas tree, I felt a sharp, blinding pain in my head. It lasted for months. I was released from all my callings except visiting teaching and spent a lot of time alone in my misery.
In my desperation I started reading the Bible. I began seeing strange verses in there; something that jolted me nearly into panic. Romans 3, Romans 4, Titus 3:5…strange verses about salvation by the grace of God! Simultaneously I started listening to various teachers on Christian radio. Why, they were all in Harmony! Joseph Smith had pronounced them all apostates; how could they be so familiar with Jesus Christ? I was becoming addicted to hearing about their Jesus.
Then one day while watching TV I heard it: The Good News! “You are not going to Heaven because you are good and worthy. Isaiah 64 tells us that our righteousness is as filthy rags before the Lord.” If my righteousness is like filthy rags, what must my sin look like? “You are not saved because you belong to a certain church, sing in the choir, pay tithes, attend your meetings,” etc.
“You are saved only one way–when you the sinner meet Jesus Christ the Savior in true repentance, having faith in His blood shed, and in His finished work on the cross for you, to pay in full for all your sins, asking Him to be Lord of your life…”
Then came Ephesians 2:8-9. I sat there stunned. “Eternal life is a free gift!” I knew it was the truth. I looked up every scripture and suddenly my eyes were opened to the true salvation of God. Later I fell on my knees and asked God to give me His free gift of salvation. This was definitely not a “Kosher” thing to do in the Mormon Church, and if I thought I had trouble with Mormonism before, it was only child’s play compared to what I was about to encounter.
“Bishop,” I asked one day in his office, “Why do we so seldom hear the name of Jesus in our church?” He muttered some feeble excuse about not being able to control the talks, but seemed unable to understand just what I was complaining about. Didn’t we close every prayer in the name of Jesus Christ? Wasn’t our church named after Him? I went away more confused, wondering about my sanity. “Please help me, Lord!” I cried. “I won’t listen to Christian radio or TV anymore. I’ll just concentrate on Mormonism and do my church work.” But Jesus Christ had begun a work in me, the blessed author and finisher of my faith, and He was not yet finished with me, praise His wonderful name!
In 1981 I was teaching Mormon women and children. One Sunday as I prepared for the next Sunday’s class, the lesson instructed me to “bear your testimony to the class that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is true…”
“No, no, I can’t do it!”
“Lord,” I prayed, “please help me now! If the Mormon Church is true, I will live and die for it, but if it is false, you must show me. I cannot live a lie. I just want you, Lord!”
Within five minutes the Relief Society president called asking me to attend an “anti-Mormon” film being shown at a local Christian church. She wanted a few ‘stalwarts’ to go and show these so-called Christians who the true Christians really were, and to expose that horrible film for the lie that it must be.
The film, featuring Ron Carlson, was not a lie as far as I could determine. What was the big fuss over what we believed? I hardly listened, feeling detached in this strange church that hated and persecuted us.
Suddenly I was shocked into full awareness when I heard Ron Carlson say, “…before Me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after Me.” Isaiah 43:10.
When I got home I went straight to my Bible. There it was! Could it be? Then out leaped Isaiah 44:6, 45:5, etc. My head was spinning.
One day I walked into a Christian bookstore to buy a greeting card. On my way out I noticed a book that seemed to blink at me with neon lights: ‘The Maze of Mormonism’ by Walter Martin. I bought the book as in a dream. Feeling very guilty I plopped the book into Dan’s lap as he waited for me outside.
Looking at me with horror he shouted, “You’re not intending to read that trash!”
“Yes, Dan,” I replied. “I must find answers to my questions.” I couldn’t put the book down. At first I was incensed. Then, to my horror, he quoted Brigham Young’s gruesome ‘blood-atonement’ doctrine. He listed many Bible verses that I had no idea existed. “Thank you, God,” I thought, “now I have the answers I have been looking for.”
I announced to my family that I was never going to set foot in a Mormon Church again. Dan sat with his mouth open in total disbelief as I quoted from the book. These were statements from men we had accepted as men of God, whose pictures smiled at us from our walls and refrigerator. Then Dan read the book and discovered that there was a way to test prophets, and it wasn’t by a burning in the bosom. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young failed the tests of the Bible miserably.
Leaving Mormonism was not easy. First came the grief and sorrow of seeing friends look at us as if we had a deadly disease. We received death threats from little old ladies, emotional blackmail from the authorities, and character assassinations from all. Our children were bombarded with such statements as, “You don’t have to follow your parents to outer darkness!” Finally came the ex-communication trials and lastly the shunning. I lost my ability to sleep soundly for a long time and finally I developed a bleeding ulcer. At times I felt that I had discovered some terrible secrets about the Mormon Church and that I had to promise never to tell. But the time came when we had to share it, because Jesus Christ and His precious truth had become top priority in our lives. We shared it on television, on radio, in churches, with individuals, with anyone or anywhere the Holy Spirit led. We cannot be quiet, not if we take the real gospel of Jesus Christ seriously.
As I read over this, I realize how difficult it is to express everything. But the most important thing of all is that because of God’s unspeakable mercy and grace in opening the eyes of my understanding I now can sing with the rest of His redeemed children, “It is well with my soul.”