My Life and Testimony
A short reflection on the basis for my faith
It was never difficult for me to believe that the 14 year old boy Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in his First Vision. I was brought up a believing Catholic, knowing and accepting the many martyrs and saints who said they had seen visions and received visitations from heavenly beings.
Did not Stephen the martyr, in the book of Acts, see the Father and the Son when he was being stoned to death because he preached Jesus? Did not Saul, who stood nearby to watch Stephen’s death, see the Saviour on the road to Damascus? And had not Moses talked with God, and Isaiah received his prophetic commission from God? Of course they did! So, it was not difficult for me to accept as plausible that Joseph Smith also had seen the Father and the Son in upstate New York in 1820.
I grew up believing that all these visions and visitations were as real as the very breath I inhaled every moment of the day. I did, and I was thrilled to learn that not only had he seen and spoken to God and His Son, he was commissioned by them to restore the fullness of the Christian gospel to this generation of God’s children as an essential part of the dispensation of the fullness of times.
I suppose that my religious tolerance and open-mindedness was first planted in my heart while I grew up in Singapore, where our modest post World War II home was located on the other side of the road from a Hindu Temple. From the vantage point of my upstairs bedroom window I looked over its protective walls to see religious ceremonies conducted in that sacred place. The colourful, intriguing, and often noisy rituals that I watched from my window schooled me in that Asian religious practice, and I learnt that if I was to hope to comprehend and appreciate the underlying principles of that and other Asian religious traditions I would need patience and a lot of study and consideration.
It was also during my early childhood in Singapore that a Chinese neighbour challenged me with a claim that, although Christianity described itself as an ancient faith tradition, his Asian faith tradition predated the Christian faith by centuries and had much to teach Christians. His point caused me to ponder the relationship between Christian and Asian faiths. As a result, I asked, “If there is one God of all people, how could there be so many religions, and what is their purpose before God who must surely love and care for all of His children all over the world?
Later, as an adult, I was fortunate enough to travel around a good part of South East Asia and became acquainted with ancient Ramayana plays in Indonesia, Thailand, and India. I read about how these battles between good and evil were transmitted in Indonesia where people acted them out, or recited them for hours in puppet and shadow plays. I visited the serene and haunting Borobudur Temple in Central Java where I pondered how faithful Buddhist disciples patiently sat in silent bell-shaped stupas on that ancient edifice to seek the meaning of good and evil. From these kinds of experiences I learned a critical lesson, namely that patience and tolerance are important parts of the search for truth, even the truth that comes to mankind from the one true God of us all.
Another lesson came from a faraway place near Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau, who astutely observed that, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” [Thoreau, Walden, p65]. By this thought Thoreau suggests that while many individuals may appear to be busily engaged in doing what they consider to be meaningful things to enrich the quality of life for the poor and needy, only rarely do we see someone striking at the root of the problem to find real solutions to the root causes of confusion and discord that we see in the world today.
It is in this setting of many hacking at the branches of our worldwide problem tree and so few hacking successfully at its roots, that Thoreau’s words led me to consider Joseph Smith as a true restorer of the knowledge of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ that today manifests itself across the world in various and sometimes puzzling forms.
As the years went by, I learnt about the works and words of God to his children through the prophets and apostles of the Restoration. My faith in the vision of Joseph Smith grew stronger and I learned to love him as I realised how his devotion and commitment to his holy calling developed, and how he came to pay the supreme price of being a prophet.
At that time, what I did not appreciate enough was the mercy that God was extending to me, a so-called believer, to help me cross the chasm that separated God-fearing believers from becoming Godlike sons and daughters in this day of restoration of all things.
One clue that moved me to see the need for this transformation came from the first Article of Faith, which states:
We believe in God the Eternal Father and in His Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost.
I argued that it was easy to say that “we” believe these things because the “we” surrounds us with a host of other believers who protect us from making an individual confession of faith in God, His Son, and the Holy Ghost. So, I privately changed the words of that first article of faith into a personal confession of my faith, in this manner:
I believe in God the Eternal Father and in His Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost.
By doing this I no longer hid behind the “we” in my confession of faith, but stood up and stated that this was in fact my very own personal belief and faith! Consequently, I felt the strength of my personal testimony in this Article of Faith and it uplifted me somewhat.
However, I soon realised that there was more to be done if I was to really achieve the full power of my faith, for an individual’s faith is not complete until that individual is able to clearly state who and what is specifically believed in, and in also performing the actions that demonstrate that proclaimed belief.
This line of thinking led me to alter further my personal application of the words of this First Article of Faith to:
I believe God the Eternal Father, and His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.
I now felt that I had moved beyond mere belief in such persons as God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, to exercising faith by action according to their words and commandments. In so doing, I expected that I would grow to love and thank them more fervently for the way they had watched over and guided my life. For, had I not been born in a time of global conflict and been rescued from possible extinction when the city I lived in as a baby fell to the enemy? Had I not been raised and nurtured by a selfless grandmother when my parents were unable to do so? Had I not since been given many chances to live a meaningful life with a wonderful wife and family? Yes, indeed I had! The evidence was overwhelming that I needed to be grateful for my life, such as it is, and that I needed to identify the God to whom I must direct my thanks and my actions.
Furthermore, the relationship I now had with the Father, His Beloved Son, and the Holy Ghost was becoming more personal and intimate; not merely as good friends, but as a covenant-bonded family who would stick by me through thick and thin, just as my own grandmother and other family members did when I was vulnerable in the extreme as a little child in a time of war and as I grew to be an adult.
I also realised that, as weak human beings in a fallen condition, we would stumble and fall many times in our lives, but the conditions of repentance and progression would always be available if we truly desired to keep working at it. Trials and tribulations would stalk us always, but we would be equal to the challenge with the aid of God’s love and the gift of the Holy Ghost, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
The more good work and service we did in His Name, the stronger would become our faith and capacity to serve Him and his marvellous cause of fulfilling the plan of mercy and happiness for all His children. The more we followed the influence of the Holy Spirit the more we knew the source of our spiritual and temporal strength. The more pure we became in motive, desire, and intent, the more He would lift and lead us to the pure living waters and the bread of life that were necessary to move ever forward towards becoming not only a God-fearing person, but more like the Son Himself. For we too would become saviours on mount Zion and we too would be identified as saviours of loved ones long gone into the spirit world, and of living people who become influenced for good by our examples of faith and works, and the fruit of our efforts would lift us and them up to be closer to the desires of Father in Heaven for us.
Ultimately, we would be able to change our personal first Article of Faith to read:
I know God the Eternal Father, and His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.
And when we come to this level of faith, we would be fitting candidates for eternal life, for so said Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, that life eternal is to know God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. Moreover, as knowing God cannot be achieved without assistance of the Holy Ghost, we would have had experiences with the Holy Ghost that demonstrated that we knew Him also. Thus we would achieve the ultimate purpose of our existence and feel the love of God in this life and in the eternities.
On many early mornings between 1am and 4am it is not unusual to find me in our study or other rooms in our home where I read and think about life and my service in the Church and how I can be a more profitable servant of the Lord.
One morning I watched an old movie production called The First Vision, and reminisced over how my wife and I had visited the Sacred Grove and the log and frame houses lived in by the Joseph Smith family at the time that supernal and sacred event took place. I saw the fields through which Joseph Smith ran in his hopeful, expectant, quest to ask God for the wisdom to understand which Church was right for him to join. I marvelled at his youthfulness and his focussed faith to speak with God, not knowing that he would open the door to a wonderful new and last dispensation of the gospel to all mankind.
I saw, in the grove of trees that we now call sacred, where Joseph saw a Pillar of Light and, in that white purity of glory, the Heavenly Father of us all and His Only Beloved Son Jesus Christ, by the Power of the Holy Ghost. In that life-changing experience Joseph began his twenty-four-year mission as the Prophet of the Restoration, for which service and calling he gave his life. His undoubting life of service and faithfulness to the revelations of God attracted believers who paid a similar price to know their Father and God, and left a legacy of faith that we also try to replicate in our lives in order to be disciples of this restored gospel.
In the wee hours of that morning I relived that beginning and felt the Hand of the Lord helping me see that I too was a servant of the Lord with an assignment to care for those who are called my family; that I had been entrusted with a calling in which to serve with my sweetheart, who was equally prepared as I was, to be who we are; and that the two of us were in reality stewards of our family and others to enable the Church to fulfil the words of the prophets regarding its divine destiny in the latter days.
In that moment I realised what a blessing it was for me to have that experience, and as a sign that it was from God, I was given inspiration regarding the Light that is the Saviour and the lesser lights that we are, and how we as lesser lights may bear a portion of His Light in order to testify to the world that His ways are the ways of salvation and eternal life, if only mankind will accept His atonement and the good news of the gospel to guide their lives in obedience to the commandments of God.
Dr W. F. Lionel Walters was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 19 June 1941, just before World War Two began in the Far East. He spent his early life in India and Singapore. At the age of 16 he immigrated to Australia to be an apprentice aircraft engineer with Qantas Airways. He later graduated in electrical engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne and worked as an engineer until 1974 when he was hired as one of four Australians to direct religious education programs of the Church Educational System [CES] of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
His assignments with the CES were in Adelaide, Singapore, and Hong Kong, where he supervised eight South East Asian nations. Soon after returning to Australia he was appointed as country director for Australia and Papua New Guinea, then in Sydney as area director for the Pacific Islands, covering all the countries between Micronesia and New Zealand, and between Australia and Tahiti, until his retirement in 2006.
In addition to his qualifications as an engineer in the aircraft and electrical industries, he earned a BEd from Deakin University, an MEd from Adelaide University, and a PhD in education from the Flinders University of South Australia. He has served the Church twice as a bishop, and as a mission president and a stake president.
He is happily married to Marianne Walters and they are the parents of a daughter and three sons. They have nine grandchildren. Lionel and Marianne are currently Australian National Directors of Public Affairs for the Church, based in Sydney.
Lionel and Marianne organized a bicentennial symposium on Joseph Smith in Sydney in May 2005, and he presented a paper on the influence of Joseph Smith in Asia at a Symposium on Joseph Smith in Taiwan in August 2005. He and Marianne have organised three day-long visits to the Federal Parliament of Australia and four visits to the state parliament of New South Wales by groups of outstanding young adult Latter-day Saints. These visits with leading politicians have raised the visibility of the Church in a positive way in Australia.
Posted December 2009