The biblical story of the prodigal son is perhaps one of the most familiar among Christians, and even some non-Christians. It is a story that has a very deep, personal meaning to me because there were a few times in my own personal life when I could very easily identify with the prodigal son.
Raised and Nurtured in the Word of God
I was born and raised in a good Christian home. I will forever be grateful for a loving mother who took the time to introduce me to God’s Word – the Bible – and the love that the Savior has for me. She also taught me that if I were faithful and obedient, and lived my life according to His will, I would always live an abundant life that would be rich with blessings untold from above.
In the home in which I grew up, Sunday was always considered a day of worship. We even had an unwritten, standing rule in our home which basically stated, “If mom is going to church, then so are you.” I cannot recall a single time when my mother called for a family meeting to discuss the matter, or to take a vote to see who was in agreement with the rule and who was not. And so every Sunday without fail, unless mom was not going to church, I attended services at a little country Baptist church. There were times when I would be in church all day long and not get back home until sometime in the evening.
As a young boy, I used to play “church” with my two younger sisters. I was the pastor and they were the congregation. My “sermons” probably did not have much content to them, but I would “preach” as they would sit and listen. I never gave it much thought other than we were playing, but my dear mother and an endearing grandmother, even at my young age, believed that it was much more than playing. It was their desire that I would one day grow up to become a Baptist minister.
The Teenage Years – Leaving the Faith for a Season
Although I was taught many things from the good Word of God, there came a time during my early teenage years when I lost all interest in attending church and became dissatisfied with organized religion in general. Attending church became more of a drudgery than a pleasure. I found that there were other things, almost anything at all, that I wanted to do other than going to church or even reading the Bible for that matter.
I could probably blame my mother and grandmother for putting undue pressure on me to become immersed in the Word of God and prepare to become a Baptist minister, and perhaps that was a small part of the reason – a very small part – that I decided to leave the church and quit religion. However, in all fairness, it is perhaps more of an excuse than a valid reason. I could tell that the decision that I made broke my mother’s heart, just like it broke the heart of the father when the prodigal son left home, nevertheless she was willing to allow me to make some of my own choices, all the while praying that I would make the right choices.
I, like the prodigal son, had been given much in that I had a Godly mother who just wanted what was best for her son, but because of my own rebelliousness and stubbornness, I chose to follow a different path for my life. I was tired of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations, and thought that if I were to put church and religion out of my life, I would be much happier. But alas, I was not happy, in fact in some ways, I was quite miserable, although I was not willing to admit it. They say that hindsight is 20/20, and I believe that even as a teenager, somehow I knew that God was calling my name – that He had a work for me to do – but like the prodigal son, I took that which I had been given and decided to do things my way.
During that time, I never did anything outrageous, but I can recall that my life felt out of sorts as if a vital part of my life was missing. One Sunday afternoon I received a telephone call from one of my cousins asking if I would bring a sign that my sister had made for a choir anniversary that was taking place to the church, as my sister had forgotten to bring it. She also stated that I didn’t have to stay for the service, but it would be appreciated if I could bring the sign. Reluctantly I agreed.
Some may say that the telephone call was coincidental, but I don’t think so. I believe that God used that telephone call as a wake-up call to let me know that I needed to return home. I needed to return to my roots, and get back on the right path. To make a long story short, I stayed for that service and started attending church again on a regular basis. However, that is not the end of the story.
A Journey on the Search for Truth
Although I went to church regularly, I still had the feeling that there was something missing in my life, although I could not quite put my finger on it. The things that I had been taught made sense and were indeed helpful, but I had a longing to know more.
One day as I was watching television, I saw a commercial with a family that seemed to be extremely happy and enjoying life. About that time, things were not that blissful in my home, especially the relationship between my father and I. Nevertheless, the people in the commercial seemed to have tapped into some secret formula for happiness which I found intriguing. At the end of the commercial a book that I had never heard of before was offered for free. I thought to myself that the answers must be found in that book, and so I wrote and requested a copy of the book. A few days later, two young men on bicycles and wearing suits and ties showed up at my door stating that they had the free Book of Mormon that I had requested. I soon learned that they were missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I met with the missionaries for a few months and found what they taught me to be of great interest. I even began reading the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately, my life at home was not a happy one like I had seen in the commercials, and I eventually made the decision that I would be happier if I were to leave home and make it on my own. And so, in March 1981 I left for Navy boot camp in San Diego, California.
A New Playground and Riotous Living
When I entered boot camp I finally felt a sense of freedom. I no longer felt compelled to live my life according to the dictates of others. I was now my own man. I was free to live my life as I saw fit. Even though there is a rigid structure to military life, at least there I felt that I was being respected as the man I had become. This was in essence my proving ground. I did not have to answer to my father, or live up to the expectations of anyone wanting me to be a minister of the gospel.
Throughout my time at boot camp, the things that I had learned as a Baptist boy growing up, and the things that the Mormon missionaries had taught me brought peace and comfort in times when I felt lonely and missed my family. I even attended Protestant services on Sundays.
Then the time came when I was finally allowed to go out on liberty and explore the town with my friends. San Diego was an “exciting” place in the early 1980’s for young military men. I use the word “exciting” with tongue in cheek. There were bars, pornography shops, nightclubs, and various other activities that young military men were partaking of. Being a young man of 22 years of age, I convinced myself that it was time that I lived a little and soon found myself on a new playground, playing at a whole new level, filled with riotous living. Even though I knew that this type of living was not the life that God had intended for me to live, I gave in and soon found myself caught in the clutches of the vices of alcohol and pornography.
I was naive enough to believe that the life that I had begun to live was fun and the way life was meant to be. Once again, I made the rash decision to quit church and religion and follow the ways of the world. But, through it all, the Savior never stopped loving me and never gave up on me, even though there were many times that I gave up on myself. Always in the back of mind were the things that I had been taught, and I often asked myself, “What are you doing?” However, I soon dismissed the thoughts by indulging further into the vices that by this time had a strong grip on my life.
There were many nights throughout my military career, that I would go out and hit the town, have my “fun,” come back to the base, sleep it off, go to work the next day, and look forward to heading back out into town at liberty call to do it all again.
The Prodigal Son Returns Home
Like the prodigal son, I am eternally grateful that one day the light finally turned on for me and I finally realized that I did not have to live the life that I was living. My Heavenly Father had a greater plan for my life. It was time for me to return home to my Father.
The events that led up to this decision are chilling even now as I recall them. I was stationed aboard a ship and had gone out on liberty one hot summer afternoon with a buddy. After walking around town for a bit and having a few drinks, we decided that we should get something to eat before returning to the ship. We stopped at a little restaurant, ordered a few more drinks and some food. Upon returning to the ship, I suddenly became very ill. I was able to make it to a restroom near the bridge and locked the door. It was there that I remained for several hours unconscious on the floor. Fortunately, I did wake up, but I was in a confused state. I have no idea how long I was unconscious, but I was able to make it back to my berthing area and crawled into my bunk. The next day my buddy was glad to see me as he was worried that something had happened to me, as no one aboard ship knew where I was.
Because of my admitted foolishness, I could have very well slipped into a coma and died that day. However, a loving Heavenly Father was watching over me. It was not His plan that I should die in the state that I was in. That whole experience was an eye opener for me and I vowed that from that day forth, that I would return to doing those things that I knew to be right and pleasing to my Heavenly Father. This prodigal son had returned home to his Father.
The moral of the story is that since those times in my life, I have not wavered nor faltered from the faith. I attended Bible College for a time while stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, with the intent of becoming a Baptist minister. In 1997, while stationed in Keflavic, Iceland, I was once again put in contact with missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and on Tuesday evening, 10 March 1998, a little over 16 years ago, I was baptized, and the rest as they say is history. Although religion and Church are an integral part of my life, it is neither of those in which my faith is placed. My faith rests in the Lord Jesus Christ and Him alone.
Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.