A few days ago, January 17, 2020 while I was flying from Lima, Peru, to São Paulo, Brazil, my first grandson, Alvin, was born. The name Alvin was chosen by his parents not to remind him and others of the Chipmunks (even if this is probably the first thing that many think about when they hear his name), but in honor of Alvin Smith, the brother of the prophet Joseph Smith.
Alvin Smith was the eldest brother of Joseph Smith, the prophet who restored the church of Jesus Christ on the earth. Alvin took a leading role in helping the Smith family work toward paying their debts and building their home.
Knowing he was dying, Alvin called his brothers and sisters to him and spoke to each of them. To Joseph, who was almost 18 years old and had not yet received the gold plates, Alvin said, “I want you to be a good boy and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the records (the Book of Mormon). Be faithful in receiving instruction and keeping every commandment that is given you. Your brother Alvin must now leave you, but remember the example which he has set for you, and set a good example for the children that are younger than you.”
When Alvin died, the family asked a Presbyterian minister in Palmyra, New York, to officiate at his funeral. As Alvin had not been a member of the minister’s congregation, the clergyman asserted in his sermon that Alvin could not be saved. William Smith, Joseph’s younger brother, recalled: “[The minister] … intimated very strongly that [Alvin] had gone to hell, for Alvin was not a church member, but he was a good boy and my father did not like it.”
In January 1836, many years after Alvin’s death, Joseph Smith received a vision of the celestial kingdom, in which he saw that Alvin, as well as his mother and father, would someday inherit that kingdom. Joseph “marveled how it was that [Alvin] had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins” (D&C 137:6). The voice of the Lord then came to Joseph, declaring:
“All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; for I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (D&C 137:7–9).
Journals and Personal History
One of the things that has come often to my mind since Alvin was born is about the importance of keeping a journal and writing a personal history to benefit our descendants. But perhaps, as Nephi said, we should avoid writing things “which are not of worth unto the children of men” (1 Nephi 6:6).
Since Nephi was writing on metal plates, space was more of a problem for him than it may be for us writing on paper or digitally, but Nephi’s admonition may still apply to what we decide to leave to our posterity. We don’t want the important information to end up being flooded by too many less important details.
I am a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and it wasn’t easy to become a member of the Church in Italy. I had to pay a relatively high “social” cost, among others challenges.
But it was absolutely worthwhile to make that decision, and now 35 years later, I can count my blessings. The story of my conversion, and the challenges I had to face, may be of value for my descendants. Alvin, and even his sons and daughter, could be blessed by the knowledge of the experiences I had that led me to meet the missionaries and become a member of the Church. My testimony could give them strength and support in a difficult moment, or help them make their own decisions.
A few days ago, talking with a colleague and friend, I remembered the story that I was asked to write for the Liahona, more than 20 years ago. While serving in the São Paulo Temple, in 1998 or 1999, I had shared the story of my conversion with a brother, who happened to be looking for articles for the Liahona (the Church magazine). He had convinced me to write it down so that it could be published.
This short version of my conversion story written more than 20 years ago, is an example of what I want Alvin and all my descendant to know about me. I have reproduced it here below.
There Was No Question
When the missionaries showed me the filmstrip of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s First Vision, it was difficult for me to contain my tears. The story of his search for truth was in some ways similar to my own.
At that time, I was 20 years old and living in Italy, the land of my birth. For five years I had been looking for answers my parents’ religion had not been able to give me. I had sought these answers in other religions and philosophies, but something seemed lacking in all of them. During the year before I met the missionaries, that search had become the most important thing in my life. I distanced myself from some of my friends and even left the university where I had been studying. My relatives could not understand me.
At the end of 1984, I met the missionaries on the street and gave them my address. I knew very little about the Church, but for some reason I wanted to speak to them.
Some days later I was in my room. I opened my heart to God, asking Him to show me what He wanted me to do. As I prayed I felt a great peace surround me. At that exact moment, the doorbell rang. When the missionaries came in, I knew they had the answers I sought.
During the second discussion, the missionaries challenged my mother and me to be baptized. Our reactions were very different. After reading a good portion of the Book of Mormon, I had fasted and prayed and received a confirmation of the truth of what the missionaries were teaching. My mother, however, did not have the slightest intention of being baptized.
When the missionaries left, my mother presented me with a difficult choice. If I chose to be baptized, I would have to live somewhere else. For me there was no question. I knew what was right; I left my mother’s home that night.
The following day the missionaries, the branch president, and I went to my mother’s home to try to resolve the problem. During the discussion that followed, I accepted my mother’s request to wait a month before being baptized—but I did so only out of respect for her and to prove to her that my desires were sincere.
During that month the missionaries continued teaching us. Nothing changed for my mother, and it became clear that she wanted me to again delay my baptism. But I could not wait, and on 15 February 1985—the best day of my life until then—I was baptized.
My mother was angry at my decision, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I met with my branch president, and as we prayed together, I felt inspired to ask my father’s brother to let me live with his family.
My uncle agreed but on the condition that I return to the university. Soon, however, our relationship deteriorated because he did not want me to go to church or to help the missionaries. Finally, he prohibited me from leaving the house for the district conference where I was to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Once more I had to choose between a tranquil life and the gospel. For me there was no question. That Saturday I arose early, packed my clothes, and left.
It was not easy being a member of the Church, but the Lord blessed me as I made my own way without the support of my family. One of my greatest blessings came when I went to visit the home of a newly baptized couple on an assignment from the elders quorum. There I met their daughter Giovanna.
After a time Giovanna was also baptized, and we planned to be married. But on the day of our wedding a legal notice arrived stating that the marriage could not take place. My mother had found a way to prevent it. After several difficult months we resolved the matter and were married. We now have four beautiful children.
As a family we have had difficult experiences, but these experiences have strengthened our testimonies. The Lord has blessed us greatly, and He has used our trials and difficulties to guide and bless our lives. Of this there is no question.