Susie Schnell LDS Conversion Story
My oldest sister was a member of the Church when I was young, being introduced to the church by her college roommate. She is 20 years older so we never lived together, but we knew of this new religion through how she raised her family. My Ukrainian mother, having the tradition of always feeding strangers in need, invited the missionaries over for dinner many times to help them out and to feel a special spirit in our home, so for years we had missionaries over, but nothing ever came from it except for good company at mealtimes. I attended Catholic church and Catholic schools all my life. As I began 8th grade and started studying extra religion classes for Catholic ceremonies, I began to question the things that I was learning. I suppose you could call me somewhat of a trouble-maker since I bothered the nuns (respectfully) with so many questions. The things they were teaching me about the Trinity and the nature of the Godhead did not make sense and I could not logically accept them. Every time I would ask for a deeper understanding, I was told to sit down, be quiet and to just have faith that these things were a mystery. After all, no one knew the mysteries of God. I was never encouraged by any of my Catholic teachers or priests to read from the Bible myself or to pray about the answers by asking God. We did not have a Bible at home; we were to learn directly from the nuns, priests and from Catholic booklets.
When I was 16, I started attending the LDS church dances with my sister’s daughter on Saturday nights just for fun. I’d stay overnight and go to church with them the next day. For the first time, the lessons and explanations they taught me in class made sense. I asked my parents if the missionaries could teach me in our home. They agreed. All of my many questions were answered in a way that made sense. If the missionaries didn’t know something, they would look it up and come back the next day. My parents enjoyed the spirit they brought and had them over quite often. To make sure it wasn’t just a passing interest, I was not allowed to be baptized until I was 18, so on my 18th birthday, I had a huge baptism. I invited my new LDS friends, my non-member family, and of course the girls, teachers and even nuns from my Catholic all-girl high school. There were over 100 people there since I had waited so long and met so many friends by that time. When my girlfriends at school raised questions in our religion class about my Mormon faith, I got permission to have missionaries come to the school and teach our class for the entire period and answer whatever questions the girls had for them. They were able to find out for themselves that I was not joining a cult and they were especially glad to see that I could still wear makeup, jewelry, dance, sing and believe in Jesus Christ.
Early in my conversion, I made the mistake of not doing personal scripture study to strengthen my new testimony, so when questions arose that confused me, I started falling away from the church. I missed the gospel and what it brought into my life, but I was a stubborn college girl with a new boyfriend and thought it might have been a phase. More and more, I missed it though, and felt I needed to return as I visited other churches looking for that same feeling again.
Strange things kept pulling me towards the gospel. One day, as I came home from college, out of the blue I had an odd but strong urge to read the obituaries. This was certainly a first for me! I used to help a little LDS girl living in my neighborhood who had many disabilities. She had just died and the funeral was announced to occur in just a few minutes from that time. I hurried to get dressed and went to that funeral. For the first time in a long time, I felt the Spirit very strongly and realized all that I had been missing. Some very important questions were answered for me that day, but I still did not attend church. Still, it planted a seed.
Then the same week I was invited to a wedding reception from one of my LDS friends whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. I attended by myself, congratulated her briefly and then awkwardly walked across the hall to leave, for I had been inactive for a couple years and didn’t know anyone there. Suddenly, it was as if the whole room went dark and a light shone over a very old grey-haired man sitting completely across the large room at a round table by himself. I saw nothing else in the room and felt a strong urge to walk all the way across the hall and speak to this stranger. He kindly invited me to sit down as if he expected me and then immediately began to tell me about my life. There was no small talk, only serious spiritual things. I never told him who I was or anything about my life, but he could “see” my life very clearly and that I was headed in a direction that would bring me pain. But then he smiled and said that he could, at the same time, see another future for me if I would come back to the church. He saw a loving husband and children and much joy in my life for the future. He gave details as if he could see everything in a crystal ball. I was astounded; it was as if all this were a surreal movie. I found out later he was the Patriarch of that Stake and must have felt inspired to talk to me as much as I felt inspired to seek him out. I never saw him again but will remember that special incident forever. I still didn’t go to church that week, but planned to soon. It was hard to break the habit of not going to church, even though it was in my heart to do so.
Amazingly enough, only a week or two later, I was working as a temp for only one day in a grocery store when I witnessed a gruesome murder in the parking lot. I was just 10 feet away from this horrifying event. When this madman saw me witnessing the whole scene, he put his knife away, grabbed a gun from under the seat of his car and chased me down in his car, bent on eliminating this witness. He saw me hide behind a tall bread truck on the side of the store so he stopped his car, got out with his gun, and began circling around the truck looking for me, gun cocked and aimed. The two of us circled around this truck for several minutes, neither knowing exactly where the other was. Just as he was inches from my face around the corner of the truck and I was sure to be killed, something stopped him, he got back into his car and sped away, never to be caught by police. I will never forget how many spectators nearby expressed their prayers for me and told me it was truly a miracle that he left just as the gun was inches from my face, behind the corner of the truck.
Three times the charm! How many more signs did God have to give me in one month for me to come back to His fold? I knew I was being spared for a higher purpose and that I better start listening immediately. I called my sister and had a long talk about life and death with her and her husband. What would happen to me if I was killed? What would happen to the murderer or the sweet old woman he stabbed to death? I was on the phone for hours asking every question that was all of a sudden real and important for me at that time. I DID go to church the next week, intending to stay for good. It was at that meeting where I found out about a Young Single Adult activity the very next Friday. It was there that I met my future husband and we were married in the temple 5 months later. We now have 5 children, the oldest having served in Kyiv, Ukraine, the place of my mother’s birth. Many miracles have happened in my life because of my conversion and I thank Heavenly Father daily for this life in the Church that I almost gave up. I’m so glad He didn’t give up on me and knew how to make this stubborn girl listen. I have a rock-solid testimony because I continue to read, pray, study, attend the temple and don’t take my membership for granted.
Since my baptism, another sister and my dad were baptized, both miracles in their own right. My mother knew it was truly a miracle that my son was called to Ukraine, the land of her heritage, to the area where most of her relatives were still living and where she was born. In fact, that small town had just opened up 6 months before he was called and the Kyiv Temple was opened during his time there so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. She promised him with tears in her eyes that if he could do make that sacrifice for two years, she could read the Book of Mormon. This was quite a commitment since she is legally blind, having very little vision. Before he left, he gave her an extra large print copy to make it easier for her. The night before my son returned home at Thanksgiving, I received a phone call from my mother. She announced she was ready to get baptized and wanted my son to baptize her while the family was all together that Thanksgiving.
Because I was brought into the church, my son was able to baptize my mother and many of my relatives in Ukraine have now been introduced to the gospel through his service. He was able to teach them in their own tongue and receive the blessings of the Kyiv temple being opened while he was serving on his mission. He was able to find lost family records, collect many ancestor names and do the work for our kindred dead in their own language in their own temple. My son was told in a special blessing 2 years prior when he was set apart as a missionary, that he had made a covenant with these relatives in the pre-existence that he would come find them and introduce them to the gospel. That certainly couldn’t have happened if I wasn’t baptized. As I read my 4 children’s patriarchal blessings, it is evident to me that I had to be in the church and bring them here under the covenant because they have tremendous responsibilities as leaders in this generation.
Many missionaries and members came into my life through these years and made a huge difference in my life. Most of these people will never know how they impacted my life because I have no way of contacting them now. I have a firm testimony that Heavenly Father knows and loves each one of his children and wants us to come back to Him. His church is true. I’m thankful that he found me a second time, a little lost stubborn sheep who needed several prods before coming back to the fold. It continues to be worth it.