My name is Susanne Brown and I grew up in a small village in Northern Germany. Growing up, I had never heard of the church and didn’t know anyone that was a member. Everyone in my family and circle of friends belonged to the same church (the Lutheran church). I was always very curious and loved reading anything I could get my hands on. I had many questions in my religious classes that weren’t answered to my satisfaction. The pastor in charge of our congregation was very interested in religion as a motivation for social change, and kept talking to the youth group about the peace movement and feminism, when I was looking for scriptural doctrine. I remember asking him about the meaning of a particular scripture, when he told me, “I don’t believe the scriptures are literally true anyway, most of it is probably made up and it doesn’t matter.” By age 16, I had lost faith in the church I was raised in, but still believed in God.
I had a plan for my life, I wanted to study foreign languages and become a translator in the diplomatic service. As a first step towards this goal, I applied for a scholarship to study English as a foreign exchange student in the United States. In the summer of 1986, I arrived in Casper, Wyoming, for my junior year at Natrona County High School. Talk about culture shock! My host family had informed me that they were Mormons in their first letter to me and I had briefly tried to research the subject. Unfortunately, I only found books that disparaged the church. I arrived in America convinced that the church was a very strange and peculiar cult and that I wanted no part of it. I soon realized that I shouldn’t have worried, my host family was very much what we might call “less active” and didn’t practice their religion either.
However, only a few doors up the street lived their Bishop and his family, who loved and fellowshipped my host family. In the process, the Bishop’s daughters met me and introduced me to other young women in the Casper stake. I was fascinated by these young women and their leaders, they were so different from anyone I had ever known. I loved spending time with them and frequently accepted invitations to activities, dances and even church meetings.
A few months later, I was set up on a blind date for the formal Homecoming dance. Homecoming and formal school dances were foreign concepts to me and my new friends insisted I needed to experience them. My blind date turned out to be a young man a few years older than me, smart, good-looking, very self-assured, who was temporarily living at home while taking college classes and preparing for his mission. I know this sounds silly, but from our first date, we both felt like we belonged together. He struggled with the impression that we would one day get married, since he explained to me that his goal was to marry in the temple after having served a mission. I was deeply offended and told him, “I will never convert, who needs you anyway.”
But as much as I was denying it, I had now become curious to learn what the church was all about. I knew another exchange student had been given a Book of Mormon by his host family, and was not interested in reading it. I asked him to let me borrow it for a few weeks. In secret, I began reading the book every night. Once I started, I couldn’t stop reading. I finished the book in a matter of weeks. Then I knelt by the side of my bed and prayed about it. As soon as I began praying that night, I was completely overcome with a burning sensation that was stronger than anything I had ever experienced. I instantly knew the book was true, I knew the church was true. There was no doubt in my mind. I surprised everyone by telling them that I had found out for myself that the Book of Mormon was the word of the Lord. Only then did I take the discussions and many of my questions were finally answered and I committed to be baptized.
Of course, it wasn’t as easy as that. My parents were appalled and forbid me to be baptized. So I returned to Germany to finish High school. In a miraculous way, in the days before the internet, the Lord helped me to find the closest congregation to my hometown (but that’s another story for another day). I continued to study the gospel and wait for my 18th birthday. It was a very difficult time, most of my friends and family turned their back on me. I experienced a lot of persecution and ridicule but I persevered and was finally baptized on September 27th, 1987. By that time, my parents’ feelings about the church had softened and a year later, my mother also chose to be baptized.
So in conclusion, this isn’t only the story of how I found the church, but also the story of how I met my EC. In the meantime, the young man I had dated served an honorable mission. Immediately following his release, he jumped on a plane to Europe and proposed to me. We were married for time and all eternity in the Jordan River Temple. We have been happily married now for almost 25 years and have 6 children. Two of them are currently serving full time missions. I have served in many callings, including Relief Society President and seminary teacher. The Lord had a plan for my life that exceeded all of my expectations and introduced the gospel to me at the perfect time and in the only way that I think I would have accepted it.