Dee Garrett, another fairly recent convert to Mormonism, said her one-time visit to Salt Lake City for general conference in April 2010 did strengthen her spiritually. But it just about did her in physically.
"I think it was the altitude," said Garrett, a lively and energetic 80-year-old who joined the LDS Church a few years ago in the Sacramento, Calif., area. "I was sick the whole time I was up there. I was so dizzy, I felt like I was spinning like a top."
Despite her illness, she was determined to attend general conference. And when Dee Garrett is determined to do something, you might as well get out of the way because it's going to happen. She grew up in rural Virginia, protected from the anguish of racial discrimination by her dynamic chauffer father and a mother who, in Garrett's words, "would have been the perfect Mormon Relief Society president." As she grew older she learned first-hand about discrimination and became intensely involved in the fight for civil rights. She walked picket lines with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had to lecture her about not lashing out when someone spit on her, and she single-handedly moved her family to California from Connecticut when her husband — a minister — cheated on her.
So when she said she was going to general conference, she was going — dizziness notwithstanding.
"They put me in a wheelchair and walked me right in there," she recalls of her first entrance into the Conference Center. "It was beautiful in there, and I had never seen so many people in one place in my life."
But the main thing she remembers about being in the Conference Center for general conference is the feeling she felt inside.
"It was just a whole new feeling," she said. "I forgot all about being sick. Anything that was troubling me just left. I forgot about all that stuff. I just kept thinking, 'It was worth it. It was really worth it.'"
During the session, she said, "I kept looking at the prophet and the apostles and everyone speaking, and I was thinking, 'Look what I would have missed if I had turned those missionaries away!'"
After the conference concluded and she returned to California, the feeling she felt in the Conference Center stayed with her.
"I came back and it was just a different feeling that I had — it's hard to explain," she said. "It stayed with me all this time. Coming to conference just made everything different for me."
And that's exactly what Jaime Velez is praying for this weekend: coming to conference, and making a difference.
Born and raised as a Latter-day Saint in Colombia, Velez says he didn't have the opportunity to watch general conference live on television or even listen to it on the radio. The only way he heard about general conference talks was a couple of months after each conference, when the Liahona — a monthly magazine published by the church in more than 40 languages — would come out with a conference report.
"We yearned to be able to see or hear general conference," he said. "We would have done anything to be able to watch it, or better yet, to be there."
So when he came to the United States and was a student at Brigham Young University, he took advantage of every opportunity he had to come to conference, or to listen to the words of church leaders during BYU devotionals.
"I always felt something special deep inside when I was in the presence of the prophet or one of the apostles," Velez said. "Being there in the conference center doesn't give you a testimony. Your testimony isn't based on that. But it gives you a wonderful, warm feeling. It strengthens you."
Today he lives in Las Vegas, Nev., with his wife, Kathy, and their seven children. He makes the seven-hour trip to Salt Lake City as often as he can to come to conference with his children.
"Mostly, I try to come to priesthood meeting with my boys," he said. "I want my children to feel what I have felt sitting in the Conference Center and listening to prophets of God."
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