As LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson delivered his message about testimonies, Lehi resident Chadd Pither nodded his head.
"If you do not have a firm testimony ... do that which is necessary to obtain one. It is essential for you to have your own testimony in these difficult times, for the testimonies of others will carry you only so far," President Monson said during the Sunday Morning session of April 2017 general conference. "Once obtained, a testimony needs to be kept vital and alive through continued obedience to the commandments of God and through daily prayer and scripture study."
Pither, a native of Leicester, England, can relate.
Although baptized at a young age, the 32-year-old with a rich British accent found his true testimony many years later while living homeless in another country. Pither related his spiritual journey while giving his first-ever sacrament meeting talk earlier this year.
"A true testimony is precious. ... I look back and I'm so grateful to have had the powerful experiences I had to gain my testimony," said, Pither, a Primary teacher in his ward. "Life is hard and full of trials, and without my testimony I wouldn't be where I am today or have the understanding and meaning of life which I searched for over many years. ... I had to humble myself and put my life in God's hands to gain a testimony."
Pither joined the LDS Church at age 10 in England, shortly after his mother married a Latter-day Saint. But any flames of faith burned out quickly when his mother and stepfather moved to Scotland. Pither elected to stay in England with his older brother, who wasn't interested in the church, he said.
Over the next decade, Pither experimented with drugs and alcohol, "living a sinful life" and becoming a "wild European," he said.
"You could say I was a baptized non-member," Pither said. "I went on to live what I knew to be a normal life."
In his mid 20s, around 2012, Pither sought a positive improvement in his life by moving to Perth, Australia. While there he saw an ad for a job on a mango farm in Darwin, a town in Australia's Norther Territory, a three-hour flight from Perth. He traveled there in hopes of getting the job.
Once in Darwin, he stayed at a backpacker's hostel and tried to secure the farm job, but was unsuccessful.
"It was like the job opening didn’t exist," he said. "I felt lost and alone. I’d spend my days trying to stay away from the backpackers."
Out of work and running out of money, Pither was walking on the beach when he noticed two young men in white shirts and ties. He recognized them from when he was baptized. The Mormon missionaries lifted his spirits and invited him to church, he said.
On Sunday, the self-described "scruffy backpacker," unshaven with long hair and cutoff jeans, showed up at Darwin's LDS branch. He was greeted warmly by members and felt a sweet spirit in the meetings, he said.
The Scott Plant family befriended Pither and invited him home for lunch. They gave him a Book of Mormon. Later, by himself on the beach, Pither opened to the first page and began to read.
"I began to get emotional and felt a heavy weight being lifted off my shoulders," Pither said. "This is where my conversion really began, where I really gained a strong testimony of the gospel. This is where I felt God’s hand directing my life."
While Pither began to embrace the gospel, he ran out of money and was forced to live on the streets. For a week, he slept on the beach or at a park and struggled to find food. He was too embarrassed to reveal his situation to his new Mormon friends. He offered a lot of prayers: "God, if you are there, I need help."
On Pither's seventh homeless day, he attended church meetings and returned to the beach. As he sat reading the Book of Mormon, he was approached by a church member named Roy Woodward.
Woodward saw Pither while driving by and felt prompted to say hello. The man from Texas didn't know Pither's situation, but if he needed a place to stay, Woodward had an extra room. He handed Pither a business card and left. It wasn't until months later that Pither told Woodward he'd been living on the streets.
"I was dumbfounded. Really?" Pither said. "My prayers were answered, big time. It was a huge blessing. ... I knew God had sent Roy that day to help me."
Pither accepted Woodward's offer and lived with him for the next several months, during which he found a job and got back on his feet.
The young man from England also gained a testimony and became an active Latter-day Saint. Pither even assisted the missionaries in bringing two people into the church. Ten months in Darwin changed Pither's life, he said.
"I was in a good spiritual place. I was able to go through a spiritual change there," Pither said. "I started to feel the happiness I had been searching for."
A new life
Hoping to meet someone special, Pither created a profile on an LDS dating website. Within a short time he connected with a woman in Utah named Tatum and felt their relationship was unique.
"She played hard to get ... and was on the other side of the world, but I knew straight away that she was the one," Pither said. "People thought I was crazy when I decided to come here and ask her to marry me."
Little did Pither know that Cole, the oldest of Tatum's young sons from a previous marriage, had written to Santa Claus asking for a new father for Christmas, Pither said.
And so it was that after a five-month, long-distance relationship, Pither came to Utah and proposed. In a matter of a few weeks, Pither was ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood; received a patriarchal blessing; received his temple endowment; was sealed to his mother, stepfather and sister in the Draper Temple; and finally, married to his sweetheart in the Salt Lake Temple.
"I knew I was doing what my Heavenly Father wanted me to do," Pither said.
Looking back, everything good in Pither's life stems from having a testimony, he said.
"Because I'm a convert, I know the difference of having and not having the gospel in your life," Pither said. "I am so grateful for my testimony. I don’t know where I’d be today without it. I never want to let it die. It's what keeps me going."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: tbtoone