President Thomas S. Monson, the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said, “May we ever be courageous and prepared to stand for what we believe, and if we must stand alone in the process, may we do so courageously, strengthened by the knowledge that in reality we are never alone when we stand with our Father in Heaven.” In our day, each of us is faced with many forces that seek to stop us from reaching our full potential and distancing ourselves from God, our Eternal Father. There will be times in our lives where we will have to stand up for the beliefs and morals that we know are right. At times, we may be the only ones doing so. During such situations, we may feel alone in our convictions, but in reality, those who watch us will look up to us and be inspired to change.
Me in the rain forest close to Belize City with my relatives shortly before we went cave tubing.
In mid-December of 2006, I was in Belize City touring the port’s marketplace with my immediate family and cousins. We had just enjoyed an adventurous day of zip-lining through a rainforest and riding on tubes through caves. We were looking for souvenirs to purchase before we headed back to our cruise ship. Those who have been to such marketplaces are familiar with the persistence and aggressiveness of vendors. It is not uncommon to have vendors grab you by the arm and drag you into their shop, showcasing every item they have to sell. I was walking with my cousin through the Belize City port marketplace when a vendor grabbed my cousin by the arm and took him into his shop. I thought, “Well, there he goes” and I kept on walking. I was soon approached by a local. He was skinny, had a rich accent, and black dreadlocks. He asked me, “Hey, would you like a smoke?” I declined saying, “No thanks. I don’t smoke.” The man stopped and looked at me stunned. “You don’t drink either or do drugs?” inquired the man. “No” I replied. The man’s face broke into a big smile and he raised his arms towards the sky yelling, “Man, that is so freaking cool! Good for you!”
As many of you are aware, I am a religious person and am picky with the individuals I choose to spend time with. Without naming anyone, I would like to share a powerful experience I had where I was the only one standing up for my beliefs in a group of friends. I was riding home with a group of church friends one day with a new member of the church named Marquis* (name has been changed) who used to be an ex-Blood gang member. We learned that Marquis was a DJ in town and recorded his own music. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we are encouraged to listen and watch wholesome entertainment while shunning everything else that is the exact opposite. Marquis started playing a song that was sexually explicit and dehumanizing. As I looked around the car, I was heartbroken to see my friends crying with laughter at the song and not saying anything to stop it. I was furious and not sure what to do. In the past, I had fought with them several times about other behaviors that were against church standards and I was mocked for it. They ignored me. I believe that was one of the reasons I didn’t say anything on that car ride. When we were dropped off, I got out of the car not saying anything to anyone. I couldn’t talk to these friends I lived with. I had lost all respect for them. We had just gotten back to our apartment when our phone rang. One of my friends picked it up and talked with Marquis. When the call finished, one of my friends approached me in my room where I was still fuming. “Zachary,” said my friend solemnly standing in the doorway, “that was Marquis. He is really sad. He noticed how you got out of the car upset. He was calling to apologize to you that you had to hear such music and he feels bad that you were exposed to it. He thinks highly of you and says he’s sorry.” I noticed a change in my friends after this incident. As the years progressed, I watched them become amazing members in the church and obedient to its standards. Today they are all righteous fathers and have families of their own. They have my respect for changing in increments after that day. At the time, I was the youngest in that group. I am not sharing this story in anger against these dear friends of mine but to show that one, even the most inexperienced in a group, has the power to change lives with the power of God.
I know many of you can relate to such situations. I have seen in my own life how standing up for one’s standards can change the hearts of gang members, drug dealers, and even members of your own church. Think of all you can do. I am still learning today of standing up for one’s beliefs, especially when you are alone. It’s easy to walk away but it’s another to tell the group you are with that what they are doing is wrong. That takes true courage. Don’t participate in unholy activities that you know are wrong. Walk away! If possible, warn those around you of the consequences of their actions. I understand this is not always possible in some situations. But what is always possible is the image you make for yourself in standing up for what you believe in. Stand up for what you know is right in your own life! You won’t be alone when you do so.