I was gathered by the Book of Mormon

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I was gathered by the Book of Mormon

I was born in Chile in 1954. My parental grandfather was a Lithuanian Jew and my grandmother, a German Jew. My mother’s side of the family is Chilean. I was raised Catholic but thought that the Lord’s true Church would be a missionary oriented one.

Isaiah Testifies of Christ

Gregorio Billikopf found Christ at age 19 after reading the Book of Mormon

Between my first reading of the Book of Mormon and my baptism three months later, the missionaries encouraged me to write my questions on the margins. I accepted that challenge and filled my Book of Mormon with questions and notes. I am a very slow reader but over the years devoured the writings of as many of the modern-day prophets as I could get my hands on, as well as the scriptures. It did not take long to fill the margins of my scriptures with notes, quotes and testimonies.

My interest in the Hebrew Scriptures grew after I joined the Church. In my personal journal I talk about studying the great Prophet Isaiah as early as 1983. While the writings of Isaiah and the Prophets have always held a special appeal for me, it was in 1996, while reading the Book of Mormon, that the words of our Savior sank deep into my heart: “And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yeah, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah” (3 Nephi 23:1).

I was somewhat surprised and asked myself: why did the Lord want me to study Isaiah? The Savior also admonished: “Search the prophets” (3 Nephi 23:5b), נְבִיאִים‎ or Nevi’im (the Jewish Scriptures are divided into three major categories, the Law, the Prophets and the Writings).

These admonitions turned into a labor of love. I wrote Isaiah Testifies of Christ (which is now in its 3rd edition), above all, as one of reflections for myself. When the margins of my scriptures could no longer hold my notes, my wife suggested that I keep a separate journal. It is my hope to revise the book from time to time, as I gain additional insights. I already feel it is in need of a fourth edition.

While Isaiah Testifies of Christ was also written for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have an interest in the Prophet Isaiah, I hope that our friends from other faiths may find some value in these pages. I also hope this book will help my Jewish family on both sides of the veil to come unto Christ. I wish to share with you how the Book of Mormon helped me come to Christ.

The Godhead

When I was about thirteen, our religion teacher at Saint George’s College (despite the title, a school from 1st to 12th grade) in Santiago taught us that the Trinity was a mystery; that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit were one and three in a way that could not be explained. In fact, she explained that it would be easier to empty the Pacific Ocean with a bucket, into the sand by the beach, than to understand this great mystery.

As I rode the trolley bus on the way home, I was inspired by the Holy Ghost whose words came to me something like this: “It is really a simple thing: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct beings but one in purpose.” While I was still thinking about what all this meant, I saw myself at home, asking my Father for permission to go to the farm in San Javier (then about five hours south of Santiago by train) for the long weekend. While my parents always gave permission, on this occasion my father explained that I could not go and gave several reasons. Then he invited me to ask my mother if I did not like his answer.

I turned around to do exactly that, to go and ask my mother, and remembered that she had given me the same answer and invited me to ask my father if I was not satisfied with her response. It was made clear to me, that just as my parents where two distinct individuals yet one in purpose, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost were one in perfect purpose and unity.

I was so excited I could not wait to share my newly gained knowledge with my parents. When I burst with my newly acquired news, my father had been sitting on a rocking chair and had been chatting with my mother while she was in her bed. “If I told you this was the greatest blasphemy against the Catholic Church, would you still say this?” he asked. As much as I looked up to my parents and did not want to offend them I could not deny what I had felt. Later I came to know that I had received a witness from the Holy Ghost.

Some of the words that came to me were the same as those expressed by the Prophet Joseph Smith when he said he could not deny that which was of God. So much so, that when years later I read the Joseph Smith’s account of the first vision, my first reaction was, “He copied me!” No sooner had this thought crossed my mind, I realized that the Prophet had lived over a century before.

Report on the Mormons

In 1970, when I was fifteen, a religion teacher gave us an assignment to write about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our school was being bought by the Mormons and we were moving to another location in Santiago. This American priest told us, “You Chileans think that the only church is the Catholic Church.” Even though I had once accompanied my father to a synagogue in New York, I thought to myself, “Yes, of course.” “Well,” the Priest continued: “I want each of you to write a report on the Mormons.”
I told my father about this report. He said that I was in luck as the LDS Mission Home was only two blocks from our home. But, he warned, “Be careful, they will try and convert you.”

The Elder who answered the door was polite, but to my surprise had me wait outside and did not preach the Gospel to me (later, I found out that it was because of my young age and the Church’s desire not to split families). The Elder soon returned and gave me some nice magazines with photographs, as well as a book. I cut and pasted the photos and wrote a report. I also opened the book but I found it less interesting as it was mostly print matter with little art or photos.

I finished the report and turned it in. To my surprise the Catholic Priest announced to the whole class—in a bitter voice—that because I had done such a good job on the report that I would get a 7 (perfect score in Chile, where 4 is passing) and the rest of the class would get no more than a 5. When I got back home I discarded the magazines and was about to do the same with the book, but I felt prompted to open it one more time.

At that time the Book of Mormon paperbacks had the Angel Moroni on the cover and the promise from Moroni 10:4–5 inscribed in the first inside page. I read: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”
As I read these words I was filled with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. I instantly knew it was the Holy Ghost that was testifying to me of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The warmest and sweetest feeling overcame me, and enveloped me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. Sadly, my reaction was, “But I don’t want to be religious.” I really did not comprehend the joy of discipleship. I had a stony heart.

I was gathered by the Book of Mormon

This episode was one of my last memories in Chile before my whole life would be thrown into chaos. Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile and shortly thereafter my father, as an American born Jew, did not feel we could stay in Chile. Years later I found out that my father’s first choice was to go to Portugal but we ended up going to the USA because he could not find a flight to Portugal.

We settled in New Canaan, Connecticut, and after finishing High School I moved to California, to study agriculture. At the University of California, Davis, I met an interesting Latter-day Saint student, Randy Homrig. He gave me another copy of the Book of Mormon which I filed along with my many books. I remember not agreeing with anything Randy had to say—except when he spoke about the Church. Then, the Spirit would bear witness of the truthfulness of my friend’s comments.

During the Christmas vacation of my sophomore year (1973-1974) I returned to Connecticut to spend the holidays with my family. I packed my hand baggage with lots of dressage books (one of the equestrian disciplines). Then I added some textbooks in case I would finish the horse books. As I was leaving my dormitory, out of the corner of my eye the Book of Mormon caught my eye as if to say, “Take me!” In my mind I thought, “Fine, if I read my horse books, and my textbooks, I will read the Book of Mormon and added it to my carry-on handbag.

Once on the plane I pulled out a book, all excited with the prospect of reading about dressage. But the last would be first (Matthew 20:16). As I contemplated what seemed like a mistake, the Spirit said, “Read me!” After four days I finished the Book of Mormon.
My stony heart of three years earlier was softened in the process and I was filled with indescribable joy and a heart of flesh.

At one point I felt the presence of the Savior and I imagined Him with outstretched arms beckoning me to come unto Him. His message was something to the effect that He would show me the truth of all things if I would become His disciple. But He also warned me that it would be better if I had never known Him than to follow for a while and then get bored of the Gospel. At that very moment I made the choice of following Christ. I was so thrilled that I ran into my brother Nicolás’ room with the Book of Mormon in my hand, telling him this was a true book. My parents later told me that I scared my brother into being a good Catholic.

I called the Stake missionaries when I got back to California. I received the discussions from Randy Homrig and Phil On: two on Tuesday, two on Wednesday, and two on Friday. When they taught me the LDS view on the Godhead and I immediately consented, they exchanged surprised glances. I asked to be baptized, but was informed that I needed to first meet with the Branch President of the UCD Branch.

President Hill asked me what my parents thought about my joining the Church. I told him that they had asked that I talk to a Catholic Priest. President Hill invited me to be obedient to my parent’s request. I made the appointment and the Catholic Priest told me that it was so obvious that I believed that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true, that I was a hypocrite if I did not join the Church.

On Sacred Ground

So, I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church on 9 March 1974, at the age of 19. My parents returned to Chile soon after. My father went all over Chile saying that the worst thing that could have possibly happened had taken place, that his son had joined the Mormon Church. A year later he told me that he went back and told the same people that this was the best thing that ever happened, so big was the change for good that he saw in me.

Santiago, Chile Temple
The Santiago, Chile Temple was dedicated in 1983 and became the 24th operating temple.

My fiancée Linda Marsing and I were married in the Oakland Temple in 1976. And guess what happened to my school in Santiago, where I had been given the assignment to study the LDS Church? There, today stands the Santiago, Chile Temple (it was dedicated in 1983 and became the 24th operating temple).

I worked for the University of California for almost 34 years and my specialty was labor productivity and mediation of deep-seated interpersonal conflicts. I developed several models which I felt were inspired by the Lord. As an academic of the University of California and visiting Professor of the Universidad de Chile, I had many opportunities; including travel to speak in all continents save Antarctica. I suppose the penguins did not need any help in either labor productivity or conflict management. Linda and I had the opportunity to spend all three of my career Sabbaticals in Chile. After retiring in 2014, I was able to return back to Chile with Linda.

I have loved each one of my jobs and my life’s work. I have been a dressage rider and instructor, an amateur radio operator, and a soccer referee. I have always loved the scriptures, but since about 1996 my love for the scriptures has occupied much of my free time.

As I write this I can look out the window and see Lake Llanquihue and multiple snow covered volcanoes and a rainbow. I feel as if I live in the Garden of Eden. I can see the hand of the Lord and His tender mercies [חֶסֶד] and how they have blessed my life.
The Book of Mormon originally led me to Christ and to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. No book has had as great an impact for good in my life. Its positive influence has been on-going, most especially since I accepted President Ezra Taft Benson’s 1986 challenge to sup daily from its pages.

Today, my most treasured possession is the knowledge that Jesus is the very Messiah that my Jewish ancestors had been waiting for; that Christ has restored His Church once again upon the earth. That it is through Christ that we can return once again to live with our Father in Heaven. As I read the Book of Mormon and see the promises made to my Lamanite ancestors, I am also filled with gratitude untold. I count myself as one who lived “unto the outmost parts of heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:4), when the Lord found me and gathered me. I found Christ while reading the Book of Mormon. God found me when I was not looking.

If you haven’t read my series on understanding the gathering of Israel here’s part 1…

The Gathering of Israel: Nothing of Greater Importance!

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Gregorio Billikopf belongs to the Llanquihue Branch, Puerto Montt Stake, in the south of Chile. He is the author of Isaiah Testifies of Christ and an emeritus academic of the University of California and professor of the University of Chile; author of Party-Directed Mediation: Facilitating Dialogue between Individuals and other books. Gregorio’s paternal grandparents are Lithuanian Jews and German Jews and on his mother’s side of the family he is Chilean. He found Christ through reading the Book of Mormon. You may contact him through bielikov2@yahoo.cl.

1 COMMENT

  1. Gregorio, what a great conversion story. The power of the Book of Mormon is amazing and I am happy you shared your experience with it with all of us.

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