Pathway Support Director
Nathan A. Relken serves as the Director of Pathway Support for BYU-Pathway Worldwide, which includes many student services responsibilities for Pathway students.
He received a bachelor's degree in Communications from Augusta State University, a master's degree in Higher Education Administration from Indiana University, and a doctorate in Education from the University of Idaho.
Nathan has nearly 20 years of experience in multiple areas of Higher Education Student Services administration.
Nathan is a convert to the church and he and his wife, Joanna, are the parents of two children—Luke and Lily. His family is the joy of his life.
We invite you to study and ponder on the scriptures and other preparation resources below previous to attending devotional. As you come spiritually prepared the Spirit will have greater power to inspire you, teach you, and to testify to you of the truthfulness of the principles that will be taught.
- Read Alma 36:6-20 & ponder upon your conversion in whatever form you have experienced it. Share on the discussion board in three to four sentences when you have seen the blessings that come from true conversion?
Hello! I'd like to start my talk by outlining some of the experiences that led up to my devotional today. You see, I have a confession to make: I am extremely nervous about speaking in front of large groups. Uh-oh. So I've been here since 2009, and I've had a number of friends who've given devotionals over that time. However, most recently, I was part of the Student Services area on campus, and I began to notice that they started getting picked for devotionals--first Aaron Sanns, then Kyle Martin, then, last August, Tyler Williams. I saw the writing on the wall, so I moved over to Pathway. I thought I was out of the woods. Then when President Uchtdorf announced that BYU-Pathway would be moving to Salt Lake, well then, I knew I was totally in the clear. Spoke. Too. Soon.
But in all seriousness, I am delighted to speak with you today and hope that, despite my nervousness, I can, with the Lord's help, deliver a message today about the blessings of true conversion.
I'd like to start with a poll, and I need your assistance. On your mobile device, go to slido.com and enter #BYUIdevo. That will bring you to some poll questions. Be candid in your responses, as I hope we can learn more about each other and ourselves through this process.
Now, thinking of our answers, I want you to reflect on your conversion experience as this devotional progresses. If you are sincere in your reflection, I know that the Lord will provide you with further insight into the next steps He needs you to take along your conversion journey.
The True to the Faith manual states that "conversion includes a change in behavior, but it goes beyond behavior; it is a change in our very nature. It is such a significant change that the Lord and His prophets refer to it as a rebirth, a change of heart, and a baptism of fire" (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference , 40-43).
In an October 2012 general conference, Elder David A. Bednar stated that "conversion is an enlarging, a deepening, and a broadening of the undergirding base of testimony. It is the result of revelation from God, accompanied by individual repentance, obedience, and diligence" (David A. Bednar, "Converted unto the Lord," Ensign, Nov. 2012).
He later quotes Alma 23:6-8: "As many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren, according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them--yea, ... as the Lord liveth, as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away.
"For they became a righteous people; they did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more....
"Now, these are they who were converted unto the Lord."
The Book of Mormon provides countless examples of believers who were truly converted unto the Lord: the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, Enos, Alma the Younger, and countless others. Their conversions and ours are brought forth through the power of the Savior's Atonement and through the influence of the Holy Ghost. That power brings forth blessings, and the three that I would like to focus on today are a surety of hope, a boldness of action, and a legacy of faith.
A Surety of Hope
In Ether 12:4 it states, "Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God."
This surety of hope is what keeps me buoyed up when I may experience times of physical pain, mental anguish, or just temporal disappointment. I cleave to that surety of hope, and the Lord quickly brings my heart, mind, and countenance to a place of joy and peace. I long for others to be able to experience that same type of rescue, where the Lord's Spirit transforms and repositions us toward an eternal perspective.
A Boldness of Action
Now, as we think about a boldness of action, I'd like to share with you the following quote from the April 2009 general conference by President Henry B. Eyring: "You will need bravery and you will need boldness because you are enlisted in the Lord's army in the last dispensation. This is not a time of peace. That has been so since Satan arrayed his forces against our Heavenly Father's plan in the premortal existence. We don't know the details of the combat then. But we know one result. Satan and his followers were cast down into the earth. And since the creation of Adam and Eve, the conflict has continued. We have seen it intensify. And the scriptures suggest that the war will become more violent and the spiritual casualties on the Lord's side will mount" (Henry B. Eyring, "'Man Down!'" Ensign, May 2009).
A true conversion will bring forth a spiritual fortification and confidence to move forward in faith regardless of the battles or turmoil we may face in this mortal existence. That conversion is dependent upon us submitting our will to that of the Father. When we do so, our actions can be bold, because we are acting not on our own volition but by the guidance and direction of the Spirit.
A Legacy of Faith
In the Our Heritage manual, it states: "Whether we are new members or old, we inherit a legacy of faith and sacrifice from those who have gone before us. We are also modern-day pioneers to our children and to those millions of our Heavenly Father's children who have yet to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. We make our contributions in different ways throughout the world by faithfully carrying out the work of the Lord" (Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , 144-46).
I have a personal story I'd like to share regarding my pioneer journey. My conversion story begins in late 2003. During that time, I was working full-time and finishing up graduate school in Indiana. Taking a break from studying, I was flipping through the channels late one night and happened to stop on Larry King. From what I could tell, it was part of an older, previous interview from the nineties, and not happening live. I watched for a few minutes, and while I didn't get to see the name of the guest, by what he said, and with the conviction he was saying it, I could just tell he was a man of integrity and someone who truly understood the importance of family. I moved on to another channel and didn't think much else of it, but was still impressed by the older, bespectacled man.
Then in June of 2004, I was talking to some friends at work and heard about a guy who had won 15 straight games on Jeopardy. I was intrigued and tuned in, and for the next month, I watched him go on to win over 20 more before the Jeopardy off-season break. But what was most interesting is that each week I learned more and more about him in the "introduce yourself" segment of each show and came to realize that this was a quality guy: motivated, served a mission for his church, and loved his family. His name was Ken Jennings.
Near the end of July, I interviewed for and was offered a position at a college in North Carolina. I began to prepare for the move, faxing in a contract for a local apartment, looking online to learn about the town--where the grocery stores were and things like that.
Here's where I probably need to back up a bit and tell you a little about my faith background. I grew up in the Methodist church. Then when I moved to Indiana, I took a part-time job as a youth pastor at a Baptist church. I enjoyed both denominations, but when I stopped working as a youth pastor, I started attending a nondenominational church near the university I was attending. Faith in Christ was the most important thing to me, so I really had no preference of where to attend services.
So as I was searching for things around the town where I would be working in North Carolina, I quickly realized the town of Hickory was not on a formalized grid. Streets changed names at intersections; some even had multiple endings like "36th Avenue Lane Drive Northeast." So even though I was finding things, it was still hard to know where they were exactly.
I'm sure one of my general web searches was "Hickory churches," but, to this day, I still don't know exactly how, but somehow I ended up on the LDS.org website. I hadn't had any real experience with the LDS Church, only hearing about the Tabernacle Choir and that they had a Book of Mormon as additional scripture. As I browsed the website, I read about provident living, humanitarian efforts, basic beliefs, and liked what I read. I even tried the "Find a Meetinghouse" function to see if there was one in Hickory, but even when the address came back, because of the crazy Hickory streets, I had no idea where it was.
I moved down to North Carolina the first week of August, got settled in my apartment, and decided to explore the area so I could see how far it was to work, to the nearest grocery store, the McDonalds--you know, the important things. As I was pulling out of my apartment complex, I looked up. And right across the street was the Church. I smiled and thought to myself, "Heh, how convenient. Guess I know where I can go this Sunday." I could just walk across the street! When I got back to my apartment after looking around, I got online and tried to read some more about the Church. I noticed the "Sunday best" dress and knew I could probably wear my suit. But I was a little stunned by what looked like a three-hour church meeting! I was used to one hour, maybe Sunday School afterwards, but three hours? I figured, "Well, at least I can try it this once."
On Sunday, when I went across the street, I still had one main question. I wanted to know more about the Book of Mormon. The service was very similar to the Methodist service I grew up in, so I was relatively relaxed. A couple speakers got up and spoke about how much they enjoyed being members of the Church and how it had blessed their lives. A little later, another speaker got up, and I was waiting to hear about his experience with the Church, but he announced that his talk would be on the Book of Mormon. I was more than intrigued. Even then, I was not a believer in coincidence. So with me finding the website, the Church being across the street, and my main questions being about the Book of Mormon, when he said that, I just felt something was different.
He answered a lot of questions, and I was starting to really feel comfortable. At the end of the first meeting, a nice gentleman on my pew helped show me where to go for Sunday School and then, after that, to a really neat "men's meeting." Of course I eventually realized it was really called elders quorum. At the end of the last meeting, the same man asked me if I was going to stay for the potluck lunch. I was like, "Free potluck lunch? Wow! Can this church get any better?"
I fixed my plate and sat down at a table with a few couples that were around my parents' age. They were so friendly, and we started talking, and one of the first questions they asked me was, "So what ward are you from?"
And I was like, "Uh, ward? Um, I moved here from Indiana."
"Oh, so you're not from the stake?"
"Um, the stake?" By this time I was really confused.
Finally, the gentleman next to me said, "Oh, I'm sorry, we thought you were from the stake. Are you not a member?" And I replied that I was indeed not a member but that "this church seems really cool, and I think I might start coming." It was as if I had said some magic word, and they all started talking to me at the same time. It was funny, but they insisted that, as soon as I finished eating, I needed to go talk to the missionaries and ask them to teach me the lessons. So I finished my meal and practically ran over to where the missionaries were, next to the stage, and I asked if they could teach me the lessons. At first, the taller one paused, and I was afraid he might ask me that "stake" question too. But then I think he realized I was serious, and he pulled out a pocket calendar, and we set our first lesson for that Tuesday.
They introduced themselves, and then I shared with them my experience. And they happily explained what a ward and stake were and explained that Sunday had been ward conference, and that was why we had a potluck lunch and had stake leaders there. They also explained that the gentleman that spoke about the Book of Mormon was the stake president.
We eventually got into the first lesson, about the Restoration. Everything that they explained just made sense. It also seemed to fill in a lot of the missing pieces about my understanding of the gospel. They also talked some more about the Book of Mormon and gave me one to keep and read. They left that night, and after reading what they had asked me to, I had a strong urge to pray about things. And when I did, I just knew it was right. They came back on Thursday, taught another lesson, and I was so excited the entire time. Near the end, they quoted Moroni 10:3-5 and asked me if I would pray to know if what they said was true. And I was like, "I know it's true!" And they were like, "Great! Pray about it and tell us how you feel." That's when I had to explain that I had read and prayed asking those things and felt complete comfort and sureness.
However, one of the most interesting experiences came in a later discussion, when the missionaries brought over some cups with labels of "apostle" and "prophet." They explained the structure of the Church, and as they did, they turned the cups around and explained who the current apostles and prophet were. When they got to the prophet, I froze. President Gordon B. Hinckley--I had seen him before. And boom, I remembered where: clips from Larry King from the year before! I explained it to the missionaries, and we all knew it was not coincidence.
I wanted to be baptized, and I was, just a little over a month from when I walked across the street to the church. Over the next few weeks, I realized more and more that Heavenly Father was looking out for me and that I had been guided to the Church in an amazing way. The new season of Jeopardy started, and that same Ken Jennings guy was still winning, and that's when I realized, "Hey! He was a member of the Church too!"
I have been blessed every step of the way. I did not know it at the time, but I even met my wife for the first time at my baptism. It might be interesting to hear her side of the story. Joanna ...
Good afternoon. It is fun for me to tell my side of things. So Nathan actually got baptized in my home ward. It was at the end of the summer, beginning of fall, so I had actually already gone up to college for the semester. Where I went to school was in the mountains of North Carolina, and it was about an hour and 15 minutes from my home ward, but that's still in the same stake; our stake spanned about a two-and-a-half-hour radius at the time. And so I was really excited when I heard from my friends all about this guy who had walked across the street, and that he had asked to be taught by the missionaries, and that he would be baptized. I just happened to be going home that weekend to visit my family. And since I had formerly been a ward missionary that summer, I thought, "You know, I haven't been released yet; I think it's my duty to go to this guy's baptism and show my support." Let's face it: when a single guy gets baptized, you go. It's true.
So I went to his baptism. And, actually, with the guy that I'd been dating at the time, he felt like he needed to join me to show his support as well. So we both went together. And during the baptism, I thought everything went well. He was baptized, and then there were some talks and the normal program. But then they stood up and said they would do things a little differently. Nathan had asked if he could stand up and say a few things. Well, this intrigued me. In all the baptisms that I've been to, the person being baptized had never asked to speak. So he stood up, and he just said that he felt like he needed to share some things he was feeling and about the amazing journey he'd been on. And while he was shaking all over, like a leaf--you could physically see him shaking--there was that surety in his voice, there was that boldness in his voice, and I knew, by listening to him, this is someone who recognized the truth and who was ready to live the truth. And I could tell that he had truly been changed; I could see that change of heart and feel it. And when that was happening, it's like the Spirit whispered to me, "This is what you've been looking for." And no, the Spirit wasn't telling me about him, the person, even though that would come later; it was telling me that that surety, that boldness--that's what I had been looking for, that while I knew the Church was true, I was still on my conversion journey. But I knew it was worth every effort to continue to where I could get to that point, where I could feel as sure as he did that day.
What impressed me too is, while he was standing there and speaking (I could tell he was so nervous as he bore his testimony), I just thought, "This is someone who is powered by the truth and will be guided by the truth." And he didn't know what the future would hold. He didn't know, at the end of the baptism, a redheaded girl would beeline it to the front to eagerly shake his hand (he does not remember that). I know he didn't realize that, less than two years later, he would be proposing to that girl in Sam's Club--yes, I said Sam's Club; that's a story for another day--and that we would be sealed in the Columbia South Carolina Temple for time and all eternity, that our journey then just a few years later would lead us out to Rexburg, Idaho, where we would start our family. He didn't know any of those things. He didn't know the trials he would face. He didn't know the joys, the hardships, the sorrows. But he knew he'd found the truth, and that truth can guide him along his way. And that's what he needed. And that's what all of us need.
And I would just like to end with my testimony before Nathan closes and just say that I and many in this room are all on our journey of conversion; we're continually learning day by day. And I have a testimony that it's worth every scripture read, every prayer said, every minute served. It's worth it. We're not alone in this journey; we have our Savior, Jesus Christ, who knows and loves each of us personally and will help us along the way. I testify of that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Thank you. I love you, Joanna.
While my conversion is unique in circumstance, it is not unique in outcome. I have begun a new legacy of faith--a decision, a process, and a change in nature that will now be multiplied across generations.
We all have this same opportunity, and we must seek to be truly converted unto the Lord; and in doing so, we will experience the power of true conversion, and we will receive countless blessings. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.