Alvin Pettaway and a friend found the Church as young men after undertaking a search of some of the 25 religions on Todd Street in their hometown.
The year was 1979. Brother Pettaway, who had graduated from high school a few years earlier, went away for the summer, and when he returned, his friend told him about a unique church he had found.He went with his friend. They were impressed that they were treated so cordially by the members, even though there was only one other African American, a woman, in the congregation.
"And while I was there, I was in awe of all the things that were going on there," remembered Brother Pettaway, now elders quorum president in the Newport News Ward, Newport News Virginia Stake.
Approached by missionaries, he began taking the lessons. He read the Book of Mormon and recognized it as the truth. Without hesitation, he accepted the challenge to be baptized.
But Brother Pettaway went through a difficult period after the first year.
Things seemed to change for me. I dealt with a few people who really didn't feel my presence in the Church was something that they cared about, and I stopped attending."
Feeling a void in his life, Brother Pettaway began to attend Church meetings again, but as he became busy with college, he drifted away again.
"I felt something wasn't right," he recalled. "I read in Doctrine and Covenants 82:10, the promise that the Lord is bound when we do what He says. I figured I'd better get back where I belong. I started to go back to Church, and I've never turned around since."
That was when he met and married his wife, Shirleen. She is now ward Relief Society president.
Brother Pettaway identifies with Elder Bruce R. McConkie's statement that conversion is most often a process, not a single event. (See accompanying article on this page.)
"In the initial stage, after baptism, I was like a babe," he said. "After I stopped going, I missed it, and my desire increased even more. I returned and had the chance to experience it again, and then to be a part of it as I received callings and was able to use my talents to serve the Lord."
Then he learned to overcome excuses and to be diligent and faithful, come what may, he said. "I started to learn more, and my life seemed to become more complete."
He said he served in the stake mission presidency and in other callings, which helped him see how the mission of the Church functions to bring souls to Christ through its three dimensions: to proclaim the gospel, perfect the Saints and redeem the dead.
His religion, he said, is not a Sunday-only pursuit, but rather something that gives him focus every day of his life.
"For my wife and me, it is what gives us new light, every day knowing that we have the opportunity to serve the Lord and to do so in righteousness."