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    The Making of a `Very Atypical Mormon'

    A combination of coincidence and friendships led Sylvia Cabus to become a Mormon. (By Tom Allen – The Washington Post)
    By Sylvia Cabus
    Saturday, September 5, 1998; Page B08

    I am probably one of the most unlikely people to have become a Mormon.

    I'm a Filipina American, a committed feminist, politically progressive and single. I was raised Catholic, and I'm a proud product of the wonderful Catholic school system. I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, and I study international relations in graduate school.

    I didn't learn about my church through a TV commercial, or because a pair of fresh-faced missionaries came knocking at my door. I'm not blond, and I don't have a perm. I've never lived in Utah. I'm terrible at crafts, and I don't cook very well. I don't own a Franklin Planner, and I've never stayed in a Marriott Hotel. And I've never read "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" or any other books by Stephen Covey. I'm a registered Democrat.

    All in all, I'm a very atypical Mormon.

    However, within this hierarchical, ascetic and plain-speaking church, I have found my place. I've found, as a single woman in her late twenties, what Trappist monk Thomas Merton called "the four walls of my new freedom."

    Although the stereotype of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that it is made up of people from the inter-mountain West – large, mostly white families with pioneer ancestors – in reality our church is more geographically expansive and ethnically diverse than some would expect.

    It's through an odd combination of coincidence and friendships that I became Mormon. I've been attracted to the church ever since I could remember. I've always had Mormon friends, and everywhere I've gone, either overseas or in the United States, I've run into Mormons.

    In the summer of 1994, when I was doing Peace Corps training in Cameroon, I met a Congolese trainer who was a Latter-day Saint. Unlike other Mormons I'd met, she didn't have a Book of Mormon to share with me. Instead she shared her conviction, her faith and, as a single African woman in her early thirties, the fullness of life in the Mormon community in Africa. That was enough for me.

    At the same time, I really had become uncomfortable being Catholic. It didn't seem "real" or participatory to me because it was easy to be passive and anonymous going to Mass just once a week. I didn't feel I was part of a community. Mormonism offered me both.

    Since being baptized as a Mormon early last year, I have found myself both resisting and being comforted by the boundaries. "The four walls of my new freedom," as I've mentioned before.

    There are quite a few things I'm not accustomed to, like giving so much of my time and energy to the church. And there's a lot I don't understand, such as how women in the church had even more authority and power at the turn of the century than they do now. But studying, praying, questioning and learning all have contributed to the process of growing my testimony. And there is a lot of joy and challenge in that process.

    It's strengthening my relationship with the Heavenly Father and the Heavenly Mother, and Jesus Christ, and trying to live the principles of the Gospel every day, that I find so gratifying. There is a sense of completeness and symmetry in our scriptures, in our services and in our complex organization, and in our temples.

    Everything that we strive to do and be, as Mormons, is infused with an eternal perspective and understanding.

    My favorite character in the Book of Mormon is a man called Enos who lived in America in the 5th century B.C. The Book of Enos is a touching account of "the wrestle," the spiritual struggle, one man had before being forgiven for his sins. His soul hungered, Enos recounted. My soul hungered, too.

    And it's within this church, with this peculiar people, that I have found my strength and my comfort.

    Sylvia Cabus, a native Californian, is 28 and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. This summer, she interned at the Centre for Development and Population Activities, which focuses on women's empowerment and reproductive health issues in developing countries.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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