STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Christine Truong was an atheist for most of her life; she never believed in a God and didn’t want anything to do with religion. In fact, she found enjoyment in arguing with people who were Christians. She prescribed to science and reason, and believing in something as intangible as God didn’t make sense to her.
However, something changed in Christine’s gap year, the year between finishing her undergraduate degree and beginning her doctoral degree, at The Pennsylvania State University. Christine developed a more tolerant attitude to people who were religious. She decided that if people used religion as a motivation to try to be better people and have more compassion for one another, it couldn’t be as bad as she previously thought.
But that didn’t that mean Christine had any interest in God.
“When I met my (doctoral) adviser — and it was clear he was LDS (a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) — had I not made that decision to be more friendly to those who were religious, I would have relentlessly argued with him,” Christine said.
Although she could tell that her adviser was a deeply religious person, Christine recognized that he did not bring up the topic of religion in any of their conversations.
In the middle of the second year of her doctoral degree, Christine began to struggle with impostor syndrome. She doubted all of her life accomplishments and felt that she had only achieved them by luck.
The depression she dealt with throughout her life came back, and Christine thought it might be best if she left her program. After much deliberation, Christine admitted to her adviser that she had been struggling.
“It was a very heavy day,” Christine said. “Admitting to him that I have depression, admitting that I needed help — it was hard.”
That evening, she got a message from her adviser — it was the link to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk, “Like A Broken Vessel,” which addresses mental and emotional challenges. Her adviser told her to try to avoid the religious jargon and to focus on the message of hope it had previously offered him.
Christine noticed that there was something she couldn’t comprehend while reading the talk, and she wanted to know more about was she was feeling. For the next few months, Christine kept searching for answers. She would periodically ask her adviser questions about his beliefs, and he would answer, without pushing too much.
There was something inside her that kept pushing her to want to know more, but Christine did not want to admit it to anyone — not even herself.
Eventually, Christine accepted an invitation to attend Church — not from her adviser — but from her adviser’s boss, who also happened to be a member of the Church. During the Sunday meeting, she was suddenly in a world that was unlike anything she had experienced before.
“I can’t comprehend how unusual it was,” she said. “Later, I learned if it wasn’t unusual, then I should have been scared. Because then that would be something that was of the world. (But) that was all I was familiar with at the time.”
Christine agreed to begin meeting with the missionaries after her first Sunday visiting the Church and soon found it would be challenging to leave behind her old atheist ways.
“I decided to dig up the old atheist hack, and I wrote down a list of questions to stump the missionaries with,” Christine said. “At the time, I thought, ‘I could finally mess with some deeply religious people here.'”
The sister missionaries patiently heard Christine’s questions and shared with her what they knew. This pattern continued for months. Eventually, her questions became more sincere; she wasn’t trying to prove a point, she was trying to learn.
On July 13, 2017, Christine decided to pray sincerely to know if the things she had been learning were true. The answer came immediately — yes, they were true.
“Now that I had an answer, I had to commit,” Christine said. “I felt like now that I have this knowledge, I have to do something with it. I have to change the way I live my life … so I decided to join the Church.”
Even after Christine joined the Church, she had to overcome trials and seek answers to additional questions.
“Not everything has been sunshine and roses after I joined the Church,” Christine admitted. “I still have depression. I still have issues that I had before I joined the Church. … Joining the Church doesn’t take away from all of life’s problems, but what I love about it is how it has given me so many more resources to help deal with them.”
One of the greatest resources that Christine has found since joining the Church is finding a support group of imperfect people who are striving to achieve similar goals.
“We’re not meant to be here alone,” she said. “We’re meant to be in communities … the unity that we have together through shared, but different, experiences help us to better understand the world around us.”