News Release

A Modern Day Saul to Paul Story from Pohnpei

A man goes from persecuting the saints to be a strong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Santos 2024 from Pohnpei
Santos 2024 from Pohnpei
Ioanis Santos© 2024 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ioanis Santos remembers when he was 10-12 years old. He said: “I was a naughty boy.  I hated those young missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! I hated their white shirts, ties, and black name tags.  They were foreigners to me, and I didn’t like foreigners, especially religious ones!”  He and his friends in Kolonia would throw rocks at them and found joy in hitting them with rocks using their sling shots.  He also persecuted the members of the Church, including the Elders, the leaders, and even the young children in Kolonia.  He said that his story is a little bit like Saul who became Paul in the New Testament. It’s his story on the way to his own “Damascus.” 

His heart began to soften when he turned fourteen years old.  By this time, he had a few friends who had joined the Church.  They asked him to come to the youth conference.  He was a little reluctant, but finally decided to go.  He tried not to mingle too much with the group.  He just stood back and watched them.  One of the speakers was Brother Ioanis Ioanis who was in the elder’s quorum presidency.  He began reading the story of Saul on the road to Damascus from the Bible.  As he read, Brother Santos said that his heart was really touched.  After the meeting, Brother Ioanis Ioanis gave him that Bible.  Brother Santos said that he didn’t sleep that night.  He stayed up all night reading from the Bible.  After the youth conference, he was invited to attend seminary.  He went with his friends all four years.  He found joy in learning more about the scriptures and the gospel. 

At this time, he was still hanging out with some of his friends who didn’t like “the Mormons”.  He remembers staying up all night often reading and praying that he could change.  He finally accepted an invitation to come to church on Sunday.  It was hard, but he went.  He was scared to death when he walked in and saw all of those people that he had persecuted.  When the sacrament meeting was over, he didn’t feel like he could stay any longer and left.  Because he had felt “something” at church, he continued to go, even though it was hard, for several years.  He began reading the Book of Mormon during this time. 

By the time he was a senior in high school, he felt like it was time to get baptized.  He was baptized in one of the rivers on Pohnpei.  In high school, he lived with his oldest auntie.  When she found out that he got baptized into the Church, she kicked him out of the house.  Unsure what to do, he returned home and quit going to church.  At home, he became the recipient of the persecution that he had inflicted on others.  This time it was coming from his family.  It became very difficult to live the gospel.  His family threw all his things outside and told him to leave.  He is not someone who cries easily, but this was hard, and he cried.  He returned to Kolonia and lived with some former classmates.  His family persecuted him for several years.  When they finally stopped, he began to find true joy in the gospel and coming to church again. 

He prays for his family a lot and for him to be strong as well.  One of his sisters joined the Church along with two of his sons and one niece.  He said: “I know that this Church is true.  I read the Book of Mormon about Lehi’s dream where he talks about the fruit of the Tree being sweet.” To him, the gospel and scriptures are sweet. 

After many years, his mother is now taking the missionary lessons.  It is hard for her because she likes going to her own church.  He said that when he first joined the Church, her heart was “hard like a rock”.  Now, her heart is beginning to soften.  He also witnessed his auntie’s heart soften toward him and the Church. She was the one who took care of him for years and in spite of everything, he always knew she loved him.  She was angry when he joined the Church. As she lay dying, she told him: “My son, I know that you love God.  I know that you have already met your own destiny.  Continue doing what is best for you.” He was so grateful to know that at that time, she forgave him for joining the Church.  He realized that she just wanted what was best for him.  To see both his mother and auntie’s hearts soften has been a great blessing and a miracle. 

He expressed his gratitude for the first principles of the gospel; faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Repentance, Baptism by immersion, receiving the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and enduring to the end. He stated: “I think that enduring to the end is the hardest.  I don’t want to go “backwards”.  I want to keep progressing forward and be able to endure to the end.”  His faith in Jesus Christ and his covenants helps him to be able to endure to the end as he renews them each week. Brother Santos said: “For me, the Church is a place of redemption.”

 President Rodriguez (Pohnpei Stake President) asked him to prepare to go to the temple.  He is in the process of preparing to go.  His wife is not interested in the Church at this time.  He has made the decision to prepare and go to the temple with or without her, because he feels like this is right.  His oldest uncle joined the Church after he did.  His uncle is seventy-four years old, very active in the Church, and now gives him encouragement to keep moving forward.  Ioanis finds this a miracle because not too many years ago, his uncle was one of the ones persecuting him!

Ioanis has a testimony of prayer. He knows that the Lord has answered his prayers in miraculous ways.  He also has a testimony of the importance of kindness.  When he attended the Catholic Church and doing things that weren't right, people would point their finger at him telling him that he was bad.  In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are taught to be kind. At a recent Stake Conference in Pohnpei,  Elder S. Mark Palmer of the Seventy spoke to them.  He counseled the saints not to point fingers at each other. He said that we need to just love one another.  Brother Santos feels the same way.  When he was a new member of the Church, not one member pointed their finger at him.  They loved him in a Christ-like way.  He really likes how no matter how young or old we are, we call each other ‘brother and sister’.  He said: “We are treated like family, because we are and should be.”

Brother Ioanis Santos is currently serving as the first counselor in the Erika Branch on Pohnpei.  He works at Nett Elementary School assisting the teaches with their needs.

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