Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish home in South Africa, Roy Swartzberg knew about the Old Testament prophets like Moses and Elijah, and he knew of the miracles they performed. When he heard about Moses parting the Red Sea or Elijah calling down fire from heaven, he marvelled at the things these men could do for the people and wondered why there were no prophets on the earth today.
It was shortly after his Bar Mitzvah (age 13) that Roy first heard about the Prophet Joseph Smith. At the time he was living with his Jewish grandparents. His mother had passed away, and his father had remarried and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One afternoon Roy’s older brother, Mark, sat down with him and told him that he, too, had joined the Church. He then told Roy about Joseph Smith, the First Vision, and the Restoration of the gospel and prophets to the earth. Something felt very right as he listened to his older brother bear testimony, and he already had faith in Heavenly Father and in prophets. To him, this was glorious news! There were prophets on the earth, and people once again spoke with God. He felt himself wishing it to be true.
After sharing his testimony with his younger brother, Mark invited him to pray about it. But as a Jewish boy, Roy had prayed only in Hebrew, standing up and facing in the direction of Jerusalem, the Holy City. Mark explained how Latter-day Saints pray: kneeling, with arms folded to show reverence. This was new to Roy, but he knelt to offer his first personal prayer.
Although the news about prophets felt right to Roy and he had a good feeling after his prayer, he wasn’t ready to listen to the missionaries right away.
Not long after that, he and his brother were sent to live with their step-grandparents, who were members of the Church. On Sundays the family would attend their Sabbath meetings, but Roy continued to go to the synagogue every Friday night and Saturday morning to observe the Jewish Sabbath.
He also began to attend Mutual activities with his brother, and when the Seminary program was introduced in South Africa, he went to that, too. There he learned about the Book of Mormon. The first scripture he ever memorized that wasn’t in Hebrew was 1 Nephi 3:7: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
The missionaries were diligent in visiting Roy once a week, and after a while he started attending sacrament meeting in addition to his synagogue meetings. Finally, as he gained a testimony of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, he decided to listen to the missionary lessons. Roy was baptized on Christmas Day in 1973—the first time he celebrated the Savior’s birth.
Excerpted by Marnae Wilson from “A Prophet on the Earth,” Jade Swartzberg, Ensign, December, 2007