Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Journey: A Timeline and Testimony

It has been a long time since I have updated this blog. Since my last update, I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has been an amazing journey...and it has only begun!

Here is a timeline that describes my pathway to becoming a member of the Church. This timeline will be updated from time to time with events and experiences relevant to my journey.

Early 1990s--Read Book of Mormon for 1st time. From what I can recall, my family ordered copy through a TV ad.

Around 1997--First serious reading of The Book of Mormon.

Summer 2000--While working at Alice Lloyd College’s library during the summer, I received a note from the Pace family thanking me for their efforts in securing a book during a time of carpet removal and carpet-laying by contractors. Included in the note was a pass-along card for the Lamb of God video. I subsequently ordered the video. After telling the operator I would receive the video through missionaries, I later changed my mind--under guidance of my devoutly Evangelical family--when missionaries contacted me by phone. I decided during the call that I would receive the video in the mail. I received and watched the video. It is amazing what the Lord has done through the Atonement.

Fall 2001--I was offered another video over the phone: Together Forever. Like the previous video, I decided to receive it through the mail. The video discusses how families can be together for time and eternity through celestial marriage.

Spring 2003--I was offered another video by missionaries over the phone: Family Answers. I decided to order the video, not knowing how I would receive it.

June 6, 2003--Two missionaries--Elders Kevin White and Greg Burns--made an unannounced visit to my house. Not only did they deliver the video, they discussed the Gospel. I took the discussions through the summer.

August 3, 2003--My first visit to the Hazard Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was Fast Sunday and it was a good experience. I attended a few more meetings.

August 8, 2003--After requesting for a copy of the Doctrine and Covenants, I received the Triple Combination--which includes the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Elders White and Burns leave a great note inside the Triple.

Mid-September 2003--On a Saturday, I discussed my decision with Elder Burns and Elder Groh, as well as Bro. Greer. I decided then that the Church was not for me.

December 2003--Missionaries visited me once again, this time handing a pass-along card for The Joy of Christmas video. I decided not to order the video.

Late January or early February 2004--Received a call from missionary asking if I would be interested in discussing the Church again. I kindly declined the opportunity.

During the ensuing years, I would read the Scriptures, Gospel Principles, and other literature. Looking back, I felt that I was not sincere enough in my prayers regarding the truth of the Restoration of the Gospel.

July 2010--I felt a need to study and examine the Restoration message. I went online and looked at several sites, especially and I also examined the Scriptures. In early July, I submitted my name, postal address, email and mobile phone number for a request to be visited by the missionaries. On July 30, in a chat on, I notified the chat missionaries about the lack of response from the missionaries. The problem seemed to be the use of a PO Box instead of a street address. I re-submitted my street address to them during the chat.

August 2010--On August 1st, while reading Mosiah 15 in the Book of Mormon, I felt a confirmation--a warm feeling--that what I have been reading is true. I immediately chatted with Sisters Betty and Fiorella on We scheduled a private chat two days later (Friday, August 6 at 5pm ET). The chat dealt with basic topics such as faith, prayer, the Spirit, the role of Jesus Christ, His ministry, teachings and Atonement, families, prophets, free agency, Christ’s Apostles, and the priesthood. We scheduled another chat for Saturday, August 7 at 10pm ET. That night, we discussed the Apostasy, the Reformation, and Joseph Smith’s First Vision, which led to the Restoration.

The next day, Sunday, August 8, we discussed Joseph Smith further, including how he translated the Book of Mormon. We also discussed 2 Nephi 3:10-12, which states that all those who believe in Christ will believe the Book of Mormon. We also discussed the steps to prayer. The missionaries also instructed me to pray for the truth of these things per Moroni 10:3-5.

On August 9, I sent Miranda Causey Baker, a Mormon and an Alice Lloyd graduate, a message via Facebook explaining the missionary request I submitted in early July. I asked for any contact info for the full-time missionaries in this area. She did have the info and a couple of days later, I made contact with one of them.

On August 10 and 11, I had telephone chats with the chat missionaries. We discussed doctrines such as the premortal life, Creation, the Fall, the role of Adam & Eve, Satan, the difference between mortality and immortality, the Commandments, Atonement, the postmortal realm (including the three degrees of glory), and baptism. When asked if I would be baptized, I told them I would “strongly consider it.” At this time, I felt that that the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s First Vision were true because of the peaceful feelings I received. I have been praying for baptism, as I am a Christian who is looking for a home church and wanting to be baptized. Everything looks good in my prayers, study and investigation.

On Friday, August 13, the missionaries--and Darryl Greer, my middle school music teacher who is also a Mormon--visited my house. We had a good discussion...we discussed the online and telephone discussions, as well as topics like essential baptism, exaltation, and Satan’s attack on American families.

On Sunday, August 15, I visited the Hazard Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was spiritually uplifted, even though I was physically exhausted when I got home. One of the talks that stood out was Elder Gabbard’s. During his talk, he mentioned how we can use the principles of the First Vision in our own lives.

September 2010--Several missionary discussions and church visits later, I made the decision to be baptized. On September 11, 2010, Brother Darryl Greer baptized me at the Hazard Branch. I was very joyous. The next day during sacrament meeting, I was confirmed as a member. Two weeks later, I was ordained a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood.

January 30, 2011--I was worthy to obtain a limited-use temple recommend, which allows me to do baptisms and confirmations for the dead.

February 2011--On February 5, I attended the temple for the first time. The Louisville Kentucky Temple is a very beautiful house of God. I done several proxy confirmations and a proxy baptism. The next day, Fast Sunday, February 6, I had an interview with my branch president regarding the Melchizedek Priesthood. I was eventually ordained as an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood.

May 2011--On May 14, I received my patriarchal blessing from the stake patriarch in Huntington, West Virginia. The same day, I attended my first stake conference, also in Huntington. Day two of conference was sent to all units in the stake except Hazard due to issues with the satellite dish and/or receiver there. Therefore, I attended the general session at the Martin Ward in Floyd County.

On May 29, I was called as executive secretary in the Hazard Branch. I was sustained during sacrament meeting and was set apart afterwards. I am humbled and excited for this calling.

October 2011--On October 19, I was endowed in the Louisville Kentucky Temple. I have been blessed by the instruction given in the endowment.

The reason I have investigated and later joined the Church is that I have gone through a lot in my life and need guidance and strength from a home church. When I was 3 months old (June 1979), I had bowel surgery. I had asthma attacks during childhood. In 1995, I was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy. By the grace of God, my condition has improved over the past 15 years. I graduated from Whitesburg High School in 1998 and from Alice Lloyd College in 2002. I have yet to find a job in the nearly ten years after college.

But most of all, I wanted peace in my heart and a church home. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indeed the only true church on Earth today. I know in my heart that my Heavenly Father sent His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die for my sins. Christ rose on the third day and is returning soon. The gospel has been restored in these latter days. The Prophet Joseph Smith was an instrument to restore God’s kingdom, just as President Thomas S. Monson is being used by God today. I say all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Big honors for my alma mater

My alma mater Alice Lloyd College received major recognition this week. U.S. News & World Report recently named ALC one of the best regional liberal arts colleges in the South. In addition, ALC is the number one Southern college for graduates with the least amount of debt. You can see U.S. News' profile here. WYMT has more here.

I am grateful to God for allowing me to attend Alice Lloyd College. It is indeed "a light unto the mountains."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Clearing the air about Wikipedia

Wikimedia Foundation communications director Jay Walsh clarifies what Fox News has been reporting:

Wikimedia blog » Blog Archive » Clarifying recent coverage of Wikipedia

Full disclosure: I am an administrator on the English Wikipedia. For an explanation of what administrators do, see here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Setting the Record Straight on Grassroots Jihadism

This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

By Scott Stewart
In the wake of the botched May 1 Times Square attack, some observers have begun to characterize Faisal Shahzad and the threat he posed as some sort of new or different approach to terrorism in the United States. Indeed, one media story on Sunday quoted terrorism experts who claimed that recent cases such as those involving Shahzad and Najibullah Zazi indicate that jihadists in the United States are “moving toward the “British model.” This model was described in the story as that of a Muslim who immigrates to the United Kingdom for an education, builds a life there and, after being radicalized, travels to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and then returns to the United Kingdom to launch an attack.

A close look at the history of jihadist plots in the United States and the operational models involved in orchestrating those plots suggests that this so-called British model is not confined to Great Britain. Indeed, a close look at people like Shahzad and Zazi through a historical prism reveals that they are clearly following a model of radicalization and action seen in the United States that predates jihadist attacks in the United Kingdom. In fact, in many U.K. terrorism cases, the perpetrators were the children of Muslim immigrants who were born in the United Kingdom, such as suicide bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain and cyberjihadist Younis Tsouli, and were not first-generation immigrants like Faisal Shahzad.

Now, this observation does not mean that we’re trying to take a cheap shot at the press. The objective here is to cut through the clutter and clearly explain the phenomenon of grassroots jihadism, outline its extensive history in the United States, note the challenges its operatives pose to counterterrorism agencies and discuss the weaknesses of such operatives. It is also important to remember that the proliferation of grassroots operatives in recent years is something that was clearly expected as a logical result of the devolution of the jihadist movement, a phenomenon that STRATFOR has closely followed for many years.

A Long History of Plots

Not long after it began, when the jihadist movement was beginning to move beyond Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal, it quickly appeared in the United States. In July 1990, influential jihadist preacher Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (“the Blind Sheikh”) moved to New York and began speaking at mosques in Brooklyn and Jersey City. After a rival was murdered, Rahman assumed control of the al-Kifah Refugee Center, an entity informally known in U.S. security circles as the “Brooklyn jihad office,” which recruited men to fight overseas and trained these aspiring jihadists at shooting ranges in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut before sending them to fight in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The center also raised money to help fund these jihadist struggles. However, for the Blind Sheikh, jihad wasn’t an activity confined to Muslim lands. He issued fatwas authorizing attacks inside the United States and encouraged his followers to act locally. He didn’t have to wait long.

In November 1990, one of the Blind Sheikh’s followers, ElSayyid Nosair, gunned down Jewish political activist Meir Kahane in the ballroom of a Manhattan hotel. Nosair, an Egyptian with a engineering degree, had moved to the United States in 1981 in search of a better life. He married an American woman, had children and became an American citizen in 1989. Several other men associated with the Brooklyn jihad office would go on to conduct the 1993 bombing attack on the World Trade Center. The following men had profiles similar to Nosair’s, i.e., they first came to the United States, established themselves and then became radicalized:
  • Nosair’s cousin, Ibrahim Elgabrowny, was born in Egypt, married an American woman and was in the process of being naturalized at the time of the first World Trade Center bombing.
  • Nidal Ayyad was a Palestinian born in Kuwait who immigrated to the United States in 1985 to study chemical engineering at Rutgers. Shortly after he graduated from Rutgers in 1991, he began working for AlliedSignal and became an American citizen.
  • Mahmud Abouhalima was an Egyptian citizen who entered the United States on a tourist visa in 1985 and overstayed. He applied for amnesty and was granted permanent resident status in 1986. Abouhalima traveled to Afghanistan in 1988 to receive military training.
  • Ahmed Ajaj was a Palestinian who entered the United States on a political asylum claim. He left the country under a false identity and traveled to Afghanistan where he received advanced training in bombmaking. He traveled back to the United States with Abdul Basit (also known as Ramzi Yousef) to provide leadership and bombmaking skill to the cell of men associated with the Blind Sheikh who would go on to bomb the World Trade Center. Ajaj was arrested as he tried to enter the United States using an altered Swedish passport.
The following are some of the other notable jihadists involved in the long history of plots against the United States who have profiles similar to those of Zazi and Shahzad — and this list is by no means exhaustive:
  • Sgt. Ali Mohammed, an Egyptian who immigrated to the United States in 1984 and received his citizenship after marrying an American woman. Mohammed enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as an instructor in Arabic culture at the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, N.C. While serving in the U.S. Army, Mohammed traveled to Afghanistan where he reportedly fought the Soviets and trained jihadists. Mohammed also reportedly helped conduct surveillance of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi that were bombed in August 1998, and he pleaded guilty to his involvement in that plot in October 2000.
  • Wadih el Hage, a Lebanese who immigrated to the United States in 1978 to study urban planning. El Hage married an American woman and became a naturalized citizen in 1989. He also traveled to Afghanistan for extended periods to participate in the jihad there, then in 1992 went to Sudan to work with Osama bin Laden. In 1994 el Hage moved to Nairobi, Kenya where he opened an Islamic charity (and al Qaeda branch office). El Hage was convicted in May of 2001 for participation in the East Africa embassy-bombings conspiracy.
  • All six of the convicted Fort Dix plotters were foreign born. Agron Abdullahu, born in Turkey, and Serdar Tatar, born in Jordan, were naturalized U.S. citizens. Mohamed Shnewer and the three Duka brothers — Dritan, Eljvir and Shain — were ethnic Albanians who apparently entered the United States illegally over the Texas-Mexico border. The men became radicalized while living in the United States and were convicted in December 2008 for plotting to attack U.S. military personnel at Fort Dix, N.J.
  • Syed Haris Ahmed, a naturalized American citizen born in Pakistan. In 1996, his parents immigrated to the United States, where Ahmed became a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, majoring in mechanical engineering. He reportedly traveled to Canada in March 2005 with a friend, Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, to meet with a group of other aspiring jihadists to plan attacks. Sadequee is a native-born American citizen whose parents came to the United States from Bangladesh. The two were convicted in 2009 for providing material support to terrorists. Ahmed received a 13-year prison sentence and Sadequee was sentenced to 17 years.

A Well-Established Pattern

Clearly, the pattern exhibited in recent cases by suspects such as Shahzad and Zazi is nothing new to the United States. It has been around since 1990, long before similar cases began to appear in the United Kingdom. Indeed, as we have discussed for several years now, an increase in the number of such operatives was to be anticipated as the jihadist movement devolved from a phenomenon based upon al Qaeda the group (which we call al Qaeda prime) toward one based on the wider jihadist movement. As al Qaeda prime was battered by efforts to destroy it, the group lost its place at the vanguard of jihadism on the physical battlefield. This change means that the primary jihadist threat to the West now emanates from regional jihadist groups and grassroots operatives and not al Qaeda prime.

Of course, while this devolution is a sign of success, it also presents challenges for counterterrorism practitioners. Grassroots operatives are nothing if not ambiguous. They are decentralized, can be insular, and they might not be meaningfully connected to the command, control and communication mechanism of any known militant groups or actors. This makes them exceedingly hard to identify, let alone pre-empt, before they carry out an attack. Government bureaucracies do not do well in dealing with ambiguity, and it is common to see grassroots operatives who had received some degree of government scrutiny at some point but were not identified as significant threats before they launched their attacks. This problem is even more pronounced if the grassroots operative is a lone wolf who does not seek any type of outside assistance or guidance.

But the security provided by this ambiguity comes at a price, and this is what we refer to as the grassroots paradox. The paradox is that decentralization helps conceal militant actors, but it also frequently results in a diminished attack capability. Traditionally, one of the biggest problems for small cells and lone-wolf operatives is acquiring the skills necessary to conduct a successful terrorist attack. Even though many websites and military manuals can provide instruction on such things as hand-to-hand combat and marksmanship, there is no substitute for hands-on experience in the real world. This is especially true when it comes to the more subtle skills required to conduct a complex terrorist attack, such as planning, surveillance and bombmaking. Many grassroots operatives also tend to lack the ability to realistically assess their low level of terrorist tradecraft or understand the limitations their lack of tradecraft presents. Because of this, they frequently attempt to conduct ambitious attacks that are far beyond their limited capabilities. These factors help explain why so few lone wolves and small cells have been able to pull off spectacular, mass-casualty attacks.

In recent months we have seen a message from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula urging grassroots jihadists to conduct simple attacks. This call was echoed by al Qaeda prime in a message from Adam Gadahn released on March 7. The message from Gadahn counseled jihadists against traveling to training camps in places like Pakistan or Yemen and advised them not to coordinate their attacks with others who could prove to be government agents or informants.

Now, neither Zazi nor Shahzad heeded this advice, and both reportedly attended some sort of training courses in Pakistan. But while these training courses may have taught them some basic concepts, the training clearly did not adequately prepare them to function as bombmakers upon their return to the United States. It is doubtful that self-trained operatives would be much more effective — there are subtle skills associated with bombmaking and preoperational surveillance that simply cannot be learned by watching YouTube or reading manuals. Nevertheless, while the threat posed by grassroots jihadists and lone wolves is less severe than that posed by highly trained militant operatives from the core al Qaeda group or its regional franchises, lesser-trained operatives can still kill people — remember Maj. Nidal Hasan and Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad.

And they also will most certainly continue to do so. Given the large number of grassroots plots that have emerged over the past two years, it is very likely that there are several individuals and groups working on attack plans in the United States and elsewhere at this very moment and some of these plots could prove more successful than Shahzad’s ill-fated attempt. As in the failed Christmas Day airliner bombing, the only thing that kept Shahzad from succeeding was his own lack of ability, not any sort of counterterrorism operation.

This grim truth illustrates the pressing need for law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the West to focus on identifying potential attackers before they can launch their attacks. The good news for security personnel is that grassroots operatives, whether they are lone wolves or part of a small cell, often lack street skills and tend to be very haphazard while conducting preoperational surveillance. While these individuals are in many ways more difficult to identify before an attack than operatives who communicate with, or are somehow connected to, jihadist groups, their amateurish methods tend to make them more vulnerable to detection while conducting operational activities than more highly skilled operatives. Therefore, a continued, proactive focus on identifying the “how” of attack planning — such as looking for preoperational surveillance — is of vital importance. This increase in situational awareness should extend not only to protective intelligence and counterterrorism professionals but also to street cops and even civilians (like the street vendor who brought Shahzad’s device to the attention of authorities). Sometimes, a grassroots threat can be most effectively countered by grassroots defenders.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Poll: Paul leads Grayson by 16; Mongiardo, Conway in virtual dead heat

With six days to go before Kentucky's US Senate primary, a just-released Courier-Journal/WHAS-TV Bluegrass Poll shows that Bowling Green eye doctor Rand Paul leads Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson by a whopping 16 points among likely voters. On the Democratic side, Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo leads Attorney General Jack Conway by only 1 point, setting up a huge battle come Tuesday.

No matter who you vote for, think about this: Countless Americans have bled and died through the centuries so that we could have the right to vote. If you live in Kentucky, please VOTE on Tuesday...and remember our veterans and active duty military when you vote.

Alice Lloyd College Finals Week and Commencement

Finals week is going on at Alice Lloyd College, my alma mater. I hope all of you who are students there do well this week. Also going on this week is the Baccalaureate and Commencement ceremonies, which are set for Saturday. Baccalaureate services will begin at 10:30am while the commencement begins at 12:15pm. Both ceremonies will be held at the Grady Nutt Athletic Center on ALC's campus.

ALC alumni, what are your memories of finals week, baccalaureate, and commencement? Post your memories in the comments section.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

UK-Wake Forest Open Thread

The Kentucky Wildcats are set to play Wake Forest in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Earlier tonight, Kansas was upset by Northern Iowa 69-67. Let's hope UK does not get upset tonight...GO BIG BLUE!!! REFUSE TO LOSE!!!

Consider this an open your comments below.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Madness is here...

Three teams from the Commonwealth of Kentucky will be in the NCAA tourney: Kentucky (number 1 seed in the East region), Louisville (number 9 seed in the South), and Murray State (number 13 seed in the West). Here are the matchups for the 1st round:

  • East: 1) Kentucky vs. 16) East Tennessee State on Thursday in New Orleans
  • West: 4) Vanderbilt vs. 13) Murray State on Thursday in San Jose
  • South: 8) California vs. 9) Louisville on Friday in Jacksonville
Times for these games will be announced soon. The Madness is playing out in the political world as well. Today, Kentucky Secretary of State and GOP US Senate candidate Trey Grayson released an ad stating that his primary opponent, eye surgeon Rand Paul, son of 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul, is a Duke fan. Grayson explains that he is a True Blue UK fan. See the ad below:

Your thoughts??

UK wins 26th SEC title

In what one blogger called an "instant classic," the University of Kentucky Wildcats clinched their 26th SEC title in overtime over Mississippi State 75-74. The Cats will get an automatic bid--their 51st appearance--to the 2010 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament. The brackets for the tourney will be revealed tonight at 6pm EDT on CBS. Post your thoughts about this HUGE win in the comments section. GO BIG BLUE!!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Presidents' Day Open Thread

No, I haven't abandoned the blog...I have been focused on my other online activities the past few months. Consider this thread an open thread. Possible topics:

  • 2010 Winter Olympics
  • Yesterday's extra-long Daytona 500 520
  • The snowiest winter to hit Eastern Kentucky in about 16 years.
Keep comments clean and civil.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In Memoriam: Patrick Swayze

Actor Patrick Swayze lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday. He was only 57. Among his films: Dirty Dancing, Ghost, and Next of Kin, which was filmed in part in Eastern Kentucky. Pray for his family during this sad time. Post your thoughts in the comments section.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

NFL Kickoff Open Thread

The NFL season begins tonight. The big stories this year: Brett Favre to the Minnesota Vikings, several new coaches, and the potential for more TV blackouts. Post your thoughts on the new season. Keep it civil and clean.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Report: Billy Gillispie Checks Into Rehab Facility

Shocked, but not surprised that Billy G would check into rehab. Your thoughts?

WKYT: Billy Gillispie Checks Into Rehab Facility

Friday, September 4, 2009

Labor Day Weekend Open Thread

What are your plans for Labor Day Weekend? Discuss them here in this open thread.