July 7, 2014
“I can honestly say PathwayConnect was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I loved going every week. Honestly and truthfully, the gospel not only changed my life, but it also saved it.”
We can never guess which seemingly ordinary moments will impact our lives for the better. For twenty-year-old Aleisa Hardister of Corona, California, that moment came when she was sitting on a cushioned folding chair during what seemed to be a typical Relief Society meeting. That is when she first heard about PathwayConnect. “I felt like it was an answer to my prayers,” she said. “I immediately fell in love with it.”
Aleisa’s route to PathwayConnect was anything but typical. She was originally introduced to the Church when she was 14 years old. What was meant to be a fun outlet to showcase her singing talent by participating in the ward choir led Aleisa to Ashley Sorensen, a girl that would become her best friend.
Aleisa cherished Ashley’s friendship in spite of their religious differences. “At first I was confused as to why any person would want to go to church for three hours!” But soon she found that the Church felt like home.
“It wasn’t long before I began to realize just how much each class had to offer. With Ashley’s help, I was able to overcome some pretty tough trials in the beginning. The people in the ward were different; I had sincere love and support from people I barely knew.”
Little by little, Aleisa began to develop a testimony of the Church. “I felt like I was in the place I needed to be. Although I tried different churches, I was never as happy as I was when I attended The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Aleisa was taught by six different sets of missionaries during multiple discussions. Eventually, she prayerfully decided that she wanted to join the Church, but her parents didn’t support the idea. Although she was not allowed to be baptized, Aleisa continued to attend Church meetings. But when she learned about PathwayConnect, she found out that the program was only available to baptized members of the Church. She was disappointed, but not discouraged.
Aleisa values education and always knew that she wanted to pursue a degree. “I always knew that if I didn’t go to college, I would regret it,” she said. “I think it’s important because it provides structure. Although the world gives you experience, it’s good to have book smarts as well.”
Aleisa’s determination and faith enabled her to meet her goals. She wrote an email explaining her special circumstance to BYU-Pathway director Bryan Justesen. In the email she said, “About five months ago, I started taking discussions from the missionaries. I received answers I have been seeking for years; I understood the Book of Mormon and finally felt at home with the Church.”
It wasn’t long before I began to realize just how much each class had to offer.
Brother Justesen was touched by Aleisa’s email. Although the policy stood that PathwayConnect was only available to members of the Church, he had a strong feeling that he shouldn’t tell her no. “In the email she spoke about her testimony. I just thought I had to do something for her.”
Brother Justesen spoke with BYU-Idaho President Kim B. Clark about Aleisa’s situation, and approval was given to allow Aleisa to participate in PathwayConnect. Brother Justesen believes that the Spirit guided the decision to grant Aleisa special permission. “The Lord had His eye on her; He knew her.”
Aleisa was thrilled for the chance to participate in the program. After completing her year with PathwayConnect, she was baptized on January 25, 2014. “I told my dad the week before the baptism that I had decided to join the Church. At first he wasn’t going to be there, but he ended up coming. He said, ‘I don’t support your decision, but I support you as my daughter; I love you, and I’ll be there for you.’”
Aleisa is currently taking classes online through BYU-Idaho, presented and coordinated through BYU-Pathway, and recently finished her associate degree. She has also decided to continue furthering her education by coming to BYU-Idaho’s campus this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business management. She currently owns and runs her own business and hopes that this will help in her future endeavors.
Aleisa is grateful for the opportunity she had to participate in PathwayConnect. She feels that it helped develop and strengthen her testimony. “I can honestly say PathwayConnect was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I loved going every week. Honestly and truthfully, the gospel not only changed my life, but it also saved it.”