When Richard Machnics gives lectures for Alcoholics Anonymous, he tries to instill a hope in his listeners that people are "out there" willing to help them rebuild their lives.
It's a speech Machnics knows and feels in his heart. With the help of AA, he began a trek that eventually led to his conversion to the Church."I've been there, experiencing the same feelings of emptiness, loneliness and disgust," said Machnics, a member of the Solon Ward, Kirtland Ohio Stake. "With change comes a lot of mixed feelings, but it's worth it."
Machnics said his turnaround began after he felt he had reached the bottom.
"I found myself one day wondering where I was going in my life. I had a feeling of emptiness. I prayed to God to help me straighten myself out and get back in control."
He said one of the things taught in Alcoholics Anonymous is for people to follow their faith and believe in God. "I didn't know where to look, but I knew there was a Heavenly Father. That's when I started investigating. And that's when I met Joellyn Duffy."
Joellyn later would become his wife. She was a Church member but not active. Machnics didn't know much about the Latter-day Saints. However, he was no stranger to religion. As a youth, he had attended parochial schools and studied eastern religions. After college, he also had traveled through the Yucatan Peninsula in eastern Mexico, visiting the Mayan ruins.
"I really felt a kinship down there, and wished I could have stayed longer," he recalled.
When Joellyn discovered his interest in the ancient inhabitants of America, she said she had some books in which he might be interested. She gave him a book about a trip by an LDS writer examining the Hebrew ties to the ruins in South America.
"I also started reading the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price," he said.
At that time, he had his own construction business and was giving AA lectures to inmates in jail. After one of his lectures at a halfway house, he befriended a man who later went to work for him. One day while riding in Machnics' truck, the pair began discussing religion. The man said he was taking some Bible courses.
"I said, `Oh really, I'm investigating a religion myself. What religion is it?' I asked." His friend said "The Mormons." Machnics laughed and said he was studying about the Mormons, too. The man said the missionaries were coming to the halfway house and invited Machnics to come hear them.
Machnics received his first discussion at the halfway house. During the second discussion, the missionaries gave him a blessing for an eye problem. By the third meeting with the missionaries, he had read a specially marked Book of Mormon for the second time and was beginning to feel overwhelmed by his study and the feelings he was experiencing.
He went to Atlanta, Ga., to work on a construction project and called the missionaries there. He attended the Jonesboro Ward near Atlanta and continued to study with the missionaries.
After he returned to the Cleveland area, he was baptized last year in the Cuyahoga River on the Church-owned John Johnson Farm. His wife became active, and he soon received the Aaronic Priesthood and baptized his 13-year-old stepdaughter. He's now an elder and serving as second counselor in the Young Men presidency. Joellyn is a counselor in the Primary presidency.
He no longer has his construction company but works as a project manager for a large building firm.
The Church, he said, has had a tremendous impact on his life. "It's difficult to put into words how the Church has affected me," he said. "I've matured in a lot of ways and gained a knowledge of myself and my surroundings. I feel at peace."