Several years ago I had the opportunity to meet Susan in while making presentations in Salt Lake City. She shared with me her remarkable story of finding the true Jesus Christ.
Susan grew up in a family that was a direct descendent of a Mormon pioneer family who travelled to Salt Lake City using a handcart in the mid 19th century. When Brigham Young arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, he encouraged LDS converts in Great Britain to come to Utah. For the next eight years, approximately 16,000 European Mormons arrived in America. Most of the emigrants traveled to Salt Lake by rail or covered wagons pulled by strong oxen. Those who couldn’t afford to purchase a railroad ticket or a covered wagon gathered together in Iowa and Nebraska. To assist these families, Brigham Young helped organize handcart companies to make the final trek to Salt Lake City. From 1856-1860, three thousand pioneers from England, Scotland, and Wales placed their belongings on handcarts or over-sized wheel-barrows and walked all the way to Utah. Pioneer Days is an annual celebration rivaling Christmas and Thanksgiving that commemorates the early Mormon pioneers. Mormons who are direct descendants of these pioneers feel great pride in being associated with them.
The heritages of pioneer families is a strong pull to keep Mormons faithful to their religion. This was especially the case for Susan who was constantly taught the importance of being worthy of God’s blessings, valiant in her faith and CTR (choosing the right). Being a rebellious teenager, she struggled in her attempts to be worthy and valiant in her LDS faith.
Susan became pregnant and immediately married her teenage boyfriend. Back in the 60′s, marriage was a requirement to form a legitimate union and to move forward in the LDS process of repentance with the hope of someday receiving forgiveness. Determined to become a worthy Mormon, Susan carried out her part by being the perfect housewife, the perfect mother, fulfilling all her callings in the church, and having many babies. Exhaustion and feelings of being overwhelmed were her constant companions. She strove to become perfect, but knew she fell far short. Guilt plagued her life. Mormonism to her was like a demanding parent, she never felt like she was doing enough to receive its approval.
Nagging guilt convinced Susan that perhaps she didn’t understand Mormonism well enough. She enrolled in several college-level classes on Mormonism taught by LDS professors to learn more about her faith. However, the more she learned about LDS teachings, the more she doubted. Since worthy Mormons are not to question the teachings of the LDS church or its authorities, she did not inquire about her doubts and continued to play the role of a faithful Mormon.
Stress entered Susan’s marriage when she discovered that her husband had been unfaithful. She was strongly encouraged by the bishop to stay with her husband even though he was no longer considered worthy. If she didn’t stay with him, she would jeopardize her chance for salvation and would not be worthy enough for the highest kingdom of glory (the celestial kingdom). To be considered worthy, a woman must be married. Furthermore, a woman can only attain the celestial kingdom if she has a worthy husband and her marriage has been sealed for time and eternity in the temple. ”If my husband isn’t worthy,” she thought, “and I know that I’m not worthy, than it just doesn’t matter anymore.” Inside, Susan broke. She left the Church she dearly loved, divorced her husband, and spent the next thirteen years as a very angry woman.
To fill the void in her life, Susan pursued New Age and other occult religions. Shamanism, card-reading, astrology, crystals – any kind of spiritualism seemed attractive since she couldn’t seem to find the truth she was seeking.
But the Lord moves in mysterious ways.
It started when she decided to find her birth mother. Knowing she was adopted, she always felt bad and unworthy because she thought to herself: “Even my own birth mother abandoned me.” While searching for her mother, she was shocked to learn that her adoption was not legal. Her adoptive mother didn’t know the circumstances or the details surrounding her birth. She only knew that a baby needed a good Mormon home. She decided to run a newspaper advertisement, which rarely works, but she was contacted by a birth family member who recognized her story.
She eventually found her birth mother living in California. Her mother had gone through a difficult period in her life and had to give up both Susan and her baby brother. When her mother’s life returned to normal, she was able to find her son. However, nobody seemed to know what had become of her little girl. Her mother came to faith in Christ, plus her brother had become a Lutheran pastor.
For the next several years their relationship grew. Her mother always told her that she was praying for Susan’s eternal welfare. However, it was the example of her mother’s life that gave the strongest testimony of a living and active faith in Jesus. When her mother was lying on her deathbed, Susan was touched by the comfort and assurance she displayed. By resting entirely on God’s promises, her mother was 100% certain that she was going to see Jesus in heaven, because she was freely and fully forgiven. Since Mormons are never certain if they are good enough to eternally progress in heaven, her mother’s approach to death had quite an impact on Susan.
She longed for the faith of her mother. Over the course of three years, she vigorously studied the Bible with the help of her brother. She worked through the false teachings of Mormonism that had been deeply ingrained in her. Finally, she completed her long journey and came to faith in her Savior. With any journey involving the heart, the length of time is overshadowed by the joy experienced in finally coming home and resting in the arms of Jesus.
From her experiences, she offers the following words of instruction and encouragement for us:
“Our attitude is very important. We must recognize Mormons, not as the enemy, but as deceived people trapped by the enemy. They are precious souls for whom Christ died. So we must not allow anger or frustration to seep into our witness, but convey love and patience.”
“We need to be concerned, authentic, and available for Mormons. Typically, Mormons are in some type of deep emotional pain. They will not be prone to open up to other Mormons, because to do so would be to reveal their unworthiness. As a result, they will be more open to talk to non-Mormons. A great first step is asking Mormons if you can pray for them.”
Mormons are not unreachable. For many, it’s a long process of wading through the false teachings of Mormonism to fully grasp the truth of God’s Word. When Susan left the Mormon Church, it took thirteen long, dark years of questioning before she finally came to faith. “If the Lord can work the miracle of faith in me,” Susan shared, “then God can work the miracle of faith in any Mormon, no matter what the circumstances may be.”
For another story of coming to faith in Christ, please click here