As “JTM” I was asked to speak all over the world sharing my story. I’ve cried in front of thousands of people countless times as I recount and relive the evil and pain I experienced throughout my childhood. The era of JTM has come to an end, and I wanted those who haven’t had an opportunity to hear me speak to gain some understanding into the experiences that have made me who I am. My hope is that this blog post can be a constant reminder that you are not alone during the painful trials you are experiencing and you are absolutely loved. At the very least I hope they’ll encourage you to try again & get back up no matter how many times you’ve fallen down.
I thought a lot about what to share with you guys. I felt impressed to keep it real. I hope to invite the spirit today because, If there's one thing that you leave here with today, I hope that you all will understand that I know that this church is the true and living church of Jesus Christ, and that the atonement of Christ can help any of you through any trial no matter how big or small.
If it's ok I want introduce myself because I had a very interesting Mormon childhood. I was baptized in Beijing China when I was 8 in a jacuzzi in the “Lido Hotel” by Kent Watson. Kent Watson is now Elder Watson in one of the quorums of the 70.
My memories of primary are of sitting on someone's bunk bed in someone's small apartment in China trying not to fall asleep although I'm pretty sure I fell asleep 50% of the time.
I received my priesthood in an old Soviet theatre in Moscow, Russia. I even did my eagle project painting an orphanage in Russia.
I also graduated high school in a country I'm sure almost none of you have heard of Uzbekistan.
If you live in Utah, I'm pretty sure those of you in high school have the opportunity to go to release time seminary. Seminary for me was my mom waking me up at 6 am and reading to me by my bed.
By a show a hands how many of you have felt like you have had to stand alone in a situation as a member of the church. Where you felt alone standing up for what you believe in as a member of the church? Well when I was 17 I was one of 3 members of the church in an entire country. The other two members were my mother and my little brother. That left me as the oldest priesthood holder in almost the entire region of Central Asia.
When you are in that situation you are not a ward or branch you are considered a group. And the church sends down an area authority twice a year to make sure you are still alive, and do interviews.
For me, that area authority was Elder Piper. Elder Piper came down one time to check on us and took me out as his companion to bring a Russian Book of Mormon to a less active family who moved from Russia to Uzbekistan. My Russian wasn't very good at the time, so I didn't remember what was said but I remember the gratitude of that family when that representative of Christ entered their home, and I remember how seriously Elder Piper took his calling and responsibility to look after the lost sheep even thought he was 1000's of miles away from his home and family.
I’ve walked on the Great Wall of china. I've been to the Eiffel tower in Paris. I've been to the red square and the Kremlin in Russia. Ive kissed the Blarney Stone in Ireland.I've eaten shrimp in Australia. Went to church with Mauri's in New Zealand. I've went white water rafting in Latvia. Eaten gazpacho in Spain. And the only time I've ever gotten sun burnt was in Venezuela. A Pigeon pooped on my hand in the Tajmahal in India. I visited shanty towns in South Africa so poor they had to use cow pies to cook their food.
I don't tell you all this to make my self seem cool or cultured. I’m telling you all this because I want you to know that even though it seems like I was given such an amazing opportunity and experience, my childhood and most of my life was very very hard and full of my own very personal trials.
When I was 4 my parents were divorced. I've tried to forget a lot of my childhood, but unfortunately the few memories I do remember involve my my father flying from the states to whatever country we were in at the time and watching my little brother screaming as he was ripped away from his home for 3 months each year during the summer and every other Christmas.
My mother is a U.S diplomat, who speaks 4 languages fluently, has rubbed shoulders with presidents and leaders of our country and of almost every other country. She has an I.Q. of 150 something which legally makes her a genius. And she expected quite literally nothing less than perfection. If we got anything other than a perfect grade, or wrong note, or any type of misbehavior we were beat, grounded, starved, and insulted.
I spent most of my childhood covering up scars and bruises at school. Crying myself to sleep as I bleed wondering if my leg arm or back was broken. I regularly was stripped down and forced into stand small dark corner for hours without meals.
We had a huge German Shepard named Dima, and when my brother and I were really misbehaving we were stripped down and locked in a cage with him.
My mom was a book worm as a kid and didn't have friends so she didn't see the need in sports, extracurricular activities, or friends that weren't members of the church, so unless it was mutual, scouts, or church I was to come home directly after school and was not aloud to leave. I literally have no idea what it's like to "go play" after school. A lot of people get security systems to prevent a break in, well my mother got one to keep us locked in.
Instead of friends I had tutors for every subject you could think of and after I got done with my regular homework I had to do more homework. When I wasn't doing that I was having music lessons on the piano or trumpet. Two instruments I didn't want to actually learn. If I made a mistake in anything I was told that I was worthless and would never amount to anything.
My mother worked until late so I would basically spend that time dreading every moment till she came home anticipating getting hurt in someway. My personal prayers as a youth were pleading to God to let my mother pass away on her way home so I wouldn't have to get beat.
October 2008 conference
“Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard Time”
Elder Quentin L. Cook
"Many of the trials and hardships we encounter in life are severe and appear to have lasting consequences. Each of us will experience some of these during the vicissitudes of life. Many listening to this conference are experiencing situations of a most serious nature at this very moment.
We resonate with the Prophet Joseph’s petition after he had been falsely accused and imprisoned in Liberty Jail for months: “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?”
The Lord’s answer is reassuring:
“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high.”
The Gospel of Jesus Christ was given as a gift to the world to help us endure. Our Heavenly Father placed in this mortal imperfect state to experience and overcome trials to help us grow to be more like him. Even though when I think back on my life all I feel is pain there are moments when I look back and can remember the spirit stronger than ever beaming through my soul telling me that things were going to be ok giving me momentary comfort when I needed it most. Just enough to help me push through that hard time and move forward. It was these moments that were the kindling to the real conversion to the truthfulness of the restored gospel that came later in my life.
Being so bottled up and isolated in my childhood years and being so confused by why my mother a woman who had served a mission, held and used a temple recommended could treat my brother and I so terribly, that when I was given a taste of freedom as an adult I exploded. I associated the church to my 18 year prison that I had just experienced and was extremely apathetic to commandments, morals, and rules.
In college I drank, smoked, broke the law of chastity, and stopped going to church. When people refer to sin as temporary happiness it's actually quite literal. Anytime I participated in sin there was only a little amount of time that felt good. The rest of the time usually right after I felt awful, sick, anxious, and guilt ridden in One way or another. It never lasted and was always regretted. Unfortunately with sin habits can form, and even though you are actually un happy this way of life becomes the norm so you chase those Truly momentary bits of happiness to even feel happiness at all.
In alma 41 alma speaks to his son Corianton about sin and happiness. He says:
10 Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.
11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.
My decisions to sin eventually got me kicked out of school. And left me really alone having to figure out things for myself. Somehow I became friends with 2 very special people James and Conner. James had also been kicked out of school for similar reasons and Conner was sent home early from his mission. We were 3 very lost souls who became best friends.
We all knew what we should be doing in life, but we chose to ignore it and got wrapped in the world. Through playing basketball we all befriended Salah. Salah was 7 years older than us and had been exactly where we all were. We respected Salah because he understood why and where we were in life but talked and looked at us knowing our true potential and where we could be.
He would come wake us up every morning to read the scriptures and would teach us from preach my gospel. He would tell us stories and miracles from his mission and recite talks from living prophets. He made us feel worthy of all the blessings the scriptures preach about. He made us feel like regardless of past mistakes and trials, anything was possible through the atonement of Christ. He got us to pray again and for the first time in my life I felt like I had an actual relationship with my Heavenly Father. I knew there was a loving Father in heaven that was aware of me and truly cared about me. Salah invited the Holy Spirit into our home, and we allowed it to change who we were.
We gave up poker. We gave up our sins and committed to strive to live the commandments the best we could. I watched Conner return on his mission, and I was able to drop off James at the MTC ( Missionary Training Center) . I saw first hand what living the gospel could do for a person and the good that it brought into my life and the life of my friends.
I made a lot of strides till I was worthy to take the sacrament again and through sincere effort I Felt forgiven for my past transgressions and decided that I too would put my papers in to serve a mission. I got the physicals, I got my wisdom teeth pulled, I told them I spoke Russian excited at the possibility of serving Russian speaking. I met with my bishop and set up an appointment to meet with a member of the stake presidency. As we went through the the questions the stake president stopped and asked me about my past and I answered truthfully. At that point the interview stopped and I was told I may not be able to serve a mission and if I did it would be after a few years.
I have gone through a lot of disappointment in my life but nothing has hit me harder and shattered my expectations quite like that moment.
President Ezra Taft benson said:
"We will all have disappointments and discouragements--that is part of life. But if we will have faith, our setbacks will be but a moment and success will come out of our seeming failures. Our Heavenly Father can accomplish miracles through each of us if we will but place our confidence and trust in Him."
I unfortunately was young and weak in my testimony and that moment broke me. I reverted back to some of my old ways and habits frustrated that my efforts weren't good enough. I was confused why the atonement could work for transgressors like the sons of Mosiah allowing them to serve missions, but not for me.
It's funny what being in love will get someone to do but about a year later I fell in love with a girl. I wanted to marry her but her father wouldn't approve because I hadn't served a mission. So I decided to commit to living right again and attempted a second submission of my papers but this time I was much more vague about my past. My plan worked and I was called to serve in the Rostov- na-Danu, Russia mission.
Now when I entered the MTC I knew that what I was doing was a good thing. I knew I would be teaching people about God and I knew he loved them and me. But I did not have a testimony or an understanding of actual doctrine of the church. I remember day 1 as a set apart missionary being asked to draw the plan of salvation on the board and I just looked at my companion with a blank stare because I had no idea what it was. Whether I was sleeping anytime that was taught or I just zoned it out due to my dis interest in my mother religion I don't know, but the fact of the matter was that I was a missionary for the church of Jesus Christ and I didn't know what we believed.
In the Mtc a few times a week they organized all the missionaries together and general authorities and apostles come to speak to us. One day there was a woman and to this day I can't remember who it is, but she came and bore her testimony of Joseph smith searching for truth, kneeling down to pray, and witnessing God the father and Jesus Christ direct him in an answer to his prayer.
Before that moment I felt good about the church. I could honestly say I felt it was true. I had a small candle flame of a testimony about Heavenly Fathers love prayer and his son Jesus Christ. But this was different.
In that moment, during her very simple testimony, fireworks went off. Everything was florescent. Nothing could be more clear to me that That was true. Joseph smith was a prophet he resorted Christ's church. As a very logical person I made a quick assessment of my new found knowledge and determined that the Book of Mormon must also be true, that all of our doctrine was true and that we currently had a living prophet just like Moses, Abraham, or any other biblical prophet I could remember from primary on the earth as we speak.
Nothing was more important than this and I had to tell every living human that this was true. I'd never been so excited to be a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and I was static about the opportunity to be a missionary.
This was the beginning of my conversion to the fullness of the gospel. My excitement was fleeting, because with my new knowledge came more clarity as I began to realize that I was not entirely worthy to represent Jesus Christ because of some transgressions I had not taken care of.
I went out into the Russian mission field and any time that feeling of unworthiness came I would push it away. But God knew and I knew that God knew so that feeling would just come back stronger and with greater impact on my heart. This inner conflict caused me so much anxiety That I lost 40 pounds in 2 weeks and became extremely ill. knew the right thing to do was to go home and repent but i was sure that I would be excommunicated, my family would disown me, and my girlfriend would never talk to me again.
In my studies I came across a scripture that said to fear God more than man.
After reading that I knew that regardless of the consequence I had to do what was right. I had to go home and repent. I don't know what would happen as a result but I had a firm faith that the Lord would help me out because I was doing the right thing. My father and step mother opened their home and let me come home and stay with them. My girlfriend was supportive and the first thing my new bishop said to me was I don't care what you say or think but I'm getting you back out on your mission.
I'll never forget how much love and gratitude I felt as I experienced for the first time the result of doing the right thing and acting in faith in Christ. I wanted to scream to the world how loving, and forgiving our Father in he even was and how powerful and all encompassing the atonement of Christ could be. I even was permitted to return to school to finished my bachelors degree and graduated as I waited to return to my mission.
After 7 months I was permitted to return to the mission field, this time to the Washington Everett mission.
3 months into my return, all on the same p day, my mother who was financing my mission decided not to anymore be cause she was ashamed her son was not serving a foreign mission. I got an email that my favorite cousin died in a scuba diving accident, and that my girlfriend had met someone else.
I had to decide then and there what I was doing because if I was staying I had to commit to 15 more months as a missionary. That meant draining every cent from my savings account. And that I would not be returning to the girl I still loved who got me out there in the first place.
It wasn't any easy decision but I could not turn my back on my my father in heaven after all the love and blessings of received. I chose to stay and if I was gonna do this I was gonna go hard. I spent the remainder of my time as a missionary giving every bit of energy I could muster. If there was a human within 10 feet of me I invited them to learn about the restored gospel of Christ. I worked harder than if ever worked before and I have never to this day been happier.
I often get asked why do I went by James The Mormon. That day I had to make a choice of staying of going I looked back on my entire life as realized that God had been with me every step of the way. I saw every moment that he lifted me up when I was down. He was there when I felt the most alone and when I thought all hope was lost. The truths of the restored gospel are quite literally the only thing that has got me to this point in my life in one piece and I made a decision that day to dedicated the rest of my life trying my absolute best to share the gospel. I'm JTM (James The Mormon) for two reasons because I don't want anyone to question what I believe or stand for. And 2 I don't want to ever forget that promise I made to my self and Heavenly Father to stand as a witness at all times in all things and in all places.
Usually I end the talk there and the listener really has no insight into what’s happened in my life since coming home until now. To date I have zero contact with anyone I’m related to except for my little brother. I’ve repeated previous habits that I worked so hard to break. I’ve gotten divorced, struggled with depression, crippling anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Life hasn’t stopped kicking me in the gut, but I cant deny the truthfulness of the restored gospel. I’m a sinner, but I know that through Christ everything can be whole again and my potential remains infinite. The greatest power comes from getting back up after you fall no matter what.