WAS OUR LIFE"
AN INCREDIBLE JOURNEY
Salt Lake City, Utah
My wife, Nellie Jo, and I boarded the plane leaving Louisville with
mixed emotions. On the one hand, we still were not fully rested
from our trip to Uganda that had ended just three days earlier.
On the other hand, we were energized with anticipation of the
interview that would soon take place. My research assistant, Stuart
Swicegood, had worked very hard to find the people we would
soon meet. A former Mormon couple, Dennis and Rauni Higley,
would be waiting to tell us about their amazing pilgrimage from
Mormonism to faith in Jesus Christ.
The connection in Atlanta went without a hitch. We arrived
late at a hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, and sleep came
quickly. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, we were getting
ready the next morning to travel to the Higleys' home in a suburb
of Salt Lake City.
A cloudless day with a bright blue sky greeted us as we left
the hotel. We both breathed in the fresh air and felt the warmth
of the mild spring day. If the weather was to be a sign of the hours
ahead, the day would be good indeed.
My wife and I discussed our strategy for this interview-the
first for this book-because we wanted to be ready for any contingency.
I had a list of numerous questions I would be prepared
to ask. Nellie Jo would keep the conversation going smoothly in
the event that the discussion came to a lull.
The fifteen-minute drive to Sandy, Utah, was filled with constant
conversation and the occasional interruption of the navigation
computer in the rental car. I commented to Nellie Jo that every
navigation system I used had a female voice, and I wondered why.
My bride of twenty-seven years did not respond verbally, but her
smile said it all.
As we pulled into the driveway of the Higley home, I looked
at the mountains framing their home and neighborhood. The scene
was postcard perfect.
A sign on the door of their home told us of a Finnish custom
that asked all guests to remove their shoes. We rang the doorbell
and were quickly greeted by a smiling couple.
Rauni Higley welcomed us with an accent that I did not recognize
immediately. She would soon tell us that her native homeland
was Finland. Her husband, Dennis, was a native of Idaho.
Nellie Jo has a clear Alabama accent, and I have been told that I
speak with a mix of midwestern twang and southern drawl. The
interview recording of the four of us would prove to be a cacophony
Rauni and Dennis led us into their impeccably clean home, and
we made ourselves comfortable. The digital recorder was set. After
some introductory and casual conversation, I asked the first interview
question: "Tell us about your background." I got the impression
that Rauni could not wait to talk, so we all looked at her for
the first response.
"I was born in Finland. My father died when I was eleven, and
my mother died when I was seventeen. My grandparents had also
passed away. I was an only child, so I was left with no family, just
some aunts and uncles," she told us with a pause. We could tell
that the years since their deaths had not removed all her pain.
Rauni continued, "I met a young lady who had joined the Mormon
Church about a year earlier. She found out about all the
deaths in my family, and she explained how my parents, grandparents,
and I could be sealed together for eternity. She told me
that through the Mormon Church I could get all my family back
when this life is over."
The official name of Mormonism is the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints. With 12 million members and more than
300,000 converts a year, this movement is among the fastest-growing
in the world. Mormons are also one of the wealthiest
religious groups in the world, with assets estimated at
between 25 and 30 billion dollars.
There was little need to persuade Rauni further. "I didn't have
any spiritual foundations," she told us. "They told me that everyone
who had not heard the Mormon gospel would get a second
chance after death. The names of my parents and grandparents
could be taken to the temple, and they could be baptized. It all
sounded so great to me."
Mormons became Rauni's family as she joined their church in
1963. "I met with a small group in an apartment. It was a really
nice and friendly group of people. We all called each other 'brother
and sister.' I never had a brother or sister, and I had no family," she
Rauni became an enthusiastic Mormon. "I read everything in
Finland published by the Mormon Church. I read the Book of Mormon
right away. I didn't detect any errors in it because I was not that
familiar with the Bible. So it sounded just like the Bible to me."
I wish everyone could meet Rauni. As we sat in her family
room that day, Nellie Jo and I were mesmerized by her enthusiasm.
She spoke with excitement and sparkling eyes. We could easily
see how that same enthusiasm could have been directed toward
her new religion.
"The mission president in Helsinki heard I was excited about
being a new convert," she affirmed. "He came to visit me even
though I had been a member for only nine months. He told me
that the president of the Mormon Church, David O. McKay, had
called me to be a missionary for the church in Finland. I was so
impressed. The prophet of God of the Mormon Church had called
me to be a missionary!"
Rauni would serve two years as a missionary gladly. But she
knew what her next goal would be. "I wanted to be where everybody
is a Mormon; that's my family," she recalled. "So I moved to
Salt Lake City and started working for the Mormon Church as a
translator and interpreter. The church had just started a translation
department, but the only translators were Spanish translators.
I was hired to translate English to Finnish."
Nellie Jo was curious about another issue. How did Dennis and
Rauni meet? To this point Dennis had remained quiet. But you
could see the love and pride in his eyes as Rauni told her story. We
asked him to answer the question.
"I was a sixth-generation Mormon," Dennis told us. "The Mormon
Church had always been my life, and I knew nothing else. I
was serving as a missionary to Finland for two and a half years. I
met Rauni there. When she moved to Salt Lake City, we started
courting seriously and, of course, eventually got married in the
Salt Lake Mormon Temple."
Dennis continued, "My family was very active in the church,
and I never thought about any life outside the church. And when
I met Rauni and married her, we wanted to be the perfect Mormon
couple. I had a long history and heritage in the church, and I
would rise quickly to leadership positions in my ward and stake.
[A stake is a Mormon territorial jurisdiction comprising a group of
wards.] And Rauni was working in the middle of all the action at
the Salt Lake City headquarters."
Nellie Jo and I had traveled across country to hear how two
devout Mormons had become Christians. I tried to be patient as I
heard their backgrounds, but I was grateful when my wife asked
the question straightforwardly: "So what made the two of you leave
Mormonism?" We couldn't wait to hear the response, and Rauni
was more than happy to tell us that story.
"Mormonism Just Doesn't Make Sense"
"I ended up working in the translation department of the Mormon
Church for over fourteen years," Rauni began. "Translation
involves a lot of research. The church is always trying to prove that
Mormonism is unchanging from Joseph Smith's time to this day."
In 1823 Joseph Smith claimed to receive a revelation from
God that all churches were corrupt. He said that the angel
Moroni appeared to him in upstate New York and revealed to
him the location of gold plates that contained the history of
God's people on this American continent and the fullness of
the true gospel. Mormonism began with teachings of the
Book of Mormon that Smith claimed he had "translated"
from the Reformed Egyptian hieroglyphic characters on the
Rauni continued to explain her work for the Mormon Church.
"Most of the literature I was assigned to translate had quotes from
different Mormon prophets, such as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young,
and others. Even though the quotes were generally only small
paragraphs, I wanted to read them from their original texts to make
sure I understood the context clearly.