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C H A P T E R O N E
' M O R M O N I S M
W A S O U R L I F E '
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.'
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.'