The following interview with Jamie Pon was first published by the Mormon Women Project in April 2013.
Growing up in a Mormon family, Jamie is a second-generation Church member in Hong Kong. In her teenage years, she struggled with her testimony of the gospel and distanced herself from the Church, despite her parents both having high-profile callings. But her parents and friends continued to love and support Jamie. She eventually returned to the Church and developed a strong testimony, which led her to happiness and helped shape her future life.
What was your teenage life like? Why did you stop going to church during that time?
When I was a teenager, I was not satisfied with my life. I thought that I should be happy by being a member of the Church; however I was not happy and not satisfied at all. During that time my two older brothers decided not to go to church anymore. I was somehow influenced by them and I wanted to experience life without Church influences. From my observation, my friends from school were happy without the Church and the gospel. I wondered why they were so happy but I was not. I envied them because they could go hang out on Sundays. I thought I would be happier not going to church and hanging out with my friends instead. I even questioned my own testimony and doubted that I had ever had one. Some teenagers like me, who are born and raised in the Church, question if the testimony that we had or have is from our parents and family or from our own searching. If we only rely on our parents’ and family’s testimonies and do not search for our own, we can struggle over our identity and question our faith. During that time I did not think I had gained my own testimony. Attending church seemed to limit my happiness and seemed like a waste of time, so I let my parents know that I did not want to go to church with them anymore. It was shocking news to my family.
When did you start to feel that you should attend church again?
I stopped going to church and decided to experience the “real world,” have my own life, and do my own thing. After a while I asked myself if I was happier than I was before, and my answer was “No.” Unhappiness still surrounded me, triggered by my feelings towards the Church, and by issues that arose with my family and my friends. I thought I would be happier and have more freedom by not going to church, but in fact I felt the opposite way. On one particular night, I found myself sitting in my room, feeling very upset. I felt like I should pray but I was hesitant to do so because I hadn’t prayed for a long time. All of a sudden my parents’ advice came into my mind. After I stopped going to church,my mother would always encourage me to pray even though I didn’t feel like doing it. At that very moment, I remembered clearly her advice and I knelt down and prayed.
I had a special feeling; I felt as if someone patted me on the shoulder and said, “Everything will be alright. Don’t worry.” I felt peace inside my heart and this calm and peaceful feeling swept my sadness away.
At that time I did not recognize that the special feeling I had was from the Spirit. I wanted to attend church services again but I hesitated to return to church because I was afraid of criticisms from others. It was not easy for me, as a young woman who was born and raised in the Church, to return to the Church again after being inactive for a while. I had many concerns about my return: Church members might think that I was not worthy enough to come back to the Church or they might think that I had done something wrong. These heavy thoughts triggered my worries and I was reluctant to return.
At first I went to church on and off, and tried to ignore criticisms from others. During that time I still did not have a strong testimony of the gospel or our Savior, but I was willing to support my mother and her calling in the Church. And it was during this special period of time that I started to learn the gospel sincerely and diligently. Gradually my testimony grew stronger. I started to read the scriptures, even though my reading progress was very slow. With my parents’ encouragement to read a few verses a day, I started to understand why parents want and encourage us to read the scriptures. They want us to feel for ourselves. And, little by little, I started to build up my faith.
Later on when I reflected on this experience, I recognized the warm feeling that I had when I was kneeling and praying alone in my room that night. The special feeling was from the Spirit. This experience became one of the most significant moments of my life. It taught me how to recognize spiritual promptings.
Tell us about your parents.
During the period when I decided to go my own way and leave the Church, my mother was called to be the ward Young Women president. One night, she sat down with me and we had a talk. She told me that the bishop had extended this calling to her and she had told him she wanted to talk to me first before she accepted the calling. My mother told me that it would be wonderful to have me to come to church and support her in the Young Women organization. I guessed that it would not easy for my mother to be the ward Young Women president while her own daughter, who was of Young Women age, was not active in the Church. I was glad that she shared her feelings with me because she showed me that I had a special place in her heart. I was touched by her honesty and bold invitation to return to church. I promised her I would return.
My mother is a wise and genuine woman. I have learned a lot from her example and how she treats others. When my mother was called to be the Relief Society president, she told me that she would not be involved with any gossiping. She taught me to be true to the people around us and help them with a sincere heart. She said we should show our care by our actions, not by our words only.
My mother showed her patience with me while I was not active in the Church. When I decided to find my own happiness in the “real” world and leave the Church, my mother did not give up on me. She continued to support me and love me as her daughter. I remember I had many ear piercings. I thought it was trendy and beautiful. My mother kindly advised me not to have more than one pair of ear piercings and to listen to the counsel we’d received from the prophet. I did not understand why my mother kept persuading me to take off the extra earrings. She said if I wanted to keep the commandments and follow Christ, I should show my obedience to Him, even in a small matter such as this. At first I doubted, because I thought having many ear piercings was trendy and “cool.” But I obeyed; I kept only one pair of earrings in my ear. Even though it seems like a minimal decision, this was the decision that taught me to be 100% obedient. I am grateful for my mother’s kind words and her persistence in reminding me of the importance of keeping the commandments and listening to the prophet’s counsel.
When I was not active in the Church, my father was the stake president. I remember many people came up to me and said how grateful they were because of my parents, and how much they admired my parents. Many people told me that my father was a great man. I was confused because in my mind he was just my father; I did not see him as other people saw him, as a church leader. Sometimes when people told me that my father was a great man and a very responsible leader, I questioned myself and wondered if he was really as good as people mentioned. Eventually I learned a lesson. I was at a stake conference when my father was serving as the stake president. At every stake conference members are asked to sustain their leaders by raising their hands. When it was time to sustain my father as the stake president, I saw everyone in the chapel raise their hands and sustain my father and support him. I was stunned. I reflected on this scene and started to think, “All these people are here to support my father. What about me? He is my father and I know I should support him and his calling. He needs my support. I am his daughter.” This experience increased my desire to attend church and to support my parents. It helped me to understand the love and support my parents had given to me. I am indeed grateful for their examples and their love for the gospel.
I love my parents. It must not have been easy for them to have a daughter like me who had doubts about the gospel. But during the time when I was not active in the Church, my parents continued to show their love to me. They continued to encourage me to pray even though I did not feel like doing it. They encouraged me to read the scriptures, even just a few verses every day. When I was not active in the Church, I did not pay much attention to their words. Now when I look back, I am grateful for their patience and persistence. They never gave up on me. Without them, I would not be able to be who I am today.
What was next in life after your reactivation in the Church? And what have you learnt?
There are several goals that I had during that time. My first goal was to attend Brigham Young University Hawaii. Since my high school academic performance did not meet the entry requirements and I did not attend seminary during my teenage years, I had to work extra hard to get accepted. I tried my best to finish all the seminary classes and did as much as I could to achieve my academic goals. I was rejected the first time I applied, but after I reapplied I finally got accepted.
Going to school at Brigham Young University Hawaii was truly the turning point of my life. While I was there I was spiritually nourished and I came to know the path that I should follow. My life goals became clear. My faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was strengthened and my testimony became stronger and stronger. Later on, with my friend’s wonderful example and my desire, I decided to serve a mission.
I had two best friends when I was a student at Brigham Young University Hawaii and we are still best friends now. They are Joan and Vickie. They lifted me up when I was spiritually low. They taught me how to be Christ’s disciple through their wonderful examples. They encouraged me to serve a mission. They are truly my best friends. I am grateful to have friends like them in my life.
One time, Joan’s friend was sent to the hospital. Joan was crying and worried about her friend. I tried to comfort her. Vickie suggested that we should kneel and pray, and fast for Joan’s friend. We knelt and prayed for Joan’s friend and fasted the next day. At the time I did not completely understand the reasons for fasting, but I followed my friends’ suggestion and it was indeed a spiritual and wonderful experience. I thought to myself, “None of my friends are like them!” They taught me to rely on God when challenges and difficulties come. They taught me the importance of acting on gospel principles. I am grateful for their influence in my life.
Later on, both Joan and Vickie went on missions. Because of their great influence, I prepared to serve a mission also. Through my parents’ teachings and my friends’ examples, my testimony grew stronger. Maybe I am just an ordinary woman, but I have a great desire to serve. During my mission, I shared with people my testimony of God and the gospel. I also shared my story of having transformed from a rebellious daughter with doubt in the gospel to a woman who now has a strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The first email I received from my father while I was on my mission was very touching. My father said my family was proud of me. He said he saw God’s hand in my life and said I had grown in the gospel. While I was on my mission, my two older brothers were still not active in the Church. I did not know if the decision I made to serve a mission would make an impact on them or not. But I could feel that my family had grown closer together. My little brother chose to serve a mission because he had the desire to serve, and I was so glad that he made that choice.
I have learned that if I make a wrong decision, I will miss many of God’s blessings in the future. If I give up, I will not be able to receive blessings prepared by God for me. I might not be rich or have all the things that I want, but my heart is full of gratitude. I am grateful for my lovely parents and their examples. Now I have my own family and am expecting my first baby. I will apply what I have learned from my parents and from my own experiences to strengthen my own family. I am grateful to have my faithful husband who holds the priesthood and blesses my family. I am grateful that Heavenly Father did not give up on me when I had doubts. He helped me along the way and led me to the fountain of happiness.