Missy Martz, a former atheist, is married to a marine who has been deployed five years out of their eleven-year marriage and is presently stationed in Okinawa, Japan. She talks about her incredible conversion as she traveled around the country in search of meaning, and then discusses how the gospel has balanced her life and supported her during difficult times while she is far from home and family while her husband is deployed for long periods of time.
Tell me a little about yourself and your background before joining the Church.
I did not grow up in an LDS family, but my mother tried her best to teach us the stories of the Savior from the Bible. She taught us about being honest, having compassion, and respecting ourselves and others. My mom came from a Lutheran family but I only remember going to church on Christmas Eve. The service was spoken in Latin and we thought it was more comical than uplifting, often times embarrassing our mother with our obnoxious laughter. As I came into late adolescence, the theories of evolution and the sciences of creation really fascinated me, leading me to disbelieve in God or a higher power of creation. In other words, I became an atheist. I was, however, thankful for the morals that I was taught in my youth.
Tell me about your conversion.
I grew up in the very small town of Dover, Ohio. Dover’s had some hardships throughout the years. It used to be a nice upper middle-class area but, about 20 years ago, the businesses supporting the town closed down. Many people were out of work and found drinking as a way to lessen their sorrows. The town’s youth spent their time doing drugs or having sexual relations. It was not a happy place or time. All I could think about was getting out of that town and how it had nothing to offer me. On my nineteenth birthday, I decided to try and find my real dad who I hadn’t seen since I was three. Finally, after a long search, I contacted an aunt who knew who I was and she lead me to my father in Milwaukee. The road led me to Wisconsin and this was where all my travels began.
Here I was, in a big city full of lights, big buildings, interesting people and many things I had never experienced back home in my little town. I wanted to see more, so on I went. Visiting each city, I would get a job laying tile and I would make enough money to tour the area like any normal tourist. I’d never stay very long in one place, always moving from here to there as if I were searching for something.
In my travels I had the pleasure of meeting so many kind and wonderful people. I remember one trip where I was heading to Florida with some friends for a tiling job. My vehicle broke down in Grand Junction, CO. We were sitting on the side of the road. A tow truck pulled up and we proceeded to tell the driver that we couldn’t afford his services and only had enough money to get us to the job site. He offered to tow us anyway, throwing in dinner and a place to stay until we were able to repair our van. This man had lost his wife a year earlier and was trying to raise his young son, run a household and a business and care for his father as well. He had plenty on his plate already and yet he still had a place in his heart to take in and help a bunch of strangers. I will never forget his example and his genuine kindness.
I also met many who had lost their way. I found myself in some pretty uncomfortable situations at times but no harm ever came to me. Looking back, I feel that Heavenly Father blessed me with the power of discernment. I was always very good at judging someone’s character and I think that’s what kept me safe on my journeying. Though I came across many people who were in darker places, I tried not to judge. I found myself helping them when they needed or wanted help. Such experiences, seeing people at their lowest, kept me from ever wanting such a lifestyle. I felt compassion for them and was able to feel their despair so much that I never needed to experience those things for myself.
After three years, I ended up in California meeting these two brothers, Dan and Jerry, who owned their own plumbing company. They wanted a tile setter so they could start installing showers and I was their girl. Unbeknownst to me, they were both LDS, one active and one less active. At the time, I was somewhat irresponsible and tried to avoid goodbyes at all costs. I didn’t think I was meant to stay in one place for too long, and I was planning on leaving. The night before I planned on my unannounced departure, I was invited to dinner at Jerry’s house. He must have been inspired, because he started telling me the story of this boy named Joseph Smith. He had never mentioned anything related to the subject before. Right away, without a doubt in my soul, I knew what he was saying to be the truth. I did not know what was in that book called Mormon, but that didn’t matter to me. I could not shake the truth of it. I have been told that I was every missionary’s dream. To have an investigator, not to mention an atheist, take all the discussions in one week, accept the Word of Wisdom (I smoked and drank at the time), and want to be baptized—well, it was very unusual. I went to the LDS church for the first time the next Sunday and the following week, I was baptized.
What do you think helped prepare you for that moment to just accept the gospel after all the experiences you had had leading up to that point?
I think it had a lot to do with the searching I did. I was always looking for something. God was always preparing me through hardships and new experiences, and I think He prepared me through all the people I met along with way. I was humbled by knowing them and I think that is how I was able to feel the Spirit so strongly.
Heavenly Father works in mysterious ways. I believe that I was also prepared to be an eternal companion for my husband. He had been inactive for several years and came back to the Church a year prior to my conversion. He received his endowments, was a faithful priesthood holder and was ready to start his family. Many LDS women found him unfavorable because of his tattoos, being previously married and not having been on a mission. Mike was about to give up and start dating non-members. He had been praying and Heavenly Father had been listening. With the lives that we had both lived, when we got married it helped us understand each other.
Tell me more about your husband.
During the week before my baptism, my boss took me to an LDS dance for young single adults. I really did not want to go and had a special place in my heart for one of the missionaries who had taught me the discussions, but Jerry, my boss, wanted me to meet other Mormons. I was the only one clinging for life against the walls of the cultural hall except for this other guy hanging out on the opposite corner. We were both just standing there so I introduced myself. I told him about my conversion and of my baptism date. I ended up getting his number. I didn’t invite him to my baptism but I did end up calling him only because I said I would. We did baptisms for the dead on our first date. I felt torn: I wanted to serve a mission, so I prayed about this guy I had met, Mike, and what I should do. I have never felt the Spirit so strongly in my life, or since, and I have never been so sure about an answer. Even though I didn’t know who this person was, I knew Heavenly Father wanted this man for me. I told Mike that I’d prayed and that we should be together. Though I felt insane and extremely embarrassed about the whole situation, I just had to go for it. Seven weeks after our very first meeting, we were married. One year later on our anniversary, we were sealed in the temple.
Tell me about your husband’s military career.
When we got married, Mike had already been in the military for ten years. We’ve been married for eleven years and have three children, ages nine, seven, and four, and my husband has been deployed for over half of our marriage. He has been sent several times to Guam, the Philippines, Tinian, Thailand, five times to Okinawa, Japan and three times to Iraq. While he was home, he was still always gone doing “mini-deployments” anywhere from a few weeks to several months at a time in the States. We have been blessed to be able to be stationed with him here in Okinawa. He is currently in a non-deployable unit and because of this he has been able to serve in our military branch presidency.
What does your husband do in the military?
For most of his career he has worked in Avionics fixing the communication, navigation and electrical weapons systems on the Hueys and Cobra helicopters. Basically anything with a computer and wires. Now he is a Personnel and Asset Manager where he supervises those who do his old job.
What are the positive aspects of being in the military?
I love the military, and after getting into genealogy and searching my own family line, I have discovered a huge wealth of military history in my family. My grandmother was in the army for twelve years; her brother was in the army and the marines, and I have a long line of military service in my family that I didn’t even know existed. My travels helped prepare me to be adaptive because in the military you are moving around often and starting over from scratch each time. It’s hard at times when you can’t bring certain belongings with you, when you have to leave behind friends and start all over again. But I’m thankful for the stability the job has given us, especially during hard economic times, and for the medical benefits and the opportunities my husband has had to further his training and education. The military has a lot to offer and it is hard, but the benefits can outweigh the hardships.
Do you want to stay in the military after this tour?
I think so. I like to travel and see the world and I think it’s also good for the kids. It helps make them so well rounded to experience different cultures and places. We have tried to always make our home a place where things are consistent and where they can grow and express themselves. Just like the Church is the same no matter where you go, we share that same concept about our home.
How has the gospel helped and supported you through the challenges of being in the military?
Being far away from family has been challenging, especially when I was a new mother. Five months after I had Robley, my first son, my husband was deployed to Okinawa, Japan for 6 months. I was left behind in California without support because all of my family resided on the East Coast. But I did find comfort in the Church members and they quickly became my “adopted” family. I found it very hard to cope at first because I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with this new baby. Luckily for me, there were several sisters also going through the same thing as I. I was not alone and we quickly found each other and united.
I rely on my Heavenly Father to get me through those really tough times. He blesses me with home and visiting Teachers, spiritual men and women sent my way to remind me of selfless service, compassion, humility, and love. During times of despair and extreme loneliness, I’ve always had my Heavenly Father for comfort. He has been there to tell me it’s okay and that I can make it and that I can be strong. I thank my Heavenly Father that I have been given the gift of my fellow members and for lessening my burdens by bringing me aide. Life as a military wife without such support is unimaginable to me. The gospel really brings a light to my life and fills that void of despair with happiness, comfort, joy, and love.
How do you feel you have grown since joining the Church?
Growing is an ongoing process as with us all. I think that for me, knowing that my family can be eternal and knowing that there’s a greater plan for me is something that I really hold on to. My parents and siblings struggle. They don’t have the gospel truths in their lives and sometimes their lives just seem so chaotic and without any peace. Sometimes I feel guilty that I have so much joy in my life where there is so much suffering in theirs, much of which could easily be resolved by living the teachings of the gospel. I just try to set the best example I can, testify of what I know to be true when I can, and be patient for them.
As an adult convert to the Church, how do you feel you fit into the typical Mormon mold?
To me, there is no typical Mormon mold. I have been lucky to have seen so many walks of life, being in the military and traveling to so many different places. I’ve met converts, those who have been in the Church their whole lives, nonmembers who should be members, those who are active but less active than some, members who are completely inactive, and those who have come back from inactivity. I was even fortunate enough to meet this amazing sister who had been excommunicated and was able to repent of her sins and have the courage to come back to the Church. We are all so different and each in our very own stage of life. Even to this day I am in awe as to why Heavenly Father chose me to hear Jerry’s words at that particular point in my life or how it was even possible that I had. We are all being prepared. As to when it is our time, no one knows so I am always open to all walks of life in hopes that we all make it to our eternal goal.
At A Glance
Location: Okinawa, Japan
Marital status: Married
Occupation: Mother and military wife
Children: Robely (boy, 9) Oran (girl, 7) Seifer (boy, 4)
Schools Attended: High school graduate
Languages Spoken at Home: English, learning Japanese
Favorite Hymn: “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer”