December 2, 2009, Fontainbleu, France
A 1983 issue of Reader’s Digest introduced Dominique Lam-Yam to the Church while she was living with an abusive father on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. She spent the next three years searching for the Church organization, with no success. Finally, two missionaries knocked on her door, launching her on a path of hope and triumph over challenge.
I was born in Hong Kong. When I was nine months old my mother decided to take me and my two older brothers to join my father on a French island called Reunion. It’s off Madagascar and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. My father is a Chinese/French native from this island and his parents had sent him to study in China, in Hong Kong, which is where he met my mother. It was not your normal everyday love story: my father forced himself on my mother and because of that my father’s mother made him to marry my mother. From that, we were born. My older brothers, me and my two younger sisters.
My mother decided to join him because she couldn’t stay on her own with three children in Hong Kong even though she didn’t want to be with him. But she was married to him, and she did the best she could. She at least gave us a father. So this is why I became French. It is a little bit of a sad story… Actually not sad because it is what makes me who I am right now.
We had a very difficult life with my father on Reunion because he wasn’t gentle or kind. In our home, even if we didn’t have that much money, my father and my mother always wanted us to have some books, some magazines. I came to know the Church because of a magazine called Readers’ Digest. We had subscriptions to it in French and in English. My mother couldn’t really speak French, only Chinese and English, so she read it in English but my brothers and I read it in French.
I remember the date — the month and the year — of the Readers’ Digest in which I read about the Church. April 1983. I remember the date because the story was so amazing. It is printed in my brain. The story was about a Mormon family from Utah and their young son who had an accident and needed to have a blood transfusion. At that time we didn’t know about the AIDS illness. Now of course we know much better. The story in the magazine was about how the blood in the transfusion completely destroyed his immune system and because of a simple cold, he died. A little part of this story was straight out of the mission discussions. It was about where we came from — a bit about the preexistence — and then it talked about how, when we’re here on earth, our bodies are like a glove over our spirits, and then when we die the glove gets left behind and our spirits still live.
Reading that story was the first time I ever heard about the Mormons. I was thirteen years old. I actually wrote to Readers’ Digest to ask for more information about the Mormons. I looked up Mormons in the encyclopedia, and unfortunately encyclopedias didn’t say very positive things at that time, talking mostly about polygamy or getting confused with the Amish.
I was baptized Catholic as a child. My mother used to be Protestant and my father was kind of Buddhist and kind of Catholic, but he was really confused in his mind about his spirituality. I didn’t choose Catholic but it was what was available to me on Reunion when I was a child. I am so grateful that my mother always taught us that there is a God and that we can pray. I learned how to pray because of the Catholic form of prayer, repeating the same words every time. One day I decided — I was about six or seven, our family life was so bad and my father was really beating at my mother and I was really sad and I was trying to pray — I decided that I should talk to Him, and not just repeat the same Catholic prayers. I remember when I started talking I said, “Forgive me, God, for talking to you this way.” I started to really communicate with Heavenly Father that way, allowing myself to really talk to Him and not just repeat the same words every time.
Readers Digest never replied to me. Maybe I didn’t put the right amount of stamps on the letter. I saw the address in the magazine but it was in France and I didn’t know how much it cost to send a letter to France from Reunion. I don’t know if my letter ever got to France. After that, I was always looking for the Church for a long time. I learned about other religions — I read the Koran which I find really interesting and beautiful. In the French islands, there are lots of unbelievably mixed religions: witchcraft and Catholic together, or some native religion with Buddhism. I don’t know how they do it and mix all those gods together! I was curious about all these religions, but I was always looking for the Mormon Church from the article.
I almost gave up. I looked for three years, from 1986 when I was almost 13 to 1989 when I was almost 16. I waited quite a long time, and I almost joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were very kind. I decided that if I couldn’t find the Mormon Church, I would stay a Catholic and become a nun, or I would not want to live anymore because life was so bad.
Heavenly Father heard my prayers and the missionaries came. I remember it was a Wednesday and my older brother was shirtless because it was very hot. My parents were finally divorced by this time and things were getting better. The missionaries knocked on the door and my brother invited them in. I was curious, but I hid when they first came.
Did you know when they came to the door that this was the church you had been looking for?
No, not yet. They came a few times after to teach my older brother and they asked me to join the discussions. When we got to the second discussion, they told us about where we come from and they actually brought a glove and explained that our body is like a glove over our spirits. And I said, “I know this! I read it!” I told them, “I want to get baptized now. I accept with everything I am!” The missionaries teased me and told me I couldn’t eat pork anymore, lots of silly stuff… And I said, “Whatever I have to do… It’s okay. I’ll do it.”
I wanted to have the all the lessons the same day and get baptized the next day. I read the Book of Mormon and I knew it was true. I had my first lesson on Monday and I was baptized the next Saturday. The missionaries were the ones who slowed me down because they wanted to make sure I had a testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. But when I read the Book of Mormon, I knew it was the church I had been looking for for so many years. Heavenly Father saved my life by bringing the missionaries to my door on my island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. They came! They came, they were the ones who knocked on the door. I was so happy. I am still happy.
Did the rest of your family join the Church as well?
Yes, all of my brothers and sisters. My mother was the last to join. My mother took more time because she had an experience when she was young: after World War II, her family was so poor that she was put away to live with her grandparents and she was treated very badly. Several times, she was crying as a little girl and somebody in white came and put her in his arms. She thought that if she joined a church she would betray the God who had sent those people in white. She had so many missionaries teach her! Even the president of the mission and his wife came to teach her. It was really hard for her.
But she knew there was a God and that Jesus was real, and she still knows it now. Unfortunately, she cannot go to the temple anymore because she is too ill. She is handicapped now, completely physically dependent. It’s very hard for her.
My brothers served missions and are married. My younger sisters are not active in the Church anymore. I went to San Jose, California, on a mission in 1996. I was 23 years old because I had an accident with my motorbike and unfortunately couldn’t go on my mission till later. I wanted to go to Russia because I knew we had some ancestors from Russia so I wanted to learn the language and do my genealogy there. But San Jose is much warmer than Russia!
Your whole family is now in France. When did your family move there?
We moved to France in 1989, about twenty years ago. I live outside of Paris. I work part time, and I spend my other time with my mother. I am not sure how much longer she will live. I am also trying to get ready to leave for four years, to go to Brigham Young University – Hawaii to get my bachelor’s degree.
I never knew that I was dyslexic. I was only tested last year. I had some head injuries as a child from my father, and reading and learning has always been really hard for me. Unfortunately, at school I didn’t do very well because of my poor reading and writing.
So at BYU- Hawaii will study special education. Because I know that dyslexia… you cannot be healed from it, but you can find ways to work with it and not let it be such a problem. I know that in the United States there are many things that can help dyslexia, but unfortunately in France there are no treatments for adult dyslexia. When I have my diploma, I will be able to help children in France treat dyslexia early.
Is it a challenge for you being a Mormon woman in France?
I am really excited to be a representative of the Church in France. I know that the French people have a very different culture and, for some members, it is hard for them to talk about the Church and be proud of being a Mormon. I have a lot of good friends who are gay. They are close friends and we talk a lot. They know my standards. I believe they are still children of God. But I believe that a child needs a father and a mother, and I keep telling them that. I hope that I help them be more sensitive to the needs of children, if not now, then in the future.
There are such good things about so many different people. Just because I keep my position as a member of the Church doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have friends who do things differently. I don’t sustain them in what they do or go to their parties. I’m not afraid of saying I’m a member of the Church. I’m really proud of it. I’m really proud of having a testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, even though I’ve had some bad comments from people who don’t know me. In France, we have a law that we are not allowed to talk about religion at work at all. So with my friends from work, I invite them to go to Institute or a church party in the evenings and we can talk about it there. They can also see that we have fun in our church! There are members here in France who don’t speak up loud because they don’t have personalities that are comfortable with inviting friends to church. I understand that, it’s hard. But I’m not one of them.
Interview by Neylan McBaine. Photos by Bonni Bohn.