I Was a Mormon: Melissa Hottenstein
My name is Melissa. I am the youngest of three. I have an older brother and sister. I grew up with my three nephews. They were my best friends. My family was active in the Lutheran Church, yet I never really understood God. When Christopher, my oldest nephew died when I was 15, I blamed myself for his death and I blamed God. Christopher was only 14 years old. I wanted nothing more to do with God. The Lutheran Church tried to answer my questions: What happens when you die? What is heaven? Will I see Christopher again? Their answers made no sense and I stopped going to church.
When I was twenty, I started searching for God. I realized Christopher’s death was not God’s fault and I started reading the Bible. During this time, I was working for hospice, surrounded by death, and was searching for answers. The Mormon missionaries came into my life and their answers made sense. I quickly joined. For twenty years, I was a Mormon. I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet who restored the gospel. I knew Adam was a prophet. I knew the Church was true. I believe if I lived a righteous life, I would go to the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom where I could become a god with my husband, and create our own world with our spirit children. My earthly life was my chance to prove myself worthy to my Heavenly Father. I believed in the atonement of Jesus Christ. He was my elder brother, but I also believed in good works. I had to do my part before He would save me. I was lost—very lost and never knew it.
My life was full of adventure and travel. I met my best friend, Nelson, and fell in love. We talked about working toward a temple marriage where we would be sealed for time and eternity. Our plans were interrupted when my dad got sick, and I went home to care for him. I started college while my dad was going through chemo. I knew my dad sick and could die, but my world came crashing down when my nephew James was murdered. He was only 20 years old. How could God allow such evil? My faith in God was shaken. Seven months later, my dad died at home with us by his side. I stopped talking to God. I tried to focus on school and my goals of a temple marriage. This life was only a blink compared to eternity. I wanted a forever family. Two years later, though, those dreams would be destroyed when Nelson died, and I lost a forever family. The only thing that kept me going was my schooling. I turned my back to God. I no longer wanted to talk Him. I didn’t blame Him, but I didn’t want to talk to Him anymore. For four years, I went through the motions of life, but with a heart of stone.
In 2005, I decided to focus on becoming worthy of receiving my temple recommend. After receiving it, I went to the temple for my endowments and made special promises to God. I promised I would give everything to building up the Church. Everything was about the Church. It was during my endowment session as I was making these sacred covenants that everything changed. I started having doubts. I was questioning what I was seeing and doing. I felt myself falling away from God, but I couldn’t say anything. I felt trapped. I still thought the gospel was true, though. For years, I served faithfully in the Church and kept my doubts to myself, but these doubts kept growing. Although I made a promise to go to the temple regularly, I avoided going back. Although I had hearing problems for years, it was during this time that it became more of an issue. I was struggling with hearing loss and I was becoming frustrated at what I was missing. I prayed for God’s help and guidance.
During this time, I remember visiting Covenant Fellowship Church and speaking with one of the pastors. It left a strong impression, and I was looking for a reason to come back. In 2008, I finally came to visit for a service. I experienced true worship. My heart ached for the word of God. It was a powerful service. I spoke to a guy named Jared after church. I made it clear to him that I was happily Mormon, and was just visiting a church that had a deaf ministry. I told him I would never join his church, nor would I be baptized in his church. I knew God was leading me there. The more people there spoke of grace and God’s love, the more I wanted to know. I was craving knowledge of God. I wanted more of what I found there. While God was drawing me there, I fought Him every step. I was an endowed Mormon. I made covenants with my Heavenly Father. I was required to attend the Mormon Church, fulfill my callings, and do my duty to the Church, yet I knew God was pulling me out of there and to Covenant Fellowship. When I would attend the latter, I would feel peaceful. It was the worship music and powerful sermons that kept me wanting to come back. I met so many wonderful people who shared their beliefs and the love of God with me.
Baptism Video (Spoken)I struggled so much. I knew what my heart was saying, but I also knew I could never leave the Mormon Church. I was trapped and I couldn’t get out. I was conditioned to believe that if I left the Church, I would be leaving God and be cast into outer darkness. By visiting Covenant Fellowship, I knew I was risking ex-communication from the Mormon Church. I went back to there, but God never let go of me. Nonetheless, people at Covenant Fellowship continued to pray for me. Over the next three years, I tried to visit as much as I could. My heart yearned to be there. I felt God’s presence there. I could hear the word of God there. The services were interpreted and I didn’t have a struggle to understand. God was pulling me there, and I fought Him. My heart was full of pain, and I didn’t want to talk to God. I was terrified that God was leading me out of the Mormon Church. I knew I would never leave the Mormon Church, so I prayed and asked God for help. God made me uncomfortable with the Mormon Church. He closed my ears. For the first time, He had my full attention.Last year at the Good Friday church service, I realized I wasn’t a Christian. I decided to attend the Bridge class at Covenant Fellowship to help figure things out. My goal was to become a Christian and go back to the Mormon Church. I attended the class each week, but couldn’t see anything changing, and then I went on the Bridge retreat. I prayed that God would meet me there. The retreat changed my life. Friday night, a guy named Jim spoke of broken cisterns. I realized that the Mormon Church was my broken cistern. I preferred the filth of a false religion over God. I preferred the lies of a false prophet over the truth. For the first time in my life, I wanted to know God and have a relationship with Him more than I wanted a man-made religion or a temple recommend. I wanted living water and not a broken, filthy cistern. I was finally ready to stop fighting God and trust Him.
Baptism Video (Signed)
On June 12th, 2011, I accepted Christ as my Savior. I repented of my sins and my stubbornness. I asked Him to forgive my bitterness and anger. Since then, my life has not been the same. I am blessed to be part of Covenant Fellowship Church. God has knit me in there. Over the last the 8 months, I have denounced my temple covenants. I have formally resigned my membership in the Mormon Church. God has been opening my heart and my ears. I am so grateful to God, who never gave up on me, who led me where I could meet Him, and turn my life to Him. God saved me from my maddening career. A year ago, I was devote Mormon, “but God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us even when were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace we have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
While this has not been an easy journey, I know this is where God has been leading me. Today I am free and He has filled me with joy. I am new wine and can’t go back to the past. When I deserved His wrath, He saved me. He never gave up on me. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Today I make a public declaration of my faith. I know that it is through grace and grace alone that I am saved. I trust in Jesus Christ for my salvation. I now live by faith in Jesus Christ.