I Was a Mormon: Matthew Konen

Matthew and Sara Konen

I was raised in the Mormon Church until just before my 17th birthday.  My parents were raised Lutheran, but became members of the Mormon Church while my father was stationed in Hawaii with the Navy during the Vietnam War.  I did all the normal Mormon stuff before I became a Christian.  I was baptized when I was 8.  I received the Aaronic Priesthood when I turned 12.  I was blessing the sacrament at 14.  I went on temple trips to Omaha, Chicago, and Nauvoo.  I baptized my niece when she turned 8.  We were not the perfect Mormon family; we shopped on Sunday after church and liked to get caffeinated drinks before we went home.  My mom always had tea in the fridge and I learned later in life that there was alcohol hidden in the house.  I never doubted the teachings I heard in the Church.  In elementary and middle school, kids would tell me they heard in their church that I was going to hell because I was Mormon, but I had been prepared to hear this.  I was taught that non-Mormons didn’t understand the teachings of the Church and that they thought the Mormons taught that they would be gods in heaven.  I was taught that they misunderstood that we wanted to be as much like Jesus as possible, but that we would not ever be equal to him.

I became friends with a few Christians in high school that didn’t seem to mind my religion, and we didn’t talk much about it.  One of the teachers started a Christians In Action (CIA) group that met before school.  I attended with my friends because I thought I was just as much a Christian as any of them.  The group was very supportive and let me read out of the Book of Mormon if I had a relevant verse.  Near the end of my sophomore year, at the last CIA meeting of the year, I was praying with a group and as we finished, a girl took my hands and looked into my eyes.  She said, “God has big things planned for you.  I can feel it.”  I didn’t know what she meant.

Just before my junior year started, I ran into an old family friend, Adam, at the Iowa State Fair.  I had heard that he had been “saved,” but didn’t really understand what it meant.  Adam had been a jerk after high school--drinking, doing drugs, and getting into bar fights.  While we were talking, he told me about a dark time in his life, a few years before, while modeling in South America, he was so into drugs that he snorted something with a cab driver he had never met.  Talking to him that day, he was a different person.  He was happier than I had ever seen him.  He talked pleasantly for a few moments, but then jumped to talking about Jesus and his new found “relationship” with him.  When asked how I was doing with Jesus, I told him that I was still going to church.  He accepted the answer and gave me a tract about forgiveness and his phone number if I ever needed anything.  I politely put it in my wallet where it stayed for a few months.

The school year started and I continued going to the CIA group.  One day, while riding the bus to cross country practice, a girl from my class, Janae, came up and sat down.  She said that she had heard I was a Mormon, but that she didn’t really understand what that meant and asked if she could ask some questions about it.  When I told her that was ok, she said she would answer questions about her church too, if I had any.  This started several weeks of back and forth conversation about our churches.  She went to a Baptist church.  We had a lot of great conversations, both learning about the other’s religion.  One day she asked me about getting into heaven.  I told her that I obeyed the commandments in the Bible and the Book of Mormon and believed what they taught, that the good things I did would help me get into heaven, and that where I wasn’t good enough, Jesus would meet me in the middle.  Janae had always been polite while we were talking, but when she heard this she freaked out.  She asked if the bus were to roll over right at that moment and I died, where I would go.  I told her that I thought I would go to heaven.  She told me that if she died right then, she knew she would go to heaven.  She didn’t say hope, she didn’t say believe even.  She said she knew.  This blew me away.  I had never met anyone with that kind of confidence about heaven.  When I asked her how she KNEW she would go to heaven, she explained what being saved was again and told me that if I accepted Jesus as a personal savior and had a personal relationship, then I could be just as confident.

While this was happening at school, I was having a very opposite experience at the Mormon Church.  The other guys my age began skipping Wednesday night activities and I would sometimes be the only one there.  One Sunday during Sunday school, the teacher began to talk about reaching the highest level of heaven and becoming a god.  He explained that when we were younger, we were given a different explanation of the same doctrine, because it was hard to understand.  But now he was telling us that we would be allowed to create universes, planets, plants and animals, as well as men.  The group began to talk about this.  A girl I had a lot of respect for, Lisa, who was a 4.0 student and whose dad was the church bishop, leaned back in her chair and said, “When I become a god, I’m going to make people with see-through skin and glow in the dark, blue, sparkly blood.”  The teacher told her that she would be able to do that.  I stared, dumb-founded, like I was the only one that thought this was weird.

A few days after my last talk with Janae, I was talking to the teacher that led the CIA group and told her I was doubting the Mormon Church.  I told her that I was thinking about getting saved and asked her how to do it.  She told me she would pray out loud and if I wanted to repeat it to myself, I could.  When she finished praying, she looked up expectantly and asked if I had prayed too.  I told her I hadn’t, but I thanked her for teaching me how to do it.  She was disappointed, but said she wouldn’t rush me or pressure me to do something I wasn’t ready to do.

I got home a few nights later after having an awful day at school, and that led to an awful cross country race.  I felt very alone.  I realized that I didn’t have the same kind of relationship with God that the people around me had and that this was what was missing from my life.  I prayed that night, alone in my room, for Jesus to come into my life.  I felt an overwhelming peace and excitement.  I didn’t know what to do.  I felt like I needed to tell someone, but didn’t know who.  I didn’t have my teacher’s phone number.  I had Janae’s, but it was pretty late and she wasn’t someone I normally called.  I opened the contacts in my phone and right away in the A’s, there was Adam.  I knew immediately that I should call him.  He answered and I asked if he was busy.  He said he was just walking out of a Bible study and had time for me.  I said, “Adam, I just got saved.”  He shouted and asked me to hang on a second.  He pulled the phone away from his mouth and I heard him yell, “Hey guys, I’ve got a Mormon kid on the phone that says he just got saved!”  I heard a huge cheer behind him, and we talked for a few minutes after that.  He prayed with me before he hung up.

I went nearly 17 years of my life not really knowing who Jesus was or how he wanted to love me.  After 17 years, God decided to send an army of Christians into my life.  There are four very specific people I thank for helping me to find the Lord, but there were so many more that He brought into my life.  I went from not really listening to Adam at the state fair to saved in under two months.  That is the miracle that is God’s love.

Matthew Konen
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