El Dorado Hills, CA, December 2010
Arleene was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness in Southern California. Her parents converted to the religion after they moved from their home in Moroleon, Guanajuato, Mexico to the United States. She studied the Mormon faith for two years before being baptized, an action considered taboo by her family’s religion. She shares her experiences as she transitioned from her childhood thoughts and beliefs to her current testimony of the gospel. Along the way she has held on to her continued love of family and has found that the knowledge of the gospel has opened her mind and brought her new blessings.
How did being a Jehovah’s Witness help or hinder your acceptance of the gospel?
I already had a religious background, and my standards were very much the same as Mormonism growing up, so once I got to know the Church I felt comfortable. I definitely felt welcomed. We had the same standards, and that was something I wanted to uphold because I knew it was good and I wanted to raise a family in that way.
My religion was considered to be very strict by my friends at school, but now that I am an adult, I feel that it was a really good religion to grow up in. It had standards, it kept me spiritually involved in the religion, and whenever something questionable came up with friends I would definitely think, “That is not right.”
I knew that my way of thinking as a religious child was different from those who were not. My dad would always tell me our family was different. I remember when I would want to go out with friends at night without someone watching us, my dad would say I was not old enough to go and not be chaperoned. I would say, “My friends’ moms let them stay out until 11:00, why, why can’t I?”
My dad would say, “Well, that is them, that’s not us.” I always felt like that was such a big restriction. But now I understand. His thing was there’s always a curfew, and it was always 10:00. Up until I was eighteen it was still 10:00.
I can now see where his worrying was coming from. It wasn’t that he didn’t want me to be hanging out with my friends–of course he wanted me to have fun–but he always wanted me to be safe. His main priority was he wanted me to be safe. Mormonism makes me feel that same kind of safety in the world.
However, my religious background hindered my conversion to Mormonism in that my whole life I had been told that I shouldn’t or couldn’t look into other religions, so in that sense I felt I was doing something wrong. I was super curious as a kid, and as a teenager I felt a little rebellious because I was interested in my friend’s religion or I wanted to delve into other things. I was curious about spirituality, not just religion.
My parents were converts to Jehovah’s Witnesses. They lived in Mexico and were Catholics. My dad said that when he was young they would go to mass because that was where all the girls were. Both my parents lived there and met there. This was where they married and where my sister was born. When she was about two years old, my dad started going to work in California and he traveled back and forth from Mexico to the US for the next five years until he had enough money for the family and all their papers were in order. My sister was seven by then. They finally were able to live as a family in California and later my brother and I were born here. They joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses after someone knocked on their door and they thought it was a great religion to raise us kids. They went to a Spanish congregation and my parents taught us to read and write in Spanish so that we could participate.
Did you ever go to another church?
I never did. I didn’t go into a Catholic church until I was at least nineteen or twenty. Both of my really good friends are Catholic. And that was the reason I finally went, for a marriage or a baptism, but by then I felt like I was an adult and could decide. It still felt really weird for me to be there.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate holidays. How did you adapt to that aspect of your new religion?
Holidays are still really strange to me. I will never have this emotional, spiritual attachment to holidays that I see other people have. I was taught that holidays are pagan. We couldn’t be involved in them, we couldn’t sing the songs, we couldn’t draw a Santa Claus, we couldn’t do any arts and crafts that have to do with holidays. I got completely removed from these celebrations, so in my mind, these things were wrong. In old pictures I see that my parents used to celebrate Christmas. But once they converted they didn’t have any more holidays and birthdays, and my brother and I would look through the photos and see they used to celebrate, and we would say, “No fair, you got to celebrate.”
I don’t even know how it’s going to work out with my kids; I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. I don’t feel that holidays are wrong any more, but it’s one of those things that’s going to take time.
When I was young, Christmas was the same as any other day. Imagine it being the same year round. Most families mark the year by the holidays: “Oh, you will get that on Christmas,” or, “In the summer, on the fourth of July, we’ll get together. We never had that. We never had those little markers on our calendar. It was society’s way of celebrating, not ours. My parents did a great job making up for it; they made sure we got presents year round for accomplishments or other celebrations in the family, so we never felt neglected.
We only did Passover in the springtime, but not Easter. It’s the only holiday that a Jehovah’s Witness celebrates because it’s the one mentioned in the Bible that should be kept with each generation. That is the only one that we got together to celebrate at church. A talk is given and a prayer, and unleavened bread and wine are passed around, but you do not get to eat it, only pass it to the next person. We had no actual tradition that is done repeatedly, such as the sacrament with Mormons. There is no big tradition. That was a big change for me when I became a Mormon.
I was really intimidated by the sacrament. I didn’t want to partake of it until I was baptized. I felt that it was something very special and I wanted to earn the privilege of taking the sacrament. It would mean so much more to me once I completely understood what was happening.
When did you feel that you had a testimony of the gospel?
I felt like I had a testimony at my baptism. My testimony grew when I read the Book of Mormon and began praying about it. I had not prayed for a few years and it was nice to be challenged: “You mean I’m really going to get an answer? This is really going to work?” Once I started seeing that the Book of Mormon and my prayers were taking me in a good direction, I realized that I was in a good place. And I knew for sure when my life started changing in a positive way.
Then, after I got baptized I was reminded of how important my testimony was, and that it would continue to grow. When my boyfriend, Hyrum, and I were making plans to get married, we started getting answers to our prayers in very specific ways. That strengthened my testimony the most.
What made you decide to wait for a temple marriage and not just get the civil one?
I got baptized in 2008, so Hyrum and I could have gotten married then outside the temple. But at that point I knew enough to know that it was the right choice to wait, to go to the temple. That was really important to Hyrum. Ever since we met each other he had talked about a temple marriage, even before I knew what it was. So I knew it was important to him.
That’s what put so much stress on our relationship prior to my baptism, because he would not let this go–the temple marriage. He would tell me, “This is so important to me that even though I know you are the right person for me, if we can’t get married in the temple we should not get married.” It really confused me. I thought, “We have each other; what else do you need but love?”
I felt like going to church and reading the scriptures was making us stronger, and I thought, it could only get better when we get married in the temple. I had already waited long enough as it was–three years of dating. So I decided to wait the one year after my baptism to get married, then we could go to the temple. It was four days to the year after I was baptized that we were married in the temple.
How does your family accept you as a Mormon?
I was really nervous to tell my parents, because you are not supposed to even delve into any other religions, and I didn’t know how they were going to take it; I didn’t want them to shun me or reject me. I’ve known several other families that do this when they have a family member join another religion–they completely stop talking to them, they don’t want anything to do with them.
I knew my family was not like that, but I was just still very nervous because no other person in my family had ever done that. They had just stuck with the religion, however inactive at times. So me defying that rule was kind of scary.
When I told them that I was going to the Mormon Church my mom said, “I love you, you are always going to be my daughter, I am going to support you no matter what. I’m never going to stop talking to you, and you are an adult and old enough to make your own decisions.”
She told me, “Your father and I raised you in a religion that we thought was right, and we had seen as something good. We did what we could, and this is your decision.” Since then, my father has read the Book of Mormon, attended church and has begun to take the missionary discussions. And I have a cousin who has joined the church.
Who is God to you?
God to me is Jehovah, because this was how I was raised. I see God the Father and His Son by His side. Now I know that Jehovah is the name for Christ, before He came to this earth. That still feels backwards to me; Jehovah has been the name for Heavenly Father because that is the name I have had in my head. Plus, I learned all my scriptures in Spanish. When I pray now, it is to Heavenly Father, but before it was Jehovah and it would be in Spanish.
God to me is the same one who has helped me through my struggles in life. He is the same God. The transition was easy in that sense. Knowing that when I am in a bind I can pray, that He has known me since before I was born and He is the same God that I grew up with, it doesn’t matter that I’ve made a choice to change religions. Heavenly Father is going to be the same to me, the same God to me.
I tried to explain that to my family the other day, when I was there; I tried to tell them that my God is the same as their God, it is the same God that we learned about together, and no one is going to take that away from me. Just because I am a member of a different religion, that doesn’t mean that I am pagan, that I am going against everything that I learned when I was a kid, everything that I was raised with. In fact, I have learned so much more on top of that. It’s just building on it; I feel like I am progressing. It isn’t that I wanted to forget my entire upbringing.
Most people that leave the Jehovah’s Witness religion never want to see it again–it’s a sour reminder–but that was not the case for me. Those are all good memories with my family; I love my family. Half of them are not attending that religion now, but I know that a part of them is always with me because we were raised in the same environment and the same religion.
How does it feel being a Mormon now?
It makes me feel like a better person. My friends would say, “Don’t feel like you have to change religions to become a better person., you’re already a good person.” But I felt like Mormonism helped me become a better me.
I work as a make-up artist. In my work, when I do people’s makeup sometimes it will come up. One woman asked me, “So do you go to the Mormon temple?” That was her way of asking if I was a Mormon. It also comes up when I talk about not working on Sundays.
I so look forward to Sunday. I used to work Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Now, not working on Sunday helps me prioritize my life; I wake up and know that this day I get to rest. Working on Sunday is not something I am going to compromise with my religion. But I am often told that I cannot ask for Sundays off. I work hard and this Sunday thing should not be an issue in hiring someone. But it is, so I am freelancing now instead of being a full-time employee for the makeup industry where I am certified. This I can choose not to do–to work on Sunday.
Would you like to serve a mission someday?
I hope to serve a mission one day with my husband, and be of service to others and share my testimony. Mormons see service as a priority, and this is one of the things I love. Before I joined the Church, I didn’t know what a testimony was, or what Priesthood blessings were. Now I think of all these great things that we can get out of this life. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that this life is just here on this earth and when you die you are just sleeping in the ground. There is so much more to learn. Serving a mission would give my life much more meaning and the opportunity to help others is a blessing.
Looking at the stars, I think, “How many other worlds are out there right now?” I love to think about the possibilities and that life continues. There are so many things that we do not know about. I love that. I enjoy opening my mind and this religion has allowed me that.. It’s liberating. It’s great to have open conversations with members and family and friends now. I took my time learning about the gospel. I took the discussions and asked all my questions. Others from my childhood may think I was brainwashed, but my mind has been opened, and I can ask and find. I studied it out for a long time, almost two years before I was baptized.
I never knew the history of the Jehovah’s Witness religion until I joined the Mormon Church. I never asked, because when we were preaching we did not teach about the founder of our religion. I feel it’s sad that we were not more passionate about our religion. I love the passion in the Mormon religion. I would like to ask my family if they have questions, if they want to know more. And ask them if they are happy. Having the courage to ask is the first step to going outside of what you already know.
At A Glance
Arleene Regalado Taylor
Location: El Dorado Hills, CA
Marital status: Married in 2009
Occupation: Makeup artist, Wedding Planner
Convert: 18 April 2008
Schools Attended: Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising
Languages Spoken at Home: Spanish and English
Favorite Hymn: “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”
On The Web: http://myheartistry.blogspot.com
Interview by Deila Taylor. Photographs by Duston Todd Photography and Tikko Studios (Louis Trinh)
At A Glance