Trigger Warning: This section is the most personal, detailed, and sensitive of this letter. I describe human trafficking, abuse, assault, anxiety, and other potentially triggering topics. Reader discretion is advised.

If you had told me on October 1 that by Halloween I would leave the church, I would not have believed you. If you showed my September self a video of my November self drinking a mug of black tea, I would have been mortified. But in hindsight, my decision was obvious and inevitable.

I have spent years debating whether or not I should tell this story. It was extremely painful to write, and showing it to the entire internet leaves me more vulnerable than I have ever allowed myself to be. But I feel it needs telling. We’re all humans, after all, and maybe someone reading this story will be able to empathize with me and feel hopeful.

Please don’t villainize people.

I want to make one thing clear before you read this story. I love and respect my parents. They have always been amazing and supportive people. I humbly acknowledge that they did everything they possibly could to give me a happy, successful childhood. I was extremely privileged, and I owe much of my success in life to my parents’ sacrifices and hard work.

I also hold a great deal of respect for many of the honorable people who served in leadership or counseling roles as I grew up in the church. The problems I describe are systemic and cannot be used to condemn sincere, kind people who I genuinely believe wanted only the best for the people they served.

My purpose in telling this story is not to condemn these people, nor is it to encourage pity. I had a privileged childhood, and I’ve overall had a good life. I share these memories not to tear good people down but to encourage people to make course corrections in their own lives where appropriate. In this spirit, most people in this story remain anonymous, and I avoid giving specific dates and locations.

Peter Priesthood

I was very religious growing up. Until it had been determined to be an offensive term, I was occasionally called Molly Mormon or Peter Priesthood. Interestingly, the nickname went from innocent to offensive because of the word Mormon rather than the commentary on my personality, but that’s neither here nor there.

Landon Around Baptism

As I grew up, I did all the right things, as far as my young self could tell. All of my friends belonged to active families. I was baptized the day after my eighth birthday, and I started going to Cub Scouts that same week. I was encouraged to share my testimony in primary, and despite not understanding any of it, I recited the familiar lines: “I know the church is true, I know Heavenly Father loves me,” and so on. When I aged out of primary, this became second nature.

When I turned twelve, someone from the ward visited our home to explain that I was going to be a deacon. He gave me a laminated map of the chapel along with instructions on how to pass the sacrament. He described the process for collecting fast offerings and explained that I was expected to go from door to door collecting donations on the first Sunday of every month. I was ordained as a deacon and invited to pass the sacrament as early as possible after that.

I remember receiving praise from my family because I had made the decision to receive the priesthood. I enjoyed the praise, but I don’t remember making any decision. I turned twelve, and the church expected me to participate as such.

Several months later, we moved a few blocks away to a new ward. It was then that I learned that the priesthood I had received was the power to act in God’s name. I learned that when I passed the sacrament or collected fast offerings, it was just as if Jesus himself were doing it.

Landon Around 14

After that, I started feeling guilty about everything. Would Jesus have tripped and spilled some water out of the sacrament tray? Would he arrive at church a few minutes late after a rough morning? Would God Himself have laughed at an inappropriate joke?

Compounding the issue, I am autistic and introverted. I felt ashamed every time I was asked to speak in sacrament meetings, do missionary activities, go home teaching, or lead class discussions. I was teased by my peers and church leaders, who occasionally used scripture to insinuate that I was less-than because I was not outgoing. Leaders would regularly ask me how I would possibly serve a mission if I couldn’t talk to people. Despite the church teaching that everyone was welcome, it was becoming clear that I was only welcome if I could participate in the way they expected me to.

When I remember church in my early teenage years, the emotion that dominates my memories is fear. I was terrified of messing up, doing anything that wasn’t perfectly Christlike. I walked around middle school anxious that hearing one too many f-bombs or dirty jokes would make me evil. I didn’t dare let myself have a crush on someone, since my leaders’ loose interpretation of Matthew 5:28 combined with Alma 39:3-5 implied that being attracted to someone was as bad as murder, especially before you turn 16. It was not until my 20s that I learned that this nervous voice in my head was clinical anxiety telling me I wasn’t good enough, not the Holy Ghost keeping me safe from sin.

As I got older, I kept advancing in the priesthood. A birthday rolled around, and the church assumed I wanted to move on to the next office. Every time brought praise and support from family members and church leaders, so I didn’t give it a second thought. When I turned fourteen, I was to be a home teacher. This meant my dad and I spent a few minutes once a month sitting on someone’s couch, usually on a Sunday afternoon when they just wanted to relax. As you can imagine, a 14-year-old autistic kid probably doesn’t have much to talk about with 30-year-old parents of four, so I dreaded these visits. God himself commanded me to do it, though, so out of fear of disappointing God, my parents, or church leaders, I went.

Landon Getting Eagle Scout Award

It was also abundantly clear in every young men’s church meeting that God wanted me to be an Eagle Scout. I spent scout camps being a good sport despite relentless teasing from fellow scouts and leaders. I hated Scouts with all my heart. But I put a smile on my face and went anyway since it was what God wanted, and I was told I’d never find a worthy wife if I wasn’t an Eagle Scout. I even got second-degree sunburns spending a week at the huge Scout Encampment because it was what Thomas Monson said to do. You can imagine my confusion when, suddenly, the church stopped endorsing the scouting program.

Called to Serve

In the same way the church assumed I wanted to be baptized and receive the priesthood, they assumed I wanted to serve a mission. It was made clear to me since primary that I would disappoint my parents and likely be berated or shunned by members if I didn’t serve. I was told I wouldn’t find a wife if I didn’t serve a mission, and I knew the young women in the church were taught to only date returned (with honor) missionaries.

I attended mission preparation classes and went to the “mission prep” activities (where leaders taught us how to sew on a button or cook a grilled cheese sandwich), but I still felt unprepared. I had spent my whole life in the church, but I still felt that its doctrine was so convoluted that I couldn’t make sense of it. I had prayed about the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and the truthfulness of the church. I never felt anything, but I figured God was holding off or I was not righteous enough to get a response. If everyone around me said the church was true, it must be. Certainly, I was the missing link.

At 17, I received a phone call from the ward secretary asking when I would like to meet to start mission papers. I was not given a chance to opt out of this meeting, and when I arrived, I learned my papers had already been started. I was given a list of tasks to complete along with a deadline, and I was told what to set as my availability date.

Sure enough, my mission call arrived by mail a short couple of weeks after I submitted my papers. My mom texted me while I was on a school trip; I’d have to wait a couple of days to open my call. I couldn’t eat for those couple of days. I brushed the feeling off as excitement or the spirit, but I was terrified. I had spent the last few years hearing that I was too shy to be a good missionary and that if I didn’t pick up some social skills, I’d get eaten alive on a mission. I had heard my dad talk about how stressful, exhausting, and abusive a mission can be. But still, I didn’t feel like I had another choice. If I wanted to marry a worthy woman, if I wanted any respect in the church, and if I wanted to be a decent father, I was to serve a mission.

When I finally got home from the school trip, I opened my call with my family. I was shaking so much that I couldn’t get the letter opener into the fold of the envelope. Even as I write this, my heart rate is elevated and I’m starting to sweat. This experience has been the center of many nightmares I’ve had since. In the moment, it was a happy, exciting day. It’s so saddening to me that it was so thoroughly soiled by trauma.

My mission call was the same template letter many of my friends received. I was to serve in the Honduras Tegucigalpa mission. After some research, I learned it was statistically one of the most dangerous places in the world. I found out that someone from my stake had recently come home from the same mission, so I reached out with questions.

Her email was friendly and helpful, but it was terrifying. She mentioned that the people in that mission are some of the kindest people in the world, which I can attest to. But she also gave me some terrifying advice. She hinted that they didn’t have enough money to get enough nutritionally complete food. She said missionary apartments are usually cheap and not very secure, so don’t take any valuables in case someone breaks in. And she mentioned the need to bring my own medications because the ones supplied in mission apartments are usually out-of-stock or expired.

Landon at Idaho Falls Temple

Then, of course, came receiving my endowment. I was one of the first people endowed in the Idaho Falls temple after the renovation, so it was a disorganized, confusing experience to say the least. I received no explanation of what to expect, and it was traumatizing to be expected to make huge promises without any indication beforehand of what those promises would be. Either way, we had made a special trip out of going to the temple, and I didn’t want to upset or disappoint anyone, so I received the full endowment. Everything was disorienting, and all of my ordinances were performed “for and in behalf of Landon Taylor, who is dead.” It wasn’t until later that I learned they had a different script to read if it was a living ordinance, and I spent the rest of my time in the church wondering if my endowment was even valid. I became anxious that this was God’s punishment for some sin I hadn’t remembered to repent of, throwing away my shot at exaltation.

I don’t honestly remember much about getting ready to leave on my mission. I remember that I had to fit everything I’d need for two years into two 40-pound bags. We went to one of those stores that have pre-built packages for missionaries, where you pick the color of your suit and they give you everything else. I spent a few weeks looking at everything loaded into my suitcases and wondering how I was going to live out of those two bags. In hindsight, I am so grateful my mission helped me realize just how privileged I am and have always been. I am horrified that I thought my privilege came because I won God’s favor, as if people who are born with less are somehow inherently less worthy than me.

Landon Pointing to Airplane

On the fourth of July, I left for the Guatemala MTC. I flew out of the Pocatello airport early in the morning, and I remember feeling awful because my whole family was bawling. I think I was in a partial state of shock since all of my memories of this day are hazy. When I got to the Salt Lake airport, I had an 11-hour layover before the flight to Los Angeles. I wandered the airport alone for about eight hours. I remember thinking I had just been set apart as a missionary, so I should be able to convert people.

I had heard often in church that the spirit would help me talk to people. My leaders would make a point to say that after teasing me about being too shy. So the whole time I was in the airport, I kept almost approaching people. Something (which I’ve since learned was simply respect for the airport’s “no soliciting” policy and others’ boundaries) kept me from talking to anyone, and before I even made it to the Missionary Training Center, I felt like I had failed as a missionary.

More missionaries arrived, and we made the red-eye flights to Guatemala City, where we arrived early the next morning. None of us had gotten any sleep since the previous night.

Missionary Training

When our bus arrived at the MTC, we were handed a folder with an itinerary stapled to it and told to take our bags to a classroom. We were ushered in a single-file line into a cafeteria, where we were served breakfast. As we stood in line, we met the MTC president, who informed us when he shook our hands that he could tell a lot about what kind of missionaries we were just from a handshake. He also let us know that we were expected to eat every bite of food we were served, even if we weren’t hungry.

TW: Human Trafficking A secretary walked along the line collecting our passports. He indicated we would get them back when we needed to leave for our missions. He told us they would be secured in a locked safe and that we could not access them until we had to leave.

My stomach was too upset to eat, but I hadn’t had anything since Salt Lake, and I didn’t want to disobey the MTC president, so I ate a few bites before running to a restroom to throw them up. When I got back, I found out that several other missionaries were in a similar predicament, so we hid the extra food under napkins and threw it away. As we did, we were confronted by the MTC president again, who said something I interpreted as a chastisement for ingratitude.

Photos of the inside of the MTC were strictly forbidden, but I did take one of the outside:

Guatemala Missionary Training Center

We were sent upstairs for worthiness interviews, which I thought was interesting given we had all recently been interviewed by our stake presidents. The MTC president and his counselors told us that the purpose was to assign us our companions. The counselor who interviewed me was friendly, and this was the first time I felt even remotely at ease. He told me about his son, who was on a mission and doing really well.

He didn’t seem confident enough speaking in English to conduct the interview, so he showed me a laminated page with a list of questions and asked if I had anything to talk about with any of them. I don’t remember many of them, but one question stood out. It asked if I had ever committed a serious sin, regardless of whether or not it had already been handled by church leaders. That struck me as strange, since I thought the atonement meant that repentance made it as if a sin was never committed in the first place, but I figured they had their reasons and didn’t think too much of it.

We were all ushered into the cafeteria, where the MTC president greeted us and introduced us to the MTC. He informed us that we were not to leave or we would lose God’s protection. He told us there was a guard at the gate who was instructed never to let a missionary leave. He further indicated that we could not move freely in the halls of the MTC and that there were cameras that could read our name badges. He listed a few other rules and stated that those who didn’t obey these rules would face serious disciplinary action. This was repeated at least weekly during the six weeks I stayed at the MTC. Guarded MTC Gate

TW: Mental Health and Suicide

A missionary in my group was beginning to experience serious mental health challenges. I will not share much about these issues to protect his privacy, but he asked the MTC president to be sent home. Allegedly, the MTC president informed the missionary he would pray about it. The Lord’s answer, supposedly, was that the missionary should stay in the MTC and complete his mission. After talking to his companion (for whom I now have so much respect) about feeling suicidal, they schemed to get this missionary home. He let a couple of close friends know beforehand (so we didn’t think less of him, which is heartbreaking) that he intended to tell the MTC president his girlfriend was pregnant at home. Sure enough, this lie was enough to get him sent back home.

While we were watching a devotional from Jeffrey Holland (if I recall, it was the talk in which he tells missionaries that if they die, they’re one of the lucky ones1). A missionary stood up and began screaming at the screen. His companion and others tried to calm him down and asked him to sit, but he kept shouting. The MTC presidency ushered everyone to their rooms, and the nurse administered a tranquilizer to the missionary. Later, we were told that the missionary had been possessed by a devil and that it was important to be worthy to have the spirit.

  1. Holland, J. (2020, November 30). Don’t You Dare Go Home | LDSminds. ↩︎

At one point, a handful of mission presidents and their wives visited the MTC. The couple who visited my group were visibly upset, and when we asked about it, they shared that one of their sister missionaries had just died in a tragic accident. They shared that God protects missionaries, but that we still needed to be very careful.

TW: Kidnapping and Sexual Assault

Toward the end of my time in the MTC, an employee from the area office gave a presentation about safety. The presentation started with instructions about avoiding kidnapping and how to stay safe if you are kidnapped. He shared a handful of traumatizing stories in graphic detail, then told us not to worry; God would protect us. He indicated that if we were kidnapped, never fight back. We were told to pray until someone came to rescue us.

He also indicated to the women that in the event of rape, they have to work out with God if they can live with themselves if they don’t put up a fight. He shared that he had had this conversation with his wife, and that he would have to leave her if she was raped because it was against the law of chastity.

The MTC president, who presided at this meeting, did nothing to correct this.

All the talks and lessons during the MTC conveyed one message to me: if I was not an exactly obedient, perfect missionary, my safety was immediately in danger. If I failed to obey any of the mission rules or commandments, my parents were in danger of never seeing their son again.

On top of all of this, we were closely monitored as we wrote home. There were several staff members in the computer lab at all times while it was unlocked, and we were told that if we were struggling, we should not include that in our emails home. These staff members made it clear they read our emails over our shoulders. Everything was to be faith-promoting, and we were given half an hour per week to write home. This struck me as extremely strange: God trusted me to represent Him in a huge capacity, but He didn’t trust me to email my mom. Because of all of this, I didn’t dare write home about how awful I felt since I believed disobedience would put me in danger (or at best earn me some kind of punishment), and I didn’t need to stress out my worried family even further.

The Mission

At the end of our stay in the MTC, the secretary returned our passports, and a few of us left for Tegucigalpa. We did not have enough information to give customs when we arrived, but the agents were thankfully familiar with the mission office and helped us fill out our papers. When we passed through customs, we were greeted by two missionaries who introduced themselves as “the assistants”. I was still unfamiliar with the mission hierarchy, so I thought that was a strange way to introduce themselves.

The assistants greeted us with hugs, and then immediately asked for our passports. They let us know that if immigration officers asked to see them during our mission, they would have to call the mission office. The passports would stay in a locked safe in the mission office, to which only one secretary plus the mission president knew the combination.

Landon in front of view of area

We met the mission president and his wife, who were extremely friendly. They took us to the second floor of the airport to introduce themselves and show us what Tegucigalpa looked like. Then we all piled into their cars and left for the mission office. We were immediately interviewed again, and we took a photo with a map to send to our parents.

We spent the first night in the office home, which was a huge apartment where up to 30 missionaries slept during transfers. We were told to sleep in the only room in the apartment without air conditioning (to get used to the heat, supposedly) on bunk beds stacked three high with bare mattresses. The bathroom looked and smelled like it hadn’t been cleaned in months, and all of the beds were stained. The walls were covered in spots, each one representing a bug that was unlucky enough to be smashed there. I didn’t sleep a bit that night, and the missionaries who lived in the house told us they couldn’t afford to get us breakfast. But don’t worry, they told us. We’d get used to being hungry.

San Marcos de Colon

The following day, we were assigned companions and sent to our areas. I was assigned to one of the most remote areas in the mission, so we weren’t able to make it all the way there in one day. We spent the night with a few other missionaries in a house in Choluteca. I still had not received any money or had an opportunity to withdraw cash. My companion had run out of money traveling to transfers, so we shared a bag of chips and a couple of bags of water for dinner.

Landon in front of view of area

I learned we were opening the area (i.e., both of the previous missionaries were assigned to other areas and my companion hadn’t ever been there), and we were the only missionaries within a two-hour bus ride. A couple of missionaries who had visited the area took the bus with us, and we finally found an ATM. As soon as we withdrew money, we went to a restaurant for lunch. This whole time, I felt terrified, and it was most pronounced in the restaurant. I remembered reading a rule that indicated I shouldn’t eat out, and I felt too guilty to finish my lunch.

The missionaries showed us around the town, and we met a few of the church members there. We visited five or ten houses, and they let us know we had met all the members. They told us we were responsible for a group, and they showed us how to unlock the small apartment that was in use as a chapel. They told us we would be speaking in church and teaching all of the classes every week.

It took a while to get used to, as any new experience does, but I eventually adored this area. People were so kind to us, and we paid someone to make us lunch. Money was tight, but we made it work unless we had to travel to a zone conference (in which case we skipped a few breakfasts and dinners and called it a fast).

Landon in front of view of area

We occasionally had divisions, and our district leader would visit our area or we would visit his. One night, we slept at their apartment, and one of the missionaries was being (in my mind) absurdly disobedient. He was reading unapproved books and listening to unapproved music (I believe it was Nashville Tribute Band), and at one point, he went outside to wash some clothes without his companion. I was terrified. I genuinely believed that because this missionary was not being perfectly obedient to mission rules, we were immediately in danger. They laid out a couple of bare mattresses for us, and I didn’t sleep at all. Every little sound was someone breaking into the apartment, God punishing me for allowing a missionary to be disobedient. When I tried to say something, I was dismissed as flechon, or straight-as-an-arrow. I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. I had less experience and no power over this missionary, but if I didn’t get him to stop, I could die.

Landon on a Mountain

One day, we were asked to visit someone who lived in a relatively remote part of the area. Instead of taking the normal route, we tried a shortcut. We came to a place where we had to climb a very steep part of a mountain. I had done plenty of hiking as a scout, so I wasn’t immediately worried. But as we got up the mountain, I started to remember some of the safety trainings from the MTC. They told us that we were never to try climbing anything and that if we were disobedient to that rule, we would lose God’s protection. I started crying and shaking when we were near the top of the steep trail, and my companion started laughing and taking photos of me. I panicked and felt like if I took one more step up the mountain, God would inflict some harm on us, but I couldn’t go back down and leave my companion. As I look back at mission photos, this one still makes me feel a little dizzy.

As I write this now, it almost sounds like it’s meant to be satire. I assure you, however, that these are the thoughts and feelings I genuinely experienced.

A few months into my mission, I was finally starting to feel comfortable speaking Spanish. All was going well when protests started breaking out. As we walked home one night, we passed what I thought was a parade. My companion said we had to get home as fast as possible, and we grabbed something quick for dinner and went home. One of the church members called and asked if we were okay right as the parade passed our apartment, and we learned it was a political protest. Thankfully, this one was mild, but we started to become afraid. My companion had heard stories like this before about missionaries ending up stuck in their apartments for days or even weeks on end.

The protest continued outside our window for a couple of hours, and we made an inventory of our food. We had two bags of spaghetti, one bag of instant oats, one bag of refried beans, one bag of coffee someone gave us as a joke, one hot plate (that didn’t heat up quite enough to boil water), one frying pan, and one spatula. We had about 3 gallons of water left in our jug, plus a couple of bags. If we were going to be stuck in our apartment, we were screwed. But it was after 8 pm, and we were strictly required to be home, so we figured God would take care of us.


Around 10 that night, we got a call from the mission office. We were not to leave our apartment until the mission president felt it was safe. That night and the whole next day, the power was out, and our phone’s battery was dying. In the morning, we couldn’t hear the protests anymore, but the mission president felt it was still too dangerous for us to leave. “I don’t want to have to call someone’s parents and explain that their child died because they didn’t listen to revelation,” we read in a text message from the mission office.

I am so grateful for my companion, who told me it might not be safe in some parts of the mission, but we wouldn’t be safe if we stayed home. So we got dressed and headed to the grocery store. We pooled all of our money, including some birthday and Christmas money, and stocked up at the grocery store. We didn’t have enough money to get a mototaxi home, so we walked back up the hill to our apartment with what felt like 50 pounds of groceries. We dropped everything off and made our way to a pulperia (small corner store) to buy some bags of water. I made it most of the way there before I started feeling dizzy. My heart was racing, and I was certain something horrible would happen to us because we were disobedient. I couldn’t keep standing, so I sat on the curb and started praying. Even though we were disobedient, I asked, please protect us. I’ll never do anything like this again, I said while I cried on the side of the road.

My companion pulled my arm and said to hurry. We picked up as much water as we could carry and went back home. I was completely certain something terrible would happen to me if I was disobedient again. God gave me a free pass, and I shouldn’t make a mockery of him, I thought. So when my companion got bored of reading scriptures and suggested we play Monopoly, I flipped out. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember shouting and going to bed. I remember lying in bed thinking about the horror stories we talked about in seminary about missionaries getting kidnapped or dying. I thought about the mission president having to call my parents to tell them I had died because I was disobedient.

Fuera Joh Protest

These protests started around December. We were required to stay home for two weeks, and we ran almost completely out of food. We were told to ration our supplies for about a week, and thankfully, my companion had the good sense to guess it would take longer. Over the next few days, we got a text every morning telling us if we were allowed to leave or not. We had each received some Christmas money, and we didn’t use any transportation, so we kept as much cash available as we could, especially making sure we had enough to take a bus to the mission office if we needed it. We kept two weeks of food and water in our apartment, and we never went more than a couple of blocks. When someone wanted to learn about the church, we asked them to meet us at the chapel, which was right next door to our apartment.

We spent much of the week leading up to Christmas locked in our apartment. We did what we could to stay positive. We played some Christmas hymns, and I finally got bored enough to risk playing Monopoly. I even took a blurry picture of our setup to remember the experience. I figured if God put us in this mess, he would be understanding if we got bored.

Landon in front of view of area

A few days before Christmas, we were told we would be able to leave the apartment to call home. The internet in my area was not good enough to support a video call, so we took a bus to a church building in Choluteca, where a member lent us a laptop. I wasn’t able to talk much. I didn’t want to scare my family, so I didn’t tell them very much about what was happening. I let them know we had been stuck in our apartment but that we were staying safe. I told them we’d been eating well, and I made sure to point out the missionary successes we’d had despite it all.

Downtown Tegucigalpa

Later that week, I got a call saying I was being transferred to Tegucigalpa. I was going to be a district leader and train a new missionary right in the center of the city. When one of the members in my area heard this, he told me they would eat me alive there. He talked about how dangerous it was and that I’d better stay obedient or I’d be in danger.

When we went to the transfer meeting, I met my companion. We immediately hit it off, which was a relief. The missionaries who left the area showed us quickly how to get to the apartment. When we got to the building, which was a tall concrete tower with a door next to the sidewalk, the missionaries called the landlady. I thought this was interesting since they had a key, but I understood when they opened the door and we were greeted at the top of a narrow staircase by two huge dogs, each growling at us. The landlady was holding their collars and beating them with wooden dowels as we came up the stairs.

Apartment Dogs

We went upstairs to our apartment, where we found out there were two mattresses on a concrete floor, a hot plate on a melted plastic table, and a five-gallon bucket of brown water. The previous missionaries had drawn on the walls, likely because they were stuck there during the protests. We talked with the landlady that night about when we expected to be coming and going, so she could plan for the dogs. She told us the last missionaries got bitten so badly they had to go to the hospital.

We immediately started looking for a new apartment. We finally found one, and it took over a month to convince the mission office to rent it because the new place cost 3700 Lempiras (then around $150) per month, but the old place only cost 2700 (about $100). They asked repeatedly why we couldn’t stay in the old apartment, and I repeatedly explained that it was unsafe. We finally moved after convincing the mission office that a hospital visit would cost more than the extra rent and that downtown Tegucigalpa was an expensive place to rent.

I justified all of this, though, because my mission president regularly told the story of his mom, who didn’t have much money but regularly donated to the missionary fund. “How are you using my mom’s money?” he would ask us. I didn’t realize yet that I was using less than half of the money my family was paying the church for my mission. I determined all of this was God punishing me for being disobedient in my previous area (by buying emergency food and playing Monopoly), so I stepped up my obedience. I was awake on time, home on time, and in bed on time. I had the best numbers of anyone. And I started having horrible stomach pain.

I was so stressed that I could not eat. This became extremely problematic when people would kindly and generously offer us food since it is rude to waste. I had to make a habit of calling people before a visit and explaining that I could only eat a bird’s portion. I brought a tupper with me to dinners so I could say I loved the food, but I didn’t have the appetite to finish. Eventually, I developed a reputation as the snobby gringo who wouldn’t eat people’s food. This, of course, only stressed me out further, and I could eat even less.


I figured this was just food poisoning or that people were giving us unreasonable portions. But one week during companionship review (where we were told to settle any differences and give a detailed report of anything our companion was doing wrong), my companion asked if he could tell me something. I said sure, and he told me that one of the members was very angry with me. She had approached him at church to tell him that she was done feeding an ungrateful missionary, and she told the bishop to stop organizing meals for us.

It became clear that, despite baptizing more people in two months than had been baptized in the past two years, I was not welcome in the ward. I started feeling depressed, and I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone. After all, I was training my companion, so I had to be uplifting and inspiring. Everything I wrote to my family was supposed to be faith-promoting, so I couldn’t write home about it. So I bought a cheap notebook and started writing about how I felt.

TW: Mental Health and Suicide I wrote about my frustration with God for putting me in this situation. I wrote about how I wished I could just die, and maybe I should be more disobedient so some gang member will finally just kill me. I wrote about how I hated not being able to eat anything. I wrote about always feeling hungry but never having an appetite. I wrote about how much I hated being unwelcome in the ward, and how I didn’t want to do it anymore. I remember writing all of this and praying to ask God why this was happening to me. I never felt a response, so I wrote about how I was angry at God for putting me in this horrible situation and leaving me to deal with it by myself.

This notebook turned out to be a helpful outlet for me. At least I had a way to keep myself from bottling up the negative things that were going on. Then we went to a zone conference. In this conference, we were told that if we loved our companion, we would keep him from being disobedient. We were told that loving your companion meant occasionally going through his things and reading his letters home and his journal entries.

I panicked. I had a notebook full of thoughts I didn’t want anyone else to see, so I threw it away as soon as we got back to the apartment. My companion asked if everything was alright, and I said of course and made the required phone calls to get numbers from my district for the evening.

Bed in Mission Apartment

Over the next few weeks, things went relatively well. We were teaching good lessons and getting along great. I couldn’t eat, so we always had enough money for food. But something kept bothering me: I had been having pain in my toenail for a couple of months. I asked the mission nurse (who was a young sister missionary) about it a couple of times, and she told me to keep a strand of dental floss between my toenail and my foot until it went away.

Lo and behold, it did not go away. I decided to call the mission office about it, and they were able to get me into a doctor about a month later.

TW: Medical Description and Images

My toe had become badly infected. The doctor chastised me for waiting so long to come in, and told me I was an idiot for using dental floss to separate my nail from my toe. He removed most of my toenail on-the-spot, and I was prescribed antibiotics and pain medicine.

Bandaged Toenail

After the procedure, I was sent back to our area and expected to do 12 hours of missionary work a day again as soon as I could stand. Thankfully, we had a market in our area, so I bought some sandals that kept my feet drier and gave me more room for my bandage than my shoes did.

Infected Toenail

I showered with a bag over my foot to try and keep it as clean as I could, but it still didn’t seem to work. We had some cleaning products and tried to be generally hygienic, but there was only so much we could do with a missionary routine and budget. I couldn’t afford new bandages, so I doused my toe in rubbing alcohol (or sometimes just soap or floor cleaner) to keep it as clean as I could, and I filled my shoes with talcum powder to keep everything dry. While I was at the doctor, I was given a short course of antibiotics, which seemed to only upset my stomach.

TW: Medical Description and Images

My toe stayed infected, and for the rest of my mission, the mission nurses told me to keep it clean and refused to treat it otherwise.

Infected Toenail

My foot was in a lot of pain, so I walked with a slight limp for the next 16 months. We couldn’t afford to take much transit, so by my best guess (obtained by tracing a map after returning home), I walked anywhere between 10 and 20 miles every day. When I brought this concern up to mission leaders and asked for an extra dollar or two per day to spend on transit, I was quickly dismissed. I was told that it would be worth it when I returned home and got to tell stories about persevering during trials. I was invited to develop the faith to keep walking.

As I was recovering from foot problems, we were informed that Elder Cook would be visiting us along with the neighboring mission. Local missionaries were instructed to prepare a special musical number for him, and we were told repeatedly that it was a great honor to be able to sing for an apostle. I’ve never been great at singing, so I was hesitant to participate, but I was honestly relieved to spend a few hours rehearsing in an air-conditioned chapel rather than walking in the sun. I remember laughing along as I was teased for hobbling off the stand when we practiced returning to our seats.

Quentin Cook’s visit was a huge occasion. He was accompanied by his wife (who was only introduced as “Elder Cook’s Wife”) along with Gerrit Gong (right before he was called to be an apostle) and his wife. Leaders repeatedly told us how much of an honor it was to be in the same room as an apostle.

A Chapel in Tegucigalpa

We were instructed to form an exceptionally long line (wrapped around the building outside) so that each of us could shake hands with the speakers. To this day, I laugh about the time I shook an apostle’s hand while limping and wearing knock-off Crocs. I remember feeling ashamed when I saw Quentin Cook because everyone around me said they could tell he was an incredible person, but I could not see any discernable difference between him and any other person.

I was confused when I saw him because he had a relatively large security detail with him. Local members told us about the efforts that were made to secure the building. The first floor of the building was reserved for him and his guests, and we were repeatedly told that we were not to use the restroom on the first floor because it was reserved for Elder Cook. I remember wondering how this man could sincerely tell missionaries they would have the spirit’s protection while on the Lord’s errand and then require strict security protocols for himself. When I mentioned this to other missionaries, we figured he was an authority figure and might be a bigger target for someone who wanted to harm the church.

TW: Assault But I still didn’t understand how he could tell us we would be protected because we were missionaries. At this point, I was aware of missionaries being assaulted, robbed, and otherwise harmed at least every day in our mission.

We were taught that as missionaries, we were fulfilling an apostolic calling and were a direct extension of the apostles. To this day, I am deeply saddened that church leaders do significantly more to protect themselves when they speak to a crowd of loyal followers than they do to protect missionaries who live and proselyte in dangerous areas around people who do not understand or dislike the church. It was made clear to me that Quentin Cook had faith that the spirit would protect the missionary workforce but did not have faith that it would protect him.

During this special meeting, talks were generally uplifting, but nothing was new or incredible. Gerrit and Susan Gong gave very nice talks. I don’t remember anything specific they shared, but I remember they were uplifting and encouraging. I felt like they understood they were talking to a room of nervous missionaries, and I now understand that their talks can be described as “trauma-informed”. Mary Cook (I have since learned the name of “Elder Cook’s Wife”) gave another nice talk. I remember she included music heavily in her message, which was pleasant and unique.

Quentin Cook began his talk by telling us that it was nice to give us all a spiritual worthiness interview while we shook his hand. He mentioned enjoying looking into our souls as we walked along. He shared that his own mission president had recently passed away. He indicated that Jeffrey Holland was able to go to the funeral, but he sadly had to speak to us instead.

He then shared that when they wrote the missionary rule book, they felt they didn’t have to include anything about having fun or taking care of yourself since missionaries are really good at that. He said that there are so many rules because every time a missionary does something stupid, they have to add a new one. He gave some general counsel, including that it is unwise to make fun of local people and cultures. He shared a testimony, which I personally felt sounded stale and rehearsed. He mentioned that it was unwise to share spiritual experiences and then shared that he knew the voice and face of the Savior.

After the meeting, he left the room along with his guests, and we were sent back to our areas and expected to complete an afternoon and evening of missionary work. I remember teaching a lesson that evening. When I testified to someone that I knew the prophets and apostles received revelation on what to teach directly from Jesus Christ, I started feeling concerned. In a meeting with an apostle and three people with (apparently) much less spiritual authority, the people with less authority gave much more meaningful talks. I felt like Susan Gong’s talk was much more sensitive and aligned much better with the types of things missionaries were struggling with at the time than Quentin Cook’s.

But I was a missionary. These weren’t the types of doubts or worries a missionary should be thinking about, so I pushed the thought to the back of my head and moved on.

Las Golondrinas

As a zone, we received permission to make a special trip to Las Golondrinas, a waterfall and scenic hike. We were excited, but I wasn’t sure how my foot would fare. After we started hiking, I found I had to either walk along slippery rocks on the bank of a river or walk in the river itself. So I trudged through the river with everyone else, my toe in exceptional pain. Normally, I would just stay back in town, but I felt like my foot problems had already inconvenienced my companion enough, and he deserved to enjoy the trip.

Valle de Angeles

After my short stay in Tegucigalpa, I received a call from my mission president. I was to serve as a zone leader about a half hour east of Tegucigalpa in Cerro Grande, a suburb of Valle de Angeles.

When I arrived, my companion was extremely direct with me, which I appreciated but had not yet experienced as a missionary. He told me the area was sprawling and there was never enough money for food and transport, so we had to walk everywhere and stretch our money to be able to eat until the next time our cards were reloaded.

I now understand that I am autistic, but I had no idea while on my mission. One of the first hints I wasn’t neurotypical was my companion regularly telling me I had mannerisms that were extremely confusing to him. Our relationship quickly turned abusive. I was certain God was punishing me somehow and that I just needed to work harder and be more obedient. This became nearly impossible since pushing for more work and stricter obedience meant my companion turned meaner. He knew it terrified me to be alone, so he walked as fast as he could on our way home at night. He knew my foot problem meant I couldn’t keep up, so I remember spending long walks alone in the pitch black or (if it was my day to have the cell phone) with just the light from a phone screen, occasionally hearing barking dogs, groups of swearing teenagers, or the growl of a mototaxi. Every time I walked home alone, I remember praying while my heart raced. I was scared out of my wits. I had to wash my clothes twice as often because of how nervous and sweaty I got. I am endlessly grateful that no harm befell me on these walks.

Eventually, we convinced the mission president to move us to Valle de Angeles, since Cerro Grande meant extremely long walking distances and people with very little interest in meeting with missionaries.

With time, our relationship only got worse. One P-day (6 to 8 hours dedicated to cleaning and writing home), my companion mentioned having to stop by a store on the way out of town. I didn’t think much of it, but when we arrived, I learned he had planned a trip to Las Golondrinas (which was located near our area) with several young women from our area. I was terrified the entire trip since I was not prepared to hike, I had a load of laundry to wash, and we were strictly forbidden from going on trips, especially with local members (and more especially with young women). As I expected, he walked much faster than I could and left me alone. When I finally made it to the waterfall, I found him swimming with the young women, which was absolutely not allowed.

Las Golondrinas

I felt betrayed and furious, so when we finally got back to our area, I wrote a strongly-worded letter to the mission president. During the week, my companion received a phone call from the mission office asking him to visit with the mission president. We couldn’t afford the bus trip, so we skipped dinner the night before and asked the bus driver if he would accept a partial fare. When we arrived, my companion sat in a long meeting while I waited on a couch outside the office. I was mortified. He would know I tattled on him. Things would certainly get worse for us, but if I hadn’t told the mission president, I would be breaking a rule. I was damned if I did, damned if I didn’t.

When he came out of the meeting, we asked the mission office to cover our bus ride back to our area. They gave us exactly the bus fare and said we’d be fine since we would receive the usual deposit the next day. When we got back to our apartment, my companion knocked on the neighbors’ door and asked if they could spare something for dinner. I remember feeling so ashamed that I could not have saved more money, and now these people with limited means felt like they had to give us food. While we ate dinner, I learned that the ward members generally disliked me. My companion let me know that someone approached him to ask what was wrong with his companion.

We headed into town to withdraw some cash, and he immediately spent the entire sum on a volleyball. I was confused at first, but when I asked about his plan for food, he told me he guessed we’d have to split my money to eat and just take less transport. I agreed, but I said we’d have to spread it really thin. That meant no more breakfasts until we got more money, and we could only drink water from five-gallon jugs instead of buying bags to take with us.

Empty Water Bag

He gave me the silent treatment for the next couple of days. We talked just enough to plan our day and teach lessons, but he didn’t respond to any attempt to start a conversation. I apologized a few times, but he continued to ignore me. When our weekly planning session came around, I felt like I had to say something. I don’t remember much of what he said, but he started crying and yelling at me. He threatened me a handful of times and told me never to snitch again.

In hindsight, I wish so badly that the church would give any sort of mental health training to missionaries. He mentioned issues he was having with his girlfriend who was waiting for him at home.

TW: Mental Health and Suicide He talked about the anxiety and depression he’d been experiencing. He apologized for what he did and started crying so much he couldn’t speak. I remembered watching a campaign about suicide prevention in high school in which they talked about the importance of checking in on people. I asked if he was thinking about killing himself, and he said he was and kept crying.

At this point, I had no clue what to do. So I called the mission office. They said they would talk to the mission president and indicated that I should keep an eye on him. He kept relatively private about his experience, but I became aware that a church-employed psychologist was calling for half an hour every six weeks to help manage his mental health. When he brought these concerns to an interview, he shared that the mission president’s advice was that Jeffrey Holland also struggled with mental health. The mission president shared a scripture from Moroni 10 that indicates that despair (roughly translated from the Spanish Book of Mormon as depression) comes from iniquity. He told my companion that his mental health was in bad shape because of sin.

Transfers came around, and my companion was moved to another area. I received a call on the area phone from the church psychologist, who told me that if I didn’t have my former companion’s area phone number she couldn’t keep providing therapy for him. I asked her to call the mission office, and she indicated that it was my former companion’s responsibility to keep her updated about transfers.

My next companion was due to return home at the end of the transfer. He had a reputation for being stubborn and disobedient. He made it clear early in the transfer that he wasn’t interested in acting like a missionary. He told me he was senior companion and he would be calling all the shots. I panicked, since in my mind everything bad that had already happened to me happened because of disobedience.

I felt trapped, so I negotiated. We had a baptism planned about a week into the transfer. If we could get that person baptized, I would let him dictate everything else. So for a week, we worked hard to baptize this person. Then he gave up. We left the house for a lunch appointment, an afternoon visit with some ward members, and then a dinner appointment. I spent four or more hours studying every morning since my body was accustomed to waking up at 6:00, but he wasn’t usually up until 10 or 11. I need to make clear that I now understand this was likely caused by poor mental health and trauma, and I wish I understood that at the time. Instead of being supportive in a way that would have helped him, I believed he was simply being a “Laman and Lemuel” and didn’t want to work.

When I started pushing to leave the house and teach people, our relationship also turned negative. I recall waking up in the middle of the night in an empty apartment. To this day, I have no clue where my companion was. While I should have called the mission office about it (I was worried about his safety), I felt I had already gotten myself abused because I was a snitch. So I stayed quiet and prayed that God would have mercy on me.

TW: Violence, Mental Health, and Suicide

One night, we got into a fight. You’ve seen my pictures. I can’t hold my own in a fight. I remember feeling extremely angry and shouting before a punch in my gut. I threw up for a while, then I sat at our table and cried.

I sat at the table all night. I didn’t want to go to our bedroom with him. I recall writing in my journal, I think hell is most accurately described as the feeling of wanting to do what’s right and not being able to do it.

I started thinking about killing myself. I didn’t understand why a loving God would put anyone in this situation. And I felt guilty because I felt sorry for myself when so many other people were suffering much more than I was.

I read the letters my family had tucked into my suitcase when I left. I thought about how upset they would be if they found out I wasn’t being a perfectly obedient missionary. If they knew I wasn’t out preaching the gospel like I should be. But then I thought about my mission president calling them to tell them I killed myself. I couldn’t do that to them, so I sat at the desk and studied, doodled, and prayed until morning came around.

After that, we didn’t really talk to each other. I was so grateful when transfers finally came. I was going to be working with a former assistant who I met on the first day of my mission. He always seemed happy and friendly, and I was so excited to finally have a kind, hardworking companion. He was also due to return home after the transfer, but he seemed like he was dedicated to finishing strong.

As I’ve written this story, I have honestly been looking forward to writing this part. It was a huge relief from the negativity that looms over the rest of the story. We immediately hit it off. To this day, he is the only person I have stayed in touch with. We worked our tails off and started to see missionary success.

Walking in Valle de Angeles

We were genuinely happy. We repaired a lot of hurt relationships with church members, and people started being much more interested in offering us meals. We started to have enough money to eat enough calories to make it home without feeling dizzy at night.

I don’t know if I have many interesting stories from this period, but it makes me laugh to remember a person we baptized. She was about 40 years old. She cleaned the house of someone else we had recently baptized, and she said she wanted to meet with us. It came to our attention over the next few weeks that she was very much in love with my companion. After my companion left, I learned that she was only baptized because she thought he would want to date her if she was a church member. She asked us if we thought she was crazy to think a 20-year-old missionary would want to date a 40-year-old married woman.

My next companion and I also got along very well. We worked hard and kept up the relationships we had built with church members and investigators. We did everything we could to inspire other missionaries as zone leaders. I remember around holidays, people would feed us at every appointment, and I developed the horrible skill of eating as much as I could during appointments, then immediately throwing up after we left. Overall, though, life seemed pretty good.

The Office

After five transfers in the area, I got a call from the mission president asking if I would be an assistant. I technically served in a couple of dedicated areas while I served as an assistant, but I still say I was assigned to the mission office area. During four of my final five transfers, we were to go on divisions (i.e., swap companions) with as many areas as possible to train missionaries and get a feel for the mission’s progress. We spent nearly every day in a different area, talking to different people, and forming no real relationships. I missed getting to know people in my area. I felt like I was mass-producing missionary training. Every day started feeling the same, and I started getting depressed.

Las Golondrinas

While my time in the office was mostly either boring or traumatizing (and thus not engraved in my memory), there are a few noteworthy things I remember. I recall sitting in planning meetings with the mission president to assign companions. We were told to rely on inspiration, but while we planned, I remember the amount of work we had to do to plan companionships, and the results were often hard on missionaries. It felt like we were playing chess with these missionaries’ experiences.

I remember feeling disgusted when, in one of these meetings, the mission president said something to this effect: “These two elders are both disobedient. Let’s put them together and hope they can mess up big enough to send them both home.” I also remember being confused when our mission president would promote missionaries to leadership roles so they would feel more accomplished by the end of their missions.

I remember all of the calls I had to make at night. I remember the traumatizing stories we heard every time missionaries called to report being assaulted or robbed. I remember the call I got when someone was stuck in the bathroom while their apartment was broken into (they stayed safe, thank God). I remember being told to handle mental health crises since the mission president didn’t have time to deal with them. I remember the pressure I felt to talk missionaries down after fights with their companions. I remember the hours I spent reassuring missionaries who felt like they weren’t good enough while I dealt with the same feelings myself.

I remember laughing when I heard this story: A companionship in a dangerous area was robbed; someone stole their backpacks. They went to visit an elderly woman, and a heavily tattooed (a sign of gang membership in much of Honduras) man walked out of a room holding their backpacks. He asked if they were theirs, and they said yes. He gave their bags back, let them know he had killed the person who stole them, and said he would kill anyone who messed with them in the future.

As I served in the office, my stomach problems got worse and worse. I’ve since learned this can be attributed entirely to stress, but I thought I had a stomach bug or something more serious. I could hardly eat for months, which I considered a financial blessing. Because of our leadership position, we were reimbursed for our travel and transportation, so money stopped being a concern. We were as comfortable as we’d ever been.

I was ecstatic to return to Valle de Angeles one day on divisions. I showed the missionaries who replaced me some parts of the area they hadn’t been to yet, and we visited one of the most devout people I helped baptize. When we arrived at her house, she told me that she was leaving the church. Ward members had seriously hurt her, and she felt she was sinning to sit in church and judge them every week.

I was sad, but I pushed all of my emotions down (as mission leaders taught me to). When we got home, the sink was full of dishes. I don’t know what got into me, but I started feeling angry. I had a breakdown. I opened the window in front of the sink and started throwing dishes at the patio wall. I felt guilty being alone, but I felt like I couldn’t breathe with everyone staring at me, so I went to the storage room and sat on one of the dozen spare mattresses we kept there. I sobbed for a couple of hours and felt guilty when I went to bed late. I got a phone call from my mission president, who offered me some reassurance. He told me to keep working hard until it was time for me to return home.

Returning Home

The time eventually came for me to return home. I was an anxious mess. I didn’t eat hardly anything during the last week of my mission. When one of the kindest families I’ve ever met offered us dinner, I still feel so guilty for throwing it up on my way out of their house. I felt so dizzy on the bus ride to the airport, and I had to sit cross-legged in line to check into my flight to keep from fainting. I wondered if I had served an adequate mission. I felt guilty because I couldn’t work as hard as God wanted me to. I regretted all of the people I didn’t talk to in the street — all of the people I could have tried to baptize but didn’t.

Las Golondrinas

When I made it back home, my stake president immediately interviewed and released me. I remember feeling lost as I took off my name badge on the walk home from the interview. I had no idea what to do. Every minute of my life had been planned, and now my only instruction was to remember to go to church every Sunday and start looking for a wife.

In a great act of defiance against everything the mission taught, I felt incredibly free when I took my laptop into my bedroom and sat by myself writing the talk I was to deliver on Sunday. I didn’t even become addicted to pornography, even thought I was using a computer without someone else watching my screen.

My mom had made me an appointment to see a doctor shortly after I got back. He could not believe the shape my foot was in, and he performed a minor procedure to correct it. He was disappointed to hear that the mission nurses had refused to offer me any treatment and stressed how important it is to take infections seriously. He indicated that I was one of the lucky ones because it was still relatively easy to treat.

Bachelor Life

As a recently returned missionary, I did not understand anything about trauma. I had no clue about mental health. So I did not recognize many of my quirks as trauma responses. I thought it was strange that when I went on dates (alone with young women), it was not normal to feel panicked the entire time. When I couldn’t carry on a conversation that wasn’t about the church, I thought I was just especially interested in religion. When I felt guilty about every single thing I did, I thought I was just adjusting back to life.

I attended the singles ward for just over a year before I got married. I never felt welcome in student wards, but I figured it was normal because I didn’t fit in when I was younger anyway. I became disappointed when I tried to make friends or date within my ward and stake. It was taboo to talk about a mission, but it seemed to be all I could think about. It was apparently only acceptable to be casually invested in the church. Too invested, and you were staunch or prudish; too uninterested, and you were a heathen.

Dating and Marriage

My wife and I met and started dating very quickly after our first semester began at Utah State University. By Christmas, we were “official”, and by the next summer, we were engaged. I still laugh when I think about how many family members told us we were rushing into things compared to how many told us we were dragging our heels. We were married about a year after we started dating.

Because we started dating just before COVID-19, we were married at the height of the pandemic. We were sealed in the Logan temple early in the morning, which was confusing and a bit traumatizing thanks to our lack of expectations. We were disappointed to learn that the only part we played in our own marriage ceremony was the word “yes”. The temple worker instructed us before the ceremony; he said he would ask us one question, and the answer was “yes” and not “I do”.

To respect my family’s privacy, I will share only a small amount of what followed.

TW: Medical Trauma I was a caretaker for someone involved in medical crisis after medical crisis over the course of a couple of years. They prayed and received dozens of priesthood blessings. During every blessing, I remember feeling like I should make big, faith-promoting promises. I believed God would heal this person. They tried and failed medication after medication, and before each, they indicated that they felt like the drug would finally be the one that worked.

I remember feeling betrayed every time a promise in a blessing was not fulfilled. I felt like I must have been unworthy to give the blessing, or perhaps I wasn’t listening to the spirit like I should have been. Gratefully, this person has since found a medication that worked, and as they decided to leave the church, they noticed a significant improvement in their overall health. This, in part, caused me to really start questioning my beliefs.

Falling Away

My wife and I had to decrease our church activity for a few reasons, including time constraints and health limitations. One of the most noteworthy, concerning, question-sparking parts of our experience was when we were serving as primary teachers but were unable to attend for a couple of weeks in a row. The primary presidency stopped by our apartment when we were both sick with a cold and asked to visit. We said they could stop in for a few minutes, and their first question was about what they could do to get us back in our calling.

Landon in Iowa

We stayed polite, but this got us thinking about the intentions of the church as an organization. A great deal of factors impacted my decision to leave the church, and a great deal of other factors impacted my wife’s decision. These factors are discussed much more thoroughly throughout the rest of this document, but I will summarize my experience. As my wife has become a therapist and learned a great deal about trauma, we have each processed trauma caused by the church.

Eventually, everything that was stacked against the church added up. Everything I had put on my metaphorical shelf (where one keeps things that they don’t want to think about yet) had become too heavy, and the shelf broke. While on a work trip in Iowa, I determined I needed to seriously evaluate my church membership. I was done being uncomfortable with the church’s teachings and actions while still supporting them, and I needed to either be firmly in or firmly out. When I got home, I prayed my heart out and asked God if I should leave the church. I felt more peace and comfort than I ever did when I asked if the church was true.

I came to the conclusion that either God was a liar or these feelings were manufactured in my own mind. In either case, I was not going to continue to support an organization that caused me and millions of others incredible amounts of trauma. Since leaving, I have been happier than I have ever been. I enjoy the health benefits of tea, the low-calorie energy I get from coffee, and the extra money I have from not paying tithing. We have more opportunities to be generous and kind. Sunday mornings are finally enjoyable, and we don’t feel like we have to spend two hours in triggering church meetings. We have focused on trading up, and we are so grateful for the wonderful people who have helped us learn how to live without the church.

But most of all, I feel like I’m finally allowed to be a good person. I can support causes I truly believe in. I can help people directly rather than hoping a church uses my money to benefit “the poor and needy”. My relationships have improved so much. Friendships are more meaningful, and I finally feel free from the anxiety and guilt I felt as a church member.

In short, my life got so much better after I left the church. As I grew up in the church, I was taught that if someone tries to refute beliefs with facts, a personal experience cannot be refuted. I encourage you, then, to consider my experience. And if you are affiliated with the church, I would encourage you to consider your own experience. Perhaps we have more in common than you suspect, and perhaps you will also find that leaving the church behind is the best decision you ever make.

Disclaimer: I have made every effort to portray events as honestly as possible. I consulted journals, asked people who also remember events, and completed multiple edit passes to avoid sensationalizing. This is my experience as I remember it. But even so, human memory is notoriously fallible. I once again request that you do not use this story to villainize anyone.