“Do I need to bring a towel?”
That was the question Jermaine Sullivan asked the missionaries when he decided to be baptized. I laughed when he told me and that let me know right away that I’d chosen the right “Mormon” to interview.
If you’ve seen the new, inspirational documentary Meet the Mormons you get the opportunity to step into the lives of 6 people who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The first person we “meet” is Jermaine Sullivan-The Bishop. He is married to his lovely wife, Kembe and they are raising their three children. He works as an academic counselor in addition to his service as a Bishop. Since the filming he has been called as a Stake President and was gracious enough to share his thoughts, advice and even the conversion story that wasn’t told in the movie.
I understand you attended the Baptist and Pentecostal churches? Can you tell me about your conversion story?
I attended those churches for a while and although I was learning things, I still had questions about why there were so many churches. I was up late one night and saw a commercial from the church offering a free “Lamb of God” video (an actual VHS). I just felt that I must call the number. The missionaries came a couple of days later. When they taught me about Joseph Smith and his concerns and questions about which church was true I was immediately intrigued. I felt a certain closeness to him and his struggle. I was baptized two weeks later. When they invited me to be baptized my only question was “Do I need to bring a towel?”
Was your wife a convert? Where did you meet?
Kembe is a convert as well. She joined with her mother when she was 14. We met at a singles ward in Atlanta. I joined the church in Alabama. My wife joined in Atlanta. The missionary who taught me was from Kembe’s ward in Atlanta. I was moving to Georgia to go to school so the missionary had his dad send my wife to the ward to meet me.
What’s the most important thing you want to teach your children?
I have taught them many things with the hope that some of it sticks and leads them to pursue an understanding of things for themselves. I really appreciated Elder Oaks’ talk at conference. I listened to it again this morning. I want my children to know that the gospel is true and to live it uncompromisingly. But I also want them to be kind to all and respect the differences of those that surround them, knowing that we are all God’s children.
That reminds me of the relationship between you and your parents and sister from the movie. How do you balance the commandment of missionary work and respecting others’ rights to worship as they choose?
Ultimately, following the Spirit is the best way to know how to balance these two things. Also it’s a matter of having the right paradigm and the right time. Missionary work is not in every instance a matter of preaching to someone. It is often the simple act of sharing what you learned in Sunday school. In other words, sharing who you are wherever you are. A co-worker may ask “How was you weekend?” To this question I generally tell them about church service, service projects, releasing missionaries (I’m stake president now). This sometimes leads to in depth conversations about the gospel and an invitation to church. No one feels disrespected, only invited. That’s the way I see it.
You’ve connected well with the youth as we’ve seen in the documentary through stepping. What advice do you have for those preparing for a mission?
Be worthy because you cannot serve effectively without the Spirit of the Lord. Focus your study on the key doctrines of the Gospel. As Elder Bednar likes to say: “The answers are always in the doctrines of the gospel.” Pray for the capacity to love those you will serve including future companions. Lastly, prepare to be transformed. You will not be the same person at the end of your mission that you are now. Everything good that has happened in my life has stemmed from my spirit-directed decision to serve a mission. I honor and cherish the privilege I had to serve and appreciate my wife (then girlfriend) for inviting me to pray about it.