My name is Jessie GilesFrom: Brooklyn, NY Occupation: ESL Teacher Favorite Food: Sourdough bread Hobbies: Travelling, hiking, and scuba diving Favorite Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:26-28 Favorite Hymn: Rock of Ages
I love to learn about other cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles, and have a heart to help those in need. I am a non-apologetic Star Trek nerd and I love watching a good hockey game. My greatest aspiration in this life is to have adventures!
What is your greatest accomplishment?
For my senior thesis I spent 4 months living in a rural suburb of Kampala, Uganda. Unlike traditional study abroad experiences, I went alone and didn’t know anybody in the country.
I lived with a local Ugandan family and worked for two small primary schools while pursuing my independent studies. We didn’t have electricity or running water in the home where I lived, but there was plenty of love and laughter. I learned how to make matooke and got very used to being called “mzungu”.
I also had the opportunity to worship at the local branch of the LDS Church, which was a fantastic experience. Though my stay in Uganda was short, there is a part of me that will always consider it home!
What brings you the greatest happiness?
The greatest happiness I have comes from my marriage to my husband Matt. I’ve never laughed harder or had more fun with anybody else in my life. While I love spending time with him, taking the extra step into a committed marriage relationship has given me a greater capacity for love and joy than I ever thought possible. Knowing that I can be with him for eternity, not just in this life on earth, means everything to me.
What strengthens your faith in Jesus Christ?
As a fairly cynical and skeptical person, I am often troubled by small points of doctrine or history. I struggle with various facets of my religion on a daily basis. However, learning more about the person of Jesus Christ is nothing but enriching to me.
Jesus Christ was a man who perfectly personified love. He was totally inclusive to all people from all walks of life, no matter their lifestyle or background. He consistently reached out to those people whom society rejected, and He wasn’t afraid to associate Himself with sinners.
I feel that in today’s day and age, both religious and secular groups spend a lot of time arguing about “right” and “wrong”, and it’s easy to get caught up in judgmental debates. However, if I look to Christ as an example, and always treat my fellow man with respect and service as He did, I’m always doing what’s “right”.
How has one of your spiritual gifts/talents benefited your life?
As a convert to the Church, I don’t always feel like I fit in with the Mormon culture. Though I sometimes feel uncomfortable or conspicuous in my congregations, I have the special desire and ability to get along with other “misfits” I come in contact with.
Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to befriend people who have felt dissatisfied with the Church for various reasons. While I attend Church regularly and participate in spiritual activities frequently, for some reason I often find myself with more “secular” friends than “religious” friends– and that’s ok with me!
I try to live my life as a genuine reflection of my beliefs and relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and have not hidden these things in my friendships. However, I also respect the choices that my friends make in their own spiritual and temporal lives, and I make sure my friends know this. Most of all, I try to express my genuine love for my friends whether or not their lifestyle or beliefs coincide with my own.
I believe that my spirit of inclusiveness is my greatest strength in sharing the Gospel.
How do you know when you’ve received answers to prayers?
You know when you’re sitting near somebody who is trying to get your attention, but you’re so engrossed in your own thoughts that you don’t hear them for a few seconds?
That’s how I feel when I realize my prayers are being answered. All of a sudden it will occur to me that a certain notion didn’t come out of nowhere, and those ideas that keep circling through my mind are more than just nagging thoughts.
I’ll often be engaged in some activity long after praying about some issue in my life, and I will have a train of thought that just won’t go away, and suddenly I will realize that these impressions are different than the ones I make up myself. It takes some time mulling it over in my mind to realize it, but once I do, I see clearly that this is truly an answer to prayer!
Jessie’s Conversion Story
I was raised in a religious, Protestant household. Both of my parents had graduate degrees in Theology and Ministry, and as a result, I was pretty well-versed in the Bible and Christian history. However, my skeptical nature led me to leave my religious life behind as I grew up and went to college. I began to live the kind of lifestyle that many secular college students live, enjoying the “amenities” of adulthood such as drinking alcohol and partying.
I was content with this lifestyle, and was not seeking any kind of religious influence when I met a young man named Matt in one of my classes. We became friends, and I quickly found out that he was a Mormon. He had recently returned from a full-time mission in Miami, Florida, where he spoke Spanish and served in hurricane shelters. While I was not at all interested in joining his religion, I was interested in learning more about his unique culture, beliefs, and lifestyle. We spent a few months discussing the differences and similarities between our beliefs, and he taught me the various tenets of Mormon doctrine.
A few months into our friendship, Matt asked me if I would meet with some missionaries from the LDS Church. At first, I was apprehensive about this. I didn’t understand why he wanted me to meet with strangers. I knew that he had been a missionary recently; why couldn’t he teach me whatever it was that these missionaries would teach me? However, Matt skillfully arranged a casual, neutral dinner with the local missionaries in his ward. How lucky I was that the missionaries called to this ward were two sister missionaries who I instantly related to! At our first dinner meeting we didn’t talk about religion at all, but I immediately realized that I had nothing to be afraid of. I eagerly accepted an invitation to attend church with them, and to have our first lesson.
At my first lesson with the missionaries, they taught me about the LDS belief commonly known as “the plan of salvation.” Matt had explained this concept to me months ago, and the missionaries told me nothing that I hadn’t heard before. And yet it was as if I heard with a new pair of ears. For some reason, the things that they taught me just made sense. Even with my clinical, scientific nature, I felt that the things they were telling me were somehow true. The missionaries asked me to pray to find out for myself if the things they taught were true. I did so and felt an immediate answer from God that these teachings were true. It’s hard to explain how exactly I received this answer–it’s not as if I heard a voice out loud, or had a vision. I simply felt in my heart and in my mind an irrefutable knowledge that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a true church of God.
I continued to meet with the missionaries in the following weeks, and learned more about the Mormon Church. I remember one experience when I was up late at night, plagued with questions. I spoke with my friend Matt over the phone, spitting my questions out, eager for an analytical debate. He patiently answered each one of my questions to my satisfaction, no matter how hard I tried to argue. Eventually, I ran out of questions. Now, this is not to say that since then I have never had any questions about the doctrine and beliefs of the Church. Indeed, frequent questioning paired with study and prayer is a constant part of my spiritual life! However, in that moment late at night, I found that I could no longer argue with the truth. I could not deny it any more. I knew that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true, that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, just like Moses or Abraham, and that the Book of Mormon is an additional testament of Jesus Christ.
At that point, I was at a crossroads. What to do with this new-found knowledge? I had no desire to alter my lifestyle or become a religious, church-going person. However, for me, I could not turn my back on that which I knew to be true. I had to see it through to the end. I was baptized on Christmas Day, and years later, I was able to attend the temple and be married to Matt, the man who first introduced me to the Gospel as I now know it. Since then I have attended the LDS Church all over the world, from the Solomon Islands to Africa. I know that this Church is true, no matter what stage of life you are in, or where you are in the world. The Church is true for everyone.
What are ways you share & live the Gospel with your family or others around you?
*(This is the same answer as the above question about spiritual gifts–I just felt that it’s true for both!)*
As a convert to the Church, I don’t always feel like I fit in with the Mormon culture. Though I sometimes feel uncomfortable or conspicuous in my congregations, I have the special desire and ability to get along with other “misfits” I come in contact with. Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to befriend people who have felt dissatisfied with the Church for various reasons.
While I attend Church regularly and participate in spiritual activities frequently, for some reason I often find myself with more “secular” friends than “religious” friends–and that’s ok with me! I try to live my life as a genuine reflection of my beliefs and relationship with God and Jesus Christ, and have not hidden these things in my friendships. However, I also respect the choices that my friends make in their own spiritual and temporal lives, and I make sure my friends know this.
Most of all, I try to express my genuine love for my friends whether or not their lifestyle or beliefs coincide with my own. I believe that my spirit of inclusiveness is my greatest strength in sharing the Gospel.
What is your hope/wish/prayer for all women throughout the world?
One of my favorite facets of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the way He uses broken and unworthy people to carry out His work and plan. Looking back into history, we see how time and time again our Heavenly Father calls people who are totally ill-equipped and who feel inadequate. Moses, a murderer; Paul, a persecutor of Christians; Joseph, a child; these are only a few examples of the great leadership of our religion.
There are plenty of people who lead seemingly-sinless lives, who are well-educated, affluent, or have great public speaking skills whom God could call to lead His people. And yet, He chooses broken people. I don’t believe that this is coincidence or luck.
I want all the women of the world to know that there is no shame in imperfection, even while we strive for perfection. Our past experiences, present shortcomings, or future fears do not exclude us from greatness. God will take the broken fragments of our lives and put them together to create something that is much more beautiful than it was before, if only we will allow Him to do so.
I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have moved 64 times and have not tired of experiencing this beautiful earth! I love the people, languages, histories/anthropologies, & especially religious cultures of the world. My life long passion is the study & searching out of religious symbolism, specifically related to ancient & modern temples. My husband Anthony and I love our bulldog Stig, adventures, traveling, movies, motorcycling, and time with friends and family.