From an unstable childhood to a confident missionary
Dominic Gutierrez remembers the first time he felt God’s love like it was yesterday. From an unstable childhood to a confident missionary
As a teenager in Safford, Arizona, childhood memories of abuse and homelessness had caught up with him, and his feelings of loneliness seemed inescapable. He didn’t think he had a purpose and didn’t believe that God existed. But then one day, he remembered something that would change his life forever.
Previously, his friend had given him a copy of the Book of Mormon, which Dominic stored away in his room. But on this occasion, he decided to crack open the cover and turned to the introduction.
Seven words in, he felt something he never had before.
“It was the best thing I had ever felt in my entire life. I wish I could describe it in words. … It felt as if everything beforehand didn’t matter. It felt like someone actually cared about me that entire time, and I didn’t see it until then,” he says.
Now Dominic goes by the name of Elder Gutierrez as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Texas San Antonio Mission. Baptized in 2019, the recent convert could have taken an easy out from missionary work—his past challenges and the pandemic could have been enough of an obstacle to deter anyone. But his desire to serve is unshakable because of his love for the God he once didn’t believe in, and because of his conviction that small invitations from members can literally change lives just as they did for him.
Born in Tucson, Arizona, Elder Gutierrez had a hard life from an early age. His mother had four kids by the time she was 23, and with no education or a stable job, she and her children would go from one of her abusive boyfriends to the next. The situation soon took its toll on everyone.
“These guys just didn’t treat us well physically, mentally—you know, the whole bit,” Elder Gutierrez says. “And eventually it got to the point where my mom said, ‘We can’t keep doing this.’ … So we started going from abandoned houses … to abandoned apartments.”
He recalls eventually arriving with his mom and two of his brothers in Silver City, New Mexico. While they lived out of hotels, his mom started getting dependent on prescription drugs, and the problem became severe.
“She eventually got addicted and had a few overdoses and seizures, things like that. And eventually she ended up overdosing and dying when I was about 8,” Elder Gutierrez says. “Things didn’t really get much better after that.”
He and his brothers lived with his dad for a year, after which they were taken to Safford to live with their aunt. But money was tight, so their aunt decided to move two hours away to Tucson, Arizona, for work while the boys stayed behind.
“They were the most loving, kind-hearted people I ever met in my entire life,” Elder Gutierrez says. “Never did they ever force the Church, their beliefs, [or] anything like that on me. They were just so nice to me. I couldn’t understand why because my entire life I just assumed that nobody wanted to be around me.”
When he had his experience with the Book of Mormon, Dominic knew he wanted to meet with the missionaries. Just a few weeks later in June 2019, he was baptized—but that was just the beginning of Dominic’s conversion story.
The day after his baptism, Dominic met with his bishop to tell him about his plans to serve. After learning that he would first need to wait a year, he moved to Tucson and started college. But just as he was getting his medical visits taken care of for his mission papers, doctor and dentist offices shut down due to COVID. So Dominic had to postpone submitting his papers for another two months.
Perhaps just as clearly as he remembers the day he first read the Book of Mormon, he recalls the morning when his mission call came in at 7:00 a.m.
“I literally could not feel my legs. I was so scared. I’d been waiting for this for so long and it finally came,” he says. After calling Emma, who was studying at Brigham Young University, to tell her of the call’s arrival, he decided to open it first and then call her back. But he stared at his phone screen for 20 minutes before seeing where he was called, feeling emotional that this moment had finally arrived.
“I remember … I opened [my call] and saw ‘You’re called to serve’—and I stopped [reading] before I saw where I was going. I got on my knees. I said a prayer and started crying, and I opened it and I saw where I was going,” he says.
Emma recalls anxiously waiting to hear the news from Dominic of where he would be serving.
“I was so nervous about it and I couldn’t even imagine what he was feeling. I was just so excited for him to get that call and to see where he was going to spend the next two years,” she says. “I just was like, ‘He has got this. He knows what he’s getting into and he is way too excited to not just be amazing [at] this. And I knew with Dom’s personality, too—he’s so friendly and so nice to everyone that he would just be excellent. And so I was just really, really happy for him to be able to serve and to be able to share the light that he felt so passionately about.”
In fact, Dominic was so passionate about missionary work that before he began his full-time service, he shared the gospel with his best friend in Safford and baptized him three weeks before starting the virtual Missionary Training Center on November 18, 2020.
Elder Gutierrez was only able to attend the temple a few times before leaving for his mission. But when the San Antonio Texas Temple reopened after being closed due to COVID-19, he went with a small group from his mission where he had a remarkable experience. Remembering that his mother still needed her endowment, he asked that her proxy work be done for her that day.
“I remember sitting in the celestial room and thinking about … literally every single moment that had happened in my life. And I felt all this stuff that my mom had to go through in order for us to get here,” he says, remembering his mother as the most Christlike person he has ever met. “And to finally think that [we] did it, … [we] both had all these ordinances. … It was the biggest victory I think I’ve ever had in my life was that moment. It was my favorite experience I think I’ve ever had in the Church.”
Elder Gutierrez says he’s working on understanding Jesus Christ’s Atonement and has especially resonated with the Savior’s love for Heavenly Father. And in his relationship with God, he feels His continued support.
“I think the biggest thing is that I’m not doing this by myself. I see as I’m trying to be like Him, He’s trying to help me be like Him,” he says. “He’s always been there every single step now that I see it, and it just keeps building my testimony that He is my dad. He’s literally like the dad I always wanted … through and through every good and hard time.”
He adds that while he’s still learning Church doctrine, he knows that charity can be one of the most powerful ways to bring people closer to Christ and he wants to share that love with others.
“I think that’s been the best thing I’ve learned from the mission because I don’t know all these crazy scriptures. I don’t know the Church lingo. I don’t know things like that. But I just know that if I love people as much as I possibly can then they’ll see Jesus Christ in this church. They’ll see that this church is the most Christlike as it can get,” he says.
Brother Jason J. Tveten, president of the Texas San Antonio Mission, says he’s been impressed by Elder Gutierrez’s optimism and testimony.
“Elder Gutierrez radiates happiness. He has [a] big warm smile, and he has a beautiful ability to minimize challenges that might get others down. … Elder Gutierrez has a powerful testimony of feeling God’s love through reading the Book of Mormon. I think the transition to feeling loved just makes it natural for him to want to share the love of the gospel with others.”
In his own life, Elder Gutierrez has seen that it’s the small invitations that make all the difference in helping others find the gospel.
“It started off with [the Hacketts] really just wanting to help someone. I could never, ever thank them enough for what they did for me. And I think so many members could have that same impact on people’s lives. I just can’t explain how thankful I am to have met members of the Church like that,” he says. “I think the importance of members sharing that with people is the best thing that we could do on this earth.”
Member missionary work is a blessing that goes both ways, Emma adds, saying that the opportunity to share the gospel helped her own testimony.
“Having to break down the gospel to simple subjects … made me really think about why I’m here and why I stay. Growing up in the Church, I think it’s really easy to get caught in the flow of things and to just go through the motions and not really think, ‘OK, why am I doing this?’” she says. “It was the first time in my life that I had to decide for myself, ‘This is what I want to commit to.’ Because of [Dominic] and because of his faith in this gospel and despite the rough life that he’s had, he is able to commit to something. And if he can do it, then I can do it too.”
Read the full article on LDSLiving.com.