Joseph Freeman was a Holiness preacher when the U.S. Army stationed him in Hawaii. He made what turned out to be a life-changing decision to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. Not only would he change his religion, but he would meet his future wife.
Joseph: There was a tour of going to the Polynesian Cultural Center. So, I took that tour. It was free, and they provided a bus as well as the tickets to go in. So, I went on that tour. That’s when I met the Mormons. I was quite surprised, because I had met one Mormon, who gave me a Book of Mormon, back in Louisiana. He wanted to argue about the Church being true, and I didn’t want to argue about it. So, he gave me the book, and I just took it with me, I hadn’t read it. Now, here I was at the Cultural Center, and I met Mormon people. I was thinking that Mormons wore these tall black hats and looked like the Amish and looked like Brigham Young, because I checked out a book when I was in high school, about Mormons and it talked about Brigham Young as being a great colonizer. I knew just a little bit about the Amish people and Mennonites, and they still look like the picture of Brigham Young. So, I was expecting Mormons to look like that. But there were no horses and buggies out there, just a few Cadillacs in the parking lot. Everybody looked like everyone else.
Joseph: But here I was walking around on the tour talking to these people. I was really surprised at how nice they were to me, because this is a time that there had been marching. Martin Luther King had been killed in 1968. A lot of white people and black people didn’t see eye to eye. We were having culture classes, race classes, taught in the military. We would sit out in the sun four hours in the morning, just listening to somebody lecture about black and white relationships. I don’t know where they even got all that material to talk. But there we were, it was mandatory classes, because they were trying to break down those problems between black and white people and Spanish people.
Joseph: Somewhere that morning, I met a young girl with big brown eyes. I said “Talofa.” I knew she was Samoan. She turned around, amazed that I could speak any of her language. We started talking. We talked probably five or 10 minutes. Then at the end of the day, it was near time for me to leave, probably four or five o’clock. I missed my bus, and I decided to catch a regular bus back. I talked to that young girl again. We spent two hours talking. She shared with me her testimony of Joseph Smith, and the Church. She had just completed a mission in our own country, to Samoa. So, as we talked, I was interested. I was interested, probably more in her, than I was in the Church. But I enjoyed going to church anywhere. So I was willing to listen to whatever she had to say about her religion. Then the next two or three weeks, I went back to the Cultural Center to try to find her. I couldn’t. She was a student, so she had different hours. I didn’t understand that. I thought she was just working the same thing every day. But a friend of hers took my phone number, which was a military number, and gave it to her. A few days later, she called me. So, this is almost a month later. We talked for the next two weeks over the phone. She told me about blacks and the priesthood, and the church position.
GT: You couldn’t have the priesthood back then.
Joseph: That’s right.
GT: So, this is 1972?
Joseph: It was 1972-73. Yeah, ‘73. So, at this point, after talking for a couple of weeks, I asked her about going out. She accepted. We went out on a date. I think we went to a movie the first night. I had borrowed a car from a friend. No, maybe at that point, I had bought a car. Yes. I had a little Mustang. We started dating. It was very difficult dating this young girl because everyone was telling her she shouldn’t date a black guy, because I couldn’t hold a priesthood. People told her, “Your children will not be born in the covenant. You can’t be sealed in the temple. Even baptisms for the dead, you can’t even have it that way.” So it was kind of disappointing, in a way. But I still loved her. She didn’t know what to do with that situation. She went to her Bishop. He told her, “Well, I think you shouldn’t date the guy.” She went to her mission president. He said, “I will fix your papers, and I’ll send you to school in New Zealand, you can get away from that guy.” Then she went to the Stake President, which was President Milo.
GT: She must have really liked you.
Joseph: I think, a little bit, anyway.
Joseph: Now the Stake President was Samoan. I think he was the first Samoan Stake President in Hawaii. His area covered like from Wahiawa, all the way Kaneai, which is quite a large area. Probably there’s 10 or 15 stakes in that area now.
GT: So, you’re on the island of Oahu. Is that right?
Joseph: Yes, that’s right, the main island. But he told her, he said,” What does your heart tell you to do? What does your heart tell you?” She had to really think about it.
Well, she married him, so I guess her heart told her to do the right thing! Would you have told her the same?
What does it feel like to be an adult convert to the LDS Church? Joseph Freeman describes those vivid feelings as he rose up out of the waters of baptism.
GT: All right. So, I guess my biggest question. I mean, here you were. You’re a Holiness preacher. I mean, you said, it didn’t bother you that you couldn’t hold the LDS priesthood.
Joseph: Let me explain it like this. There came a time, I guess, when I was in Hawaii, as I would have the opportunity to speak in various churches, I felt the spirit with me. But I felt something was lacking. That’s why I kept fasting and praying and trying to reach deeper and be closer to God, because I knew something was not there that should be there. I didn’t know if it was authority, or what. I had received a license to preach the gospel through the church that I had grown up in there in Greensboro. The minister awarded me a license. It was actually to the government, as well. You have to apply for it. But he sent me the certificate while I was in Hawaii. It just seemed like there’s something still not there that should be there. So, when people begin to tell me about the priesthood, I begin to think, “Is this the reason I’m feeling this way? Is this the reason that something is missing in my life, in the authority, in whatever it is that I’m doing?” I couldn’t put my hands on it. But I know this. The day that I was baptized, that feeling disappeared. So, it wasn’t the priesthood, or not having the priesthood. It was becoming a member of this church. I can remember. The bishop baptized me, and then one of the missionaries confirmed me. There were two missionaries, I can’t remember the name of one, but one was Elder Harris. The second missionary, I know, he lives here in Utah, but I don’t remember his name right now. But as I was dipped into the water, I came up, there was just a beautiful feeling. It’s like, I guess, if I could describe it like this standing under like an April shower, outside, and it’s just cool and refreshing. I felt like, I was washed clean, cleaner than I’d ever been in my life. That was just a very special feeling as I joined the Church. The one thing that, I guess resonates with me, as a member, I feel the spirit stronger in my life on an everyday basis. I know that people in other churches have the spirit, and they feel the spirit too. But there’s something special about being a member of this church and feeling the Spirit. I could never go back to where I came from. I feel the spirit different times when I visit other churches. But there’s something about being a member of this church that’s constant. It’s constant, and it’s right. I feel the spirit in a little bit different way. That tells me what I’m doing is the right thing, where preaching this gospel is the right thing. When I read the Book of Mormon, it’s the right thing. Every time I go to church is the right thing. I have never felt to go back where I came from. Just keep moving forward. Yeah.
GT: So how did your family react differently? Can you tell us about how they reacted when you joined the Church?
Joseph: My mother and father are both very religious. My father just had a birthday in March, he turned 100 years old. My mother passed away a few years ago, when she was 87. My mother never spoke anything against the Church. I remember–I don’t think I even told her that I had joined the Church when I was baptized, but somewhere along the way, I told her. I remember when I was visiting with her in North Carolina, we lived in Greensboro. She said, “Oh, the Mormon people, that’s those rich people on the other side of town.” Well, where the church was located, there was only one chapel that I can remember in Greensboro at that time. There was another chapel that was outside of town a little bit. It was in a very wealthy neighborhood, and so it was a new area that had been built up.
Joseph has had a job maintaining temples in Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana and shares his experiences there. What are your thoughts on him joining the church knowing he couldn’t hold priesthood? Would you have done that?
It’s interesting how there was (is?) a racial pecking order on the Church in which the races could be ranked Whites were at the top. Blacks at the bottom. Pacific Islanders and Native Americans somewhere in between. Not sure about Asians and Indians (from India) and Persians.
What’s so sickening about the story above is that not only was the man looked down as a potential marriage partner because he was black, the Samoan woman was also part of a classified group of people who were cursed with dark skin. Nobody in this story was white and delightsome.
No doubt, due to my post, this video from a year ago about an Amish family converting to LDS popped up on my YouTube feed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKXTcFwLp7k
Thanks for sharing this story. The faith I had when I converted 26 years ago might have led me to be baptized even without the promise of the priesthood. The faith I have now? Wouldn’t do it. Bro. Joseph is a good man. We don’t deserve him.
I remember as a young teenager in England that there was an older convert boy in my branch of the church who looked white but obviously had some black parentage so couldn’t be given the priesthood. It was confusing to me and I didn’t understand it at all – guess in my little world it had never come up before. Now I wince at those memories and can’t get past it or a few other things that I didn’t understand at the time – polygamy, patriarchy, LGBTQ+ policies. They have all broken me.
There was apparently a mistranslation in the dubbing of the 1980s movie Witness that referred to the Amish as “Mormons” which caused a lot of confusion to Spaniards.