Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SAN ANGELO, Texas Pastor Gerald Clark's baritone voice boomed as he strummed his guitar and sang, "I've got peace like a river" with his Baptist congregation.
His subsequent sermon, "Let's Go Fishing With Jesus," fit well with the theme of Sunday's guest speaker a missionary invited to share her insights into the unusual group of neighbors that has dominated the local newspaper headlines here and all the TV news channels.
"I am a missionary to the polygamous people," explains Mary Mackert. "God called me to the FLDS."
A former member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church herself, Mackert is making the rounds in Texas and elsewhere to talk about her past life as a polygamous wife, her insights on the sect, her spiritual conversion to born again Christianity and her new life as a missionary.
"Not only did he save me, but he brought me to a point where I fell in love with my (FLDS) people and their need for the Lord," she told the congregation of about 50 worshippers at the Central Faith Baptist Church.
Born and raised in Hildale, Utah, Mackert said she became the sixth of seven wives to a 50-year-old man when she was 17. "He was older than my father," she said.
"We were told there are only a few good men out there and if you don't share your good man with a sister wife, she'll have to marry a jerk."
Mackert lived in the Avenues neighborhood of Salt Lake City and eventually ended her marriage of 16 years and the FLDS lifestyle. With the help of an attorney, her five children came with her. She felt compelled to attend a Baptist church in Sandy, Utah, where she was eventually baptized.
"I once made fun of Jesus freaks and now I am one," she joked.
She showed the congregation slides of FLDS leaders, explaining the history of the church and some of its unusual practices. Other pictures depicted her grandchildren who live in her mission area in northern Idaho and British Columbia including grandchildren who have been "cut off" from her because of her attempts to instill non-FLDS teachings.
One photo depicted several young girls "precious little jewels" in long dresses dancing around a maypole. "It just breaks my heart to think what kind of life they'll have if someone doesn't show them the gospel and help them get out of that 'lifestyle,"' she said.
Mackert has another motive for being in Texas, or as she calls it, another phase of her mission. She believes God wants her to care for some of the 462 children that were taken from the YFZ Ranch and placed into state custody.
"I have spoken with (Child Protective Services) and let them know that I would take any and all children that they would allow me to have that aren't going to be returned to their parents," she said.
A Baptist church in Fort Worth has offered to purchase or rent a home for her and any children she may be allowed to care for or even adopt.
"I believe God equipped me to understand what they're going through. I went through that myself, and guided my children as much as I could through it and watched them struggle," Mackert said.
While watching news reports of the raid and the custody battles, Mackert has looked closely for familiar faces. She has two sisters who live at the ranch, at least one former sister wife, a stepdaughter, a niece and possibly others.
"I sit there and I want to take it in and study every feature ... and just soak it all in. It's been so long since I've seen them. ... They're my people. I love them."
Amid many "amens" and rapt attention from the congregation, Mackert asked church members to pray for the FLDS children now in foster care facilities throughout Texas.
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