When comedian Jenna Kim Jones filmed her “I’m a Mormon” profile for mormon.org, she was single in New York City with a job at “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
By the time the video came online, she had quit her job, gotten engaged and was moving to Los Angeles.
“Now my life is totally different,” she said. But the message of her profile remains the same.
Mormon.org is a website operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It features video profiles where members of the LDS Church share their stories and beliefs. According to the website, these profiles are meant to show that Mormons are diverse in background and experiences, but unified by faith.
Though the Latter-day Saints featured on the mormon.org website are openly sharing their life stories with the world, the experiences they had creating these profiles is another story in itself. The following are the experiences of three individuals who have been featured.
Jones said she hesitated when mormon.org first asked her if she would film a profile for the website. She knew being a female LDS comedian made her different and was worried about how people would view her, both within and without the LDS community. Eventually, she realized this was a good opportunity to start the conversation she was likely to have the rest of her life.
“I didn’t want to be the Mormon comedian, but a comedian who is Mormon,” she said. “I want to be a comedian who has these values and that isn’t weird, not such an oddity.”
Jones said someone from mormon.org had heard her performing on the radio and called to ask her to do a profile. Four months later, they came to New York City to interview and film her. Later, she flew to Utah where they recorded some of her comedy shows.
Though Jones has quit her job at “The Daily Show,” she still intends to continue her already successful comedy career in Los Angeles, where she now lives with her husband, Allan Moss. She said she is grateful that making this profile allowed her to articulate for the first time her belief that she can be a funny, successful comedian and keep her faith at the same time.
Athelia LeSeur had many setbacks in her life before she got to where she is now. A debilitating autoimmune disease kept her from her dream of being a professional dancer, but her love of fashion and a desire to provide women with a modest clothing option led her to create Shabby Apple, an online women's clothing company. It grew from a modest endeavor out of her parents' home to a successful business receiving thousands of orders a week.
Now, LeSeur is not only a successful businesswoman, but a wife and mother of a 6-month-old girl, also named Athelia.
LeSeur said she was pregnant during the filming of her mormon.org profile and felt sick for most of it, but the people she worked with were all extraordinarily nice. She at first felt very self-conscious, but as the filmmakers walked around filming, they joked and talked with her until she forgot the camera was there.
LeSeur’s self-consciousness was only increased by what she said was terrible pregnancy acne she had gotten at the time of the filming. But one of her friends who had been a professional makeup artist applied her makeup for the filming, and when she saw the video later she was pleased with how good her friend made her look.
The first part of the filming took place in New York City where LeSeur lives, and later she came to Utah to film her dancing. By this point, she was six months pregnant and really didn’t want to be filmed in a leotard. She said they promised to film only her hands and feet and would edit it so she would look good.
“And they did! I felt so grateful to them,” she said. “They literally couldn’t have been nicer guys.”
As a normally private person, LeSeur said she was reluctant to talk about some very personal topics in her profile. At the time of the filming, she didn’t tell any of her friends and family about it, because she assumed it was mostly for a non-Mormon audience and no one she knew would see it. She was surprised later on to hear about it from her friends, but their reactions were positive.
One reaction that was particularly satisfying was a friend of her husband’s who sent her a message on Facebook after he saw her mormon.org profile. He also had difficult health problems and understood what she had gone through and had been uplifted by her video.
LeSeur said overall it was an uplifting experience. She said one thing that stuck with her was something a member of the filming crew told her to help her open up during the filming.
“He said, ‘When we’re doing these videos, we’re not here to put judgment on your decisions,’” she said. “‘This is just to show people that you’re here and you’re Mormon.’”
Gabe Reid played football for Brigham Young University before moving on to the NFL, first with the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets, then finally the Chicago Bears, where he ended his career.
Reid said the producer of mormon.org approached him about filming a profile after Reid had given a fireside.
“At first I was a little hesitant because I’m not the type of person who really likes to talk about my life out there in the public eye,” he said.
Eight months later they called him back and he decided to do it because he knew the good it could do.
“If my story could benefit someone, then I should do it,” he said, “and I should do anything to help build the kingdom.”
Reid said his wife has his same mindset, and his four younger kids got pretty excited.
The film crew came and spent the whole day at his house. Reid said he hadn’t realized it would actually take the entire day, but he and his family had “tons of fun.”
Reid said it was humbling to be asked to film his profile, from the millions of other deserving members of the LDS Church. He felt very intimidated and inadequate, but that it was a great experience.
“I’ve have some really good experiences with people coming back from their missions and saying how my story helped one of their investigators,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s really all that matters. That was the goal. If I can help one person learn more about the gospel, then it was worth it.”
One other thing Reid learned is that we all have a story and we all need to share it.
“Especially people of our faith need to open their mouths,” he said. “You never know who you’re going to touch and how your story will bring someone closer to Christ.”
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company