Jonna Pirinen responded to the Mormon missionaries’ oft-asked question with a wary reply. “Do you think it’s important to find out for yourself that the Book of Mormon is true?” one elder asked. “Yes,” she responded. “It is important for me to find out that it’s not true.”The pop/R&B artist — who goes by her first name — had been meeting with the missionaries in her home country of Finland for a few weeks but hadn’t really been taking their conversations seriously. It was the fall of 2002, and episodes for the “American Idol”-esque TV show she was a contestant on that summer were beginning to air. Jonna was back in school working on a social work degree and writing songs for what would later become her first, and quite successful, album.Her skepticism of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was ingrained, as Finns are suspect of deeply religious people in general, Jonna said. That includes those who attend the Lutheran Church, which is the country’s most prevalent faith. But something kept her coming back to the Helsinki chapel where she met with the missionaries every week. Before long, she was meeting with them twice a week to study the scriptures and discuss the gospel. “I remember feeling from the very beginning whenever I left the chapel … I was so happy,” Jonna said in a phone interview from Finland. She would find herself singing on the way home from the appointments — not that singing was unusual for the aspiring star, but the lightness that accompanied the words was.“When I look back, (I can see) that was the Holy Ghost,” Jonna said. “I could feel it testify that this was true.”Now, five years after joining the church, Jonna laughs when she looks back at some of her first impressions of the religion. She finds her former assumption that there was a big building in the city full of young Mormon men particularly amusing, though at the time she just found it appealing.Jonna reflects on her conversion as someone who has experienced not just two different lifestyles, but as a person with two different perspectives. Her view of eternity, sin, family and God’s concern for his children all did a 180 once she committed herself to her newfound faith. “It’s like a night and day difference to think about that whole concept of marriage and relationships,” she said.Jonna grew up knowing that most married people get divorced. After her own parents’ divorce when she was young, she gave up on the prospect of being in a committed, marital relationship someday.“I already kind of had given up hope,” she said. “I wasn’t even dreaming to get married myself.”But through learning about the church’s doctrine of eternal families and how it’s possible to build a relationship that can withstand both the tests of time and eternity, she reacquired that hope, as well as “a new way of looking at the companionship, and it was really beautiful,” she said. “It’s like 10 levels higher.”Jonna released her first album in 2003, selling more than 14,000 copies — just a few hundred shy of receiving a gold record designation in Finland. She rode the wave of success, filmed music videos, made appearances, hosted a TV show and reveled in the realization of her childhood aspirations. But Jonna felt pulled in different directions by the opposing interests she was pursuing. She was still meeting with missionaries, still desiring more knowledge.“I was in two worlds at the same time,” she said. “I was part of a project that was so opposite of all these things I was learning.”In late summer, the mission president encouraged her to set a date for baptism, and they settled on a day in October. She worried that she wouldn’t feel ready, that she didn’t know enough. In the week before the scheduled date, she began to get excited about the prospect of receiving the Holy Ghost. But even as she prepared for her baptism, she felt that her desires to be a successful performing artist were more rooted than her desires to be a faithful member of the church, and should she be asked to choose between the two, her life-long artistic aspirations would win out. But just as her approach to the church had quickly turned from one of suspicion to one of reverence, her view of its priority in her life also did an about-face.   “It’s interesting how two weeks after that — a week after my baptism — my record company asked me that question,” Jonna said. “They made me choose between the two things. I didn’t even hesitate. … I knew what to say, and I knew that my career was at stake. … But I said, ‘The church is more important. That’s like the essence of my life. And I’ve learned things that I could not live without. And if I had to choose, the career would be second.’ I was so amazed that in a few weeks I had changed my mind without even thinking about it.”Jonna was serious about the church, but the people who appreciated her singing voice and dance routines weren’t as accepting of her newfound religion. Of Finland’s roughly 5 million residents, only about 5,000 are Mormons, and the church is widely viewed negatively, Jonna said. Her membership in the church made for news fodder, and when she chose not to comment in an attempt to avoid shining the spotlight on something that was personal to her, people started speculating as to all the restrictions that would be placed on her as a result of her membership. “My career kind of took a downhill twist at that point,” she said.Momentum was lost, and her next two albums, released in 2004 and 2006, weren’t nearly as well-received. But Jonna doesn’t bemoan the lost fans or slip in record sales. She sees it all as part of a tailor-made, divinely guided plan for her. She later moved to the United States for a year and a half to work on a fourth album, due out later this year in Finland, that will be in English.“Now I can see that all of this has prepared me for this album that I’m working on right now. If I had had a great, successful career in Finland, I may not have branched out,” she said. “I’m like 10 times more convinced that this is how it was supposed to be.”The new album, which has a working title of “The Journey,” is in some ways a response to the music that focuses on promiscuity, violence and filth.“I’m trying to replace all of that negative stuff that’s not really good for anyone … with positive energy,” she said.Jonna said she isn’t concerned with waging any wars in the music industry; she just wants to sing about good things, and “kind of just be a good, positive artist who is standing up for what is right, but not actively talking about religion.”“We’re so blessed with all of this knowledge that we can get when we actually have the Holy Ghost in our lives,” Jonna said. “And when we’re following those good feelings, it leads to more good feelings. And someone who has not felt that, they will be wondering, ‘Where does she know all of that?’“I’m singing about things that anyone can relate to. I just want to spread good feeling around, and then the rest is up to the Holy Ghost.”


E-mail: [email protected]