My Story: Monica Franco Rivera

I was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala and lived there until three years old. My parents separated and subsequently divorced. My mother and I moved to the United States, seeking a better life.

Growing up in a single parent household was difficult with many challenges. I was taught at an early age, to have faith in Jesus Christ. My grandmother always said “Pray to him in all you do and he will give you the answer and support you need.”

Being a “part-time Catholic”, my grandmother made great efforts to take me to church, especially on days like Easter and Christmas. As I got older my mother sought to obtain a greater relationship with Jesus Christ. We visited many different churches, there always seemed to be something missing. Despite many opportunities to join other denominations, it didn’t seem right.

At nineteen years old I married and had my son. The marriage was tumultuous, filled with emotional, verbal, psychological, and physical abuse twice. There was psychological manipulation. Struggling to stay afloat and continuing my relationship with my mother was trying. My mother/best friend had been distanced from me, each attempt to reach out, was met with backlash from my husband. I earnestly relied on the Lord for his strength. Wanting my son to have a religious background, I went through the rituals of Baptism and First Communion without really realizing why. It was tradition. Needing him to have a father, I stayed praying my situation would change.

My mother had converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints several years before. I had allowed my son to accompany her to church several times, knowing it would later lead to an argument with my husband. Seeing how happy my son was when he came home was worth the argument. I will never forget the first song he came home singing, A Child’s Prayer. Hearing his little voice touched my heart, but I still did not attend services. I felt that I was not worthy of the Lord because of the relationship I was in and the choice I had made. I went to the occasional branch activity, but when it came down to hearing about the Gospel I fled. Many times when the missionaries were in the house I would sneak by or go through a back door, to not be seen.

One year as a birthday gift, my mother gave me a Bible and a subscription to the church magazine hoping I would read them. I set them aside.

My situation became worse and I moved out of my mother’s home. I became more isolated. Everything I did was controlled and if things weren’t done right I was abused verbally and emotionally. I felt trapped and afraid.

By the time I was pregnant with my daughter, my marriage was literally over. I had been basically a single parent with no emotional or financial support. I knew there needed to be a drastic change in my life. My son was being impacted by this abusive relationship and I needed to be strong for him and the new baby was on the way. I separated from my husband during my second trimester of pregnancy.

Divorce was my way to start anew. As a child I had wanted to marry and provide my children with a stable environment and two parents. I didn’t want to repeat my mother and grandmother’s cycle of single parenting. I felt like a failure and became depressed. I knew the only way to not crumble was to seek help from the Lord. My daughter was born and I had to seek a restraining order for our peace of mind and safety. My divorce was difficult and lengthy. For three years I felt like the end was near, but never within my reach. I prayed as the process lingered, the emotional toll was exhausting.

My mother invited me to accompany her and the Church on a trip to Palmyra, NY to see the Palmyra pageant. My son had gone previously, I had not. They said it would be a great experience. I needed a get away, and agreed to go.

The pageant was about church history and provoked many questions within me as my curiosity grew. I found myself wanting to know more, but at the same time felt I could not because there were many unfinished things in my life.

In 2000, I observed my mother travel back and forth to Belmont, MA to help in the preparation of an open house for what she called “a Temple”. She was excited, I didn’t know why. She explained that it was a privilege to have one so close to home because it was the Lord’s house. She invited me to help her at “the open house”, a period of time that the building would be open to all to visit. After the open house and dedication, it would only be open to members with a recommendation.

I remember thinking I was not worthy to be helping. My life was in shambles. I couldn’t do it. Surprisingly, although internally I felt I could not, verbally I said yes. I shocked myself. I asked for time off work for the days that I was needed. On the day I was to help, I could feel the excitement around me. Strangely to me, everyone was polite, smiling and most of all friendly.

As I observed the care and devotion those serving had, I was greatly moved. I wanted to see what it was like inside. I felt a sense of peace and tranquility. Something I had not experienced in a long time. The end of my shift came much too quickly. I didn’t want to leave the tranquility.

I arranged to have my children come visit on a tour a few days later. When we arrived and were preparing to enter the inside of the Temple my daughter turned to my grandmother and I and said “shh… this is Jesus‘ house”. I had not told her where we were or what we were going to see, but she knew. This impression also settled in my heart.

During the months following the open house of the Temple, my family invited me to dinner frequently, ensuring the missionaries were always there to teach a lesson on the Gospel. The lessons were interesting, but I kept my distance.

In December of 2000, my divorce was granted. A burden had been lifted. I felt liberated. I started to attend church on Sundays with my mother. One Sunday the missionaries asked if I wanted to get baptized. My yes came out before they even finished the question. I was baptized with my son on February 18, 2001.

I know the Lord prepared my heart over many years. He gave me opportunities to stay close to him. He answered my prayers when I needed him. When life is difficult, don’t despair the Lord is there. I know that this church and the Gospel are true, that my new beginning started with the blessing of my conversion. I thank Heavenly Father daily for this marvelous opportunity of being in the true Gospel.