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Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

Utah family shares quirky, inspiring Mormon conversion story through book

By Katelyn Guderian, Deseret News

Published: Wed, Aug. 13 9:26 p.m. MDT

 From top left are John Bestor, Carrie Bestor Henderson, Kurt Bestor and Jill Bestor Anderson with their parents, Phyllis Bestor and Rollie Bestor.

From top left are John Bestor, Carrie Bestor Henderson, Kurt Bestor and Jill Bestor Anderson with their parents, Phyllis Bestor and Rollie Bestor.

(Provided by Phyllis Bestor)

Wisconsin natives Phyllis and Rollie Bestor knew almost nothing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when they moved their family of six to Orem, Utah, in 1966.

But shortly after arriving in picturesque Utah Valley, the Bestors recognized there was indeed something different about the area's culture and people. For the next decade, Phyllis Bestor and her family would immerse themselves in the Utah lifestyle and become involved members of their community — all while trying to live among Mormons and not become one.

In her 2013 Y Mountain Press book, Phyllis Bestor discusses the family's experience in humorous detail. "How to Live among Mormons and Not Become One … You Can't!" walks readers through this family's "slow and steady" conversion, shedding light on what it is like to observe the LDS culture from the outside.

"It (the book) was meant to capture the essence of our experience of living here not being LDS," Phyllis Bestor said. "I hoped it would be more than 'this family did this,' because there are lots of families who do 'this' or do 'that' in different ways. I hoped it would send a message to anybody else that read it, particularly LDS people, and they would chuckle at the idiosyncrasies of this culture, which is just absolutely unique."

The entire Bestor family was eventually baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1976 — the result of genuine friendships and the family's willingness to be involved in the community.

"I think our attitude was just a real positive one," Phyllis Bestor said. "We were here, it was a neat place. We just allowed ourselves to become a happy, positive part of our neighborhood. Otherwise, if you didn't, I don't think you'd be happy."

The Bestor family moved to Orem for employment opportunities — Rollie would coach diving at Brigham Young University and work as an associate professor, while Phyllis would teach at Orem Junior High. The four Bestor children — Kurt, Jill, Carrie and John — would attend school and participate in an extensive number of extracurricular activities.

Phyllis and Rollie Bestor described moving to Orem as a "surprise" and as an "eye-opener," but it did not take long for the Bestors to become acclimated to their new home.

Rollie Bestor, who was a coach and a high school teacher in Wisconsin, often dealt with behavioral challenges and drug use among his students. He described his students at BYU as having good attitudes and always being ready to contribute, even during the early-morning hours.

"It was so unlike the public high school where I was teaching," Rollie Bestor said. "I was thrilled; we had a great time. We just moved up the ladder and did anything and everything I was asked to do from the president (of BYU) on down."

The Bestors, who were Catholic, meshed well with the 1960s Orem locals. They were able to jump in, become involved, and not fear standing out or being different from the LDS majority. While they may have intended to remain on the outskirts of "Mormonland," the Bestors were always an active part of everything that was happening around them.

Phyllis and Rollie Bestor attribute much of this community involvement to the efforts of their four children, who were always pursuing their talents in sports and music. By taking on leadership roles in their schools and friend groups, Kurt, Jill, Carrie and John made it easier for their parents to participate and get to know the families they lived by.

"We didn't sit back," Phyllis Bestor said. "We stepped out, and we were fortunate to head everything in the right direction. Our children had a lot of talents and abilities, which was very helpful in terms of a community accepting you versus being a wallflower. Because of that, there was very little preaching by our neighbors. They appreciated the fact that we weren't LDS and yet we were doing all these good things."

The family believes their conversion was largely possible because they were treated like people and not like a "project." Loving friends shared their tables, homes and talents rather than preaching to or actively trying to convert the young family. Their conversion was gradual and deeply rooted.

"If someone said 'We want to convert these people,' they did it not by doctrine," Phyllis Bestor said. "It was how the doctrine was lived."

Phyllis Bestor was particularly drawn to the interactive culture that accompanied the LDS Church. Both Phyllis and Rollie were very impressed with how involved and constant life as a Latter-day Saint seemed to be.

"It was very appealing to be involved physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually," Phyllis Bestor said.

After the Bestor family was baptized, it didn't take long for Phyllis and Rollie to be extended a variety of church callings — callings that may have seemed daunting even to lifelong members. Phyllis was called to serve as a stake Young Women president, and Rollie served in a BYU ward bishopric. He was later called as a stake secretary and as a bishopric member in the Provo Missionary Training Center. While the couple had little to no formal training in the church, they accepted the callings and served willingly.

"It's an example of maybe the sincerity that counts the most, and not so much what you say, exactly," Phyllis Bestor said. "You put yourself and who you are into it, and that's what makes this church appealing to me. It's a lay church. It causes all of us to step forward, whether it's challenging or not."

Phyllis and Rollie Bestor still reside in Orem, in a house not far from their original property. The couple remains active in their local neighborhood.

"(We are) trying to give back to the community, because it's given us some really good things, and religion has been a big part of it," Phyllis Bestor said.

"How to Live among Mormons and not Become One … You Can't!" is available through the BYU Bookstore and Amazon.com.

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1. Nan BW
ELder, CO,
Aug. 13, 2014

What a neat upbeat article to read in the morning of what will be a hectic day. Thank you, Bestors, for being you are!

2. Natester
Cedar Hills, UT,
Aug. 13, 2014

As a native of Orem, I want to reach out to the Bestor's and thank them for all they have brought to this community. My siblings and I know Phyllis Bestor as "Mrs Bestor" - widely known as our absolute favorite teacher at Orem High, back in the day. Whether they knew this or not, the Bestor's were and have been true examples of what it means to be Christian. They came to Utah as Christians and have continued as such. I can't say enough good about them. Thanks for who you are and for your loving sacrifices and friendships. And thanks D News for such a positive news article!

3. The Caravan Moves On
Enid, OK,
Aug. 13, 2014

A couple of comments...

1) Cool story!

2) Article quote: "The entire Bestor family was eventually baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1976 — the result of genuine friendships and the family's willingness to be involved in the community. "I think our attitude was just a real positive one," Phyllis Bestor said. "We were here, it was a neat place. We just allowed ourselves to become a happy, positive part of our neighborhood. Otherwise, if you didn't, I don't think you'd be happy.""

Wow, sure would be nice if people that moved to Utah from other areas would do that. Personally, I get tired mighty quick of people who come from out of state and then constantly complain about the "dominant" religion in Utah and how their new home is not like living in Utah.

Nope, Utah is NOT like other states in America. And many of us are proud of that fact.

3) Would have been neat if the article had a few examples of how humorous life was being a non-Mormon living among Mormons. I've heard our culture is different but to an immersed Mormon we often don't see it.

4. gmlewis
Houston, TX,
Aug. 13, 2014

Speaking of folks unfamiliar with LDS culture, I knew a convert in St. Louis, Missouri who was invited to a meeting at the Stake Center on Clayton Road, shortly after his baptism. Of course, a little further down the road was a Steakhouse Restaurant. Guess where the new convert went? Of course, the restaurant. He was really insulted that nobody else showed up for the meeting, but had a good laugh the next day when he realized the truth.

One thing for sure, people who don't know our culture have plenty to laugh about.

5. LDSareChristians
Anchorage, AK,
Aug. 13, 2014

gmlewis,

My wife at 18 (non member at the time) moved into an apartment with 3 LDS young ladies. She relates at the time, some confusion when she'd answer the phone and share with the party at the other end, that her rooms mates had gone to a church meeting at the steak house, wondering in her own mind why folks would have a church meeting at a restaurant.