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Radio Free Mormon: 207: “Heaven Up Here”

RFM interviews John Kirk Williams, author of “Heaven Up Here,” a memoir of his two-year LDS church mission to Bolivia!  John talks about his mission, his time working for the church curriculum department, and the events that led him to lose belief in Mormonism!


18 thoughts on “Radio Free Mormon: 207: “Heaven Up Here””

  1. Loved this podcast! What a special person you were able to interview. Thank you, John, for sharing your experiences. Amazing what the church expects of it’s members/missionaries. Regarding the dreams after missions….PTSD? Oh, listening and your guest just did mention it. I have dreams about the last few years of my marriage because it was quite horrific. The dreams, actually nightmares, are very violent and I usually wake up crying. I hope that John can get past that PTSD…..I understand because I am still going through it. It’s very distressing.

  2. What a fascinating interview! I couldn’t quite hear, but I thought I heard that John’s name on some of the LDS boards was Rontu? If it was you, hey, I remember you! I was the person who was always piping up, in agreement. I thought you had excellently well reasoned thoughts that perfectly aligned with my own excellent thoughts (being flippant, but you get it.) Thank you for sharing your experiences in Bolivia!

  3. Thank you John and RFM. I will definitely get the book. I was reminded of an ad for The Valachi Papers it said, “Joe Valachi blows the lid off organized crime.” Between this episode and the Phil episodes the lid has certainly been blown off the great harvest of Lamanite souls in South America story. And that Tokyo speedy teach and baptize thing is also mind boggling. “Honesty is such a lonely word” (Billy Joel). I can also relate to that feeling of never being able to to do things right enough or enough right things. It was sort of encouraging that both of you have those thoughts. I can class myself in good company on that point. Years ago a friend told me that church is “organized guilt.” I have often sat in church in my own little black hole while many around seemed to be claiming that they felt the spirit. It’s all good. I’m making progress. Once in the mission field I was assigned to give a talk on aspiring to office at a district meeting that the mission president attended. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that I must have been suspected of aspiring and hence the assignment. When RFM said something like, “I’ve always got one more question” it reminded me of Columbo, “Just one more thing.” Great podcast. Please keep the questions coming.

  4. Oh right, you were talking about bad people who do good things. Morianton in Ether 10:9-12 is a king who is not righteous himself but eases the burdens on his people and takes them from poverty to prosperity. They like him a lot. You were trying to think of a scriptural example.

  5. Great interview, RFM and John!

    As you wrapped up the discussion of pressure at all levels – district, zone, mission, area, church – to get baptisms, by hook or by crook, RFM summarized by observing that “it has nothing to do with conversion, it’s just about the numbers”. Couldn’t help but see a stark similarity to baptisms for the dead……

    1. Hi John

      Its Hermana Buchan— the english missionary who got pregnant! I bought your book, and it was great reading lots of things i remember about the mission.

      I hope you and Nancy are well, take care

      Linda 🙂

  6. I was so impressed with this interview! I loved the fact that you had such a good rapport with the interviewee and he was able to tell so many good stories! Thank you for being so concise and including so many different people in this series. It struck me as I heard him speak that men in the church oftentimes have such different experiences than women. Wow, he had so many opportunities to give his opinion! Women just don’t get that same opportunity. We were not invited to many meetings. We were not asked our opinion if it wasn’t our “calling”. At the same time, there is more pressure put on men to have this “revelation” for the church members, so I mean, either way, it’s not a very healthy environment for both men and women. You were very respectful of the interviewee’s current beliefs too, which was a good example of being able to see things from “both sides” and have a healthy dialogue.

  7. John is a great guy and his book is fantastic. I happened to be sick when I read which made it essentially an immersive experience.

    (by the way, I served in Mexico about the same time as John was in Bolivia. I was sick almost the entire time too.)

    My mission was a mixed bag of good, bad, frustrating, inspiring and more. It changed my life as a whole for the better. I’m glad I went because it opened my mind to a lot of stuff, I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. At the same time, it also kept me more indoctrinated in certain ways.

    I’m glad he talked about Joseph Bishop because that was my exact memory of him too (the lectures about the need for missionaries to confess unrepented of sins). After all this stuff came out about his other activities, I wondered if he wasn’t doing that to troll for more victims.

  8. I so much appreciated the sense of humor and intelligence of John. Articulate and well spoken. There seems to be a theme of how people get to their older age and reflect on the information and conclude it is bogus. I still grit my teeth at everything mormon. Work in progress.

  9. I was in the MTC a few months after John. I’m glad he talked about Joseph Bishop because that was my exact memory of him too (the lectures about the need for missionaries to confess unrepented of sins). It triggered my OCD/scrupulosity BIG TIME. I spent tons of time going into my branch president there confessing things that were so insignificant that he must have really wondered about me. He was a good man who tried to make me understand I was worthy, but I couldn’t hear it yet.

    Luckily, I had a good mission president who basically said, “Stop telling me this stuff!” Somehow, that got through to me and I was able to just focus on day to day missionary life.

  10. Another great interview. I thought a lot about the idea of toxic positivity while hearing him talk about how we’re always reluctant or discouraged to ever mention anything not faith-promoting. It’s a term I hadn’t ever heard before and with the latest social media blitz of #givethanks, it really is eye-opening for me to realize the damage that can be done trying to force insincere positivity all the time. But I can’t think of a better way to describe how Mormons act in almost all their interactions with each other, especially at church.

  11. Thank you, it is a very touching story.

    Could you please share the sources for the story of the Japanese mission set up for fast-track baptisms within an hour? How did you get to know about it? I would like to look into it some more.

    Best wishes. Keep up the good work.

  12. Loved this chat. Listened to it 3 times now. Brings back memories of my mission in Argentina, where the problem with money exchange was also real. That is, I had about 1 year with excess cash, more than I could spend, buying pizza almost every night and using busses and taxis instead of the bike and still have money left over. And then the 2nd year when the peso was pegged to the dollar we simply could not survive with the money the mission home gave us, needing to go to members home just for some food in during the last week or so of the month. It was crazy. But no worms making me sick though, that is probably a Bolivia thing.

  13. John is a lovely person. When he was on the MADD board, they had got hold of the story of me suing the church – long story re a traffic accident in mission van as passengers.

    The people on that board were sick. They were horrible in the things they said about me. The worst was Kolipoki. John and Ironduke were my defenders.
    I’m so happy that you had him on your podcast RFM – haven’t heard his voice in a long time.
    The book is fabulous.

  14. RFM…Absolutely loved this episode!

    Your guest was charming, witty, intelligent and his great british humour was a delight. More than anything, his ability to communicate his astute observations of the Mormon Leaders and all the problems there was very refreshing…even though none of the ideas were unheard of.

    I think his unflinching straight forward, no nonsense take on the situation as a TBM is rare indeed. I kept waiting for him to start into an apologetic stance and it just didnt happen. His honesty will save him in the end , I wager.

    It was fascinating to get an inside look at the devastating stats in Europe from his unique point of view. Don’t doubt his assessment of the situation, but it was a little startling, just he same.

    Am I evil for admitting that I took deep pleasure in hearing the ‘bad’ news?? not that I don’t feel for the pain of the members at the grass roots. It’s just that the mormon church doesn’t deserve the devotion of such good people as your guest.

    It’s interesting to see how much more tolerant the church seems to be of it’s apostates ( so they call them ) in Europe than they are of the same in the US. That just confirms to me that they are truly hanging on by a thread there and cannot afford to just dispose of the members there quite so easily.

    What a life this is, eh?

  15. You know for me the sad thing? When I left on my mission I believed with all my heart I was in for a couple years of being directed by the spirit to those seeking truth. Via this episode I realise my devastation is common.

  16. I am shocked, shocked, that you were able to hold your tongue about Robert Ritner. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him tell this story from his perspective. I need a hug just thinking about him, and sending hugs to you, too, RFM. This episode was great, I’m impressed by John’s ability to be so even handed about the church, it’s hard to do.

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