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In The Book Episode 5: "Clicking Through the Book of Mormon: Judy Brummer"

Episode Transcript

“Clicking through the Book of Mormon” with Judy Brummer

[00:00:00] Rebecca: Suppose you're in 1960s South Africa. You're in an automobile rumbling on a long, dusty dirt road in the outback of the country. In the distance you see a cattle ranch owned by the Bester family, far away from the city hustle and bustle.

[00:00:19] Judy: I grew up in South Africa and I was born in 1956. So I grew up in, as you would say, the heyday of apartheid in South Africa. There was forced segregation

[00:00:33] Rebecca: The story you'll hear today is all about a girl who grew up on the cattle ranch, Judy Bester Brummer.

[00:00:43] Judy: I was fortunate enough to be born to a wonderful Methodist family. My father was a cattle rancher and I grew up on an about 10,000 acre ranch in South Africa that had been passed from father to son for [00:01:00] about five generations.

And we also had a little village over the hill of indigenous people that lived in South Africa that spoke the Xhosa language

[00:01:10] Rebecca: Judy grew up speaking two languages fluently: English and Xhosa, except that you say that with a click and I'll leave the clicking to Judy.

It was Judy's upbringing and her Xhosa tongue that led her to Queenstown, South Africa as a missionary and to a room all alone with the Book of Mormon.

 I'm Rebecca Devonas, and you're listening to In The Book.

This is a podcast where we flood the earth with testimonies of the Book of Mormon.

 [00:02:00] The Xhosa people on the ranch were a huge part of Judy's world. She had the fondest feelings for them from infancy.

[00:02:08] Judy: And I love them. They treated me like I was their child and they influenced my life greatly.

They are like our family and they helped raise me and I love them and they love me, you know. I just grew up and I was completely fluent in two languages. When I speak Xhosa, nobody can hear that I'm white because I have no accent.

[00:02:34] Rebecca: Judy only ever spoke the language and didn't actually study it formally until enrolling at Rhodes University.

[00:02:48] Judy: I decided to sign enough for a Xhosa class, which was very easy because I could speak it perfectly. It wasn't my second language, it was actually my first language!

So I had never [00:03:00] learned to read and write Xhosa until I went to Rhodes University and then I did.

[00:03:03] Rebecca: She stayed long enough to learn how to read and write in the language and then dropped out. She was off to the coastal city of Cape Town to beauty school, rooming with friends and having the time of her life.

[00:03:15] Judy: I was like a beauty school dropout - the real thing in the seventies! It was the style, you know. I went to Cape Town - it was the best beauty school in the country.

And of course we were all young and we had lots of friends and we had a fabulous social life and we partied a lot and we went out a lot. And it was the disco era and we went to all the discos and the dancing. We really were a little bit wild - probably too wild! But we were just having so much fun in Cape Town

[00:03:41] Rebecca: She finished beauty school and to her surprise, got a job working with Christian Dior products.

[00:03:52] Judy: I got an overpaid, underworked job and three of my friends and I decided to go to church to say thank you for Judy's [00:04:00] wonderful job for which they all had perks because they all had the Christian Dior perfume for free; all the old testers.

[00:04:06] Rebecca: Who would've thought that a job with Christian Dior inadvertently brought her to the pews of a church and to turning the pages of the Bible.

[00:04:15] Judy: We'd been inactive Methodists and Anglicans and Presbyterians for like three or four years. So we decided to go back to church, and we went to one church and we said, “No, we are never going there again.” Because the average age of the congregation was like 90 - 100! We thought that anyway. It was probably 60 to 100, but we thought it was like too old for us. And then we went to a different church and a different church and eventually we stopped going to church. So we decided we'd just go to the beach every Sunday and read our Bibles.

I had everything you could ever want in this world except the gospel. We came from very privileged families and we were very blessed people. And yet there's still something lacking. There's still something missing

We didn't know there was a [00:05:00] true church on the earth. We just were searching for truth and somebody who would teach us the truth about God and that's where I was when the missionaries knocked on my door.

[00:05:09] Rebecca: And that was the beginning of 1979.

[00:05:16] Judy: And these two South African sister missionaries knocked on our door. And I went to the door just cuz they happened to be standing closest.

And this Sister Dicks, she said, “We are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormons, would you like to know more?” So I looked at these sister missionaries and they were very stylish and I was extremely worldly at the time working for Christian Dior. And I looked at people's clothes and I judged them by their clothes and their shoes and their appearance. And I looked at her and she was really stylish. This missionary, she had butterfly sleeves and this pale blue chiffon dress, and she was wearing high heels, white sandals, sling back. And she was completely acceptable.

[00:05:58] Rebecca: The missionary with her [00:06:00] butterfly sleeves, pale blue chiffon dress and high heeled white sandals passed Judy's fashion sense test. But that of course wasn't what ultimately opened the door

[00:06:10] Judy: But then I couldn't remember the name of the church, so I said, “Can you wait here a minute? I have to ask my flatmate.” And I went and I said, “Hey Vivian, do you want to hear about the Morbid Church?” And Vivian starts laughing, and I started giggling and the two of us were just hysterical, silly girls. We couldn't have been more silly. If you looked for girls that were more air-headed, you wouldn't have found a better one than me. And then all of a sudden, that same very strong, powerful idea came into my head, which I know now can identify as the Holy Ghost said, “Don't laugh at those girls. Open the door and listen to them.” And so I didn't even get Vivian's permission. I went to the door, and I said, “Hey, come on in. I'm sorry we were laughing, but do you have another name? It's not the Morbid Church.”

[00:06:54] Rebecca: Picturing this gives me the warmest feelings because I feel like miracles follow [00:07:00] missionaries, and I get excited every time I see them walking or biking on the road or run into them really anywhere. So, there are these two girls probably in their twenties out knocking on doors on a summer day, not knowing beforehand who they will meet or how they'll be received. Pretty typical of most missionaries.

I wonder what was going through those girls' minds that day and how they felt. Were they hot and tired, or feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world? Had they already walked the road of rejection that. Or were they anticipating a warm welcome?

I would've liked to have been a fly on the wall close by that door in Cape Town when they walked up to the house. They start teaching not only one girl, but four, and at least one of them is feeling that everything that they are saying is true.

[00:07:50] Judy: and immediately I knew when they told us about Joseph Smith, I knew it was true.

And I could honestly testify to you that I felt it, my [00:08:00] heart, every word they spoke, I knew it was from God and I knew it was true. And the Holy Ghost witnessed to me, and I wasn't an angel, I was not keeping the commandments at the time.

And they had a shine and a glow, and I couldn't figure it out. And they looked so pretty, both of them. And I was in the beauty business. You can put as in much mascara or blush or lipstick on, but there is something about people who have the light of the gospel. I couldn't understand why they were so pretty and beautiful. There was something in their eyes. And I remember thinking, “Wow.” I knew there was something different about them and it was because they had the Holy Ghost with them.

[00:08:39] Rebecca: The missionaries continued to teach the girls and Judy began reading the Book of Mormon.

[00:08:49] Judy: But I had a very serious boyfriend while I was investigating the Church and his name was ___ and he was a doctor. And this guy, I was madly love with him. He was [00:09:00] gorgeous. I met him on the beach and he was very religious. So I said him, “Let's listen to the missionaries.” So he came and sat in with the missionaries on quite a few discussions

[00:09:08] Rebecca: But Judy said that this boyfriend wasn't really interested in learning more. Whenever he was at a lesson, he would try and prove that what they were saying was wrong.

[00:09:18] Judy: And then Heavenly Father had him transferred; the Army transferred him out of town and he would phone me from wherever he was in the Army. They were up on the border in north of South Africa. And he would call me and say, “You gotta choose. I want to marry you. You have to choose between me and them.”

If it was true, I was going to join the Church and I was going to lose my boyfriend, and I took it really seriously.

[00:09:40] Rebecca: When it became clear that she couldn't keep her old life the way it was and fully embrace what she was now learning, it was time to do some soul searching and decide what she was willing to give up to obtain it. As Judy looked for her answer, she examined the people who already knew something about that kind of sacrifice.

[00:09:59] Judy: [00:10:00] And every time I went to church, I felt the Spirit. I looked at those people and I thought, “Wow, these people are different. These people actually live their religion,” and I believe the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the best Christians on planet Earth. I promise you. I believe that to this day, nobody gives more of their time, of their money, of their energy. They sacrificed more, they walked across the plains. They died for this Church and that is how you measure somebody's love; how much they're prepared to give up. Look at Joseph Smith. He gave up his life for this Church.

And so I thought, “You are either all in or you are all out.” That's what I thought. I thought if I joined this church, I'm all in or I'm all out.

[00:10:48] Rebecca: At that point, Judy needed to find out if it was all true. She said she remembers kneeling down beside her bed with that thick cotton yellow bedspread

[00:10:58] Judy: and I knelt on it and I [00:11:00] said, “Heavenly Father, I want to know if this Book of Mormon is true, because I know it's going to change my life drastically. If you can tell me this Book of Mormon is true, I will change my life. I will be baptized and I will do everything they ask me to do. But you need to tell me, and I need to know.” And I already knew that God had the power and the ability to tell me.

[00:11:23] Rebecca: What happened next is the kind of thing missionaries everywhere hope will happen when the people they teach pray about the Book of Mormon.

[00:11:34] Judy: the most powerful thing happened, honestly. It was like the Holy Ghost enveloped my whole body and soul and spirit and mind. And I got up from that prayer and I literally changed my life. I kept the commandments from that prayer.

I was only baptized a few weeks later.

I just decided to put it all on the line and just put all those sins on the sacrificial altar, and I [00:12:00] decided to change my life.

[00:12:06] Judy: So I was baptized April 29th, 1979, and I have never looked back. I have never ever doubted the Book of Mormon. My testimony of the Book of Mormon has grown and grown ever since that day.

[00:12:18] Rebecca: We could tie a bow on that nicely. That could be the end of this episode. But like the stories of the exemplary missionaries in the Book of Mormon, missionaries like the sons of Mosiah or Alma the younger, Judy's story doesn't end with her own conversion.

In the meantime, far out in Queenstown, South Africa, close to where Judy grew up, a man had come across some Church literature. After reading through it, he felt God tell him that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the true church that was put on the earth in the last days to prepare for the second coming of Jesus [00:13:00] Christ. So he got a piece of metal and wrote the name of the church on it and went around preaching, gathering hundreds of followers.

[00:13:08] Judy: They'd never seen an LDS missionary and their doctrine wasn't quite in line with the doctrines of the Church, but he knew and he wanted to put up a building and he wanted to get a city license to put up a building. And the people said, “No, you can't put up a license because the white people already have that church.”

[00:13:26] Rebecca: So he got someone to write a letter in Afrikaans to the prophet at the time, Spencer W. Kimball, asking if he would merge with his church because he wanted to build the building and couldn't. Naturally, this rogue church in South Africa caused a bit of anxiety at church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

So somebody had to bridge the gap between this well-meaning, but unauthorized faction and the mainstream church. Somebody as it happens, who spoke Xhosa. Judy's name made it to headquarters, and the next thing she knew, she was on site.

[00:13:59] Judy: Two [00:14:00] weeks after I put in my mission papers, I was on mission in Steynsburg, in Queenstown, actually. I lived in Queenstown, but we worked in Steynsburg a lot with Bishop Cower. I got my mission call over the telephone and it was like urgent, you know, that we get out there. Bishop Cower was wonderful. He took us to all the discussions, and took us to these congregations of people that he had already baptized and they all got rebaptized and we didn't have a Book of Mormon in Xhosa, we just had the Bible. And you know, when we read out the Book of Mormon, I would just interpret it the best I could.

So I interpreted it verbally for the missionaries. And the Holy Ghost helped me, believe me, I didn't do it alone. The Spirit would just help me. And so we'd read them the Book of Mormon and I would just verbally translate for the missionaries and elders.

We taught just the Xhosa people. I was never transferred. I spent 18 months in Queenstown and the spirit over that area was unbelievable. We had 30, 40, 50 people baptized on a day, [00:15:00] and it was unbelievable how the Lord had prepared the Xhosa tribe through Bishop Cower.

It was almost like I felt guilty. We had investigators literally climbing in our car window every time we stopped. It was unbelievable. And they all wanted to hear about the Church

[00:15:20] Rebecca: If you had happened to be in the area while she was a missionary, you may have heard her share a testimony like this one.


Years later, while she and her husband were building a life in South Africa together, the Church approached her with a request.

[00:15:43] Judy: then one day they came and they asked me to translate selections of the Book of Mormon. I didn't do the whole book. I did selections, which is about 80%

[00:15:52] Rebecca: Friends stepped in to help taking phone calls, answering the door, and tending to her children so that Judy could be alone in a room [00:16:00] undisturbed by interruptions to translate the Book of Mormon.

Just as soon as she began, however, the opposition came to not only Judy, but the people right around her, including two of her children who ended up in the hospital with encephalitis and one almost died.

[00:16:16] Judy: I burst into tears and I said to my husband, “I can't translate. I can't do this. I can't translate anything. If my baby dies, I quit. And my husband looked at me and he said, “Judy, we don't quit. We don't quit.” He said, “What if Joseph Smith had quit? Their babies died while he was translating the Book of Mormon? Remember?”

And he gave that child a blessing. And I promise you, I think the doctor was shocked that that baby lived and he lived to be 6’3”.

[00:16:50] Rebecca: I thought about how her experience as a translator parallels that of Joseph Smith in many ways

[00:16:57] Judy: I would protect and honor him, [00:17:00] And praise his name and till the day I die.

These are the last days and these are the times that we hold to that iron rod, and don't get distracted by worldly things because the Second Coming is something we need to prepare the earth for. And one way is translating the Book of Mormon. So I did. I got to work after the opposition and I didn't feel capable. I felt very inadequate

[00:17:27] Rebecca: I find it encouraging that God uses imperfection to bring about his perfection. It's not like we have to audition to get the gig or interview to land the job.

The Lord of the Vineyard in the parable of the olive trees in Jacob 5 in the Book of Mormon tells his servant, “Wherefore, go to, and call servants that we may labor diligently with our might in the vineyard” (Jacob 5:61). If we are willing and we want to, we're all called to be laborers in the vineyard, and that's how it was for Judy.

[00:17:58] Judy: This is the weird thing. I [00:18:00] understood the English Book of Mormon with a clarity that I can't explain to anybody. You know, you read the scriptures and you don't always know exactly what every word means. But when I was translating, I understood the English Book of Mormon! It's like ten lap bulbs went off in my head and I thought, “Wow!” And now I read it and I know exactly what every word means. And it wasn't me. I learned in a hurry that it wasn't me and my brain and my knowledge or my strength. It was a gift, a spiritual gift because when I was unkind or when I didn't behave, the gift was taken away. Kind of like Nephi, when you misbehave the compass doesn't work.

And it was like that. I got to learn the characters of the Book of Mormon, because some of them were more strict and some of them felt like they were more lenient and I would pray immediately, and I'd say, “Heavenly Father, this exact word does not exist in the Xhosa language. There's a more lenient word or a more strict word. Please help me to know which word Alma would [00:19:00] use.” And Alma was always more lenient. And I'd say to Andre, “I want Alma to be my bishop in the spirit world!”  

And then King Benjamin. I remember struggling on one simple sentence. I had to redo it five times. And I said to my husband, “King Benjamin is the king of truth.” He is pure doctrine and it's absolute truth. Every sentence is absolute truth. But you better not get it wrong because he'll make you do it again. And I said, “I'm scared and nervous to meet King Benjamin.”

Their personalities became very distinct to me!

[00:19:41] Rebecca: And to Judy, the last ten chapters of the Book of Mormon were some of the most powerful. She could feel Moroni’s urgency and his passion as though he knew he only had a short time to impart a crucial message to the world.

[00:19:55] Judy: In the very last verse of the very last chapter of the Book of Mormon, he says, “I will [00:20:00] meet you triumphant” and that word “triumphant” is so loaded and so juicy and so hopeful. We live in and we think how the world is so dark. But I have a testimony that truth - the truth that has been restored to the earth by Joseph Smith and by the Book of Mormon and the Latter-day prophets - that truth is going to be triumphant in the last days. I have no doubt about that. The truth will endure and truth will triumph.

And, you know, our prophet President Nelson has told us to expect miracles. And so I said, we need to all sit up and expect miracles. You know, tune up your hearing aid and wear your glasses and expect; look, and see, and hear for the miracles that are going to happen. Because there are going to be huge miracles.

To flood the earth with the book of Mormon is going to cause miracles. 

[00:20:54] Rebecca: Back in 1988, the prophet at the time, Ezra Taft Benson, charged everyone to [00:21:00] flood the earth with the Book of Mormon. Judy said that the Xhosa translation of the Book of Mormon was the 106th in the world.

[00:21:08] Judy: And the Xhosa people that have been uplifted by the Church is unbelievable. Lifting them out of poverty, lifting them out of the doldrums of witchcraft. Witchcraft is responsible for a lot of oppression in Africa.

To have the Book of Mormon in a lot of African languages, you see these people being uplifted. And you can just see the light of the gospel in their eyes and there are wonderful members of the Church in Africa.

[00:21:40] Rebecca: When I asked Judy what she would say to someone who doesn't have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, her instant response was

[00:21:47] Judy: Go and study the power of God.

The first thing Jesus said to Joseph Smith, he said that, “…the churches draw near unto unto me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, [00:22:00] and they deny the power thereof.” If that was one of the first things he said to Joseph Smith, that is probably one of the things that has probably been bugging Jesus for the last 2000 years.

[00:22:11] Rebecca: I wanted to hear if she had any scriptures in mind from the Book of Mormon that specifically talked about that power. Judy shared a handful of passages including those in the final chapters of the book.

[00:22:22] Judy: In Moroni 7:33, it says, "And Christ hath said, if he will have faith in me, you shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” So God not only asks us to have faith in his power, but when we do, he gives us power. Moroni mentions the word “power” nine times in the last chapter of the Book of Mormon.

Rebecca: As I wrapped up the interview, Judy shared the following final thoughts:

Judy: When people leave the Church, I’m so sad, but I'm also [00:23:00] thinking, "Why on Earth would you walk away from the truth instead of toward the truth?

When you've had such a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon, it’s hard to believe how anybody could walk away from the truth and the treasures and the nuggets of - they’re better than nuggets of gold, the nuggets of truth. And you read the Book of Mormon one time, and you learn one thing and you read it, and you learn something different. It feels like it never goes out of style. And honestly, for someone who is so involved in the fashion business, I love that this is my anchor. The scriptures are an anchor to me; they don't change. They are absolute truth. And I love that.

[00:23:40] Rebecca: If the Book of Mormon never goes out of style, then incorporating it into your outfit, so to speak, every day is a mighty fashionable thing to do.

Has the Book of Mormon changed your life? Send your [00:24:00] story to

This is a Scripture Central podcast directed by James Dalrymple and I produced this episode with script contributions by Ryan Kunz. I'm Rebecca Devonas and this is In The Book.