Using His Voice to Reach Others Meet The Truth Radio Network’s Russ East
Most people’s first encounter with religion comes from their family. They are raised with a certain doctrine and the introduction for faith is focused on whatever the parents or grandparents believe. But how do you know if what you are being taught is the truth? At fourteen years old Russ East asked himself that very question. Raised as a Mormon, he was trying to meet the demands and requirements of the Latter Day Saints church his family was attending while wondering if he would ever measure up. It left him feeling anxious, empty and unworthy. When a neighbor invited him and his family to her church that preached the Bible, East accepted and was totally transformed by what he heard. Risen sat down with East in Salt Lake City to talk about his passion to witness to other Mormons through his ministries Utah Partnerships for Christ and The Truth Radio Network.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in Salt Lake City, Utah
Risen Magazine: You were raised as a fourth generation Mormon. However, as a teenager you questioned your beliefs. How was this a turning point in your faith?
Russ East: At the age of 14, I went out behind my house, knelt down and prayed to God asking which church was true. In my understanding as a Mormon, I believed that I was going to go to heaven, it was just a matter of what level of heaven I was going to. I was very discouraged with the concept that there were three levels of heaven and that because my parents were not sealed in the temple, we would not be together as a family for eternity. That made me nervous as a young man. It was very disheartening. I wanted to have a sit down with Jesus, a one-on-one. I wanted to have this experience, like [Mormon leader] Joseph Smith did. When nothing happened it was disillusioning to me. I thought, “Why wouldn’t God want to show himself to me as he had showed himself to Joseph? Why was I not as important?”
It was soon after that whole experience, I was doing yard work in the neighborhood and a lady invited my family to go to her church, Santa Rosa Bible Church, located in northern California. We went and I heard the gospel message proclaimed for the very first time. It came at a time when I was interested in seeing if this whole story about Mormonism was true. In a sense I think that God could hear my cry for Him. The whole idea of forgiveness of all of my sins by way of putting my faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone was totally foreign to me. I was taught as a child that Jesus wanted me for a sunbeam through a song we sang. That was my example. So at Santa Rosa Bible Church I gave my life to the Lord. It took the burden off of my heart and my shoulders of feeling like I had to appease God or that somehow at the end of my life I would have to come up with more good than bad [with the whole idea of three levels of heaven]. It was completely different than what I was used to. The pastor didn’t talk about any of that, instead he just read out of the Bible. The morning that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior my father told me that he had gotten saved as well through hearing the gospel from a business friend of his two years earlier. Later I learned that he was nervous that if he showed me that he didn’t believe in Mormonism anymore that it was possible that the Mormon bishop would want him and my mom to get a divorce, so he kept quiet about becoming a Christian.
RM: Wow. What did the transition look like going from something you had believed and was part of your family, to learning the truth and seeing your own father make the change as well?
RE: It’s the miracle of how God touches your heart. You just realize that you can’t depend on what your family believes. As much as you love and honor them, you have to stop and really hear what the Holy Spirit is doing in your heart and your mind. A lot of it is the amazing work that happens when the Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin and draws you to himself and speaks to you. This is just a question of praising God in the mystery part of the gospel. What makes someone love someone? It’s a reciprocal love, but someone has to initiate it. God initiates it and we respond to it. It’s only by God’s grace and mercy. It’s not anything special about me or what I can do. I’m not super smart or special. There’s also a sense of receiving, embracing, and desiring it. Not making excuses or pushing it away. And instead of taking it into our own hands and trying to add to the gospel, we need to just simply accept it.
The day that I converted from Mormonism to Christianity I went home, got my Bible out that my grandmother had given to me and began to talk to God. I said to the Lord, “I just have had this total transformation in my heart and in my understanding of who You are, but I am still a little fuzzy on whether I need the Mormon Church or not, maybe I am just missing something. I have been raised in this and all of my family members are Mormon, are they all wrong?” Then I flipped open my Bible – I didn’t know where I was going but my fingers literally went to the book of Galatians – I looked down and it was in Galatians 1:6-9. It says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse.”
All of sudden my eyes filled up with tears and it became very clear to me that the Mormon church was one of those other forms of gospel that Galatians was referring to. On the front of the Book of Mormon, it says “another” testament of Jesus Christ. There is not another, there is only one! It was at that moment that I knew that I didn’t need the Mormon Church anymore. All that was important was that I just choose to be a follower of Christ, living my life for Him out of appreciation and love. I could do good things, but it wasn’t because I was trying to achieve the highest level of heaven or become a god, instead it was out of the outpour of my love for the Lord. I immediately proceeded to write a letter to the Mormon Church wanting to have my name removed off of the rolls. But that letter was disregarded and no one responded to me at that time.
It’s a reciprocal love, but someone has to initiate it. God initiates it and we respond to it.
RM: Shortly after you were saved, you began going on mission trips to Utah to share what you had learned with others still in the Mormon faith. How has your passion for ministry increased through these experiences?
RE: Over the years the Lord has let us organize short-term mission trips to Utah for about 2,000 high school and college students. It has increased my passion because I have seen God work through so many people in so many different ways. I can see that seeds are effectively being planted and watered and a lot more can be done by getting more people involved. I see that when students come on a mission trip they learn more about what they believe and how to articulate it to others. After a week mission trip, the students go home more grounded and are hopefully continuing to reach out to Mormons. God has been so gracious to provide us with people from all over the country with the same heart to reach the unsaved. God works through imperfect people like me. He works through me in spite of myself, my flaws, inadequacies and sinful nature. It [ministry] makes my life meaningful, it gives me a special reason to wake up in the morning.
RM: You then formed a formal ministry named Utah Partnerships for Christ. It takes high school and college-aged mission teams to Utah. Why these specific age groups and how do you equip them to share their faith?
RE: I spend a whole day with them at the church or school where we do everything from role playing, to discussions. We have question and answer time, we watch videos, we read articles, and take a look at history. These activities equip the students with a background knowledge of Utah and gives them a feel for Mormonism even before they come. It’s important for the students to know their faith and the main differences between [Christianity] and Mormonism, especially when it comes to terminology. We [put emphasis on the fact that] they need to take time to redefine terms because Mormons use biblical terms with non-biblical definitions. It’s important to identify the difference and be able to explain them. There are a lot of great resources we use to show how the Bible is a trusted, verified source. As Christians, we also have archeological evidence, literature, and such where Mormonism doesn’t have any of those types of evidences.
My focus on high school and college-age kids stemmed from the mission trips I took as a high school student. I wanted other young people to have the opportunity to have similar experiences that can make a positive impact in their lives, and others, as it did mine. These students are in a phase of life where they have a lot of energy and flexibility with time. They are very impressionable with so many different things trying to influence them and earn their attention. The experience of having that one week in Utah where they were commissioned by their church to be true missionaries should carry on with them the rest of their lives. So by reaching them when they are younger it is my hope that it will have a long lasting effect.
RM: Many Mormons believe they are saved. What is the biggest deception Mormons fall into within their belief system?
RE: They are taught from a very young age that they are the only one true church that has a true prophet and true temples, where if you perform their rituals in that temple it will give you the opportunity to be with the Heavenly Father when you die. And if you don’t do these things then you are stuck in a lower chamber of heaven where you won’t be with Jesus. To them God is not the God of all eternity who was and is to come, instead they believe he was just a sinful man like you and me. Their belief system is very similar to Greek mythology and it is an insult to God and what He is all about. The Bible is not enough for them so they add more doctrines and scriptures, one God is not enough so they add more gods, and even one wife is not enough so they make practicing polygamy a requirement to attain the highest level of heaven.
RM: Why does Mormonism place such a heavy burden of “works” on its followers?
RE: Mormonism places such emphasis on works because that way they can control you. They set up their superficial appearance to show they have everything under control. They have all of their rules requiring their members to pay tithing into their system, go on their mission, attend their church, all of the works required to earn your way into eternity, etc. Their rules keep everyone in order, unified. It’s just not biblical. Romans and Galatians are two books [of the Bible] that every Mormon should really read through.
RM: In July 2008 you became the station manager at The Truth Radio Station [AM820 & FM95.3] in Salt Lake City that broadcasts a selection of Bible teachers and Christian talk shows. How has this been accepted within the Mormon community?
RE: The radio station is so great because it covers 80 percent of Utah and it runs around the clock. We’re unique in that we have Bible teachers that the other stations do not have. In the Mormon community the response is all across the board. I had one Mormon friend tell me that he would drive to work early just so he could sit in his car to listen to a Bible message in privacy so he wouldn’t be disturbed or discouraged from hearing the truth. It ultimately led him to leave the Mormon Church. Other times I’ll receive an email asking why we are attacking and saying bad things about Mormonism. It’s kind of like the parable of the sower. Some seeds fall on rocky ground or among the thorns. Sometimes the birds take it away, so it is lost. And other times it falls on good soil and produces abundantly. It is worth it to be able to broadcast God’s word and reach those who allow God’s word to change their lives.