Dominic Gutierrez grew up in adverse conditions. As a teenager in Safford, Arizona, he was plagued by childhood memories of homelessness and abuse. He began to believe that his life had little to no purpose, and that God did not really exist.
He remembered that a friend had previously given him a Book of Mormon, which he had stowed away in his room. One day he decided to crack open the cover and read the introduction. As he began to read, he was overcome with an inexplicable feeling.
He told LDS Living, “It was the best thing I had ever felt in my entire life. I wish I could describe it in words. … It felt as if everything beforehand didn’t matter. It felt like someone actually cared about me that entire time, and I didn’t see it until then.”
He was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2019. His love for the God that he once did not believe in, and his powerful conviction that small invitations from members can literally change lives just as they did for him, has strengthened his resolve. Now, Dominic Gutierrez goes by the name Elder Gutierrez, as he is serving a full-time mission for the Church in the Texas San Antonio Mission.
When Life Serves You Lemons – The Power of the Gospel
To say that Dominic had a “hard row to hoe” growing up is a definite understatement. He was born in Tucson, Arizona. His mother had four kids by the time she was 23. She had no education or a stable job. She and her children went from one abusive boyfriend to the next until finally it took its toll on everyone.
He said, “These guys just didn’t treat us well physically, mentally—you know, the whole bit. And eventually it got to the point where my mom said, ‘We can’t keep doing this.’ … So, we started going from abandoned houses … to abandoned apartments.”
Eventually, he and his mom and two of his brothers arrived in Silver City, New Mexico. While the family lived out of hotels, his mom became heavily dependent on prescription drugs.
Dominic recalls, “She eventually got addicted and had a few overdoses and seizures, things like that. And eventually she ended up overdosing and dying when I was about eight. Things didn’t really get much better after that.”
He and his brothers lived with his dad for a year. Later they were taken to Safford, Arizona, to live with their aunt. Money was tight, so their aunt decided to move two hours away to Tucson, Arizona, for work, leaving the boys behind.
At the time, Dominic was in the sixth grade and his brothers were in the eighth. They were given a debit card and a monthly allowance to survive on. They were also able to obtain jobs on the side. After his brothers graduated and moved away to college, Dominic, then a sophomore in high school, was left to fend for himself.
He says, “It was hard. I really didn’t feel like I mattered, or [like] anyone loved me. … I wasn’t going down a good path at all. It was probably the darkest and loneliest time of my life, and I didn’t really know what to do.”
He eventually met Emma Hackett, a fellow cross country team member, and a member of the Church who befriended him. They had a free hour close to Emma’s seminary class, so the topic of the gospel became a natural part of their conversations.
Emma said, “It was never like ‘Oh, this kid is in a [really] bad spot. He needs the gospel.” In fact, she recalls that Dominic was always so positive she didn’t even realize what his challenges were. She continued, “It was just a part of my life that I didn’t want to hide from anyone. And if you were going to be friends with me, then that was just something we were going to talk about. And so, it was just a natural conversation—and Dom is so easygoing in the sense that I could talk about anything, and he would make me feel like it was an important thing to talk about.”
Emma invited Dominic to a missionary farewell and afterward extended an open invitation to come to church with her and her family. For about six months, he went to Church with Emma’s family a handful of times and sometimes even joined them for scripture study and prayer in the evenings.
He says, “They were the most loving, kind-hearted people I ever met in my entire life. Never did they ever force the Church, their beliefs, [or] anything like that on me. They were just so nice to me. I couldn’t understand why because my entire life I just assumed that nobody wanted to be around me.”
After having his experience with the Book of Mormon, Dominic knew he wanted to meet with the missionaries. He was baptized in June 2019, which was the beginning of his conversion story.
The Time Was Right Now
Dominic had recently graduated from High School. Two days prior to his baptism, he was reading the Book of Mormon in his car, pondering what his late mother would think about him becoming a member of the Church. A memory suddenly came to him. He said, “I was a little kid, like four or five years old. I remember my mom woke me up. We were in this … apartment we snuck into just to sleep in overnight. And my mom [was] folding clothes and putting them back in the suitcase or something. And she woke me up. She’s all, ‘Dominic!’ … I remember all my brothers were sleeping. She looked at me and said, ‘My favorite thing about you is you always put people before you put yourself.’ … I had never remembered it until that point. The Spirit works in crazy ways.”
Recalling that memory started him thinking about different ways he could share the gospel. He said, “I knew that I would need to serve a mission. Some of my friends had served missions, and I was thinking that’s the most selfless act in the world I can think of. And I was like, I need to do this. There’s no other way for me to go. I know exactly what my mom wants me to do. I know exactly what God wants me to do. So, I’m going to do it.”
He further said, “I knew that there were so many people out there that didn’t have that opportunity to meet a family like that—that didn’t have that opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ, that didn’t have all these opportunities that I had. And I felt as if it [would] be the most selfish thing in the world if I had this and I didn’t share it with others.”
Called to Serve
The day after his baptism, Dominic met with his bishop to tell him about his plans to serve a mission. After learning that he would first need to wait a year, he moved to Tucson, Arizona, and started college. As he was getting his medical visits taken care of for his mission papers, doctor and dentist offices shut down due to COVID. So, he had to postpone submitting his papers for another two months.
He vividly remembers the morning that his mission call came in at 7:00 a.m. He said, “I literally could not feel my legs. I was so scared. I’d been waiting for this for so long and it finally came.” He called his friend Emma, who was studying at Brigham Young University, to tell her that he had received his mission call. He decided to open the call first and then call Emma back. He stared at his phone screen for 20 minutes before seeing where he was called, feeling emotional that this moment had finally arrived.
Dominic said, “I remember … I opened [my call] and saw ‘You’re called to serve’—and I stopped [reading] before I saw where I was going. I got on my knees. I said a prayer and started crying, and I opened it and I saw where I was going.”
I was so nervous about it, and I couldn’t even imagine what he was feeling. I was just so excited for him to get that call and to see where he was going to spend the next two years. I just was like, ‘He has got this. He knows what he’s getting into, and he is way too excited to not just be amazing [at] this. And I knew with Dom’s personality, too—he’s so friendly and so nice to everyone that he would just be excellent. And so, I was just [really] happy for him to be able to serve and to be able to share the light that he felt so passionately about.
In fact, Dominic was so passionate about missionary work that before he began his full-time service, he shared the gospel with his best friend in Safford, Arizona, and baptized him three weeks before starting the virtual Missionary Training Center (MTC) on 18 November 2020.
The Precious Blessings the Gospel Brings
Dominic was only able to attend the temple a few times before leaving for his mission. But when the San Antonio Texas Temple reopened after being closed due to COVID-19, he went with a small group from his mission where he had a remarkable experience. Remembering that his mother still needed her endowment, he asked that her proxy work be done for her that day.
In his personal relationship with Heavenly Father, Dominic feels His continued support. He commented, “I think the biggest thing is that I’m not doing this by myself. I see as I’m trying to be like Him, He’s trying to help me be like Him. He’s always been there every single step. . . .and it just keeps building my testimony that He is my dad. . .. through and through every good and hard time.”
Dominic adds that while he’s still learning Church doctrine, he knows that charity can be one of the most powerful ways to bring people closer to Christ and he wants to share that love with others.
He further commented:
I think that’s been the best thing I’ve learned from the mission because I don’t know all these crazy scriptures. I don’t know the Church lingo. I don’t know things like that. But I just know that if I love people as much as I possibly can then they’ll see Jesus Christ in this church. They’ll see that this church is the most Christlike as it can get.
He adds that while he’s still learning Church doctrine, he knows that charity can be one of the most powerful ways to bring people closer to Christ and he wants to share that love with others.
When he completes his missionary service next year, Dominic plans on attending college in Utah and has been applying to schools there.