Of all the things that relatively recent convert James B. Martino had to set aside to serve a full-time mission in 1970, most troubling was leaving behind his longtime girlfriend, Jennie Marie Baron.
But choosing the right has led to great blessings in his life, said Elder Martino, who was sustained as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy in April general conference.
Though they were members of different protestant religions when they met in nineth grade in their hometown of Denton, Texas, religion was never a rift in their lives. It wasn’t, that is, until Elder Martino followed in the footsteps of his parents and brothers by being baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 24, 1968, at age 17.
During a Church News interview, Elder Martino said of the high school girl he would later marry, “She went through my conversion period. She was convinced that I was not making the right decision, to put it mildly.”
“That’s mild,” Sister Martino concurred.
Friction increased 22 months later when Elder Martino decided to go on a mission.
“I remember saying in my prayers that if she’s the one I’m supposed to marry, let her be there when I get back and let her be ready to be a member of the Church, and if she’s not, then don’t let her be there,” he said. “I remember thinking that my job for the next two years was to thrust in my sickle and serve as hard as I knew, and the Lord would take care of things at home.”
And, as He often does, the Lord did “take care of things at home” while Elder Martino served in the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission, blessing him through other people — in this case, his parents.
“His parents were good missionaries,” Sister Martino said, recalling the time she struggled to understand why her boyfriend would give up his education, his job and his girlfriend to go on a mission. She said they invited her to family home evening and other activities.
Most impacting was their invitation that she join them on a ski trip to Utah that happened to coincide with the Ogden Utah Temple open house.
“They took me through the Ogden temple as a non-member,” she said, “and I thought, ‘I’ve got to find out if this is true or not.’ So I took the missionary discussions and started reading the Book of Mormon and gained a testimony. His parents were doing their missionary work and it paid off.”
Since Elder Martino was about to return, “I wanted to be the last convert of his mission,” she said.
He baptized her on Aug. 18, 1972, shortly after returning home.
They said they resumed dating and decided to marry. They were determined to be married in the temple and, since that required her to be a member for a year, they set their wedding date for Aug. 18, 1973. When asked why they chose to be married in the Ogden Utah Temple, Elder Martino said, “I’d like to give a romantic answer” related to its role in Sister Martino’s conversion. But, he said, “It was the only temple where we could get an appointment in time to allow us to get to Texas in time for a reception.”
That was important so that members of each of their families who didn’t belong to the Church could participate in the wedding day.
“We knew that the authority would be the same in any temple, so we went ahead and picked Ogden,” Elder Martino said.
Elder and Sister Martino acknowledged that that made their wedding day a whirlwind. She received her endowment, they were married, then rushed to Salt Lake City airport for a flight to Denton and an afternoon reception.”
“Then we went to Hawaii the next morning for our honeymoon!” Sister Martino exclaimed.
Reflecting on those events, Elder Martino said, “If I had made the decision not to go on a mission, I don’t think we would have established the priorities we wanted in life. If we had decided to be married before she was a member for a year and couldn’t be married in the temple, I think it would have again set a different priority in our lives.
“We wanted to set these priorities. I think it made a difference to us and our children.”
Sister Martino added it helped that Elder Martino had served a mission when they encouraged their son to go, and it helped that they had waited to be married in the temple when they encouraged their children to do so.
When Elder Martino completed his bachelor’s degree at BYU, he planned on graduate school. But his father asked him if he could return to Denton to help with the family business.
Elder Martino said returning to Denton was the right thing for them to do because it was the place for them to “raise our family and be able to serve in the Church. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been good for us.”
Sister Martino said, “All our children have strong testimonies. They married people with strong testimonies. Our daughters all married returned missionaries. Our son went on a mission. They’ve not been rebellious children. I’ve had a lot of peace in seeing how they’ve grown up. I don’t know how we would have accomplished that without the Church.”
Elder Martino added, “If you live the gospel, it makes being a parent a whole lot easier. Not that there aren’t still challenges. I’m not saying that people whose children do rebel weren’t good parents. But gospel teachings — family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, (“Going to Church every week as a family,” Sister Martino interjected) — make a difference in raising children.”
Elder and Sister Martino said they enjoyed watching their own children gain personal testimonies just as they too had to develop their own.
Elder Martino summed up, “Everybody becomes a convert at some time. It doesn’t matter if you’re born in the Church or not. You have to learn in your heart that it’s true. You have to be willing to let those principles of the Atonement of Christ affect your heart. And when you do, you find that peace and happiness and hope that can only come through the Atonement of the Savior.”