Light through the darkness: Jordan Peterman and his angels

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Holding the door tightly, a seven-year-old boy did as he had been taught; he asked the police who came to his door whether they had a search warrant or not. They did not, so he immediately shut them out.

Jordan Peterman’s childhood was wrought with poverty, abuse and periodic homelessness. Hope and determination slowly grew as “angels” provided safe havens, supported him and encouraged him to realize his dreams. Currently studying exercise science at BYU with a goal to become an orthopedic surgeon, Peterman embraces his childhood experience as a motivator to seek for a better life.

Peterman was born in Sedalia, Missouri when his mom was 17 years old. He never met his dad. Peterman and his mom lived with his mom’s boyfriend. His little sister was born when he was in second grade. 

Family life was complicated for Jordan Peterman, but mentor Betty Hopkins helped him smile and feel he mattered during his grade school years. (Courtesy of Jordan Peterman)

Peterman said his mom’s boyfriend was a volatile, aggressive and abusive man who would punch him in the stomach or kick him for simple inconveniences, such as not being able to find the television remote. 

Peterman said he was taught to not talk about the real cause of his bruises. Rather, since he was an active child, he was told to attribute the bruising to a fall or other mishap. 

The relationship between Peterman’s mom and her boyfriend was unstable. When they were with him, he provided shelter, food and, for his mom, drugs. When they were not with him, they were homeless, Peterman recalled.  

“I remember one winter we slept in a chicken coop with my mom and my sister,” Peterman said; (his mom’s boyfriend0 was in jail at the time. “I remember being so cold. It was horrible. It was unreal. So, he came back, and we had a house.”

Peterman explained he grew to appreciate his mom’s boyfriend, despite the abuse, because of the “shelter and water” he would provide.

Betty Hopkins has been Jordan Peterman’s mentor since he was in kindergarten. He calls her one of his angels. At 97, she continues to offer him love, strength and support. (Courtesy of Aletta Drummond)

“I never pitied myself,” Peterman said of his younger years. “You only know what you know.” As a child growing up in his circumstances, he was naive to the depravity.

Yet, someone noticed. Betty Hopkins entered Peterman’s life when he was in kindergarten. She became a special grandma to Peterman through Missouri’s youth mentor program. 

Hopkins was a constant in his life, and he found strength in the love she had for him.

“Betty is one of the greatest things that has happened in my life,” Peterman said.

Peterman shared Hopkins would take him out to eat on the weekend and when she noticed Peterman needed shoes, she bought him shoes. Every Wednesday she would join him at school for lunch.

“I got to sit and have lunch with her. She would bring a Lego set to build together,” Peterman said. “I felt like I was special.”

Hopkins introduced him to church, and on Sundays they attended a Christian worship service together. Peterman explained he later realized he always loved going to church because people who did not even know him were nice to him. 

“I wanted that. I wanted to be able to smile at somebody,” he said.

At school, he became concerned that kids might notice he was wearing the same clothes for several consecutive days. He did not want anyone to know of his poverty-stricken circumstances or where he lived. So, he decided to ride the “rich boys bus” home from school to give the impression he “had money.” Then he stealthily got out of the neighborhood and walked home for an hour and a half.

Jordan Peterman talks about what got him through childhood years of poverty, abuse and repeated homelessness. (Lynnette McConkie)

Though Peterman was not doing well in school, he moved from grade to grade. Fifth-grade year introduced him to another important angel. 

Matt Herren, an astute counselor at his middle school, noticed Peterman’s bruises and quickly discerned his needs. 

“He kind of knew what was going on,” Peterman said, “He helped me move away from the abuse, and I moved in with my great aunt Aletta.”

Aletta Drummond lived in New Franklin, a small town far away from Peterman’s friends. She agreed to be Peterman’s guardian when he was 12 years old. The initial transition proved to be a challenge.

“As a young teenager, he displayed a disrespectful attitude towards adults,” Drummond said.

In Sedalia, Peterman had enjoyed his unrestricted freedom.

“I got to hang out with my friends every night and really do whatever I wanted,” Peterman said. He had never had a parental figure.

However, with his aunt setting clear, consistent boundaries and expectations, it was not long before Peterman’s attitude and outlook on life changed, he said.

Drummond saw a new resilience in the face of peer pressure. As well as this, his academic performance went from failing to receiving the highest marks with honors.

“He consistently made conscientious choices, opting for the path that he knew would not only avoid detrimental consequences but also paved the way for a more promising future,” Drummond said.

After four years, Peterman moved in with Matt Herren and his family.

“This was where I really came involved with Jesus,” Peterman said.

Kristen Herren would get up early every morning to read scriptures on the porch. This devotion toward God made a strong impression on Peterman. 

Devout Christian Protestants, the Herren family provided Peterman the opportunity to participate in worship services on a regular basis. He and Eli Herren became like brothers. Together they started up and ran an evangelical youth group.

“I was throwing people at Jesus,” Peterman said.

As the worship leader, he headed up the band and delivered some sermons. He was constantly inviting high school peers to come to their activities and worship services.

One of the friends he invited to the youth worship group, Isaac Townsend, was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Herrens were adamantly opposed to this church. As such, Peterman had heard many persuasive opinions and read many negative articles about this religion. 

Intent on disproving the Townsend family’s faith, Peterman went to their home prepared with arguments, but there was always a good rebuttal.

Peterman explained the previous few years led him to think deeper. As a child, he largely enjoyed going to church because there was free food and companionship. Then, the passionate and urgent message delivered through the entertainment of lively sermons, a band and stage effect became a motivating factor.

Growing up, Jordan Peterman attended many Christian churches. When he was 16, he said he decided to seriously consider the doctrine of Christ to find truth. He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2020. (Courtesy of Jordan Peterman)

Through his conversations with the Townsend family, Peterman felt a peaceful reassurance.

“I began to understand Jesus is going to help everyone,” he said. “If you want God, He won’t turn you away.”

Peterman did not want to “freak out” about Jesus Christ. He wanted to understand the doctrine. He began to consider going to church for God.

One day at school, he decided to read the history of the young boy prophet, Joseph Smith Jr. Peterman said “everything clicked.” He decided to pray and ask God. 

“You kind of just need that one prayer — that one moment where you know the truth,” Peterman said. “I prayed and bawled my eyes out; it hit me like a semi-truck.”

Peterman was baptized into his new faith.

The decisions that faced Peterman after this were difficult. He loved the Herren family and continued to feel loved by them, but they were strongly against his decision to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They decided it would be best for Peterman to move out.

Nearly 17 years old, Peterman had learned to set and reach goals. He was committed, hard-working and independent. It was at this time he filed with the State of Missouri and was granted the status of emancipated minor, exited the foster care system and began his life independent of legal guardians. 

Always concerned about his sister, he began a path to become her guardian, but realized he was not able to give her what she needed. So, he did the next best thing he could think of and helped connect her with a family who could support her.

Elder Jordan Peterman and and his trainer in Peterman’s first mission area. He and Elder Michael Rindlisbacher served together as missionaries in the Guatemala Quetzaltenango Mission. (Courtesy of Michael Rindlisbacher)

He rented a little apartment for $400 a month, taught music lessons, worked at Walmart and continued his schooling through work study.

After attending UVU for a semester and earning his CNA, Peterman began his two-year service as a full-time missionary for the Church in the Guatemala Quetzaltenango Mission.

Michael Rindlisbacher, Peterman’s trainer in Guatemala, immediately noticed Peterman’s dedication to become a good missionary and speak the language of the people. 

“He was absolutely determined to improve really quickly,” Rindlisbacher said. “He spent great effort and learned Spanish more quickly than any other missionary I have seen.”

Friends of Peterman continue to be inspired by his resilience, unwavering determination and willingness to do what is necessary.

Jordan Peterman gives credit for where he is today to the grace of God through Betty Hopkins, the Herren family, Aunt Aletta, the Townsend family and good friends Eli, Isaac and Michael (among others).

“I would not have made it without all these angels,” Peterman said. “All my life God has sent someone to help me. Every time I was in a corner there would be a ladder there to get me out.”

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