From his early years in Short Creek through adulthood, Terrell Musser’s life story is a tale of remarkable courage and bravery in the face of tyranny and abuse. Welcome to another episode of Hope Heroes. In this installment, we delve into the incredible journey of Terrell Musser, discovering the challenges he faced and the extraordinary resilience that enabled him to triumph over adversity.
The Story of Short Creek
In Short Creek, where Terrell Musser enjoyed a peaceful childhood, the late ’80s and ’90s brought a troubling shift. Warren Jeffs’ rule began to cast a shadow over the town. Initially helping his ailing father, the prophet, Jeffs gradually assumed control. In the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints church (FLDS), absolute obedience to God and the prophet was the norm, leaving no room for questioning.
Within a short span, all the elders in Short Creek swore allegiance to Warren Jeffs, heralded as the one true prophet and the mouthpiece of God. Under his reign, Jeffs controlled every aspect of people’s lives, from clothing choices to vehicle purchases and even how they styled their hair. Dissent was not tolerated.
However, Terrell Messer was unwilling to accept this oppressive reality. At 17, he and his girlfriend made a courageous decision to leave the confines of the church, embarking on a journey into a broader world they had never encountered before. They had been told that leaving the church would lead to failure and misery. Nevertheless, on a snowy December night, Terrell left in his Blazer with no family, no home, and nowhere to turn to.
A Long Road
Life outside the FLDS church was a harsh awakening for Terrell and his girlfriend. Despite learning the value of hard work from a young age, Terrell was ill-prepared for the realities of the outside world. Homelessness soon became their fate, and the couple faced the additional challenge of Terrell being diagnosed with bone cancer. Living in a garage, with his wife pregnant and on bed rest, Terrell could not provide for his family.
Amid these dire circumstances, Terrell and his wife transformed their mindset. They believed that if they took the initiative to help themselves, God would also come to their aid. Facing the possibility of losing his legs and a grim prognosis of three months to live, Terrell’s wife finally took him home after 15 long years away.
A Town Laid Waste
Upon returning to Short Creek, Terrell was confronted with the devastating aftermath of Warren Jeffs’ reign. The once-thriving town had become empty and lifeless, and his own family had suffered at the hands of Jeffs. The town’s desolation mirrored Terrell’s inner turmoil—a place brimming with potential, now destroyed.
As he drove past his childhood home, now abandoned and crumbling, a realization dawned on Terrell. If the house itself stood empty and, meanwhile, he had no home, perhaps here was the answer. He believed that if he could install his wife and future child in this home, they might have a support network throughout his illness and after his potential death.
This solved one problem. But on moving in, the couple discovered a host of new troubles. The church had stripped the home of everything, leaving it bare, even down to the toilet roll holders. Yet, for Terrell and his wife, it was a mansion, a sanctuary from the harsh December cold, even without heating or a stove.
However, the challenges didn’t end there. When Terrell tried to turn on the utilities, he was met with resistance. This was his town, though, one he had helped build. Returning home reignited his sense of purpose.
A New Vision
Terrell began a relentless battle, initially engaging with the Attorney General to seek justice. Then, he turned his attention to the city, determined to transform it into a representation of the people who had once thrived there.
The FLDS held significant influence at the time, running the Sheriff’s Department, the police, and local government. Despite the odds, Terrell persevered in a lawless environment where various self-proclaimed prophets vied for control.
The turning point came when the Short Creek Dream Center, a ministry of Dream City Church, stepped in, offering support to the people as they reclaimed their town. Terrell founded the Short Creek Community Alliance, focusing on empowering the community to rebuild.
They cleaned up voter registration and, eventually, successfully elected their own mayor, allowing the people’s voices to be heard over the church’s influence. They started building bridges, networking, and creating community again. They also reinstated celebrations like the 4th of July and New Year’s that Warren Jeffs had forbidden.
One of their significant achievements was revitalizing an 8-acre park called Cottonwood Park, bringing in lush turf. The Short Creek Dream Center was pivotal in this transformation, providing a safe gathering space and a food bank that fed the entire town. Their unwavering support and commitment inspired the community to give back and reinvest in their town.
Terrell Messer’s journey is a testament to courage, leadership, and community support. His determination to break free from tyranny and rebuild his town has rekindled the spirit of Short Creek, demonstrating the power of resilience and unity and God’s kindness in the face of adversity.