Choice and the Bubble Gum Baron


The jaded, blank-faced crowd congesting the Las Vegas strip paid little attention to the boy behind the wheel of the shiny Corvette. “Just another kid out cruising in his father’s car,” thought anyone who happened to glance his way.

But that was all right with 18-year-old Jack Farley, because he didn’t care much for the crowd, either. He had other things on his mind. He’d started working at age 14, and four years later he’d become sort of a bubble gum baron, controlling his own vending business. He’d paid for the Corvette himself and he’d driven it from the California coast to the desert resort town for an exciting weekend.

Yet something was bothering him. Something wasn’t quite right. His mind kept reverting back to what those Mormons were teaching him in the Sunday School class he’d started attending—things like service to others and eternal families. He’d be missing that church Sunday. Or maybe he wouldn’t—what was he doing here anyway? If he turned around now, he could easily make it back by morning.

The decision to drive back to his home in Mission Viejo, California, was one of the most important choices Jack ever made. Although he’d fought and won many battles in his life, the choice to go home for church led to what he considers the ultimate victory of his life so far. “I’m real thankful for the Church,” he says, “real thankful. I can’t even dream of where I’d be without it. Outside the Church, it’s like you fall into a river and it carries you wherever it goes. In the Church, you have control.”

Jack had been battling strong currents in that river for a long time. He began one major battle clear back in the third grade. Although it was obvious that he was a bright child, he couldn’t keep up with the other kids in school. “I was diagnosed as having dyslexia,” Jack explained. “That’s a reading disability where your letters sometimes appear to be jumbled up a bit. Sometimes Ds look like Ps and stuff like that. You can still read; it just takes a bit longer.”

It took Jack a lot longer. He was placed in special classes and got a lot of help from specially trained teachers, but he never quite caught up. “The gap between me and the other kids just kept getting wider and wider,” he said. “At times, when the teacher would call on me to read out loud to a class of about 30 kids, it was embarrassing when I couldn’t even sound out the word the.

But if Jack had trouble reading, there was one thing he excelled in, and that was work. Hard work. At 14 he got a job in a print shop, sweeping and doing various other cleanup chores. After that, choosing to work diligently became easy.

Work provided the reinforcement Jack wasn’t getting in the classroom. “I was behind all my friends at school, but I was doing really well at work, and I started learning about business,” he said. He decided to try his hand at entrepreneurship. With a little training and a lot of inspiration from a concerned teacher at his high school, Jack started a vending business.

“My main thing is gumball machines,” he explains. “I have about 100 in stores—mom-and-pop type stores, where I had to get permission from the owners to put them in. I also have a few pop machines, but I like gumball machines better. It just comes down to how much time you spend on getting new locations as to how much money you make.”

And Jack did make money. Lots of it. He met his material goals of buying his own sports car and just about anything else he wanted. He joined a special school/work program, where he could incorporate his business with his studies. Before he knew it, he had graduated from high school and was out on his own. “I should be happy now,” he thought. But he wasn’t.

“There had to be more. All I had faith in was money, and that had nothing to do with happiness at all,” he said. That realization started his search for the truth. He thought it might be a good idea to thank Heavenly Father for all the blessings he’d been given, so he went to pray in the only nearby church he knew of—San Juan Capistrano, the famous Catholic Mission, built centuries ago. It seemed logical that the Lord would hear his prayers from such a place.

The Lord did. In response, he sent a messenger to Jack’s door. But it wasn’t the type in a suit, white shirt, and tie. It was Randy Smith, an insulation salesman and a recent convert with a lot of enthusiasm. He started talking to Jack about insulation, and somehow the subject got around to the gospel. It didn’t take Randy long to invite Jack out to the missionary prep class that his brother Tom taught.

“But I didn’t join right off,” Jack said. “I kind of sat back and doubted for a while, but I wish I hadn’t.” His Las Vegas excursion helped him appreciate the truths they were teaching him. “I looked around at the people there and thought ‘Lots of these people have money, but they’re still looking for something to make them happy,’” Jack said. Maybe he really could find what he was looking for in the Church.

He’d previously been attending Sunday School with a lackadaisical attitude, but now he decided to take the gospel seriously and learn some more. He began the missionary lessons and discovered that it would take the gospel to make him happy—happier than banking billions from bubble gum ever could. “Once the missionaries started teaching me, it only took about a month and a half before I was baptized,” he said.

Jack’s choices didn’t end when he joined the Church, though. Other decisions were in store. “I decided to go on a mission right after I decided to get serious about the gospel,” Jack said. “I thought, if it’s true, it’s all true, and of course you want to tell other people about it. It would be wrong not to go.”

But what about his business, and what about his car? “I sold the Corvette,” Jack says, with a surprising lack of remorse. “The insurance was costing me a fortune anyway.” The bubble gum business is still booming, however. His mother will manage it while he’s in the mission field, and the profits will help keep him afloat financially.

Jack feels he is well prepared for the mission field, but when his call came, he was stunned. He will be serving in the Japan Nagoya Mission. He was surprised that with his reading disability, he would be called to learn such a difficult language as Japanese.

“I was confident I would go to an English-speaking mission,” he said. “When I went to take the language aptitude test, I asked the girl who administered it which were the hardest languages, and she said both Chinese and Japanese were challenging. I thought, good—at least I won’t have to worry about them. Then when I got my mission call, I was surprised.”

But Jack doesn’t worry about the battle with the language. “When you’re doing the work of the Lord, he’s going to help you out. When I first got a Book of Mormon, I found it really hard to read, but since I started reading the scriptures, my reading has improved, and it’s the first time I can really see that improvement.”

Jack pulls out the scriptures, and reads, out loud, his favorite: Alma 32:28. It talks about the faith he needs to serve, and the faith the people need to receive his message: “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

As Jack reads that scripture, you notice that he reads clearly and precisely; he doesn’t stumble over a word.

Hey Jack—did you know you just read that scripture perfectly?

“I did? Wow, well thank you. I guess I’m getting a lot of help.”

The same Spirit that helped Jack choose to head home from Las Vegas is still helping him now. And it will continue to help him as he teaches the Japanese.

Editor’s note: Since this story was written, Elder Farley has completed training in the MTC. He is now serving in the Japan Nagoya Mission.

[photos] Jack always was one to carve his own niche. When it became evident that he’d never be an academic standout due to his dyslexia, he got some hands-on vocational training and started a bubble gum vending service that would eventually help fund his mission. And when it became evident to him that he needed more religion in his life, he found his own niche—the Church—with the help of some friendly elders.

[photos] Looking back on it all now, Jack is slightly embarrassed that making money meant so much to him. He knows that the simple pleasures found in his own home can bring more joy. Those simple pleasures include the good company of a pet bird named ‘Lima,’ and being able to read and understand the scriptures.