When twins James and Jeremy Ruesch were eight months old, their mother, Lisa, hurt her arm and was not able to care for the two energetic babies during the day while her husband was at work. When babysitters volunteered to help out until she healed, James and Jeremy were split up between two tenders. They screamed the entire time they were apart. Once back together, the babies were quiet and content. After that, Lisa never tried to separate her boys. For 19 years they have rarely been apart, and even then for no more than a day.
Now Jeremy and James are going their separate ways. They left on the same day for their respective mission fields: Jeremy to the Paraguay Asunción North Mission and James to the Argentina Rosario Mission. Getting to the point where each is prepared and enthusiastic to serve a mission is part of their life story.
James and Jeremy graduated from high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, but they can’t say Raleigh is their hometown. Their father is in the military, so they have had many hometowns as they have moved with him on his different postings. But wherever they have lived with their father, mother, and younger sister, Tori, they have set a fine example of Latter-day Saint values that has affected each school and each group of friends in every town where they have lived.
Their dad, Gary, says it has been one of their accomplishments to move into a new school and raise the level of behavior and language among their classmates.
At first glance, the Ruesch brothers seem identical, although they hate dressing the same. As a child, Jeremy fell against the edge of a table and ended up with a scar near his left eye. That’s one sure way of telling them apart, and they often catch people looking for the telltale scar. The other is that Jeremy is left-handed and James is right-handed. Their track coach, however, has taught them to use the same leading leg over the high hurdles, one of the track events in which they excel.
The ongoing joke is that Jeremy is the smart Ruesch and James is the athletic one. It’s funny because the difference in their straight-A grades is measured in 10ths, as is the difference in their race times on the track—differences that are hardly noticeable except to them.
Jeremy says, “We are so similar in behavior, in attitude, in common interests, in the way we react to the environment around us. I don’t think there are a lot of things I could distinguish between the two of us.”
James continues, “We are who we are because of each other. We’ve always had a good friend as well as a brother with the same values. That has helped when we’ve moved around.”
It helps, too, that their outgoing personalities ease the way in making new friends. And they’re not afraid to let their new friends know they are members of the Church.
“People are going to ask,” says Jeremy, “What is the difference between your church and my church? What do you guys believe? They’ve been told things about LDS people by their pastors and parents, but then they know us. And they know that we’re good kids, and they see the example we are at school and the decisions we make. They know some of the things they’ve been told can’t be true. It doesn’t fit us.”
James says, “People accept Jeremy and me and know our standards. We’re the Mormon twins. For example, we’re involved in a lot of athletics. In the locker room it can get kind of sensitive to the ears. Jeremy will say, ‘Hey, watch the Mormon ears.’ He says it in a joking manner but letting them know that it offends us, and that we don’t like hearing that kind of thing. After a while, people will say, ‘Sorry, forgot. Mormon ears.’”
Jeremy continues, “And pretty soon other friends say, when someone else is swearing or taking the Lord’s name in vain, ‘Hey, whoa, we’ve got Mormons around. Can’t say that around these guys.’”
Their friends learn that there are certain activities in which Jeremy and James won’t participate. If they suggest something to do, they might stop and say, “Well, the Ruesches can’t because they’re Mormon, so we’ll do something else.”
Day-to-day life offers opportunities for the Ruesches to teach. “When we get to know new people, they find out that we don’t drink ice tea,” says James. “Because we live in the South, they simply cannot believe we’ve never had tea, ever, not one sip.”
“They find it hard to believe that someone can have such strong convictions,” says Jeremy. “We have to explain that our beliefs are a part of our lives. Our values are a priority.”
Jeremy and James have a strong sense of individual worth, but as twins the whole idea of individuality is an interesting one for them to think about. When they are faced with temptations, they only have to glance at each other before one or the other will say what they are both thinking. They know they can rely on each other to make the right decisions.
“I don’t know if I really do feel like an individual,” says James. “Jeremy and I are best friends for life. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been apart for more than a day. We’re always together. Other guys can call up one friend, and the two of them will hang out. If it’s Jeremy and I, we have to call another friend to come and hang out with us.”
“We are who we are because of each other. Growing up, we’ve each had a great friend with the same values,” says James.
But what if you don’t have a twin to be there always supporting you and encouraging you to make the right decisions?
Jeremy and James have some advice, the same advice they give to their 12-year-old sister, Tori.
“I know if my sister picks good friends with good families, it will help. She’ll turn out better with the support of awesome friends.”
James says, “You can’t make people like you, but you can make yourself more likable. Be kind to people. Be interested in what they are doing and what they have to say. Talk to people. Choose friends who will build you up.”
As Jeremy and James were growing up, they developed strong testimonies of their own. “The faith of a child,” says James, “that’s where it started. We do family scripture study every morning at 5:45. I owe my parents everything. I’ve been blessed, and I’ve tried to do what I know is right. That has built my testimony. I’m taking my testimony to heart, applying it, understanding it, believing it.”
“You take seminary,” says Jeremy, “and really start studying the scriptures. The more I study, the more I learn and understand about the gospel. Every little thing makes sense. The things I’ve learned in seminary have been a huge boost to my testimony.”
Now the Ruesches are taking their testimonies to the world. They are separated for the first time in their lives, yet they are united in the message they are teaching in another language in other parts of the world.
They are more than willing to dress the same. But more importantly, their message is the same. It’s a twin thing.