Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

The Missionary Experience And The International Church
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

Diane Lewis visited Derek Waldron, twenty, of Costa Mesa, California, and Sean Cowley, nineteen, from Medford, Oregon, Spanish-speaking missionaries in Garden City, Kansas. They are up at 6:30 every morning to study. At 9:30 A.M. they begin to knock on doors, talk to people in the streets, and hold appointments. They keep this up until 9:30 P.M. Waldron says, "It all comes with being a missionary. I can and will give it my best and do everything I've been asked to do." He thought it was "awesome to see the families before and after they find out about Jesus. People 's lives change." Neither Waldron nor Cowley knew Spanish before. "You study your language and how to teach in the MTC," Waldron said. "Then you get to the field, and that's where you really learn." Cowley said, "Sure, sometimes you miss your girlfriend or your mom, but this is the goal I set for myself."

Mike Hayman returned from a mission in Colombia to Grand Island, Nebraska, with only the suit on his back; he had given away everything else. He advised missionaries to learn from the culture and live with the people. He coped with 110-degree days and a dangerous political climate. One day he visited a family to find their house destroyed by a mud slide. "I just sat with them and cried." He found the people humble and generous, always offering him food and drinks. "It's when I realized they couldn't afford to give me anything but did anyway that I was really amazed by the Colombians." Mike thought he had had "a life-saving experience, I had witnessed a lot of odd and great things, and it was just wonderful."

Kate Silver of Las Vegas followed Elders Hampton from North Carolina and Davis from Florida around for a day. They knocked on doors, but were sent away. They later visited a member family where they are great favorites of the children. They often came by to read scriptures and play board games. They adjusted their message to their audience, and after much prodding, they morphed into "lyrical gangstas," unveiling a rap they call "Mormons in the House." Hampton beat boxes while Davis rapped.

Hey, yo, would you stop and listen/
I wanna drop a beat to you about my mission/
We got this book we call the bomb/ [BoM]
The Book of Mormon that is it, this is not a con/
We got Lehigh, (sic) a prophet, he left Jerusalem/
He asked his friends and family if they would like to come/
They said, "Yeah, sure! I come along with you/
To hear the word of God, He can tell us what to do."

The beaming kids clap along. These elders, "with their slight Southern drawls, quick smiles and down-home politeness," have baptized eight people in three months. They note that only one of every 100 residents invites them in and only one of every 1,000 is baptized.

One young man joined the church for his high school girlfriend. She would not marry him unless he went on a mission, so he worked and saved money for a year, arriving in his first mission area the day his girlfriend married someone else in the Salt Lake Temple. He came back a different person. "That mission was the whole foundation of my life. Even when times have been bad, I've known that the church is true, that the gospel's true. All the things that happen are insignificant if you know that the gospel's true. The missionary who baptized me probably knew I was doing it for the girl. I wish I could tell him that I went on a mission and that fifty more people joined the church and two or three of them went on missions, that now I have two children, and about all the positions I've held. I'll bet he'd be shocked."

One woman refused to pay any attention to the missionaries her husband had invited in. "But I got curious. They started coming for meals and the first thing I knew we were all scheduled to be baptized. . . . I liked the good, clean living. I liked the missionaries. I thought, 'This is the way I'd like my boys and girls to be.' They were all enthusiastic about it. They've all stayed good members except one daughter who has turned Catholic. That's not a bad record."

A serious conflict of interests marks the initiation of new members into the Church. Missionaries want to baptize as many people as they can before being transferred to another area or heading home, leaving congregations to integrate converts. The converts may have been insufficiently introduced to the rigors of Latter-day Saint life; they may be under the spell of a particularly charismatic missionary. If baptismal decisions were up to ward members, they might wait for stronger signs of conversion. Church leaders agree that retention is a serious problem. To meet this challenge, the Church has brought local missionary work, which had been under stake direction, under ward direction to encourage member involvement. Baptizing new members and socializing them have been brought together.

Mormons say that their missionaries do not convert people. Only God could "get a religion so radically unique, with a history so young and tempestuous to work . . . attracting everyone from Adventists to Zoroastrians."

International growth has come from missionary labors. In the early days, missionaries traveled through the United States and then England and Scandinavia. During the twentieth century, Mormons already in the United States began to leave Utah and the Mountain West to travel west and east for education and work, crossing the mountains to California and Oregon, and then establishing outposts in Washington, D.C., Boston, New York, and elsewhere. After World War II, far more Mormons left Utah than gathered there. They took Zion with them, reproducing in city wards a similitude of the close-knit LDS communities. Wards organized dances, speech contests, three-act plays, and choral performances. Comprehensive Church cultural programs of athletics and arts filled members' time. The aim was to recreate the Mormon villages.

As growth has moved from new areas within the United States to Latin America, Africa, and the Philippines, however, the Church abandoned this labor-intensive establishment. Leaders have consolidated meetings and emphasized programs that travel easily to other nations. The process of streamlining and coordinating is termed by Church leaders "correlation."

In April 1979, concerned with the plethora of Church-published materials, leaders in Salt Lake City demonstrated that just a single copy of every handbook printed would fill two trucks. President Kimball described this as "a perilous problem [that] must be solved." Leaders were urged to reduce, streamline, and simplify. Fewer, widely translated publications resulted. The big conferences of the past, which served to coach members for Church positions, were replaced with simpler, comprehensive materials, published in sixth-grade language.