The Best Two Years of My Life: My LDS Mission
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day-Saints (often referred to as Mormons because they believe in The Book of Mormon as holy scripture) view missionaries with the same respect and admiration with which patriotic Americans view those who serve or have served in the military, and often even to a greater degree.
Anyone who is or has ever been a member of the LDS Church, and even anyone who is familiar with it, is likely familiar with the sentiment within the Church that the time spent on an LDS mission is the best two years of a man’s life. While this is not official Church doctrine, it is heavily ingrained within the LDS culture and leaders will often tell young men that they will never do anything more important than what they do on their mission. I was certainly told that a few times both before and during my mission.
It is a completely different story for the women in the Church though and being a mother is considered to be the greatest accomplishment. As a result, young women are commonly discouraged by family and Church leaders from serving a mission if they have the opportunity to marry a young man who has served a mission instead. I have heard a few women in the Church say that their mission was the best eighteen months of their life (women only serve for a year and a half verses the two years that men serve), but it is not terribly common, and some LDS women will look down on other women who are mothers if they still say their mission was the best year and a half of their life, and I have personally witnessed this.
I was converted to the Church when I was in my late teens, and as a convert, I was not officially expected to serve a mission, but I still felt pressured to do so by the culture, my friends, my ward and my leaders. I felt it was duty and obligation to serve a mission, but I also served a mission because, at the time, I completely bought into the Church and was excited to share it with everyone I met, even to those who were not excited to hear about it.
The Church teaches, both officially and culturally, that every worthy young man should serve a mission and I was still well within the acceptable age range for serving a mission, though I was older than most of the other male missionaries. When I served my mission young men started their missions at nineteen and young women started their missions at twenty one, but now it has been changed to eighteen for young men and twenty for young women. I was twenty one years old when I left home for my mission.
There are several reasons for having different ages for men and women to serve a mission, one of the reasons is that having the women serve at an older age than the men reduces the chances of any romance happening between them. Another reason is that young men are expected to serve as a way to learn how to be leaders in the Church and as a way to prepare them for marriage. It is believed that being forced to spend every second of a two year period with another person from a different background and with different interests will prepare a young man for marriage, and it is probably true. Having women serve at an older age dramatically increases the possibility that they will get married instead of going on a mission and it is no secret that it is one of the motivations for having them wait until twenty one to serve.
The reason the age for leaving on a mission was lowered was due to the number of young men deciding in the gap year between high school and a mission that they did not want to serve a mission.
While it is not “officially” taught, women within the Church are heavily coached to date and marry only men who faithfully served a mission and are told that anything else is settling. This directive is two fold, it increases the odds that women will marry men who are strong in the church, which makes raising children in the church easier, and it also greatly increases the odds that a young man will serve a mission since he knows that he might never get married to a faithful LDS girl if he doesn’t serve.
The Church feels that having husbands and father who are strong in the church makes the church stronger and my mission president often told us that the key to getting an entire family to join and remain strong in the Church is to convert the father. More often than not, when the father stops attending church the rest of the family follows, and if he continues to go to church the rest of the family does the same.
As soon as it was clear to people that I was strong in the Church they started talking about me serving a mission, and it was built up so much that I was excited about it. My first calling in the Church was a ward missionary and I would often go out with the full time missionaries to learn how to be a missionary, and in the fourteen months between my baptism and my mission I went out with the missionaries as often as I could, but I averaged about twice a week.
For those of you who are not super familiar with the LDS Church, everyone in the Church is expected to have a calling, and a calling is an assignment given by the Church, partially to increase activity and reduce the chances of skipping church, and callings range from leadership positions to handing out bulletins. Getting a calling from the Church is viewed to be the same as if God himself asked you to do it as it is believed that when a leader says something it is the same as if God spoke it.
With the exception of the highest positions in the Church, no one is paid for their service to the Church. All local positions are on a volunteer basis, including the callings of bishop and stake president. Mission presidents, area authorities, apostles and prophets are paid for their service. I was actually glad to be called as a ward missionary because I wanted to be as well prepared for my mission as I could possibly be. I was constantly reading Church material and studying the doctrine of the Church and I even took religion classes at the Church’s institute building at the university three or four nights a week. By the time I went to the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah I had read The Book of Mormon dozens of times and was more familiar with Church doctrine the the majority of Church members, though I did not yet know that it was the case.
I assumed that all missionaries were as well prepared and as dedicated as I was, but that turned out to not be true at all; a large portion of the missionaries I interacted with, both at the MTC and on my mission, were only there because their parents made them go or because they knew they would have a difficult time getting married if they didn’t serve. More often than not, sister missionaries were better prepared and more dedicated than the Elders since they served because they wanted to and not out of compulsion, but most of them were still not nearly as well versed or prepared as I was. By the way, for the people not familiar with the LDS Church, the female missionaries are referred to as sister and the male missionaries are referred to as Elder because that is the rank in the LDS priesthood they must have to serve a mission.
When I learned how ill prepared and unmotivated the average missionary was I was disgusted. I thought that if the Church is all it claims to be than every member, especially missionaries, should be putting everything they have into living the teachings of the Church and sharing it with the world. Even before my mission I never let an opportunity pass to talk about the Church, much to the annoyance of my extended family.
I considered my mission to be my sacred duty but most of the other missionaries treated it more as a right of passage. With the dozens of missionaries who served as my companions and the hundreds I knew on my mission, I can count on one hand the people who were as hard working and dedicated as I was, and I can count with one finger the number of missionaries who worked harder than I did. I had a lot of disobedient lazy and unmotivated companions, and the rest of my companions were not bad missionaries, I just judged them by the extreme standard that I set for myself, the standard that is apparent in all official Church doctrine and statements about missions.
Most of the missionaries who were put into leadership positions were more interested in looking good to the mission president and getting a good report at the end of their missions than they were about doing everything they could to bring the Church’s message to the world at any cost. To them, a leadership position was a stepping stone to getting a higher calling in their home ward after their mission.
It wasn’t just the missionaries that were unmotivated and unexcited about the gospel, it was also the members. In Hawaii over seventy percent of the members are inactive and most of those who are active do the bare minimum, and getting them to help with the missionary work had about the same success rate as asking them to willingly let me run over them with the car would have. For those and many other reasons I was deeply depressed on my mission. I felt that my depression was a sign that I was not doing enough so I would do more. I went above and beyond while many others didn’t even meet the minimum standard, and I judged them for that, I judged them severely. My motto for my mission was, “Exceed the commitment required” and I wrote that on the back of my name tags. It seamed to me that most missionaries motto was “just to get it over with.” I felt like I had to make up the difference for the other missionaries and ward members who were not keeping their commitments to the Church.
I did not see it them, but looking back I can see that I was extremely judgmental, not just of the other missionaries but also the ward members. I judged the members for not following the church rules, I judged them for not being excited about sharing the gospel, I judged them for thinking that the official Church rules did not apply to their ward, and I judged them for many other things, and they gave me no shortage of things to judge them for.
In one ward the bishop was ordaining young men to the priesthood without first interviewing them to determine their worthiness, and he would give people temple recommends without a temple recommend interview. The missionary that was in the area before told the bishop that it was against Church policy so he said, “That is the Salt Lake City Way, but this is the Hawaiian way.” When the Elder told him that the SLC way should be the only way he called the mission president and demanded that the Elder get transferred because he was disrespectful. That was far from being the only time that wards blatantly disobeyed the Church’s directive, and I often butted head with ward leaders as a result. I guess I somehow thought I was responsible for making sure that everyone else followed the rules as well as I followed the rules.
Since the LDS Church is a church of works and it is taught that no one can be exalted without meeting certain standards, I tried to force everyone to meet those standards. Most of the time my efforts were met with resistance and sometimes anger. Later in my mission I learned to keep quiet about a lot of things, I still judged people for what they were doing wrong, I just judged them silently and kept it to myself. Looking back I am sickened at how self-righteous I was. I was super self-righteous and judgmental up until I started to seriously question the Church, which was at least a year after I returned form my mission. For anyone who is listening who knew me back then, I am sorry that I was such a, well, you know what I was.
I put my all into every aspect of my mission and, even when I was in a zone that had sister missionaries, I almost always got awards for the cleanest car, if I had one, the cleanest apartment and the neatest and most organized area book. I was also often awarded for my scripture mastery and knowledge of the lessons we were to teach to converts .Still, when I reached the end of my mission I did not think I had accomplished nearly enough and even tried to convince the mission president to extend my mission another six months so that I could do more. My request to extend my mission was denied as the Church thought I needed to move on to my next mission, which was to get married in the temple.
I was arguably the hardest working, most obedient and best prepared missionary in the mission, or at least I was when my only competition returned home, but my big problem was that I knew it and was not the least bit humble about it. I wasn’t exactly arrogant about it, but I certainly wasn’t humble either, and I was definitely judgmental of those who obviously did not put in much of an effort.
There was a large Christian Church beside the interstate near Honolulu called Jesus Coming Soon and, I don’t know if it is true or not, but everyone told me that it was started by a man who served his mission in South America and baptized hundreds of people and thought that the Church should make him an apostle for his work. When the man returned from his mission he demanded to be made an apostle and when he was told it didn’t work that way he left the Church, became a born again Christian and started his own church. Several missionaries told me that if I didn’t curb my pride I would wind up like that. In the eyes of anyone in the Church anyone who leaves the Church is basically the worst kind of evil. Pride, while potentially one of my character defects, was not why I left the Church.
Actually, it wasn’t even that I was proud of what I was accomplishing, because I wasn’t; I thought I needed to do far more and I constantly beat myself up about not accomplishing more. I didn’t even take a sick day when I was deathly ill unless I was given a direct order to do so by someone over me. I was hard on the other missionaries for not fulfilling the minimum standard that they had agreed to when coming on their mission and some of them misinterpreted that as pride. It would be have been more accurate to say that I was disgusted with their efforts than to say that I was proud of mine.
For the first half of my mission I got up a full hour before I was require to so I could study more about the Church and better prepare for the day, and the second half of my mission I got up two full hours before I was required to. We were required to study The Book of Mormon thirty minutes every day and spend another thirty minutes studying any of the other scriptures. I not only studied the scriptures when I was required to, I studied them before anyone else was awake, and I read from them every chance I got. If I was in a car and was not the one driving I would read. I would read when we took lunch, I would read in the evening before bed, and every other chance I got.
In the course of my mission I read The Book of Mormon from cover to cover so many times that I stopped counting at twenty seven times, and I knew it so well that other missionaries would tell me I read it too much and needed a hobby. I read the King James Version of the Bible a dozen of times, the Doctrine and Covenants three times and The Pearl of Great Price at least a dozen times. My knowledge of the scripture and Church doctrine was far superior to that of most of the other missionaries, and I personally thought they should be ashamed of themselves for allowing a relatively new member to know more about the church than they did, after all, thy were taught this from birth.
Both on my mission and after, the majority of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that I have known never read the entire Bible, not even once, and even a smaller percentage was familiar with it. when anyone on my mission were to ask me what my favorite scripture verse was I thought it was funny to tell them it was 2 Kings 18:27 because I could laugh at their facial expressions when they read it for the fist time. “But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?”
Halfway through the second year of my mission I came to realize that a mission is far more about preparing and conditioning the youth of the Church to follow the dictates of the Church and to become the next generation of leaders than it is about actually growing the Church, especially the young men, and one of the ways the Church, unofficially, tries to get male missionaries to work harder is to tell them that the harder he works the prettier his wife will be. I was not sure that I believe that, and it did not even slightly influence my behavior on my mission, and judging by the effort most other Elders put in, they didn’t believe it either.
Despite my dedication, hard work and strict obedience, with the exception of training a new missionary the last transfer of my mission, I was never given a leadership position on my mission. I didn’t actually want a position of leadership as I thought it would hinder me from sharing the gospel since there were so many pointless meetings, but I still felt a little slighted that I was never even considered.
By the way, for those of you who are not familiar with the LDS mission lingo, LDS missions are divided into six week intervals called transfers, and when missionaries are moved to a new area or are put with a different companion it happens at the end of a transfer. Some missionaries will stay in one area for many transfers and sometimes only one. It is rare for both missionaries to move out of an area at the same time as the Church likes to keep one there who knows the area, but when both have to be moved they call it a “whitewash.”
Looking back I can see clearly why I was never given any leadership roles on my mission as the Church would rather give positions of leadership to men who don’t follow all of the rules but never question the rules than they would to a man who followed even the most minute details of the rules down to to the letter but questions the motivation and goal of the rules. I was firmly planted in the second camp.
People who don’t follow all of the rules but never question the rules are not likely to leave the Church or cause others to leave, but those who follow the rules to the letter but question the rules are in danger of leaving and causing others to do the same. In other words, people who think too much are a danger to the Church and are not likely candidates for positions of authority.
On my mission I would never have believed anyone if they were to tell me that I would leave the Church, and on the few occasions when someone did say I would I someday leave the church I argued with them and denied even the possibility of leaving the Church, yet here I am.
My general opinion one people who left the Church was that there were no legitimate reasons to leave the church and therefore anyone who left the church did so either out of pride or so that they could sin and not feel bad about it. Again, I was super judgmental and was closed minded about many things and it pains me to admit that.
One time while serving in Honolulu I tracked into a lady with whom I had a conversation I will likely never forget. Tracking, by the way, is when missionaries go down the street knocking on random doors hoping someone will let them talk to them about the Church. This lady was not even slightly interested in the Church, and in the course of the conversation she told me that in ten years I would no longer be a member of the Church. I thought it curious that she did not make the same claim about my companion. I told the lady that in ten years I would come back to her house to show her that I was still a faithful member, but before ten years had passed I had left the Church and became one of those “apostates” that I had so despised on my mission.
My mission had a strict rule against missionaries conversing with apostates, as I am sure all LDS missions do, because it was more likely that they would cause us to leave than it was that we would convince them to come back. We were allowed, and even encouraged, to talk to people who stopped attending but did not align themselves with another faith or have their records removed, but if a person spoke against the church, was excommunicated, had their records removed or was active in another faith we were not allowed to talk to them.
When most Church members come across something in the Church that doesn’t quite make sense or seams to be a contradiction they decide it is just something they don’t understand and if it were important the Church would have told them and they move on. I have never been that way. Whenever I would find something that didn’t make sense or seamed to be a contradiction I would obsess over it and would try to find out why it was the way it was and I would study in depth about it to try and find a way to justify it logically, but I often found that doing so was like trying to square circles.
I have never been happy with not knowing the reason for things, and that often caused my mission president to scold me. I thought that knowing the reasons would would make me a better Church member and a better missionary, but instead it made me incredibly well prepared to later criticize the Church. This is one the reasons why people in the Church are encouraged to never question anything.
During one of the meetings on my mission the mission president announced that he had changed the rules about listening to music from being able to listen to any LDS Church music to only being able to listen to songs sang by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I asked the mission president if he would prefer us to listen to death metal or sexually suggestive songs sang by the choir (if you could get them to do so) over hymns sang by faithful LDS singers, and he said that he would. “You have to agree with me on this, Elder,” the mission president said.
“No, no I don’t,” I replied, quite forcefully I might add. “I don’t have to agree with you on this or any rule, and I don’t have to like the rules, I just have to follow them.”
“OK.” The president said, obviously disappointed, “fair enough.”
Several of the other missionaries on my mission accused me of being a thought criminal, though they had never read the book from whence the term came, George Orwell’s 1984. Looking back it seams odd that I would defend the Church at all costs while still questioning it. I thought the Church was always right and that logically there was a perfectly reasonable and acceptable answer for everything. In time I did find logical answers to all of my questions, but the answers caused a loss of faith rather than increasing it.
I was riddled with doubt on my mission, but it did not stop me from sharing the Church’s version of the gospel with gusto, and in fact, my doubts made me work harder to convince other people of the Church. I thought that convincing others of the Church would also rid myself of doubts and strengthen my testimony.
One thing that upset me after I left the Church was everything I was forbidden to ask questions about, even the things the my leaders denied that the Church believed, are all published on the LDS Church’s official website today and are easily available.
Squid on the barbie
It’s what’s for dinner.
I would often discover something in my studies that gave me a glimpse behind the curtain, and once something is known it can’t be unknown. It was a lot easier not knowing and sometimes I wished that I had never peeked behind the curtain, but I could not forget what I had learned and I could not stop thinking about it. More often than not the answers to a question were more troubling than the original question itself, and instead of offering a resolution they brought about more questions. I had all sorts of internal turmoil on my mission, and I am not just referring to the reaction my bowels had to the strange food I ate with people from cultures far removed from my own.
The first crisis of doubt on my mission occurred at the missionary training center when I discovered that it is official doctrine that no one can be saved without the consent of Joseph Smith. My second crisis of doubt occurred in my first area when I found a blatant contradiction in the official history of Joseph Smith that is included in the standard works of the Church. Another crisis of faith that happened in my first area was when I realized The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants disagree on many key doctrines, including plural marriage. I mad many crisis of doubt and each time I struggled to overcome it and keep the faith.
As I mentioned earlier, I was deeply depresses during my mission. I was depressed because I had doubts, and I was depressed because I though I was sinning for having doubts, I was depressed because I didn’t think I was accomplishing enough, I was depressed because so many members and missionaries did not seam to care about the church. Both on my mission and after, I thought that If my mission was the best two years of my life than I didn’t see what the point of life was because my mission was not a happy time and it was all down hill from there. My first few years home from my mission were so bad that I thought perhaps it was true that it was all downhill from my mission.
I both loved and hated my mission at the same time. I often wondered if what I was accomplishing during my mission was truly the most important thing I would ever do, and if it was truly what God wanted me to do I had no idea why I was so depressed. I often wondered why God didn’t give me some sort of confirmation or reassurance that I was doing the right thing. I didn’t even have a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Church like all other members said they did, and the explanation that I already knew it was true and that is why the Holy Ghost didn’t witness to me it’s truthfulness did nothing to make me feel better.
At some point after my mission I decided that the whole spiritual witness thing was like the story of the empower who had no clothes but everyone pretended to see the clothes so they would not be the only one who didn’t see them. I figured that no one had received any more of a spiritual witness of the Church than I had, but unlike me, they were not willing to admit it because they did not want to be judged by those who had received a witness and all the while the spiritual witness was no more real than the emperors nonexistent clothes. Whenever the thought occurred to me though I judged myself for it and thought I was sinning for allowing myself to doubt and though it was more likely that I was not given a spiritual witness because of some deficiency on my part.
The Church says that a testimony is gained in the bearing of one, which is part of the reason why the first Sunday of every month is dedicated to the bearing of testimonies. Saying that a testimony is gained in the bearing of one is the same as saying to fake it until you make it and that if you tell yourself something long enough you will believe it.
Before, during and after my mission, I bore my testimony every chance I got and to anyone who would listen, but it did little to strengthen my testimony. It felt like I was hitting a brick wall and I was convinced that the Holy Ghost wasn’t proving to me that the Church was true because of something that I was doing wrong, though I was not sure what it might be. I am convinced that part of the reason I thought it was some unworthiness on my part that I didn’t have a spiritual witness was due to my low self-esteem that resulted from my abusive childhood at the hands of my father.
It is odd, I think, that I have always been a prideful person while often suffering from low self-esteem. I would not have thought that the two would go together, but apparently they do, somehow. On several occasions during the course of my mission I was accused of being less than honest by other missionaries and, even though they were joking, I exploded on them. No one ever accused me of being lazy though, not even jokingly. The only time in my life anyone other than my father ever accused me of being lazy was when I worked at McDonalds as a teen, and the manager fired the person who said I was lazy and told him that I was the hardest worker he had ever seen.
My second mission president had fill in the bubble forms we had to use to report our proselytizing efforts and how much time we spent on each activity and what kind of success we had. The numbers were reported to the district leaders who reported them to the zone leaders who reported them to the assistants to the president who reported them to the president. On one of the few occasions when I didn’t have a lazy companion, my companion and I shared an apartment with the district leaders, and when they called to report the numbers I had much higher numbers of hours spent tracking, hours spent doing service, number of discussions taught, number of passalong cards handed out, and higher numbers in every category than all other missionaries in the zone, so when the district leader reported my numbers he ended with the caveat, “if you can believe that.”
I yelled at the district leader and told him that I am well aware that I have a lot of character defects, but dishonesty was not among them. He then apologized and admitted that he had no reason to doubt me but was upset that I always made him look bad because I showed him up. He thought that if he was ever to be promoted to zone leader that he needed to outperform me but was not capable of doing so. The truth was no other missionaries were judged on my efforts and that I was somewhat of anomaly. Instead of being looked at as the standard I was just the unlucky guy who got stuck with the lazy and disobedient missionaries because the mission president knew I would make them work and keep them in line. This, of course, added to my depression and I thought I was being punished for something, but I was not sure for what.
The mission president once asked me if I ever have a difficult time dealing with my childhood and if I was depressed, so I was honest and said that I did have difficulties and that I was depressed. What the mission president said next was surprising; he told me to say that I was not depressed or he would send me home dishonorably, so I said what he wanted me to say and never spoke of it again. I was quite upset with the way the mission president handled the situation though because I though he would somehow help me with the depression instead of making me feel bad for feeling bad. However, I thought that there must be a good reason for the mission president’s actions and figured he was always right, after all, he was the prophet’s nephew.
In the same are I was in when the mission president asked if I was depressed, I was given the laziest and most unmotivated missionary in the entire mission, and since this was only a few months after having a mission companion so bad that the Church excommunicated him and sent him home in disgrace, I was extremely disheartened by it. On many occasions he refused to even leave the apartment, and since missionaries are required to always stay with their companion I could do no missionary work. When I could do no missionary work I insisted on being productive so I studied the scriptures or cleaned the apartment.
One day I gave this Elder an ultimatum and told him that if he refused to work I would report him to the mission president and that I would get a brother from the ward to come sit with him while I went out with the ward mission leader. This Elder had been warned multiple times about being lazy so he told me if I reported him to the mission president that he would kill me and even got a knife from the kitchen to threaten me with.
I knew the Elder was serious but I calmly said to him, “You have a choice to make because things are going to change around here. Either you start to work like your salvation depends on it or you kill me right now, but either way the mission president is going to hear about this incident, the only question is whether or not it will be the police who tells him.”
The Elder put the knife away and I called the mission president and gave him an ultimatum. I said that I did not come on my mission to babysit, I came to share the gospel, and that if he did not either do something to help me get this elder to work or put me with one who would that I was going home because I could sit all day and read back home just as well as I could there. I made it clear that all I wanted to do was to share the gospel and to save people’s souls.
The mission president severely reprimanded me for my attitude and said that I came on a mission to do whatever the Church asked of me and helping lazy, unmotivated and disobedient Elders to see their full potential was what the Church was asking me to do. He said that it should not matter to me if I was saving the soul of a fellow missionary or strangers that I met by knocking on their doors, a soul was a soul. I was also told that if I were to complain about being put with any other problem Elders that would get sent home dishonorably because my goal for my mission was not to be what I thought it should be but what the Church thought it should be.
I hated to admit it, but the mission president was 100% correct. My mission companion was every bit as worthy of saving as anyone else, and when I committed to serve a mission I committed to do whatever was asked of me, regardless of what it was. I realized that I had not even tried to help the companion who went home in disgrace as all I cared about was forcing him to meet the impossible standards that I was holding myself to. I felt bad that I had failed that Elder, and in fact I was ashamed of and disgusted with myself. I vowed to not complain and to do everything I could to help all of my companions, regardless of how challenging it was.
This was just before the one year mark on my mission and I, to the best of my knowledge, I never complained about anything for the rest of my mission. I spent another transfer with this Elder, and when I started to care more about him he started to care more about the work and we had a lot of success. Just before this Elder went home at the end of his mission he thanked me for helping him to end strong and to serve the rest of his mission honorably.
Knocking on doors
The least effective method of finding new converts, yet my mission president insisted we do it at least ten hours per week.
When I had only been out on my mission for three or four months I had an encounter that caused me to dramatically changing my outlook on my mission, on life and on the Church. It wasn’t a quick change and happened so slowly that at first I didn’t know it was happening at all. While tracting in Honolulu, one of the doors we knocked on was that of the pastor of a small Christian Church. I am not sure what denomination he was, but he was likely Baptist, but possibly Pentecostal. I was always excited when anyone would invite us in instead of slamming the door in our faces or sending their dogs after us. This pastor told us that he would allow us in and would listen to anything we had to say for ten minutes without interrupting us so long as we returned the favor. I thought it was a fair deal and I thought we had a good chance of converting this man, but we did not even come close.
At the end of our ten minutes I felt we had done a good job representing the church and thought it just might change the man’s mind. Boy was I in for a surprise.
When the pastor’s turn came he kindly but firmly asserted that the LDS Church was not Christian and gave us Bible verses to prove it, as well as telling us some troubling things about the Church that neither I nor my companion had ever heard. My mission companion tried to interrupt but I reminded him that we had given this man our word and that if we went back on it we would make the Church look bad.
This was far from being the only time someone told me that the Mormon Church was not Christian, but this was the first time anyone had been nice about it with me. Honestly, at this point I was genuinely confused as to how anyone could consider the LDS Church to be anything other than Christian, after all, Christ is right there in the name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day-Saints. While some of the things I heard were a bit unnerving, I still believed that everything the Church told me had to be true.
I wish I had been able to see then that claiming to be Christian does not made a Church Christian, only a correct understanding and belief of the Bible does and that any church that in any way adds to, subtracts from, or denigrates the Bible is not Christian. The Bible says that many will try to get into heaven and say they have done works in God’s name and he will tell them he never knew them. The thought of how many faithful members of the LDS Church will experience this saddens me.
As we were leaving, the pastor challenged us to read from the Bible and to take it for face value and not to judge it by any of our other books or doctrine but to take it on its merits alone, and he promised that it would have a profound effect upon us. So far as I know, my mission companion did not take the challenge, but I did. At first I read the Bible more often so I would know how to better use it to prove the Church was true and that all other churches were wrong, but then I started reading it for the sake of reading it. I had grown up with the Bible and was familiar with it, but I never paid too much attention to most of it and I was then noticing things I had not noticed before, sometimes to the detriment of my testimony of the Church.
Reading the Bible daily had a huge impact on me and I started to use it more and more when we talked to people, and after several of my mission companions complained about the verses I was using and said they put too much of an emphasis on grace, the mission president suggested, but did not request, that I leave the Bible at the apartment and only take The Book of Mormon, and he said I should read the Bible less. He stopped short of saying that I could not read the Bible, but it was strongly implied. Since I was not actually asked to stop using the Bible I continued to use it since I was not technically disobeying. This is one of the many instances where I followed the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. Of course, having the reason for rules explained would have made me more likely to follow the spirit of the law as well as the letter.
When I had just over three months left on my mission, days before I got transferred to my last area, I again knocked on the door of an extremely Christian person. There was a huge cross in the yard and my mission companion said it would be a waste of time to even try as it is impossible to convert someone who is more converted than you are, but I was not dissuaded. In the six months or so I had been in the area I had knocked on every door at least ten times and I had never caught anyone home at this house, but while we were knocking on doors on the other side of the street I saw him working in the yard so I knew he would be home this time.
From the start of our conversation it was clear that this man had a zero percent interest in joining the Church and his only concern was to get us out of Mormonism and to save our souls. The man was extremely nice and I was frustrated that he refused to budge on his beliefs or even consider the possibility that that my church was true. The man told us that the only was for us to be saved was to renounce the false doctrines of the Church, Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon and everything else and to accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, accepting that Jesus is all we need and that he paid the entire price of our salvation.
I later prayed for that man and asked that he would find the truth and I am sure he returned the favor. The thing was though, that already had the truth and I did not.
In my last area I read the Bible far more than I did The Book of Mormon, especially The book of Romans, and I used it often. My. The new missionary I was training ordered me not to use the Bible and said it was inappropriate to use it when talking to potential converts, and he said I sometimes sounded like a Baptist. I was nice but made no bones about it when I told the Elder that he was in no position to give orders, I was the senior companion and his trainer and he needed to learn his place. I also reminded him that since the Bible was in the standard works of the Church it was doctrine.
Toward the end of my mission I also let the Zone leaders know how pointless I thought the weekly district meetings were, I mean, it was never a secret that I viewed them as a waste of valuable time, but I finally put it into words. During one district meeting I made the Zone leader mad by throwing the rules in his face as a way to leave the meeting. My companion and I had an appointment on the other side of the island and we needed to leave in order to make it in time, but the zone leader forbid us from leaving, even though he knew it could potentially cause us to loose an investigator.
“I thought I came on a mission to spread the gospel, not to sit in pointless meetings so I can hear the zone leader pat his own back for hours on end. If I thought meetings were to be more important than actual missionary work I would have stayed home.” I actually said a lot more than this, but I condensed it to the main point.
The Zone leader was extremely upset and again forbid me from leaving so I had him open our new training manual to the page where it said it was approved by the President of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, then I had him read the section on zone/district meetings where it said they should not be shorter than thirty minutes or longer than ninety minutes, then I grabbed my bag and said to my companion, “Grab your stuff, we are leaving.”
The zone leader threatened to call the mission president so I said, “And what are you going to tell him that you are trying to punish me for following the directive of the prophet? I am leaving to go spread the gospel. The rest of you can do whatever you want, but as for me and my companion, we will serve the Lord.”
The person we went to teach wound up getting baptized just before I went home and the Bishop said it was the first convert baptism the ward had in many years. When I was first assigned to the area the bishop told me it had been burned over so heavily that it was unlikely that I would have any success, and he said he felt bad for me that I was given such a dead area for my last area. The Bishop said that he wanted me to work hard but that I should not get my hopes up or expect too much.
During my mission I wrote in my journal every day and while in my last area I wrote,
I am on a fine line between keeping the bishop and mission president happy. The bishop does not want us to tract but the president does. The mission president probably expects me to turn this area around from where it is at, but it is not going to happen in the three months I have left and I will likely not see the results of my labor.
I am afraid that president will not look at my labor but at the results and think that I have failed. If my mission president thinks that I have failed than my home stake president and bishop will think that I failed. The Lord knows that my entire mission I have always done all that was expected of me, and whenever possible, a little more. I only hope that when all is said and done that the Lord will be pleased with what I have done here in Hawaii, and that I’ll be able to look back with no regrets.
There was a lot of pressure on me throughout my mission to succeed, but none so great as what I put on myself. Not only did we, my companion and I, have the first convert baptism in years but we got several inactive families to return to church and another of our investigators got baptized shortly after I returned home. I now shudder to think of the harm that I did by bringing people into the LDS Church and I pray that God will help me to undo the damage that I did. I wish that everyone in the Church and everyone who is considering joining could know everything that I now know about the Church. I pray that everyone in the Church will come to the knowledge that Jesus is enough and that all of the work of salvation was accomplished on the cross and that nothing we can do can add to it, that all of our good works are like filthy rags. We are saved by grace through faith and if the law could save us than Jesus died in vain, but Jesus did not die in vain and only through him can we be saved. Jesus is the only name under heaven whereby man can be saved, it is only Jesus, has always been Jesus and will always be Jesus.
There is so much that happened during the course of my mission that had a major impact on my life and my opinion of the Church that I want to cover, but I can’t cover it all in one episode so I plan on dedicating at least a few more episodes to covering my mission.