Army of God: My 2 Year LDS Mission
This is the second episode about my two year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka, the Mormons), so if you have not listened to the first one or read it you may want to go back and listen to or read that one after you finish this one because I talked about how my mission contributed to me leaving the Church, among many other things. There, however, is no need to listen to or read the first episode about my mission before this one because I am not going through events in a sequential order and jump around in time, and each episode about my mission is a standalone episode that does not rely on past episodes for setup, but it would be beneficial, I think, to go back and read or listen to the other episode once you finish this one if you haven’t already.
Where the last episode on my mission was mostly intended to show how my mission contributed to me eventually leaving the Church, this episode will mostly be telling interesting stories from my mission in light of my current perspective, as contrasted to the perspective I had on my mission.
During my mission, in my third area, I spent a lot of time with a part member family in an attempt to get the non-member father to join the Church. The mother, who was the relief society president in the ward, was a life-long member, as were all of the children. One day my mission companion and I came over when only the father was home had a long conversation with him, and at some point in the conversation, he told me that I was viewing life through the “Mormon paradigm” and that eventually my paradigm would change and I would see things differently, including the Church. I did not believe him at the time, but what he said was true. My paradigm has changed a lot over the years.
I have not heard from that man since the end of my mission so I am not sure if his paradigm ever shifted enough to allow him to join the Church, but I strongly doubt he ever changed his mind on the Church, or at least not to a more positive stance. The ironic thing is that at the time I thought he would be the one to change his opinion on the Church, not the other way around.
When I first joined the Church, and up until I departed for the Missionary Training Center (hereafter referred to as the MTC) I was told that the missions of the world were filled with the most elite of God’s warriors, but within minutes of arriving at the MTC I knew that I had been sorely misinformed. I am not insinuating that any of them were bad people, they were just average kids who acted like any kids that age would act.
It became apparent rather quickly after checking into the MTC that the vast majority of missionaries there had no desire to be there, especially the Elders, and even among those who wanted to be there I saw nothing that would mark them as elite. Most of the missionaries there only had a rudimentary understanding of scripture, were overly childish and were about as disciplined as a group of high school kids at a party that had no adult supervision. I have often heard the MTC referred to as “spiritual boot camp,” but as someone who has been to boot camp in the US Navy I can attest that the MTC resembles boot camp about as much as a poodle wearing a tutu resembles a police dog.
I was immediately appalled that so few of the missionaries there had even the slightest inkling to meet the minimum requirements that were expected of them, and I was disgusted at how lightly most of the perspective missionaries took the gospel of the Church. As a person who had been convinced that the Church was God’s one true Church and converted to it as an adult, and I use the term adult lightly because I was twenty when I got baptized into the Church, I put my all into the Church thinking that every person in the world should know about the “restored gospel” and expected every member of the Church, especially the missionaries, to feel the same.
Now nearly twenty years later and out of the Church and in in Biblical Christianity, I realize that sending the youth of the Church on a mission is more about molding the minds of the youth so they will remain faithful to the Church than it is about recruiting new members and that adding converts to the Church is kind of a fringe benefit. If the main goal was to convince people to join the Church than they would only send out the best prepared, most knowledgeable and most obedient people to serve a mission, which would mean that upwards of 90% all missionaries would be retired couples who devoted their entire lives to the Church.
Within minutes of getting off the plane in my mission area, the Hawaii Honolulu Mission, I knew that my mission president agreed with me that all members, especially missionaries, should make the “restored gospel” the most important thing in their life and that following the rules was of the utmost importance. I also learned within minutes of getting off the plane that my mission president was rather strict and ruled with an iron fist.
One of the first things the mission president said to us new arrivals was to tell us the areas that we were strictly forbidden from ever going and to make sure we knew that if we were ever caught in any of those areas we would be sent home dishonorably, no questions, no debate, no argument. Some of the places on the “no fly zone” were all beaches, any area that overlooked a nude beach, and the tourist area along Waikiki beach. There were also a few stores on the list, and we were also forbidden to associate with anyone who was openly opposing the Church, regardless of whether they were still a member or not.
The mission president also clearly laid out what he, and in his opinion God, expected of each and every one of us, which was our absolute best. The president said that neither he nor God would be satisfied with anything less than success and nothing less than 100% dedication and obedience would impress them. I completely agreed with my mission president about obedience and dedication and never felt that I was doing enough even though I got up early every morning, studied more than I was required to and refused to take time off when I was sick.
There is a line from the Garth Brooks song "Papa Loved Mamma" that I always said I wanted to be said about me at the end of my mission which was, "He never hit the brakes and he was shifting bears." I also wrote, "Exceed the commitment required" on the back of all of my name tags.
Every missionary was given a mission coin on their first day in Hawaii, which was a coin the size of a silver that had Jesus on the face of the coin with the words, “BE GLAD FOR I AM IN YOUR MIDST.” On the back of the coin the word “ALOHA” was in the center, surrounded by a Kukui Nut lei and around the top edge of the coin was the inscription, “ATONEMENT-LOVE-OBEDIENCE” and on the bottom edge, “HAWAII HONOLULU MISSION.” I always carried my coin in my pocket and still have it to this day, but within a week of arriving in Hawaii most other missionaries either gave theirs away to some kid or had no idea where they had lost theirs.
It was also a mission rule that missionaries had to read the Church’s official missionary handbook and the Hawaii Honolulu’s mission rules every day out loud as part of companion or group study.
Just as it did not take me long after getting off the plane to know the mission president was all business, It did not take me long to learn that a lot of the missionaries there were almost the opposite of what the mission president was and said he expected from us and no more dedicated or obedient than those missionaries I had met at the MTC, but despite the fact that it annoyed me greatly, I only snitched when their behavior directly impacted me or threatened to put the Church in a bad light.
There were a lot of missionaries on my mission who were mostly obedient and dedicated, and some who were dedicated and diligent to the point that I was proud of them, but only a few as dedicated and obedient as I was, and only one that I ever met who surpassed me. As odd and as unlikely as it might seam though, there were no shortage of missionaries who had a more pronounced infection of pride than I did, and that is saying something.
Actually, I was not proud I was just driven and most of the time I would berate myself for not doing more. I always thought I should do more, work harder, study more and somehow be more faithful and obedient. During my mission I never felt like I was prompted by the spirit and I assumed it was because I somehow was not worthy enough when it was actually because the Church was not true.
Mostly what other missionaries mistook as pride was my drive to do more and my disgust with their lack of motivation, their lack of obedience and their lack of concern for “the restored gospel” and their focus on things other than their mission and the Church.
I understand that there is an intense biological drive and an intense attraction to young women among young men, but since I had been told that missionaries were to be the most elite of God’s warriors I was disgusted by the fact that almost every conversation devolved into talking about girls, and not about saving their soul or growing their testimony of the Church. Even the most obedient Elders seamed to be more concerned with and more preoccupied by whom they would marry after their mission than they were by their mission; apparently the mission was not their mission.
A number of Elders I knew became far better missionaries after their girlfriends back home broke their hearts by marrying a returned missionary instead of waiting for them to come home. When the prophet of the Church, Gordon B. Hinkley, visited my mission he said, “Those of you who have someone waiting for you back home should not worry about them, God will take care of them while you are gone, and if not, someone else will. And, I think, that would be the better outcome because it would free you up to worry more about your mission and the people you were sent to help and less about what is going on at home.” Some of the missionaries, both Elders and sisters, wanted to be mad at what was said but felt it would be blasphemous to be mad at the prophet.
As I mentioned in the last segment about my mission, I was highly critical of those who were not doing their duty to God, as I saw it and as written out in mission and Church literature, and as I mentioned already, some took that to be pride, but it was not. More often than not, I did not even make any attempts at hiding my disgust or frustration with those who were not obedient or dedicated and I earned the reputation of being a hard person to be paired with because I was all business, was a stick in the mud, was no fun and was extremely critical and judgmental and forced everyone to obey every small rule and that I was somewhat of a slave driver.
Once I learned about the rumors about me I tried to be a better companion while still not compromising on my beliefs or my promises to myself to God or the Church, and instead of trying to use force I tried to build the other missionaries up in a loving way instead of criticizing them. Early on in my mission people dreaded being assigned as my companion, but it got to the point where people wanted to be assigned as my companion, just not those who were lazy or disobedient because everyone knew I would not tolerate laziness or a disregard for rules.
Because of my obedience, dedication and hard work the mission president decided to make it my personal mission to make sure other missionaries became the best missionary they could be and often assigned the missions worst Elders to me and told me I owed it to them and to God to help them. At first I viewed the assignment as some sort of punishment but grew to view it as an important assignment I was being trusted with, still though, it was never easy and I thought I could do so much more good with a companion who was on fire for the gospel.
I was going about it all wrong at first, but part of the reason I was so upset with missionaries and members who did not care about the Church and its gospel was because I reasoned that if the Church was true and everything it claimed to be than everyone should be dedicating every waking moment to it and that their very salvation depended on it. In a way I was trying to force people to heaven. At this point I realize I was more than a little overbearing. On my mission, and far after, I had lay members telling me I should chill out a little and enjoy life a bit more. I didn’t see it that way though, especially since The Book of Mormon teaches that we are only saved by grace AFTER all we can do (2 Nephi 25:23).
I was often more concerned with helping inactive members to return to Church than I was with finding new people because LDS doctrine is that if a person has not received the gospel in this life they have the chance to accept it in the afterlife, but if you have accepted the gospel in this life and turn from it there is no hope in the afterlife. I don't know why it took me so long to realize that some of my companions were in as much of a need of bing saved as the inactive members were.
Joseph Smith said, “Before you joined this Church you stood on neutral ground. When the gospel was preached, good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposite masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it,” (1). The thought that anyone who had received the gospel would turn from it and leave the Church terrified me and I didn’t want any to be lost.
Some of the missionaries despised visiting inactive members unless there was a non-member living with them who could potentially be baptized because baptisms is what they thought would look good on their record and secure them a leadership position either on their mission or back home and they only reluctantly visited inactive members when the bishop or other ward leaders would ask them to do so.
Gordon B. Hinkley, who was the president of the Church when I was on my mission, was extremely concerned with keeping those who had been baptized within the fold, and the following is an excerpt from the priesthood and relief society manual on the life of President Hinkley.
Strengthening new converts was a constant theme for President Hinckley. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland shared the following account of him emphasizing this theme: “With a twinkle in his eye and a hand smacking the table in front of him, he said to the Twelve recently, ‘Brethren, when my life is finished and the final services are concluding, I am going to rise up as I go by, look each of you in the eye, and say, “How are we doing on retention?”’” (2).
The growth of the Church has been steadily declining recently and last year the Church had the largest mass exodus away from the Church in its 189 year history, so I guess President Hinkley is turning over in his grave and is upset with President Nielsen. The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported on the high number of members leaving.
Amid the 2018 statistic report announced Saturday by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is a startling finding: the largest number of membership records ever removed in a single year — 140,868. (3).
To me, it was no more noble to bring a new convert to the Church than it was to save a person who had once been faithful in the Church and fell away. In a lot of my areas the bishop or stake president were far more concerned with bringing people back to activity than they were with having more people get baptized who would fall away shortly after. In some wards I served in the bishops were firmly against anyone getting baptized until he or she had made friends in the ward, which I thought was smart, because having friends greatly increases the likelihood of the convert remaining active.
One of the things that has always been part of my nature is to go out of my way to help others, and at times it has gotten me in trouble on my mission. One of the times helping others got me into trouble on my mission was when I did a service project doing landscaping for the Krishna temple. My mission president was afraid that if we spent too much time with people who were extremely strong in another faith that it would cause us to loose our faith in the Church, but I viewed helping them as a doorway to explain to them what we believed. My mission president also thought I spent far too much time doing service projects for people in general, but I always felt that they were far more likely to care about what I believed if I first cared about them.
I often disagreed with my mission president but I never disobeyed him, and I was not at all afraid to let my mission president know that I did not agree with him on some issues. Whenever I disagreed with my mission president I was always respectful about it, and I never disagreed with a rule just to be difficult, but rather out of an overwhelming need to know what the motivation for the rule was in the first place. I was a lot more likely to agree with a rule if I knew why it was a rule in the first place and what the rule was meant to accomplish.
As I mentioned in the first episode about my mission, I also got in trouble a few times because I was unapologetically patriotic. Hawaii never really wanted to be part of the United States and was forced into it and even to this day most native Hawaiians are upset about it and want to succeed form the United States and want nothing to do with America. My mission president was patriotic and felt as I did that since Hawaii was a state the residents should be patriotic, but he was afraid that if I was too openly patriotic it may make some people not want to have anything to do with the Church. I can see my mission president’s point, especially after I had a beer bottle thrown at me for singing “The Star Spangled Banner” while walking down the sidewalk.
Several of my areas covered military bases and I liked serving in military wards because everyone was patriotic, the food was what I was used to and I had a lot more in common with the people. Food in Hawaii is a big deal and if you don’t eat food people offer they assume it is because you think you are better then them. I liked most of the food, and even when I didn’t I ate it gratefully, but given the choice I would rather eat traditional, mainland, American food. When I served in military wards was also the only times people didn’t make fun of me for being a redneck.
One of the things that I did throughout my mission that I now view as ridiculous was that I was so set on following rules that I often offended people, members and nonmembers alike. In my first area the second councilor to the bishop had an absolutely stunning daughter who was a few years younger than me, and she was absolutely in love with me, and as soon as I realized that I was having feelings for her as well I called my mission president and asked to be transferred to a new area.
My mission president even went a step farther than that and had the other missionaries who shared the apartment with us to switch companions on days we had to go the the second councilor’s house so that I would not go to his house. When I did happen to run into the young lady, even later on in my mission when I was in a different area, I would go to extreme lengths to keep her from giving me a hug as it is absolutely forbidden for missionaries to have any physical contact with members of the opposite sex. Looking back on it, I wish I had allowed her to hug me.
After my mission I wanted to go back and see her but didn’t because I was afraid that if I wound up in a relationship with her people would think that we had a romantic relationship during my mission and would consider me to have been a bad missionary. It is crazy to realize what a hold the Church had on me during that period of my life. It wasn’t just on my mission but long after as well that the Church had a strong hold on me and every decision I made was, at least in part, determined on the Church’s view on it.
I am not sure why, but members were constantly trying to get me to break small mission rules, sometimes even the bishop or other ward leaders and would give me a hard time because I refused, however, had I given in to the pressure and broken the rules it is likely they would have lost respect for me. Honestly, I think a lot of the members were just testing me to see if I was legitimately as obedient as I appeared to be. A lot of them though might have liked me better if I had broken a few rules because they told me if I were any stiffer I would be dead.
Obviously not because they often gave me a hard time, but a lot of my best experiences on my mission was when I went on a team up with a member of the ward. I found that often older members of the Church could answer questions that younger people, including myself and all other missionaries, could not. It also made people feel more comfortable to know there would be someone there they knew who would not leave in six weeks.
Not only was having the ward members make friends with the potential converts the best way to make sure they stayed active if or when they joined, it also made their joining a lot more likely and being introduced to people by someone who was already a member of the Church was also a far more effective way of finding converts than randomly knocking on doors, and yet my mission president was a huge fan of going door to door, even when the local Church leaders asked us not to do so.
The mission president, it seamed, was always in disagreement with the local leaders on how to do missionary work, and sometimes I was not sure what to do because the mission president always said to do what the local leaders wanted us to do and then would specifically as us to do things the local leaders asked us not to do or ask us not to do something the local leaders had asked us to do. I never said so, but I thought that it was quite arrogant for a man from Utah to come to Hawaii for three years and assume he knew better how to help the people than did a man who had spent his entire life there serving in the Church and helping people in the area.
More than once a bishop or stake president in my area called the mission president to tell him that unless he allowed us to do what they were asking us to do and to help them in the way they needed they would offer no more support to the missionaries. Given the ultimatum my mission president would reluctantly agree to the terms. I could be wrong, but it seamed to me that my first mission president thought he was better and more important than the bishops and stake presidents.
In some wards the bishop and other ward leaders were great about helping the missionaries, but most wards I served in it was like pulling teeth to get anyone to help us with anything and we were treated more like an annoyance than an aid, and outside of Church the majority of the ward acted like they could not care less about the Church. Early on in my mission I harshly judged people who were not dedicated to the Church, but later on I felt sorry for them and prayed for them that they would feel as passionate about the Church and its gospel as I did. I had it all wrong of course, I should have been praying that the people would be passionate about Jesus and not the Church, but at the time I saw the two as one and the same and it was only later that I realized the Jesus of Joseph Smith is not the Jesus of the Bible.
A lot of the members refused to help with missionary work, not because they did not care about the Church, but because they were lazy or hated confrontation. It may be a bit harsh to call people lazy and I guess a more tactful way to describe it is laid back and care free, which is a difficult mindset for someone who is as driven to work as I am to understand. Of course, just saying that people were laid back is also an over generalization as well and some people did firmly fall within the definition of laziness in every aspect of their lives and personalities. Even for the people who worked hard, the fear of confrontation was a major hindrance in getting anyone to tell their friends about the Church because they were afraid it would offend them.
At the time I saw it as everyone in the Church was in a boat and everyone else was drowning and to offer the gospel to them was like throwing a life preserver and no one should ever be afraid of saving a person, even if it did somehow offend them. I know realize that I was sorely mistaken and I was the one drowning, along with all those in the Church, and instead of offering a life preserver as I thought, I was trying to pull people off the boat into the frigid raging water with me, drowning the people I thought I was saving, and all the while Jesus had his arm extended to me but I refused it because it did not look like the Jesus that was sold to me by the Church.
When I was assigned to down town Honolulu the people in the ward not only rarely helped but also rarely had us over for dinner and I spent a lot of time knocking on doors in that area. One time when I was knocking on doors trying to find someone who would allow us to teach them about the Church, which is the most ineffective method of finding converts, I met a lady who claimed to be a Christian Buddhist and when I asked what that meant she said her belief was that she had to be nice to everyone. After the lady made it clear that she had no interest in learning about the Church I asked for a drink of water and to my surprise she yelled at me for asking and refused to give me water.
“But wait,” I said confused, “I thought you said you believed you were supposed to be nice to everyone as part of your belief as a Christian Buddhist.”
“I said I believe it,” the woman clarified. “I didn’t say that I was good at living it.”
While knocking on doors I also encountered a lot of people who were more knowledgeable about Church history than I was, but at the time I mostly assumed that the things these people were telling me about the Church that I did not know were not true. I learned early on that asking my mission president how to respond to these types of questions or confrontations was a mistake because instead of answering my questions he would scold me for asking and say that if The Book of Mormon is true than all of the Church is and that I needed to pray until I knew The Book of Mormon was true. My mission president also said that when someone asks a tricky question, “Don’t answer the question they asked, answer the question they should have asked,” which is a common tactic he used to avoid answering my questions.
Whenever I was confronted with information about the Church I did not know or that was potentially embarrassing to the Church I would derail the conversation to try and get it back to what I wanted to talk about and would store the information away to investigate later. I would. Try to find answers using the Church approved reading materials, but when that did not work I stored the questions in the back of my mind for later, and by the end of my mission I had quite the backlog of questions that needed answers. A few times I also asked knowledgeable Church members in my area about the things people had said, and sometimes they were able to resolve the concern, and sometimes they made it worse, especially when they confirmed what the people had told me.
In turn, I would take my mission president's advice and give the approved answers to questions, even when I knew they were somewhat dishonest and intentionally misleading both because I wanted to protect and grow the Church and because I wanted to be obedient to my mission president. I sometimes felt bad for misleading people or telling what I considered to be small lies to get people to join the Church, but I was just doing what I was told to do.
I have often wondered what happened the converts faith in the Church when they later found out that what they were told about the Church before and shortly after they joined was misleading or an outright lie, such as being told that the Church no longer believes in polygamy only to later learn that they believe polygamy is an eternal law that was only temporarily suspended and that not only is it believed it will be practiced on earth again but that it is also believed to be practiced in heaven. Another thing I was specifically instructed to lie to people about was the Church's belief that faithful members can one day become gods and that God used to be a man, so I can only imagine how they felt when they learned the truth, especially since it is now openly admitted, though not advertised, on the Church's official website in their essay series.
In one of the areas I served in, the ward mission leader would often team up with me and the elders quorum president would go with my companion. I was never comfortable going with the ward mission leader because he would listen to things in his car that I was not allowed to listen to, would take me places that I was not allowed to go, and would tell me troubling things about the Church sayings that I needed to know before any anti-Mormons told me. At the end of the team up the ward mission leader would drop me off somewhere without checking to see if they were home and would often leave me by myself without a companion, which terrified me because one of the biggest rules for missionaries is they can never be without a companion, either another missionary or an adult ward member of the same gender.
In one of my areas I was sitting on the stand with the bishiporic because I had been asked to give a talk and the young men who were passing the sacrament forgot to pass it to me and the bishop accused me of being unworthy to take the sacrament and was not satisfied as to my worthiness until he called the mission president.
I was supposed to baptize a convert into the Church later that week so the incident with the bishop also cast doubt on my worthiness to baptize until after the bishop was satisfied with my worthiness. Apparently the bishop thought the incident was more than just an oversight by the twelve year old passing the sacrament, at least at first.
Looking back I think the Church's views on baptisms and other ordinances they consider to be saving ordinances to be problematic at best. Under the Church's view, if a person who performs a baptism or other ordinance is unworthy or does not have faith than the ordinance does not count, which means that there are a lot of people whose baptism, confirmation and every ordinance that built upon them is invalid, which means that a person's salvation would not only depend on their own faith and worthiness but also that of the men who perform the ordinances.
In true Christianity the effectiveness of baptism is dependent upon the faith of the person being baptized and not the person who is performing the baptism because we are saved God's grace through our faith and are not punished for another's lack of faith.
In one ward I was in on my mission a child of record had to be re baptized because the bishop found out that her father was unworthy when he performed the baptism, and I heard of a similar situation after returning home from my mission. Back home my elders quorum president said that on his mission one Elder got excommunicated and either the mission president or Church headquarters decided that everyone he had baptized had to be baptized again since he was considered to have been in a state of apostasy when he performed the baptisms. You can see why this doctrine would be problematic because there would be a lot of people who did everything right and would still suffer because the person who performed their ordinances was unworthy and this would cause a lot of confusion and God is not an author of confusion, (1 Corinthians 14:33).
While I regret that I brought anyone into a false set of belief I don't regret serving a mission because I learned a lot about life, myself and people and the experience also helped me to discover that the Church I was laboring to grow was not what it claimed to be.
I am extremely grateful to have found the truth and simplicity of Biblical Christianity and to know that I am saved by the grace of God through faith on the merits of Jesus and not my own. Jesus made it so all can be saved through faith on his name and not by works, which is good because we could never amass enough good works to earn the salvation the Jesus freely gives. When we are born again we do good works because we have been saved, not the other way around.