Stripling Warriors

Just about an hour ago the elders left after having joined us for a dinner appointment. I always like it when the elders eat with us, as that means an extra special meal that we actually eat at the table.

One elder was from Utah, the other from Idaho. Pretty standard issue around here. The conversation was largely pro forma, with me asking them how long they’ve been out, where they’ve served, who’s in the teaching pool now, where they’ve gone to school, what their future plans are, what they did for Christmas, and so forth.

On that last question, they indicated that they were encouraged to actually tract on Christmas, but they didn’t do it. Rather they cooked a big breakfast, and then went over to a member family’s for lunch and games. I opined that I was not in favor of Christmas tracting (as I can just imagine how I’d feel if missionaries knocked on my door while I was trying to enjoy Christmas with my family). But apparently the rationale is that a lot of people don’t have family to celebrate with, and might welcome some company and a message about the Savior on that special day. That rationale made sense to me–but I still am not a fan of Christmas tracting.

Anyway, towards the end of their visit they gave the obligatory message. It was about families. They handed me a pamphlet copy of the Proclamation, and talked about how important families are, yada yada yada, you know the drill.

But in the course of this, they unwittingly taught me a different lesson altogether. In describing their own families, it came out that each of these elders is the only active member of the Church in his respective family. One is a convert, the only one in a family of four (two parents and a sister). The other was born and raised in the Church, but his entire family (two parents and four siblings) have all gone inactive. His parents and all his sibs have gone inactive, but he hasn’t and came out on a mission, despite no particular pressure from family to do so. So they share that in common. They both indicated that their families support them financially and are supportive of them going out on their missions. But they are the lone active members of the Church in their families.

That was the thing that made a powerful impression on me. When I went on my mission, I had one older sister who had lapsed into inactivity, but that was it. All the rest of my family was active in the Church, and it was expected that I would go–an expectation that I never questioned. If my parents hadn’t profoundly expected such service of me, I’m not at all sure I would have gone.

But here were these two young men sitting in my kitchen. Neither one of them had that kind of familial pressure to serve; and yet there they sat. They had come to Illinois because they very much wanted to serve. It would have been very easy for them not to come at all. But here they were.

I was impressed. Damn impressed. And that was the lesson that touched my heart this evening.

Comments

  1. I would imagine that similar dinners and obligatory lessons masking a deeper significance were found many, many times over around the world on Christmas. The fact that it is not unique does not diminish anything–rather it makes it all the more impressive that so many youth in the Church can come from a less-than-ideal family environment and become faithful missionaries.

    Great story.

  2. nooneinparticular says:

    Great post; reminds me of a close friend who entered the MTC with me under similar circumstances. I was closer to your case myself, and I was very impressed by his decisions and actions.

    It also made me recall the time I lost track of the date and got hoodwinked into ‘trick-or-tracting’ on October 31st. Noticing children in costumes made me self-conscious, but when a lady offered us chocolates and congratulated us on our costumes, I called off the proselyting and invited the Elders over for dinner, promising to accompany them another day.

  3. Bro. Jones says:

    Interesting. One of the major reasons I didn’t serve an LDS mission is that the bishop in my “home” ward in Salt Lake (I had been attending college in New England after joining the Church, and had never actually attended the ward where my parents’ house was) told me that if my father was opposed to my serving a mission, then I should listen to him and not go.

    I don’t lose a lot of sleep these days over not being able to serve in the capacity. But I’m glad that other young people coming from inactive or non-member families don’t seem to be getting that line of crap from their own leaders.

  4. Thank you! So many of our missionaries are from inactive or even antagonistic families. Some get little support from home. Many are serving BECAUSE they love their families and want to bless them and be good examples. One of my dear friends was told in his setting apart that his father would join the Church before the end of his mission. This missionary didn’t pay much attention to that idea, and thought it a nice thing for the SP to say. But two months before his mission ended, he received word that his father was going to be baptized. When we asked him what the best experience of his mission was (and he had had a remarkable mission), he said it was getting that news.

  5. Thanks for this Kevin. My husband was baptized at 18 and served a mission despite that decision not being supported by his parents.

    I’m sure it was very hard on my husband’s parents to see their only son sent to a dangerous, faraway country–after all the deep sacrifices they had made to bring him to America and raise him.

    That’s remarkable that the missionaries you write about had financial support from their families. That shows an incredible amount of love for their sons and respecting their life decisions. We could probably learn a bit from such parents about how to treat our wayward children.

  6. Thanks, Kevin. There are missionaries in our stake with similar stories, and they are inspiring.

    I had a companion who was the oldest son of the oldest son for about 14 generations of Buddhist Priests in his small home town – and he was his father’s only son. When he joined the Church, he lost everything – literally everything. He worked to raise enough money to serve a mission (about 2/3 of the suggested minimum at the time) and was the most genuinely happy person I have met in my entire life.

    I heard him asked once how he could be so happy. He said, “I have found the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How can I not be happy?”

    I understand depression and other issues, and I don’t want to make light of that for anyone, but sometimes we who were raised with it allow it to lose its luster and forget just how delicious the Gospel fruit can be to those who find it as adults.

  7. In my family, only my mom and my sister are members. During my mission, my sister sent me a letter informing me that she would leave the church. She even included some anti-Mormon pamphlets in the hope that I, too, would end my mission and leave the church. That was the hardest time of my mission, because it was close to the end, but also because I had to wonder what I was doing 8000 miles away in a city that wasn’t listening to me while my family was leaving the church back home. My mom went inactive and has only recently been going back (now, 12 years later).

  8. Rameumptom says:

    I grew up in a very inactive family. Friends in high school converted me, and I joined at 16. My parents were supportive of my mission, but it was my decision to go. In fact, I had several siblings that encouraged me to not go, but to attend college instead.

    While I did not go to Illinois (Bolivia Santa Cruz mission), I do understand what your two missionaries experienced in making such a decision all for themselves.

  9. I think tracting on Christmas is a wonderful idea. Christmas is so hard for people who are alone.

  10. Semi-threadjack: Elder Michael Bowman from NY, serving in the Sacramento Ca mission, was hit by a car last Sunday evening. He has a broken collar bone and a lot of back pain but is basically very blessed to have survived. He has only been out since early November. Prayers on his behalf would be greatly appreciated.

    End threadjack.

  11. A close friend of mine who served a mission in Texas spent one Christmas Day going door-to-door handing out pictures of Jesus. No invitations, just giving pictures of Jesus and wishing people Merry Christmas. My friend said that in general they were very well received. I thought it was a good idea.

  12. It is damn impressive.

  13. Thanks for this Kevin. My Catholic Mother and Methodist Father were perhaps two of the greatest assets I had on my mission, as far as relating to and understanding investigators. I did serve in the Philippines tho

  14. 13 continued (darn fat fingers)

    ough, so Christmas was just another day, in a lot of ways.

  15. Mephibosheth says:

    I hardly tracted during the month of December let alone on Christmas day. Although it would have never occurred to me that man people are alone that day and would appreciate the visit. I always wanted to have a “true meaning of Christmas” day spending it doing service in a homeless shelter or something like that, but couldn’t convince my companion either time. I didn’t understand what was so great about watching someone else’s kids open presents but there you go.

  16. 1) My anti-Mormon family may not have supported my mission, but they actually prepared me well for my mission. They threw nonsense at me; however, they threw a lot the real stuff at me. Additionally, my mother would not allow me to be baptized until after I’d studied every other Christian religion as well as I had studied Mormonism, a pain at the time, but very useful overall.

    2) The missionaries in our ward came over on Christmas day and dug Bermuda grass out of our garden. They chose the date, but I still feel a bit guilty about it.

  17. A different missionary story.
    My son refused to attend Church at 12. Got involved in drugs at 14. Three shots at rehab and time living on the street, he finally managed to get off cocaine at 24. He married, had two kids and returned to Church about four years ago.

    Not long ago I noticed he seemed to be on splits with the missionaries much of his free time. I asked him about it, and he responded that several of the investigators happened to be where he once was. Guess it’s much easier for them to relate to a guy in a white shirt and tie and tattoos, even when the topic is a spiritual one.

    I mourned for so much more than a lost mission when my son was 19. I prayed for him to just stay alive. Had no idea what a great servant he would one day become.

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