Skateboarding for Jesus

Mission 18

There is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.

It was a warm and muggy summer afternoon. My trainer and I had a single appointment that day with a family we had met the week before while tracting. Their interest was lukewarm at best, but in this corner of the Lord’s vineyard you take what you can get.

We spent the morning knocking on doors with the usual results: “Hello, we are missionaries from the Church of…ok, well, have a nice day.” The break for lunch came none too soon, and I was looking forward to the change of pace that afternoon.

Like most of the people who did talk to us, this family was from somewhere else. They lived with other foreign tenants in an old building on a busy road running along the banks of the Danube in Austria’s industrial heartland. We had asked if they would be interested in a Book of Mormon in their native language, and they had said yes.

At the appointed hour we took the tram to the city’s main square and walked the remaining half of a mile or so to the address. We rang the bell and…nothing. We rang again, and still no one answered.

With our one appointment for the day gone the way of all flesh, it was time to come to terms with the rest of the afternoon. Since we had already knocked on all the doors in the area the week before, we returned to the main square for street contacting. Just before arriving, we encountered a group of skateboarders sessioning a ledge on the riverfront.

Mission 8

Taken a year later on the way home from zone conference.

With nothing to lose except tracting time, I asked one of the skaters if I could borrow his skateboard for a minute. He joined my companion in giving me a skeptical look but gave me his board. Having been in the field for just a few months, I still had my sea legs under me and landed several tricks, much to the amusement of those present: “Der Mann mit der Krawatte (The man with the tie)!”

A small group gathered—what was I doing there? I explained that I was a missionary. Someone joked about skateboarding for Jesus. For an instant I was taken aback—put that way it seemed, well, evangelical. But I collected my wits and rolled with it, and friendly banter ensued until the group gradually dissipated. (As an aside, at least one action sport has become a General Conference-approved source of gospel metaphors, so I expect it’s just a matter of time before skateboarding receives its due as, for example, an object lesson in enduring to the end.)

During the two years I spent in Austria, the baptism rate remained below one per companionship per year. There are probably a hundred reasons why we were unable to gain traction, but I suspect a leading one was the (basically correct) impression that we were Americans pushing an American religion in a small country where wagons were being circled in response to unwanted immigration, European integration and foreign influence and where the luster of organized religion had been tarnished by scandals and enforcement of mandatory membership contributions.

Thus, walking the streets two-by-two in dark suits and approaching strangers about religion with a thick accent (“You talk like your mouth is full of socks,” one lady told me) was about as effective as you would imagine, and the outcome of our interactions were typically determined before they ever really began: “Hello, we are missionaries from the Church of…ok, well, have a nice day.”

And so on that summer day when a group of kids actually talked to us—even if only because of the novelty of someone riding a skateboard in a suit—it seemed like a step in the right direction, and like an even bigger one when they continued to acknowledge us in the days and weeks that followed.

Mission 7-1-1

A typical day at the street display.

You see, each week the companionships assigned to the city would meet and spend a day on the city’s busiest street at a street display, a humble affair and not well received—the couple staring in bemusement was about as good as it got. The typical passerby was immune to our contacting efforts, and a typical day would pass with little to show but bruised egos. After the skateboarding episode broke the ice, however, at least some of the skaters would stop and talk with us. When you’re on the bottom, the only way is up.

Among those who would stop were the two co-owners of the local skate shop. They were a little older, and one was interested in spirituality; the other could respect the commitment required to come on a mission. Since we all spent a good portion of our days out on the street, and the city wasn’t that big, we would meet from time. Sometimes we would talk religion; other times we wouldn’t. Once they flowed me a deck that had been gently used for filming video parts. I used it for the rest of my mission and actually still have it in storage. We stayed in contact for years after my mission, and I still regard that summer day as a highlight of my mission experience.

Of course, the overall effect on the work was negligible. The thaw in relations was limited to a tiny demographic, and none of these contacts or conversations ever led to conversion. But they offered a sliver of hope that it might be possible to relate to those we were supposed to serve despite being outsiders in a tight-knit community.

Mission 20-2

No stone left unturned.

In two years I taught two people who joined the church. Both were introduced to the church through friends and family rather than our finding efforts, whether carefully orchestrated or ad hoc. But two people in as many years left a lot of space in the weekly planner. And so we knocked on doors, even the unlikely ones, manned street displays, taught English classes, enjoyed the members’ hospitality, followed up on temple square referrals, rode our bikes to remote villages, planned epic P-Days, dragged our feet, wished it were over and even gave impromptu skate demos, in no particular order of effectiveness.

About ten years ago I moved back to my former mission. Despite the work of generations of missionaries, the harvest has been so modest that mission after German-speaking mission has been collapsed to cover ever larger territories. It’s clearly going to take more than skateboarding for Jesus to reverse that trend. But also more than anything else we ever did.

John F. has some excellent thoughts for changing our perspective about missionary work that could have the potential to turn the tide. In the meantime, I wonder: what has been your experience with ad hoc approaches to missionary work when the recommended methods fail to yield results? Have these departures from business as usual resulted in surprising successes, fantastic failures or just more of the same? Are there any lessons to be learned or solutions to be scaled from such experiences?

Comments

  1. Lieber Bruder.

    Such a great post. It really captures that singular thing about being a Mormon missionary: young kid equally religious nutcase and high school punk.

    Great to see a pic of Willis, Puncec and Cowgur. #AVM96

  2. In my training area, my companion busted his knee and we ended up staying the flat for long periods of time. I read and borrowed a skateboard. It was the summer and I would take it out into the car park opposite our flat and let of steam. Sadly, within two weeks our mission president created a new rule: Missionaries do not use skateboards. I was never any good but it was a lot of fun.

    Although skateboarding never provided those thawing moments, football (soccer) often did. We would play with the kids in the park and organised Saturday morning football pretty regularly with locals. It often just got us talking and that was enough.

  3. Thanks, Brother H.

  4. Great post.

    “Although skateboarding never provided those thawing moments, football (soccer) often did. ”
    Funny thing. In the MTC (July-Aug 96), we were allowed to play soccer, but NOT ultimate frisbee. Too many injuries. But then in France, we were allowed to play ultimate frisbee… but not soccer. Too many injuries. Sure, we’d kick it around with kids in the street for a few minutes, but never anything real. Really felt like we were missing out on an opportunity, as few of the natives could handle a disc, nor had they heard of Ultimate.

    When I was in Paris for the summer in 2011, Ultimate Frisbee had become A Thing. I played on a team in a pick-up tournament.

  5. In my mission (Finland), we would get to know the people in our building by going to sauna. Apartment buildings in Finland generally have one in the basement, and communal, gender-segregated turns happen on a weekly basis. This is one of the primary social rituals in Finland, and one of the only occasions when men tend to “open up” about what’s going on in their heads. Now the missionaries aren’t allowed to go to sauna at all, even on their first night in the country with the APs as a hazing ritual, all for unexplained reasons, although everybody is pretty sure it has something to do with the Intermountain West fear of nudity. Ultimately I don’t think it has all that much bearing on the work, but it certainly makes the missionaries that much more foreign (read: weird).

  6. Well, it’s clear something needs to be done. I really enjoyed John F.’s post, and this one as well. As a missionary in a similarly slow-moving place (southern Italy) nearly 30 years ago, I probably showed more creativity than most in using “alternative” methods of talking to people. However, the biggest burden I bore – and one that drove me to a state that, today, would have gotten me sent home early as an anxiety case – was waking up in the morning and trying to figure out what to do with 10 hours a day of proselyting time that both I and the Lord would consider “useful.” Tracting usually seemed futile, so I tried to make it useful by keeping notebook records of the apartment buildings we tracted in (most Italians live in them) so if we went back later for a call-back, we could re-knock the doors where there had been no answer. With an endless supply of buildings and an endless supply of doors, and the unfortunate issue that I was not righteous enough for the Lord to cause the doors of the elect to glow or anything like that, it was probably a waste of time – but it felt like a better plan than just knocking for the sake of knocking. It was at least an effort to be accountable for our work.

    We tried “recipe tracting” in apartments and public places:
    “Good morning, Ma’am, we’re missionaries from the Church of – ”
    “I’m Catholic.”
    “Si, Signora, I know; I just wanted to ask you about cooking. You see, we’re here on our missions for two years, living on our own – ”
    “Two years? Without your mama? You poor boys!”
    “Well, it’s not so bad, but my companion (points to sheepish-looking greenie) doesn’t know how to cook so well, and I was wondering if you knew any simple recipes you could describe that would be easy for us to make for dinner.”

    This actually got us some decent, simple recipes, some good conversations of the type Peter mentions above – human interactions which built understanding and goodwill, not necessarily Gospel-related – and, on rare occasions, a dinner invite. Hopefully, missionaries had friends in that city from then on.

    One morning I walked out of our apartment (I had been out for about 20 months) and stopped dead on the sidewalk. My brain had just completely shut down in a very typical anxiety reaction, although at the time I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t figure out what to do, where to go, or even whether to turn to the left or to the right. My companion, bless his heart, took my arm, led me to a nearby city park, sat me on a bench, and talked to about something I don’t remember for the next three hours. I went to see a doctor and my blood pressure was 200/110, and the doc put me on Xanax. Had that happened today, I think they’d have put me on an airplane home. I elaborate on that incident merely to point out that the pressure to DO SOMETHING – to work hard regardless of results – was immense, and in retrospect, I saw a number of missionaries react in different ways to the resultant anxiety. The more an elder desired to do useful work, as opposed to futile tracting, the more anxious and discouraged he became.

    In reading John F’s post, I firmly believe that had I had the opportunity to do 30 hours a week of useful charitable service work – without, as he says, ulterior motives – I could have been a lot happier and more productive, and actually returned feeling that I had done some good rather than feeling as if I had failed.

    We had a visit from a GA, a 70, now mercifully dead, while I was in the mission office. At that time, our mission president had started encouraging missionaries to volunteer at local hospitals and to do other service work (this was in 1988). At lunch at the mission home one day, this 70 told us in no uncertain terms to stop that. Our job was to teach and to baptize, not to perform service. (Thank goodness that has changed.) He later spoke at a zone conference which I attended, in which he told us (and this is pretty close to an exact quote): “If you don’t give everything you have on the mission, if you don’t work as hard as you can while you’re here, the Lord will never trust you again.

    It took me years to get over that. It’s affected me in ways I can’t completely fathom, because I “knew” I hadn’t done everything I could. (Who ever does?)

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment. My two eldest sons, both RMs, and I were discussing this just last night. The second came home 3 months early due to anxiety issues. I think full-time service work could have been great for him (actually, for both of them) as well. We need a paradigm shift of some sort.

  7. Aaron R., I was fortunate enough to serve my mission under two presidents who were not prone to passing ad hoc legislation, at least none that impacted my freelancing efforts.

  8. Great post, Peter: so reminiscent of my time in the Danish Mission in the late 90s. No skating for me, but lots of football/soccer, and even more pointless knocking on doors. But: I read good Danish literature, and I had great conversations with my companions. In retrospect, given the practical absurdity of most missionary labor, I wish I’d followed John F’s wise plan.

    Seriously, his post needs to become our “Carthago delenda est,” repeated at every opportunity until it happens.

  9. J. Stapley says:

    Peter, this is excellent and captures, as Ronan says, the zeitgeist well of our time and places. I guess it shouldn’t be that strange considering when we all started writing, but I like the idea that many of us were on missions at the same time experiencing similar things.

  10. My trainer and I thought we might try singing instead of just hammering the door approach. After a bored-looking housewife rejected us, we told her we were practicing to sing in church or something like that, and would she tell us what she thought? We sang one of the Thanksgiving songs – “Come Ye Thankful People,” I think, or maybe “For the Beauty of the Earth” – with the harmony and fairly decently, I thought. When we were finished, the housewife said, “Well, I think you need some more practice.” But she was smiling when she said it, which was a better response than the look she gave our door approach. I think we did it a few more times, but the response wasn’t noticeably different, and we started to feel self-conscious about singing.

    Both my mission presidents were concerned about having as many discussions (as in scripted book Discussions) as possible. I never liked that – I tried to insert ideas when possible, but for most first contacts, teaching a 1st Discussion just wasn’t appropriate. It wasn’t really an alternative approach, but one of my most treasured memories from my mission was meeting a young guy while tracting and talking to him about life instead of about religion. I think we talked a little bit about God, but not much. Definitely not a 1st Discussion, but I felt like we had said what the Lord wanted us to say to him. A year later, I was assigned to that area again and went back to see what, if anything, had happened. He remembered me and said that when we came to the door that day he was in “a very bad place,” but that whatever we had talked to him about gave him enough hope to keep going, and now he was doing much better. He wasn’t interested at all in the Church or even in religion, but I remember feeling strongly that even if the rest of my mission was terrible (it wasn’t, I had a great mission for the most part), the opportunity to have that one conversation was worth all the sacrifice and boredom and rejection and frustration.

  11. Thanks for sharing your experiences, New Iconoclast. I can relate to your feelings of anxiety; in my case I was too conscientious to just throw up my hands and goof off, but not quite committed enough to look at the empty days as opportunities.

  12. Thanks, Jason. And indeed, J., the ties that bind.

    I remember feeling strongly that even if the rest of my mission was terrible (it wasn’t, I had a great mission for the most part), the opportunity to have that one conversation was worth all the sacrifice and boredom and rejection and frustration.

    What a great blessing for all involved.

  13. I had a companion who asked who once, as part of his door approach, asked a tall fit young man if he liked to wrestle (this companion was also tall and fit). They wrestled, and the man actually became an investigator and even showed up to church a few times (a miracle in Germany).

    In one area we joined a men’s choir. Missionaries had done it a while back, and we decided to continue the tradition. We’d drink our Sprite and the other men would drink their beer, and we’d sing. I don’t know that it was very effective, but it was a lot more fun than knocking on doors.

  14. This is a really great post about missionary work under the late 20th century paradigm (which still governs) of missionary work. Honest, faithful, but realistic about the nature and effectiveness of those methods adopted from mid-20th century American sales theories.

    I can relate, having served in East Germany at the same time as Peter LLC (served with his brother, actually), RJH, and Stapley in their own areas of Europe — absolutely loved my mission despite many days that were exactly as you described in terms of door knocking and street contacting. I even had similar experiences “skateboarding for Jesus” as I similarly bummed a deck off a kid skating the open space around the Weltbrunnen on the Breitscheidplatz in central West Berlin, just in front of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche on the Ku’damm. Like you, I can relate to being slightly proud at having stumped a group of German teenagers by landing a few kickflips, heelflips, noseslides, and some very sketchy 360 flips (I know that all of these things are named something different now but by now I’m old-school, I suppose) in front of them. Somehow, it made that nametag shine a little brighter — commanding some respect among the “natives”, for once.

  15. As a missionary, I too found that obedience and being stiff and formal didn’t create success. Being yourself opened more doors than anything else. People can connect with the message, but often only if they connect with the messenger first.

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    I love the recipe tracting idea.

  17. I served my mission in Chile. While we had a lot of success compared to those in Europe, we were also right next to the highest baptizing mission in the world at the time. This led to a lot of inferiority complexes.

    One day with my second companion, we had a hard day. We had no lessons or contacts. My companion stated we were going to get a snack. We stopped at a kiosk and bought cookies. As we walked away, we saw a teenage boy looking at us. My companion then said what is possibly the most pathetic thing I have ever heard with my own ears, “I’ll give you a cookie if you will be my friend.” The kid came over and shared our cookies. My companion started telling him about our day. “Nobody wants to talk to us because we’re missionaries.” My companion got out all his woes in a few minutes. After that, the boy said, “Chau!” and we never saw him again. I suspect we may have made him more afraid of missionaries than he was before. He probably told others about it. I am sure it did not help the work in the area, but it made me laugh. It still does.

  18. I worked on the delivery crew for a furniture company before my mission. I also got way, way more baptisms from helping people move than I ever did by tracting.

    When you take a sofa bed up two flights of stairs, through three doorways, and then pull the doors off the fridge, people figure it’s only polite to listen to a first discussion as you drink a soda and take a break on the floor of a new living room.

    In an area where the previous elders had managed to impregnate the teenage daughter of a high counselor, the members hated us. Our technique was to ride our bikes from member house to member house, ask for a glass of water, and be on our way. No, we can’t stop, we can’t come in, we’ve got places to be but we’re thirsty. Thanks for the water, see you on Sunday. It was a shockingly effective technique.

  19. “However, the biggest burden I bore – and one that drove me to a state that, today, would have gotten me sent home early as an anxiety case – was waking up in the morning and trying to figure out what to do with 10 hours a day of proselyting time that both I and the Lord would consider ‘useful.'”

    “I elaborate on that incident merely to point out that the pressure to DO SOMETHING – to work hard regardless of results – was immense, and in retrospect, I saw a number of missionaries react in different ways to the resultant anxiety.”

    NI, those two quotes are the most accurate distillations of my mission experience I’ve ever read. I was in a productive area and was able to keep pretty busy for most of my mission. Looking back after 40 years I realize that was a huge component in keeping my sanity.

  20. Many of these factors were present in Japan in the mid-90s, but there may have been a friendlier atmosphere and a bit more dynamism in the missionary activities that kept things a little more upbeat. Bi-weekly English classes and weekly service projects provided times to drop the missionary shtick and just be ourselves around non-members (although awkward invitations were supposed to be extended during these activities, we wisely limited them to a case by case basis). But what inevitably, beautifully, happened was that friends and investigators (more of the former than the latter) were found by skateboarding, visiting the proprietors of cafes or quirky shops, playing basketball, attending sign language circles, attending festivals, and, occasionally, by tracting. This variety worked well for me and, fortunately, mission presidents of the time were tolerant of how contacts were made, as long as contacts were being made.

  21. The biggest thing about missionary work is doing something with your time. Man, we make it so hard. This post rings very true to this former Euromissionary.

  22. cookie queen says:

    Brilliant post P. Yeah, friendship and service all the way. Why DO “we” wanna convert people? (I do not). Some scary stories been shared. It’s no better here than when RJH was here. Actually it’s worse. But the cookies are better.
    xxx

  23. But the cookies are better.

    Small victories!

  24. Denton Romans says:

    Is that in Linz?! I did that street display for a couple of months. I always met the craziest people there, including a man who took my companion and I to lunch and then to Hitler’s parents’ grave, and someone who tried to eat a page of the BoM.

    When were you there? I was in Austria mid 97-99.

  25. you mean being authentic and connecting with people as individuals without ulterior motives is more effective than seeing them as tally marks in the conversion column? Shocking!

  26. racerxisalive says:

    A few months before the end of my mission in the Dominican Republic, I learned that my family was planning a vacation for right after my return to a location where I’d be spending a lot of time in swim trunks. I was not terribly excited to show off my emaciated pasty physique, and while there wasn’t a lot I could do about the farmer tan, my companion and I decided that we would join a “gym” a couple of blocks away and start lifting weights.

    It was a very small building with cinder block walls and a tin roof, with a couple basic weight machines and a lot of free weights. It was pretty inexpensive, and we would go at 6 AM, five days a week. Every day we were there taking turns with and getting tips and help from the 10 or so regulars. We all were friendly and we had lots of questions about why we were there (to not be such skinny gringos, I mean to teach about Jesus). We got invited to a couple of homes for discussions as a result of this, and even baptized one of the young men we met there (I mean, it wasn’t Europe).

    It was probably one of the few times where a bunch of non-members got to view us as people rather than potential spies working for the CIA.

  27. Jim Wallmann says:

    I was a missionary in the Belgium Antwerp mission in the late 1970s. (Say, didn’t someone just write a book about that mission?) Three experiences come to mind. In descending order of success:

    1. I had studied music and played the organ. In one town, the local parish church had a nice organ and a concert series. My companion and I attended several concerts and got to know one of the men who helped organize the concerts. We ended up teaching a couple of discussions to this man and his family. The zone leader was a numbers guy and initially somewhat skeptical that we were attending concerts, but once he realized that the ratio of concert time to teaching time was about one-to-one, he was far more supportive.

    2. In my last city, the previous set of four elders and two sisters had the bright idea to take a portable puppet theatre to the local market and preach the gospel. (This would be a step up from the picture board we usually displayed on market day.) To make this happen, the elders had to construct the portable puppet theatre and the sisters had to make the puppets. Time spent making the theatre and puppets was spent indoors and counted as proselyting time. Did I mention that this was in the winter and therefore reduced the time outside tracting on cold days? A local investigator recorded part of the Joseph Smith story and added some background music for the missionaries to use as a soundtrack. By the time I arrived, the portable theatre and puppets were almost finished but the elders and sisters who had hatched this plan had been transferred. None of the new missionaries had the nerve to put on a puppet show and so the portable theatre gathered dust in our apartment.

    3. In my first city, the four elders in our apartment learned that the Harlem Globetrotters were coming to town. The more experienced missionaries were convinced that there was no better way to do “father contacting” than at a Harlem Globetrotters game. I was too green to agree or disagree. We purchased tickets, but then someone figured out that maybe this was not one of those “cultural activities” we were encouraged (at least in theory) to enjoy while in Belgium. In a decision worthy of Solomon, we decided that if we could return our tickets and get all of our money back, we would not go to the game. (We figured that the chances of that happening were not good.) Well, as it turned out, the box office was happy to take our tickets and return all of our money. So no Harlem Globetrotters for four missionaries in Belgium.

  28. Boy oh boy, am I have a visceral reaction to this post or what! I look back on my mission in Italy (I had a very good experience, overall) and wonder how the hell we occupied our time. English classes were definitely a reprieve, and so was trying to find less-active members in Venice. (Oh, yeah, an afternoon of work could easily be spent simply trying to find one address there.)

    I know on my mission it would’ve been helpful if we had had more liberty to spend our time working with non-profits or doing volunteer work. So often, as sister missionaries, we were connecting with women who were abused and battered, and I wish we had had stronger connections with organizations/resources that could’ve really helped some of our female investigators. I imagine this would be important in many other countries where domestic violence is a particular problem, and connecting with non-profits already on the ground could be key/helpful for many missionaries.

  29. Denton, yes, that was Linz and I remember you (though we didn’t serve together) as I was there until early 1998. From mid-1997 until the end I was in Judenburg and Wels.

    Kristine A, that’s a fair summary; I needed a bit more text in order to justify the photos, however, hence the long-windedness.

    racerxisalive, I have a gym story too, except in our case it was an investigator who was trying to whip us into shape. His motto was the four Ps: pasta, peas, potatoes and prayer (and bananas).

    Jim Wallmann, thanks for sharing your experiences. The book you refer to is Craig Harline’s Way Below the Angels.

    Corrina, missionaries end up spending a lot of time with those who suffer in various ways, and at least I wasn’t equipped to respond in especially helpful ways. It’s almost as if the training assumes a suburban demographic while in practice the people you talk to tend to be hanging from the threads of whatever safety net exists locally.

  30. > I was in Judenburg

    So much better than being “of” Judenburg.

    Murtal ranked: Leoben > Bruck > Judenburg < Knittelfeld.

  31. I was too conscientious to just throw up my hands and goof off, but not quite committed enough to look at the empty days as opportunities.

    Peter, me in a nutshell, too. Something had to give! Mostly it was me. :) Goofing off was one of the reactions to stress that I recognize now. I have much more love and compassion today for some of my screw-off companions, and for my equally baffled and stressed hard-core companions, now that I realize that they, like me, were just trying to figure out what to do.

    My eldest son got back from Brazil about two years ago; he’s a very talented pianist and organist, and his rural area lacked people with those skills. He had a number of opportunities to play in wards and branches for sacrament meetings, talent nights, etc. He once was asked to play at a stake leadership meeting that he and his companion would not ordinarily have attended. His mission president forbade it, on the grounds that he’d be better off tracting or doing something “productive.” Now, maybe he could have been playing in a hospital or nursing home, instead, but it seems to me that this president might have missed a chance.

  32. they, like me, were just trying to figure out what to do.

    Isn’t that the truth. If I had to do my mission over again (heaven forbid!) I would at least try not to be the worst companion two of mine reported having.

    RJH, during my tenure we watched the flock in Knittelfeld too, so we got the best of both worlds: living down the street from the chapel in Judenburg and having an excuse to ride our bikes to Knittelfeld if we ran out of things to do.

  33. Wahoo Fleer says:

    I get a little wistful thinking about Judenburg. Amazing, supportive members of the church there (although few, and, for the most part, very old when I was there in 1998) but such a sad place to be a missionary. I always felt like the walls were closing in on me. Had the best apple strudel of my life there though.

  34. Yeah, claustrophobic.

    With the mini-surge in 1995 we opened up Knittelfeld. A weekly Mahlzeit with the Wolfsbauer family and an hour’s Dienst at the old people’s home were all we could rely on. Other than that, it was all blank yellow, all the time. At least the Judenburg elders had Kulmi.

    There was, however, the time the Rolling Stones played at Zeltweg and my comp and I rode our bikes around the perimeter.

    Being a greenie there during the hot summer of ’95 was the most visceral experience of my life. I have been back to every other area since my mission apart from Knittelfeld/Judenburg. I’m not sure why but I think the memories would be overwhelming.

  35. Teaching English counted as part of our 2-hours-a-week mandatory service in Russia back in my day (1992-1994), and it was actually pretty effective at turning into actual investigators too.

    I’m totally for increasing the service aspect of missions — I always wondered why we never followed Ammon’s example of serving first and preaching later….

  36. “Had the best apple strudel of my life there though.” And there’s the essence of a European mission. Crushing “failure”, amazing food. We lived virtually above a patisserie in my last city, where I don’t think we taught anyone, ever.

  37. Wow- talk about a stroll down memory lane! I served in Austria in 91-92. I served in Vienna, Villach and Linz. (Funny thing- I was trying to remember where the refugee lager was the other day- was it that close to the center of town?) We spent HOURS in Villach making a new street display- which we did eventually use quite a bit- but yep, we probably counted it as proselyting time. Anything to fill the hours….
    Best non- traditional missionary work? When I was in Villach, we would spend entire days out in Lienz with the Suppersberger family. We’d ride the train out with the elders and spend the day with their two inactive teenage boys, sometimes a newly baptized 19 year old girl, and another teenaged investigator. We’d play UNO, Risk, flag football, and just generally hang out. We were pretty much the youth group in the ward. I’m sure we were breaking all kinds of rules, but I consider it one of the most successful experiences I had. The investigator was baptized, as was his family (much later- I was one of the lucky few to leave the mission with zero baptisms😮), and both boys came back to church- at least for a while. I believe most of those people are no longer active members, but last I heard Andy Suppersberger was serving as the branch president in Klagenfurt.

  38. If the refugee camp that you are thinking of is the same that I knew (several multistory buildings a decent walk from the nearest public transportation), that was in the southern part of the city. The address in this episode was right on the Danube. It wasn’t a place where refugees lived, just a neglected Altbau that didn’t offer much in the way of quality of life, hence affordable. Anyway, I can see where a trip to Lienz from Villach would take all day, that’s quite the train ride. That’s a long way to church too.

  39. Towards the end of the mission I surrendered what I thought I knew missionaries to be. I gave up trying to live the brand. I felt I had to be more authentic to myself – so I did. I looked to my patriarchal blessing for some direction and about 1/3 of it talks about my study of the earth. That study began on the mission with people I wanted to be around and deepened as I found meaning in tilling soil, watering, picking spinach and other yummy goodness.

    Of course to accomplish this on a regular basis we had to reschedule morning studies. Well the ladies of the garden still remember us. The people in the county that the food went to still won’t know us but for me the impact was huge and I began to learn how to truly be an example of what I feel when I read from the scriptures.

    We also got involved in some native plant restoration. Messy. Muddy. One of those fields where it is more of an art than a science. I got off the mission and during my return to school began volunteering with a climate science nonprofit that takes kids out to their local creeks and ranches to install native plants.

    It just all fit very well. I continue to meet experts. Many are the most amazing people I will never meet in their homes. Temple marriage, family history – inevitably it all comes up at some point and the discussions I have with these people are genuine and heartfelt.

    I would go to the public libraries and scour the pages for local events. “Be seen of men” – surely they have heard of the Mormon Brand and may just want to chat about it. A free bird walk introduced us to one of the local forest preserves. No entry fee. Families would gather to just be together for a walk. This led to at least one teaching opportunity with a man raised AoG. He was out with his kids in this forest and we later tracted into their home. We taught them consistently for months. It was quite a pleasure to be with such a funny, animated guy. He never made it to church but no doubt we made an impact – not just on him but the stories he’d tell his extended family.

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