Taking off the tag

img1263835714I was in D.C. and NYC visiting friends and family this weekend and heard the following story, which I reprint by permission.

A longtime neighbor of the missionaries in one part of northern Europe was an apartment-ridden chain-smoker. She often invited the elders over for dinners and sometimes took the lessons. And the elders would help her get her groceries, including, at least for this young missionary, her tobacco.

And while he didn’t mind helping her out this way, he did feel bad enough about it to remove his missionary tag at the store. Then once the tobacco was safely hidden in the bag, he’d put his missionary tag back on.

When he was transferred, the neighbor still expected the tobacco runs, and the elder that replaced him was so aghast, he went to the mission president in tears, explaining the situation and the tobacco runs were stopped.

In a time where we have bright yellow vests (and I understand why, it’s a good thing overall) I’m curious if you have stories of times where you, in effect or maybe in reality, “took off the tag” to do service for someone?


  1. Heck yes. We were teaching this young guy, early 20’s and his Dad hated us in principle not by personality. So, instead of wearing our proselytiing clothes and name tags, we showed up in our P-days clothes without tags and we taught him all six discussions and he got baptized.

  2. Anon for this says:

    I gave a blessing on short notice without a 3rd male for some sister missionaries. Didn’t know how to handle that one very well—this broke rules.

  3. My father Home Taught an inactive man in a bar on more than one occasion, since that was the only time some months the man would talk with him. They didn’t talk religion, since the man wouldn’t allow that. They just talked about life.

    It was a small town, so nearly everyone in the bar (generally inactive members) knew my father – and, since he and the man were in different wards, few of them realized my father was there as a Home Teacher. (My father was asked to continue to be his Home Teacher after the ward boundaries changed, since my father was the only person the man would allow to be his Home Teacher.)

  4. Serendipity says:

    Two months ago I visit taught one of my sisters over breakfast in a restaurant with cappucinos. We had a great discussion about the Atonement and the Savior’s love for each of us and cried and cried together.

  5. No such experiences, but it would have been relatively easy for me to do such an act of service during my mission. I went to Japan and our mission president declared that we did not have to wear our tags because wearing name tags can be looked down upon in Japanese culture. The only time we had to wear our tags was during zone conferences.

  6. Yep, took off nametags and wore casual clothes to teach a guy who would only let us teach him if we helped him work on his car. Taught all the discussions that way.

  7. Me and my companion took part in a demonstration without our tags. We had this great inactive family from a South-American country. They had helped us in many ways and we had taught many of their friends. They invited many ward members, and also us, to take part in a peaceful protest for justice and basic rights in their home country. We knew that the members would be too lazy to go. We also knew that the father would have hard time to understand why we couldn’t come and support justice, and that this protest was a big thing for him. We wanted him to know that we were his friends. So we decided to go, but without our tags.

  8. I’m on a senior couples mission at the moment and hide my name tag every time we buy food stuffs for ‘Kings of the Road’. We are encouraged not to give money and even giving food is a bit iffy. The church is sensitive to the fact that we might be seen to be ‘buying’ baptisms. I think I feel more comfortable doing it like this as well.

  9. No good story of service but while attending a Rugby match in Croke Park I suggested that all the missionaries remove their badges and then join in the pitch invasion.

  10. I served in Southern California in the mid 90’s. For the first half of my mission we were allowed to do service in elementary schools. Basically, we helped as teachers aides, tutored struggling kids, and translated for parent-teacher conferences if the parents spoke little english. The service was awesome. The kids loved us, we actually did a lot of good, the service was regular and easy to schedule and it took place during the middle of the day when it was otherwise difficult to set appointments or tract. Most importantly, when we would inevitably tract into the kids’ homes we had an immediate bond. Often families would invite us in solely on the recommendation of their children who said “these guys work at our school and are the best”.

    Then, suddenly, we were told of a new church policy that prevented missionaries from serving in schools. I imagine there had been some incident or concern about abuse. It’s the same logic that now prevents missionaries from even touching children. From a legal liability standpoint, I understand. From a moral and human standpoint, it sucks big time. We continued to do service thereafter, but nothing ever approached the good we could do in the schools.

    Anyway, that’s a long way of saying that, when we served in the elementary schools, we were required to remove our nametags. Obviously schools need to keep a church/state separation. The mission president was fine with that. We also did not go by “Elder” or “Sister” because those are religious titles. We still needed some name for the children to call us, so overtime the practice developed that we would use nicknames. My companion was “Jake”. I was “Ellwood”. (Yes, the blues brothers).

    One of my fondest memories was tracting one day when the door opened, a child we had tutored stood there mouth agape, and then ran screaming through the house “Mom, it’s Jake and Ellwood, they finally came to visit us!”

  11. The missionaries who taught my ex-husband took off their tags and wore p-day clothes to a baseball game with him. I think that did more good for him than any formal anything they ever did.

    These stories are perfect examples of putting people before policy– frankly, I think we could do with more of it.

  12. **Follow-up to No. 10**

    In case you are wondering, yes, my companion was on the heavy side and I am skinny as a rail. And yes, when the kid’s mother came to the door, I was very, very tempted to say “Hello Miss, we are on a mission from God.” But for once I controlled myself and kept to the normal script.

  13. Serving as a senior couple a couple of years ago, my husband took off his tag to take a picture of some belly dancers at an event we attended.

  14. @Dave K.-Where at in S. California? I was in Arcadia, late 90’s

  15. I was about to write down many stories about taking off the tag and then reread the post … ” “took off the tag” to do service for someone?” … nevermind

  16. San Bernardino 96-98.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 10 Dave K., as a Chicagoan I approve your comment.

  18. At our college-age investigator’s request, my companion and I took off our tags to meet her at professional training school outside of Paris. At the time, I wasn’t sure it was the right thing and resented the investigator a little for the request. Looking back, the request seems more than reasonable.

  19. Thanks Kevin, I grew up downstate and went to UChicago. My folks still live just north of the city.

  20. We took our tags off to spend a Saturday fishing with a less active brother and his four boys. They loved it and it was one of my favorite memories of my mission.

  21. When President Clinton came to Kiev in May 1995 to deliver a speech the Secret Service contacted the mission to request help with crowd control. So missionaries took off their tags and worked check points and metal detectors. The guy can co-opt anyone!

  22. On splits with my zone leader in Argentina when (while were in a store) his bike was stolen. We saw it happening from the window and ran out. . zone leader chased the guy down and pulled him to the ground. As I ran up behind them (panting and wheezing, I’m fat) zone leader handed me his name tag and put up his hands in a boxing stance. Bike stealing scum bag got some BIG EYES and ran off.

  23. I think my most notable act of service as a missionary was when I went to teach the friend of one of the (semi-inactive) young women and the young woman’s home. We arrived and were greeted by the recently baptised father, who said the girls were in the back room. He led us back to, what we learned, was the young woman’s bedroom, told us to have fun, closed the door, and walked away. After a half a second of white-handbook-panic, I sat down and started the lesson. The family would later tell me that the act of treating that young woman like a person (and not a threat) was the stimulus that helped her get turned around so the entire family could be sealed barely a year later.

    But I didn’t remove the actual nametage–just the mindset of total-all-costs-obedience that came with it. In fact, I can’t think of many acts of service I where I would want to remove the name tag (going into schools, or at the request of an investigator are the kind of times I would). In most cases, I’d think I’d want the nametag to be tied to the service, regardless of appearances.

    On another note, we had elders that did an anti-smoking and anti-drug puppet show at schools. They had “LDS Philantrophies” nametags engraved on the back of their usual nametags and would display those in the schools. (though that might not work in all areas)

  24. I always laughed at “take off the tag” efforts. Yeah, because two young guys walking around in suits with NO name tags? No one will EVER guess they’re Mormon missionaries! Why don’t we put on Groucho Marx glasses while we’re at it? Where I served in Italy it didn’t matter if we were in P-Day clothes or “official” attire; people generally knew who we were.

    I had a ZL once who thought it would be funny to “pretend to be a tourist” while we were on a zone-wide P-Day outing. A passerby asked him a question and he said, “Sorry, I don’t speak Italian.” The guy replied, in Italian, “I thought you guys studied Italian in Utah before coming here!” I was never a big fan of that ZL.

  25. We had a group of elders taking in a SF Giants game in the outfield seats on P-Day. Unfortunately for them our MP was a fan and called them that night and requested that next time they go to the game they should keep their shirts on (presumably along with their tags) and not soak in the rays.

  26. BarefootMike says:

    While a missionary in Japan, and as one of the most visible white guys in town, elementary schools would sometimes request that I make an appearance as Santa Claus. As you might guess,I left my nametag on my missionary suit.

  27. For years in Southern California, a local Alcoholics Anonymous met Monday evening in an LDS chapel, with authorization of the SP, and they had a coffee pot in the kitchen. But a few years ago, there arose a new Pharoah, who knew not of its importance, and he cast out AA and its coffee pot.

  28. Well, if you’re going to kick out the coffee, you have to kick out the alcoholics. It would be cruel and unethical to deny alcoholics their coffee.

  29. DavidH – I’m sure he kicked out all the other sinners from church as well… Geesh… some people just don’t get the gospel AT ALL.

  30. While serving in the UK, my companion and I were asked by a member to assist in a charity event to support the blind. Our part included getting donors to the charity into harnesses to zipline off a large building in the city. Hands were all over the place trying to get the equipment on. We were in p-day clothes with no tags and I was glad for it.

  31. One day in the late ’90s in Vienna, Austria my companion and I made an appointment with a woman we met street contacting. She wanted to meet at a restaurant and we obliged. We had a terrible conversation with her and it never went anywhere. We ordered french fries and Fanta. She had a beer. At the end she said “you’re paying for this, right?” So we bought this woman a beer…with our nametags on.

  32. We called this going “code six”. But it usually just involved hitting Uncle Joe’s Family Pool Hall for a few rounds of Street Fighter 2. And I do recall a great story where the mission president, who was fond of taking the APs out to lunch had to call a code six. Apparently after being seated at his table with the elders, he looked around and declared to them… “Elders, I have discerned that this family restaurant theme is not really about owls.”

  33. 32: Still giggling.

  34. #25: I really like that MP.

  35. Central Standard says:

    Actually I rarely wore my name tag as my last name, being Polish. is fairly long and people would pay more attention to it than what I was saying.

    Part of my mission covered the Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico. The elders in Raton, N.M. taught one the Philmont leaders and as D.L. it was my responsibility to interview him for baptismal worthiness and bring the white clothing. After interviewing the candidate and spending the night as guests of Philmont, I discovered I forgot the white clothing. It would be a 300 miles + round trip to get it and return. I decided we should proceed with the baptism with what were we wearing – jeans, gym shoes, and t-shirts.

    What I also forgot was that northern New Mexico is a desert. We drove around for at least an hour, some of it off road, to find a pond deep enough for the baptism. Eventually we did find sufficient water, partially screened by trees and shrubs, We found a boulder just the right height for the new member to sit on, while the four elders confirmed him and told him to receive the Holy Ghost.

  36. Rodney Ross says:

    Name tag, what name tag? Gulf States Mission 1965-67!

  37. I used a have nice long conversations with a young single adult guy in our tiny rural Japanese branch in our apartment entryway after curfew. Being a committed Japanese guy and at loggerheads with his aunt whom he was living with, he was at a bit of a lonely point in his life and looking for human connection. We got along well and would talk for a long time in the evenings frequently. All contrary to the approved mission schedule, of course.

    He made the mistake of mentioning one of these heart to hearts in a zone testimony meeting once, and the Mission President expressed his disapproval privately to the young man. After that he apologized to me and toned it down. I told him I didn’t care, but he wanted to be obedient.

    In hindsight, I don’t think my response was wrong. But I don’t think the Mission President was wrong either. I was going to be gone in a month, and tough as it was, the members did have to be able to not rely on the missionaries too much. We just couldn’t be there for them, in the end. But I don’t really regret the time I spent with the guy.

    Hope he’s doing OK, being a Mormon male in Japan is really rough.

  38. Elouise Bell says:

    (I hope I haven’t told this little story here before. If so, excusez-moi.)

    Very minor service performed, and no name-tag involved–in fact, no conscious intention of any service in mind. But surprisingly,it was appreciated.

    Visting a baptized but inactive member in Paris years ago, my companion and I listened as he talked and smoked. He smoked more than anyone I’d known since my grandfather, who had inhaled horrible cigars while listening to the radio newscasters in the 1940’s. My father also smoked a lot.

    So sitting next to Frere QuelqueChose, I was not bothered by his smoking. Hardly aware of it, to be honest. As we talked, the ash on his cigarette grew longer and longer. In answer to one of his many intricate questions, I started to talk, and at the same time, reached across the table to bring a distant ashtray under his cigarette. He said nothing about the ashtray; neither did I.

    But when my companion and I got ready to leave (this being my first visit ), Frere said to my senior, “Your new companion will be welcome here anytime. She takes life in stride and does not strain at gnats. Good missionary technique.”

    No technique involved. I guess it was just years of living amid the smoke rings of a couple of good men and forgetting, on this day, to be properly aghast about a few more ashes.

  39. When I lived in Southern Cal, a Jewish synagogue would use our stake center every year for Yom Kippur since we had more space. One time, I went to get something out of a closet for a calling, and every picture of Christ was taken down or covered by sheets. The stake president was in our ward & I commented on it to him. He said something to the effect that we were reaching out to our friends of other faiths wherever we shared common ground. I would say that was a HUGE taking off of the tags for us collectively as a stake.

    In the Starbucks drive-thru when the car behind me honked and pointed at my BYU alumni license plate. I yelled out “hot chocolate” and he gave me a look like “Sure”. It’s my way of doing missionary work. Remind me to take off the plates whenever I go through one again. Actually, those plates have saved me numerous times from making unkind gestures or words to other drivers….mostly….

  40. 39: I have a BYU bumper sticker on my car and gave the bird to a driver who started making his way into my lane right next to me. whoops.

  41. Our ZL during a zone conference made us take our tags off and go contacting. It was surprisingly…normal. We felt a little disarmed at first but as soon as people recognized we were missionaries, everything was the same.

    Incidentally, I do remember times other missionaries made me seriously consider removing my tag. The entire zone sat in the back of the bus one P-Day, and some elder in the far corner apparently felt a desperate need to relieve himself. With encouragement from another missionary the poor guy decided it simply couldn’t wait and used a water bottle someone gave him. I was oblivious to all the commotion, and somewhat annoyed at the raucous laughing, until I noticed something wet was seeping beneath my seat. The missionary on my left scuddled around, I wanted to apologize to everyone inside on behalf of The Rock is Christ Church for our fellow elder’s sweaty fingers.

  42. I very seldom wore a name tag, as I felt like it made me look like a geek.

  43. Not a tag off story, but the best piece of advice I received from my mission president was: “don’t let the rules hinder you from serving The Lord.” That seems to be the principle behind all of these tags-off stories.

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