For the Love of Missionaries

If my heart and mind are clean sheets of glass for the year, my experience with each of Project Conversion’s Mentors is a unique fingerprint left upon the glass. No two are alike and each leaves an indelible mark upon my progress.

Last night during a weekly meeting with my two young Mentors, something happened. The meetings are usually very organized and topical. My Mentors (the LDS church calls these young missionaries “Elders”) always start off asking how my week was so far, if I had any questions since our last meeting, or if I’ve had any unique experiences during the week. We then cover certain doctrine or beliefs of the church and talk about application.

The meeting last night went completely off the rails in terms of church instruction and, well, I became the target of the questions.

“Brother Bowen,” the most senior of the two asked, “How has reading the Book of Mormon and learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ made you feel?”

Here we go, I thought, talking about my feelings again. I thought we got passed this point. I thought these meetings were about facts and figures and tenants and doctrine. No. Like a good teacher, these young men asked me to spiritually and mentally engage what they taught me.

“I have some personal reservations about some of the details,” I said, “However in general, I feel that Jesus was a good teacher.”

I won’t go into the two-hour philosophical marathon here, but there is something I want to hit on that is unique to this month. This is the first month where my teachers have pressured me to not only learn about the faith, but to learn about it in order to consider joining the church. This was annoying at first. I felt as though every question was rehearsed, planned, and loaded toward that end. These guys don’t care about Project Conversion’s mission, they just want another notch in their “convert” belt so they can score points with God.

Last night’s interaction with these guys changed my whole outlook and was easily one of the most powerful and humbling experiences I’ve had with Project Conversion.

You could say that, during our talk, we laid it all out. We spoke no holds barred about how we felt, what our concerns were, what we wanted. The pressure in the room was palpable. I could see it in their eyes; they wanted so bad for me to understand and come to a spiritual summit where all is clear. By this point I knew they had run out of trained responses to my questions. Many of our statements began with, “Please don’t take offense,” or “I’m just going to be honest,” and we bounced off one another like hockey players for two hours.

Then, the newest Elder spoke toward the end of the meeting and changed everything. I had reservations about this kid at first. He seemed nervous when we met, even unsteady in his faith, as if his faith might crumble beneath the weight of one of my questions at any moment. But last night toward the end, he told us that he had something to say, only he couldn’t quite find the words.

Silence covered the room like a thick, smothering blanket. He fidgeted and had a few false starts. In fact, he looked choked up. This young man looked up at me and, paraphrasing, he said “I was told that I might get attached to some of the people we teach. Spending this time with you, Brother Bowen, I feel I’ve grown to love you.” Of course I threw in some comic relief. He continued, “I just want you to know from the bottom of my heart that I know this gospel is true, that it can bring great joy–the greatest joy–to your life. I know that this gospel means that we can spend eternity with our family–that we don’t have to wander around alone after death. I’m not on this mission for me, but because I care enough and believe enough in Christ to share it with others. Through teaching you, I feel as though my testimony and faith has strengthened. I dunno, I just wanted to tell you that. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

Congregation, at that moment it was like the entire reality of these two men opened before me. I felt a love and sincerity that I rarely experience from a teacher. At that point I understood their faith and why they are on missions. Sometimes I wondered why they devoted so much time to me even though they know I’m leaving at the end of the month. For them, the gospel is like the cure for cancer, only in this case it’s the cure for spiritual death. The cure they hold is free and accessible to everyone, all they have to do is share it. If you believed with all your being that you held the secret–the cure–to something universally fatal, what would you do to share it, even with people you knew would turn you away?

That is the love of a missionary–of my Mentors–and through studying the life of Christ, it was also the love and devotion he shared while among mankind. He knew they would reject him, but he came, taught, and offered his life anyway.

So the next time two young men in short-sleeve white shirts and ties knock on your door to share the gospel, invite them in and offer them something cool to drink. You have no idea what they’ve given up to be with you, how nervous they are, and how much they care. You don’t have to convert, just show them the love they offer to you. And who knows, maybe the medicine they offer is for you after all.

LDS missionaries keep going…only harder.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Art Sherwood

    First of all, how many times am I allowed to click the “Like” button here? You have discovered one of the great truths about the LDS faith, one that most people miss: the motive behind the missionary work.

    The book of Mormon tells of a group of young men who started out fighting against the church, trying to destroy it. They ended up having an experience much like Paul’s where an angel appeared to them and commanded them to stop persecuting the saints. After their miraculous conversion, they desired to go on missions themselves. This is what is says…

    3 Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.

    4 And thus did the Spirit of the Lord work upon them, for they were the very vilest of sinners. And the Lord saw fit in his infinite mercy to spare them; nevertheless they suffered much anguish of soul because of their iniquities, suffering much and fearing that they should be cast off forever.

    On another note, have you ever read C.S.Lewis’ Mere Christianity? There is a passage in that book that applies to your response to the missionaries that Jesus was a good teacher:

    I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that
    people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral
    teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we
    must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus
    said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a
    level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the
    Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the
    Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a
    fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His
    feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising
    nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to
    us. He did not intend to.

    Once again, loved the post today! I thoroughly enjoy reading these!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Austin Faux

    That is beautiful, thanks for sharing. I’ve told you in other posts that I was an atheist before joining the LDS church, and while I was investigating I noticed something developing within me. I noticed a strong sense of gratitude, and that gratitude blossomed into love, and that love motivated me to act.

    Being in this church I found real motivation to love God and love neighbors. Loving one another can bring so much joy into our lives. It gave me a different perspective of humanity, that being children of God we are worthy of being loved, and giving love, and if we can’t love one another then we aren’t living up to our potential.


    • abowen

      I’ve always found the atheist transition toward faith especially interesting. Now that I’ve seen the intensity and compassion these young missionaries and the church in general has, I can see what it would be so alluring.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mrs.DarlaG

    Wow. Andrew, you have made me see my own missionaries in a very different light. Because of our family situation, with hubby being a non-member & our nearly 20 years together, I feel like I’ve spent 20 years playing “keep away” to be sensitive to hubby’s feelings and desires. In turn, however, it has made ME less kind & friendly to these young men in my own ward. Thank you for such a beautifully fresh perspective, Andrew. I love seeing my faith through your open eyes.

    • abowen

      I certainly think there is a middle ground here. Of course, you don’t want to cause strife in your home just to accomodate the Elders. On the other hand, these young men need the support of their adopted wards 100%. It always amazes me how much they’ve given up just to be with us. I’m sure you’ll find a way to meet both cases and it is an honor to be a part of your beautiful faith, even for just a little while. I’ve learned volumes…and there’s so much more!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mischa E

    I am so close to tears and almost nothing can do that. I had such a close friendship with God growing up. I spoke to him as someone would a friend sitting next to them. I was an only child for eight years before my siblings came and He was my constant companion. AS I got older it was harder to feel that innocent relationship and I was so confused. Life growing up was often hard in a broken home where food was sometimes hard to come by. I felt lost and alone, continually awkward with my place in life. When I saw my Mormon friends families so close and loving I felt peace and this led me to speak with the missionary sisters. I questioned a quizzed them, bringing sheets of paper full of questions. I was looking for happiness, but not believing I would join them, just take what I needed and move on. I won’t write what happened for my change because of the length, but I didn’t just find a patch for the missing piece, I found that innocent relationship… the missing piece love, self worth, and respect for my Father in Heaven’s other children. The people around us are His beloved children and so am I. Are we not worthy of love, devotion, and respect as children of the Divine? I think we are. So when a Mormon shares their faith with you, just know they do it because they have something precious and as it’s their right as His sons and daughters to have this, it is yours also. They do it out of love and the desire to share what has made their lives whole. They are probably nervous and scared, but they do it anyhow because it almost feels selfish to keep it to themselves. Because they want you to have the knowledge of your Divine place in the world as well.

    • abowen

      Thank you for sharing this. It’s amazing how open and receptive we are as children to see and notice certain things. Only when we grow up and life becomes busy around us do we lose this ability. The fact that you brought so many questions to bear on those missionaries is almost as if you were testing if they represented your old “friend.” I’m so glad to know that you found your way back to peace!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Arden

    I’m really, really struggling with this. On the one hand, I appreciate, so much, your honest description of the missionaries and their intent. They do love, and they do care, and they do it from the bottom of their hearts. When they are trying to convert you it is so hard to see that.

    We are all human and it is crucial, utterly crucial, that we are able to deal with the very real schisms between our belief systems and connect as human beings, as you describe.

    On the other hand, I just can’t help but note there _is_ a schism. I’m not experiencing spiritual death. I have found fulfillment, immense fulfillment, in spiritualities that are just incompatible with exclusive Mormonism. As surely as the Mormon missionaries I’ve encountered have been sure that I’ve been wandering through a spiritual desert in search of Jesus — no matter how hard I protest — I know they’re wrong. We just aren’t going to agree about that, and not only are we not going to agree, but there are a lot of very important things that we just aren’t going to be able to talk about because they’re (I’m being honest here) coming from a premise that _requires_ them to dismiss very real experiences and insights I’ve had.

    I hope this makes sense. I also hope it isn’t taken the wrong way. This is a recurring issue between me and my Christian family and I am grappling with it constantly. We love each other and must reconcile our differences and that love.

    (By the way — Art, as a lover of madmen of all stripes, especially the almost certainly mad William Blake, I feel I can certainly appreciate much of what Jesus said without buying into his being the One and Only Messiah. I find that studying Jesus without the trappings of religious interpretation helped me appreciate how radical he truly was. I don’t have to agree with everything he said and did to believe this.)

    • abowen

      You are right, there is a schism…between the religions. But my point is that there doesn’t have to be one between people. Folks reading between the lines of Project Conversion see that this is more about the subtle connections we make as human beings despite our religious affiliations, not only the common threads of spirituality that run through each faith. My experience last evening was on a human level with these young men. Theology aside, we bonded. Sure, they want to save me, but it’s why they want to and because they want to that shimmers. It comes down to compassion. It doesn’t matter if they show compassion for me by pulling me out of a fire or by sharing a gospel they believe will bless my life, the common factor there is compassion.

      The rest is the noise humanity tends to fight over, which is silly anyway and gets people nowhere but square one.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mrs. DarlaG

    Yes, Andrew, in the past we would have them over for dinner 4 or 5 times a year, and invite another couple as a buffer. After we & our friends started producing progeny, that became a more difficult task. I was able to take them meals monthly in one ward, as opposed to having them over (couldn’t anyway, they had earlier dinner times & hubby got home later than their dinner hour). But it has been several years since we have been in that ward. Your post has given me a renewed desire to do “something” to show support for these young men whose parents’ have entrusted them to our care.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Arden

    Agreed – I definitely got that point from your post. The human connection is what really, truly matters. The key is trying to make a connection in spite of the schism.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Laura

    I know people have varying opinions on the subject, but I really hope that non-LDS people understand that, like Andrew said in an earlier post “they only share because they care.”

    If a Mormon missionary ever tries to tell you that you are wandering around in spiritual darkness waiting to find the truth, you can and should explain to them that that is simply not true. Oftentimes we find something that fills a hole that we didn’t even know was there, and missionaries have had experiences where that is the case. Thus, it is hard for them to understand people who are in a place where they genuinely have no holes that need filling.

    Also, nowhere in LDS doctrine does is say that those who choose not to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the LDS Church are condemned to an eternity of wandering around aimlessly. I have an understanding and a testimony of the Plan of Salvation, and the reason I believe in LDS Doctrine surrounding life after death is because it teaches that all people will have eternal life, and that all people will end up in place that will bring them happiness. It teaches me that I CAN be with my family forever, and that you can too.

    While I certainly can’t visualize exactly what life after death will actually look like, I very firmly believe that it is nothing like the gloom and doom picture that is often painted. Nobody will be kept out of Heaven on a tecnicality, or because they chose the wrong religion. Heavenly Father loves His children and wants them all to return to Him. He will be much more forgiving that we tend to think He is. Anyone, including a Mormon missionary, who tries to tell you that your rejection of their beliefs is condemning yourself to damnation, clearly doesn’t have an understanding of the fact that God is our Loving Heavenly Father and that no one on this earth has the right to offer judgement of another person on God’s behalf.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Carol

    I really like your comments, Laura.

    I had someone ask me once that if they didn’t join the Mormon church in this life what would happen to them.

    I, too, feel that Heavenly Father knows each of us and the situations we are in so intimately that we cannot judge each other. It frustrates me when I hear of missionaries or others that condemn when they should love.

    My personal belief, and what I told my friend is this: there is truth in all religion. We believe we have a fullness of truth as well as the tools (ordinances)we need to get us back to Heavenly Father. He wants ALL of us to come back. He will allow ALL of us the opportunity to get those tools for ourselves at some point or other in our lives here or in the hereafter. And we may have multiple opportunties. The LDS church is essentially a vehicle for those tools–not right where everyone else is wrong, but as our leaders have said–building on and adding to where everyone else is right.

    You may have a hammer, nails and pliers in your tool box. But to get the job completely done, you also need a screwdriver and a wrench. At some point you will be given the opportunity to get those tools!

    It says in the scriptures that Heavenly Father is “no respecter of persons” and that tells me that we ALL have the same ability to get back to Him if we will acquire and use the tools that He makes available.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jay Garlick

    Thanks “Brother Bowen” ;), this a great journey and appreciate you listening too. I am LDS, 37, father of 6. I “serve” as a local missionary here in our ward at home. I was once a missionary like those elders. I was in Portugal. If you want a remarkable experience, visit a ward or branch internationally. But that is not why I wanted to comment. I could not help from feel a tear run down my cheek when you shared that young Elder’s comments. It brought back all over again the rush of love that I feel for the people I teach. I like the saying, “no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Those moments when everything gets “real” are those that I cherish most. Thanks again for your time spent with us.

    • abowen

      Thanks Jay.

      There are so many places I’ve wanted to see throughout my journey, but what it comes down to is the fact that amazing people create amazing places. And you are right about caring, about connecting. That is the sum of this entire project.



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Colin Faux

    Belief (in any form) is powerful. I’m glad the belief the Missionaries shared with you was in the form of love. Missionaries who are motivated by anything other than the Love they have for Deity and the Love they have for those they speak with will not be as powerful.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment spencer

    Thank you for your sincere insite. Rarely do I hear someone honestly convey inner feelings with the skill that you have shown with these posts about the Mormons. (I’ve not read your posts about the other religions, but I must presume that you were as honest and open about their beliefs as well.)

    Thanks for this journey, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your perspective.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Spokane

    Great story.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kay Dangerfield

    I am the recipient of the love of 2 missionaries had for me and especially for the
    Savior. It has changed my life and I seek to
    share that love (love of my Savior) with all
    that I come in contact with. I love missionaries!!