Mormon missionaries on the move

My conversation and experience with two Mormon missionaries in rural Newfoundland

Opening your front door, you’re met by two clean-cut young men. They stand out because of their conservative dress. They wear white dress shirts, dark trousers and suit coats, and colourful ties.

A name tag gives their surname, appropriate title and name of the church they represent. They firmly grip the Book of Mormon.

“Hi,” the younger one says pleasantly. “I’m Elder Walz and this is Elder Morin. We’re missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Today we’re sharing a message about the Book of Mormon.”

Depending on the householder’s reaction, they either continue talking or politely leave. Either way, their part is done.

The Mormon missionary impulse and dedication

Meet Daniel Walz, 19, from Provo, Utah, and Alexandre Morin, 21, from Saint-Hilaire, Quebec. They have been living in my hometown for a while, following training in Provo.

Later, after I had attended one of their church services, they chatted with me about their mission.

“As representatives of Jesus Christ, we volunteered two years of our lives to come out and preach to people, to invite them to come to Christ, and receive his gospel,” Walz explained.

The LDS makes missionary work top priority. At least 50,000 missionaries currently serve worldwide. Most of them are single men and women in their late teens and early twenties. Each one volunteers for a two-year mission on a full-time basis, and is assigned a place, usually far from home.

They travel in groups of two, “as Christ himself told the apostles in the Early Church,” Morin said.

“It’s a really important step in my life,” he added. “There’s great blessing that comes from it, and it will help me to grow and learn.”

They have no say about where they serve. By signing on the dotted line, they indicate their desire and willingness to go on a mission. The Church then sends them “wherever they feel we would be needed,” Morin explained. Raised in the LDS, both are committed to the task. “I’ll go wherever I’m told to go,” Walz stated firmly.

Bay Roberts, NL is Walz’s first posting, while Morin has already served in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. They spend four to six months in a community.

LDS missionaries receive no salary, but they or their families usually provide financial support.

“We work and save up beforehand enough money to support us for the two years,” Walz said. They pass over to the Church their earnings, which are dispensed to them over the duration of the mission.

“Yes, it is a sacrifice,” Morin admitted. “I left school, family and friends. You never know what’s going to happen before you go back home. But I find that what we learn in those two years is well worth that sacrifice. Still, there are those days when I miss Mom.”

Walz agreed. Though he misses his family, he knows “God is with us. It’s definitely worth leaving my family and friends and school.”

As for their conservative dress, Morin admitted, “Yes, we’re obligated to dress this way. If somebody comes to your door dressed in rags and a dirty T-shirt, the first message that comes to your mind is, ‘Who’s that clown?’ It’s not the best way to represent our Saviour.”

At the conclusion of their mission, Morin hopes to train as a high school teacher and Walz plans to go back to university. Until then, they have little spare time.

“Most of the time, we go door-to-door, seeking people who want to listen or who are interested in learning more about our message about Christ,” Morin said.

Offering service

The Book of Mormon, a sacred LDS text, is dubbed “another testament of Jesus Christ.” The flyleaf describes it as “an account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi,” transcribed by Joseph Smith Jr. “It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas.”

A second sacred text is the Bible.

“We believe both books to be of equal value,” Walz said. “They are both the Word of God. But the Book of Mormon is something we want people to know about because most people don’t. We sometimes seem to put a bigger emphasis on the Book of Mormon because that’s the thing that makes a difference.”

Walz and Morin offer their service to residents in practical ways, whether by shovelling snow or digging ditches.

“We try to involve ourselves in whatever opportunities show up, to help whoever’s in need in the community,” Morin said.

Their other activities revolve around Sunday.

At 10am, the faithful gather in their church. All are welcome. The first hour is a public meeting. In the second hour, children, men and women divide into study groups.

About nineteen people – five women, eight men and six children – attended the meeting I took in.

Everyone is called “Brother” or “Sister.” Prayers are complemented by congregational singing, accompanied by a piano. No offering plate is passed. The saints believe in the “law of tithing,” willingly giving ten per cent of their earnings to their church.

A highlight is the blessing and passing of the sacrament by the priesthood. Participants eat bread and drink water, the latter in individual cups, as a way of remembering the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

“We view it as a renewal of the covenant we made during baptism,” Morin explained. It’s offered to the entire congregation, whether LDS or not. “It’s up to the individual.”

In a surprising variation, the liquid element is water, which is reflective of the LDS prohibition against alcohol consumption.

Cameras and recording equipment are not permitted in LDS meetings. The reason? “To keep the church sacred,” Walz said.

Varied reactions

The missionaries’ presence in the community evokes varied reaction.

“Around here, I find people really give us a warm welcome,” Morin said. “They are very respectful of what we do and what we’re here to share. We do encounter all kinds of people, from the really nice to those who are a little more aggressive. But if I’m able to help at least one person and make his life a little bit better by sharing the message with them, that will be worth my while.”

At the end of their day, Walz and Morin return to their basement apartment. However, their activities are limited.

“We don’t watch TV or movies during the two years of our mission,” Walz said. “We do live a really straight code,” Morin added. They spend their time studying the sacred LDS texts.

Why did I attend a LDS service? Two reasons, primarily.

First, at the time, I was working as a newspaper reporter. My editor, after hearing of my interest in writing about the local LDS, encouraged me to attend.

Secondly, I often wonder what people think about my personal beliefs. I would like for them to set aside presuppositions and give me a decent hearing. I may have thought I knew what Mormons believe, but I had never before attempted to meet them on their turf.

Richard J. Mouw, President at Fuller Theological Seminary for 20 years, has been talking with Mormons for a long time. He suggests that we owe them a hearing, “lest we violate the command from God himself that we not bear false witness against our neighbour.”

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Following a 35-year career as an ordained minister, Burton K. Janes is now a freelance editor, writer and online instructor. He lives in Newfoundland where he maintains his own blog

About the author