Coming to Terms With Change


Here’s an Essay I wrote last week for my English Class:

For young men who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the most anticipated events is the reception of a mission call. A mission call is a letter, sent from Church leadership, “calling” the young man on a mission to a certain place. On this mission the young man will be expected to spend two years in a certain area, preaching the message of the Gospel. Missionaries are only allowed to email home once a week. Their time and attention is to be focused on their mission.

Such was my experience, in late 2003, after having sent in my papers to inform Church leadership of my desire to serve; I received my mission call. The simple white envelope arrived in the mail and my family and I went to the park and gathered around a bench. I sat there with the white envelope held in my trembling fingers. As I prepared to open the envelope, my mother asked me, “Where do you want to go?” I thought of all the places I might want to go; my father went to England; and I was studying Russian. After a few second I replied, “I want to go anywhere, as long as it’s not hot.” With that, I quickly ripped open the top of the envelope. I pulled out the papers from the envelope and began to I slowly read the letter. My family stared at me with excitement.

“Brother Michael Ellis, you are called to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are called to serve in the,” I paused for dramatic effect, “Philippines Baguio Mission.” After I had slaughtered the pronunciation of the name Baguio, I knew my desire to serve someplace, “not hot.” had jinxed me. I was going to be serving in a tropical area, the Philippines.

The following months were followed by a variety of preparation including purchasing necessary books, and materials. A new suit was purchased, as a well as three pairs of shoes. On January 2004, I went to the Missionary Training Center(MTC) in Provo, Utah. In the MTC other missionaries, and myself, were trained in preaching and languages skills. We were taught the importance of being obedient to our Church leaders so that we could effectively teach by the Holy Spirit.

Almost two months later we flew to the Philippines to begin our missions. Missionaries are always paired with another missionary. This is so there are always two together at a time. As I served, I became close friends with many of the missionaries I was paired with. I also became close friends with many of the Filipino people I served among.

During the first months of my mission it took a lot of patience to understand the Filipino culture and even more to learn their language. The language skills we had been taught in the MTC were barely sufficient for basic communication. There was another challenge I had to overcome. For a long time I had been afraid of public speaking and starting conversations with people I haven’t met. My pulse would race with each person we contacted. In contacting people, we would start a conversation about God or some other subject. We would then inform them about the message of the Gospel we had to share. If they did not have time at the moment we would set an appointment to return.

The first lesson we would teach people was about the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is a text that is believed to have been miraculously translated from an ancient record by Joseph Smith, Jr. in the 1800s. This book is used as evidence to support the belief that prophets have been called by God again in our times. We would then teach them that the successors of Joseph Smith from the 1800s until today were also prophets.

In other lessons we would teach them about the various beliefs and doctrines of the Church. We would teach about the basic principles of the Gospel, such as: faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism of water and receiving the Holy Ghost. Other things we taught concerned eternal families, and the importance of temples. Perhaps the most important thing we taught was that thanks to Joseph Smith, Jr., the true Church of Jesus Christ had been restored to the earth. We taught people that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was that true church; and that the leadership was divinely inspired of God.

Ever since I can remember I have always been interested in scripture. I believed that what I was taught was correct, and that we missionaries were the representatives of the Lord. It was my belief that as a representative of the Lord when others were kind to me, or helped me, then they were really helping the Lord. I would offer quiet prayers for those people who were good to me.

While it is true that the main objective of a missionary is preaching, relationships are also formed. The local members of the Church would help us in contacting and teaching people from the local area. Usually bonds of friendship would be formed with these people. I can recall many nights eating dinner at a member’s house. We called him Brother Dudi. The Filipino missionary I was paired with would chat away with him, while I sat and sketched in my notebook, catching only a few words here and there. As time progressed, I could communicate better in the native language, Tagalog. I also became better at sketching.

Towards the end of my mission a member of the Church gave me the phone number of a woman in the area. Missionaries are not allowed to date on their mission; so after my two years were up and I returned home, I called her. Three years later we were married here in Idaho.

After a couple more years I began doing serious study into my beliefs. I read and searched the important texts of my religion. Through this research, and other online resources, I discovered that there were contradictions in my religion. I realized that the teachings of my religion contradicted the revelations and texts we viewed as authoritative. As I continued to examine these things it was as if my eyes had been opened. I could clearly see the differences between what the texts were actually saying, and what I was told they were saying.

One of the biggest discrepancies came in the area of missionary work. The book Doctrine and Covenants contains, what Mormons believe to be the revelations of Joseph Smith. In this book it is stated that missionaries should leave without taking any money or food, and that they should rely upon the charity of others for their sustenance. However the actual practice for the Church today is that missionaries and their families should pay a monthly amount to the Church. That amount is put into a general fund; the missionaries then receive a monthly allowance from that general fund.

I realized that, rather than being representative of the Lord, I was actually just a representative of a religious corporation. I had been teaching things not found in the scriptures, but instead were found only in the traditions that had been passed down through generations. This contradiction weighed heavily on my mind. What I had previously accepted as correct doctrine was actually only the opinons of others; rather than the actual doctrine itself. It was necessary that I either accept the modern contradictory teachings or accept the original texts.

Now as I look back on my missionary experience I see myself as having been used to promote this corporation whose teachings, in many cases, I no longer agreed with. Yet, there were still many positive experiences I had experienced on my mission. It wasn’t all bad. I had made friends, learned things, and even met the woman who would become my wife.

I cannot throw away my missionary experience like so many others have. How then, do I accept my mission as a good thing, while also disagreeing with it? Is it possible for good to come from bad means? Even today, these are the question I ask, as I seek to reconcile my current views with my previous actions. Changing a world view is not an easy task. Though perhaps, the process of change in our lives is never really complete. Maybe the journey is the destination; and we all must find the good out of all the things we have done, and all the mistakes we have made.

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6 Responses to Coming to Terms With Change

  1. That’s a gusty essay! What kind of response did you get from the class?

  2. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness: Luv edition!!! » Main Street Plaza

  3. JR says:

    I don’t want to give place names because of who might see this. I was “called” to serve my mission where I was born, had majority of family there (still do), where I spent every summer, where my parents were baptized, grandparents buried, and more. The church could see we used to live there and for how long, and how close it was to where I was living at the time. Go figure. I am still convinced my “calling” was not inspired. The mission was awful, not because of the city itself where I was sent (and born) but because of the mission Pres. and the other missionaries; and the MTC was worse. The MTC was the beginning of my experiences with how awful Mormons could treat fellow Mormons while at the same time claiming to be followers of Christ. Hypocrisy at its best. My MTC companions were horrible. (My Patriarchal blessing is another story of no inspiration)
    I agree with what you said about finding good out of all the things we have done. I am glad your mission was a good experience overall. The only good on my mission was that I was able to see many family members (I contacted them without anyone knowing and set up “accidental” meetings!) :D

  4. “I cannot throw away my missionary experience like so many others have. How then, do I accept my mission as a good thing, while also disagreeing with it? Is it possible for good to come from bad means? Even today, these are the question I ask, as I seek to reconcile my current views with my previous actions.”

    I was thinking last night about what you said. Then I tried to listen and stop thinking. Then I remembered conversations I had with my friends in the mission. We talked about how we would react and feel if we were ever called to fight a war against Chile (we being from the USA). Every one of us felt the same. There was no way we could fight against the Chileans. We couldn’t attempt to kill someone who we had loved so much. We would throw down our weapons and let come what may.

    This memory, connected with what is maybe the most valuable and important change that can occur in the mission. The connection, love and sealing that occurs. For me, I never experienced much or any of that before the mission. I believe from conversations we’ve had that you had that same experience.

    At the end of my mission president’s mission he told me how the greatest lesson he learned in the mission was how much Heavenly Father loves us. That he felt God’s love flow through him to the missionaries. I feel that he misunderstood. It wasn’t some other separate being, rather the god within him that was pouring out.

    Something that you can accept, is that you changed as you opened up and discovered yourself. That can only come from your own efforts to open up and not from something someone forces or deceives you in to doing.

  5. I could have written a very similar essay. I served my mission in the area around Kirtland Ohio, and I had many worthwhile experiences. I also have since realized that many times I taught falsehoods as truth. But looking back what I see was simply the same virtues and failings of any person;s life, the same path that all men must travel of good mixed with error. I did not serve a perfect mission, and in many instances I may have led others astray, but I do not feel damned for these sins. I feel that my mission and my life are perfect, not because of the absence of serious error, but because of the presence of Christ. I may have inappropriately forwarded incorrect ideas, and I may have strengthened a corporation which has at times done evil, but first and foremost I tried to serve Christ. He can make up the difference. Looking back I feel like echoing the words of the apostle Paul: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished by course, I have kept the faith.”

    I am no longer a member of the corporation, I was pressured to leave when I insisted on placing my testimony of the scriptures over the traditions of men. I came to a place where my church membership and my testimony of Joseph Smith and the restoration were no longer compatible, but when faced with choosing between being faithful to the Gospel and being faithful to “The Church”tm, I choose to be faithful to my covenants with God. The fact remains that I still do not know everything, and therefore i am still wrong about something, I just don’t know what yet. the key is to remain humble and teachable so that as I discover my errors I can replace them with truth. I see no reason to feel guilt because of past errors, or to feel any differently about my mission, because so long as I humbly seek to follow Christ I know he will bless my efforts, teach me truth and remove error from my life. Rather than regret my past errors on my mission I feel like rejoicing in my God who has the power to show me my errors and lift me out of delusion and into the truth.

    I have lost nothing in the transition but delusions. And in losing them I have gained greater truth. This is a process of constant progression. There are many people who fear to question their past, or the church and its traditions because they fear that by loosing these traditions their life will be made poorer. This is never the case! Whatever we sacrifice in our quest for the fullness of the truth and for obeying all of God;’s commandments, is re paid to us seven times seven fold!

    In losing the church I have gained the opportunity to live the commandments and search the scriptures without the stifling coercion of the correlation department to restrict my growth. Better still I have found a group of Latter-Day Saints who are establishing the united order, building temples, and preparing to become a Zion people.

    I Love the gospel, and I have a testimony of God’s work. It goes forward regardless of what man can do. Our failings cannot make the lord’s work fail, nor can they separate us from his infinite atonement. Rejoice in the memories of your mission, both for the good you did do, and for the knowledge of what you did wrong. Knowledge leads either to repentance or damnation, so I exhort us all to choose the former.

    GospelFullness (at) Gmail dot com

  6. jr says:

    I forgot this: My mission President disobeyed what the Prophet wanted. I am female and in the health care field, and was trained as a “Welfare Missionary”.. My mission president did not believe in Welfare work and made us Welfare missionaries do nothing but knock on doors. When I had the good fortune to have a companion who was also a Welfare missionary we did Welfare work. We did more good doing Welfare work and through the Welfare work we were able to teach the Gospel principles. The non members I worked with doing Welfare work were grateful and they were the ones who seriously investigated the church and became strong members.
    Unfortunately I only had two Welfare companions during my entire mission. I tried to get other companions to do a little Welfare work but they freaked out. Some of those companions did nothing when they were paired with others. But they did not want to do something good while with me. Also my mission area was wild from the Mission Pres. who left right before I arrived. He was a hot shot Dentist, very wealthy, and the mission was a mess. It was a free for all, and I had to deal with that the first year of my mission with some of my companions. A lot of stuff went on that should not have happened.

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