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.