Project Conversion

Project Conversion

For the Love of Missionaries

posted by abowen

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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Mrs. DarlaG

posted July 24, 2011 at 3:57 am

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.

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posted July 23, 2011 at 11:43 pm

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.

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posted July 23, 2011 at 11:19 pm

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.)

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posted July 23, 2011 at 10:58 pm

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!

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posted July 23, 2011 at 10:55 pm

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!

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Mischa E

posted July 23, 2011 at 8:44 pm

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.

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posted July 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm

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.

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posted July 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm

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.

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Austin Faux

posted July 23, 2011 at 3:52 pm

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.


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Art Sherwood

posted July 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm

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!

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