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Project Conversion

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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