Every time I hear that a child of some friend or relative is marching off to the Missionary Training Center, the memories come flooding back.
As a child growing up in the church, it sits out there like a distant landmark – almost unreachable. Nineteen. You’re taught from the moment you can speak or sing the words to “I hope they call me on a mission…” that the day is coming when you will go out into the world and share the “gospel”. To me, it was always a mix of nervous excitement and the vacuous unknown. I had thought that the mission would be a time of sharing Jesus Christ’s message… how wrong I was. I had spent all those years trying to gain a testimony of Jesus only to actually go on a mission and discover how little that plays into what a missionary was actually supposed to do.
The MTC was a mix of hurried schedules and a mad dash through cycles of memorize, regurgitate, role-play, rinse, repeat. Speakers and hymns all designed to whip us up into a frenzy of ‘how cool is it that we are missionaries’. Memorize the first vision story so that you can repeat it from memory…. with feeling. Memorizing D&C section 4 in the language of your destination country so that you can recite it at every mission conference. Watch videos of yourself practicing door-approaches so that you can get better at breaking the ice. And surprisingly, and unfortunately, dealing with all the other missionaries that didn’t want to be there (for whatever their reason, but somehow managed to be obligated) and who spent most of the time trying to tear out any scrap of sincerity anyone was managing to muster out of their exhausted selves.
Early on, while out on my mission, one of my seeds of doubt was given to me courtesy of a member of the quorum of the seventy, bless his aging heart, who arrived to speak to us and uttered the following: “Elders, most of the people here already know who Jesus Christ is. You are not called to preach Jesus. You were called here to preach that the gospel was restored through Joseph Smith, that the Book of Mormon is true, and that only through baptism by the authority of the restored priesthood will they be able to come back into the presence of God.” The ripple of baptize, baptize, baptize that resounded through the other missionaries was almost a euphoric frenzy. (more on that in some later post)
It made me feel a little sick. I loved the idea of Jesus Christ and I had thought that if you taught someone about Jesus that they would want to be baptized… and if they didn’t, that should be OK too. The story of the restoration is incidental to the actual Jesus Christ …right? I received so much flack for that opinion that one would think I was espousing lies and apostasy. I learned how to survive by shutting up and going along and it has taken me a long time to forgive myself for giving up. The good that came out of this is that when someone says, “it’s not about the numbers of baptisms on your mission,” it shows me what their face looks like when they are lying.
Have a read-through this real-life scenario that played out in Japan courtesy of Ballard.
Also, having worked for a while at the MTC, I got to see the same drumbeat played out during the many training sessions that mission presidents and their wives go through. Clearly equating ones baptism numbers with the level of faith one apparently has.
Well, many years later and much further down the road of discovery, I find myself wanting to send a letter back in time to that altruistic and idealistic nineteen-year-old to tell him not to worry and someday he’ll realize it’s because, at its core, it’s not really a religion, it’s a business. It just dresses up like a religion so that it can stay functional and so that there will be a lapel for the platitude-laced boutonniere.
At the end of the letter, I would include this: (non satire original ***here***)
~~~~~~ Called to Serve – Hymn #249 ~~~~~~
Called to serve and help proclaim the story
– Christian churches all have gone astray.
Joseph Smith was called to be a prophet!
We’ve been told just what to say!
Play up all the good things!
We love Jesus just like you!
We have Holy Bibles
And corrections for them too!
You must not be happy
If you haven’t joined the throng…
Just ignore the fits
Of history that show where we’ve gone wrong.
Called to bring your money to our coffers
-Tithing brings in billions for our cause.
We pretend the money feeds the needy
And pretend it goes to God!
Play up all the good things!
We preach hope and charity.
Don’t look at the fraction
That really goes to those in need.
Loopholes in the tax codes
Help to keep our solvency.
Profits won from your
Donations have become our industry!
May a sure knowledge of what truth you know and and an acceptance of what you do not yet know grant you a peaceful day.