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Three score and ten or more

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mormon Missionary Story

I haven't done this for awhile, but I decided it was time.  For those of you who hate Mormon Missionaries this is the time to move on.  If you have curiosity about how they function (nothing theological here) read on.

If you have seen missionaries around in your neighborhood some things become apparent:  They travel in pairs that  pretty  much stick together;  They will usually be found with a white shirt and tie, or in cooler weather in a suit.  They have other behavioral rules:  for the most part they are not allowed to go to the movies, read popular novels and magazines and are generally expected to live a pretty staid life.  They are not allowed to meet with girls their age with out a local member as chaperone.  In my mission we constantly assumed that their was an "arms length" rule relating to those of the opposite sex.  They are discouraged from going swimming or skiing or indulging in sports that have high percentages of injuries.  On the other hand, on free days (they have one a week, called "p" days or Preparation days, usually on Monday) they will often be found playing pick up basked ball, usually in the gymnasium portions of the church building, but not always.  The rules generally include early rising (6:00 AM or thereabouts.  Scripture study in the morning and a day of missionary work (attending meetings, or door to door canvassing or something of that order) following.  In many missions they are discouraged from spending a lot of time visiting members (except members who are not very active participants at church.)  In all these activities the rule is to stick with your partner (the regular term is "Missionary Companion" all the time.  Many missionaries are still teenager and it is hoped that one member of a companionship will be a good influence on the other.  (to keep each other from doing something stupid was one description I have heard)

When I was a missionary in Finland fifty or so years ago, many of the restrictions were not there, but there were other rules that took their place.  We were expected to wear a suit all the time (except on P days) and in Finland at least, we were expected to wear a hat.  In July sometimes we were given permission to leave the hat home-- You can't imaging how little fun it is to ride a bicycle wearing a suit and a fedora in July, even in Finland.  We were allowed to swim, but not in mixed company, and, in Finland in the fifties, cross country skiing was necessary to do some of the things you had to do. (not many).

Finland was a new land, where the church was young, and local leadership was scarce, so, in addition to proselyting nineteen or twenty year old guys also had to conduct meetings, lead the congregational singing, play the piano (if that was one's skill) and perform all the ordinances.

Proselyting is hard work but if  you want to be a useful missionary it is one of the things you do.  Always in pairs, of course.     At the time of this experience, I had been in Finland about nine or ten months.  I was beginning to get the hang of the language, had a good companion, and was really beginning to enjoy the work. (As a point of fact, I arrived in Finland with a grammar book written by on to the missionaries and had heard two words spoken in Finnish, so a lot of my time, to this point had been spent in language study.)  My companion spoke good Finnish and was a good teacher and I was rolling with the flow. We were holding an average of about thirty meetings a week, which we thought was pretty good. when one day we received a notice from Mission Headquarters that my companion was being transferred to another city (Lahti, I think).  In the next two days  arrangements for travel were made and I suddenly realized that I was going to be on my own for almost two whole days before my new companion arrived.  This was complicated by the fact that we had about six or seven appointments to meet with people in their homes at that time, and according to mission rules I couldn't do that without a companion.

You can't imagine how lost a feeling you have being alone when, for several months you and your companion have been in each other's company twenty four hours a day.  I took my list  and called the people for whom I had phone numbers and arranged to postpone  the appointment till my new companion arrived.  I trudged around and talked to the people in person, several of whom thought it was pretty silly that I couldn't just come in and teach them by myself but most of them understood that "rules were rules".  One of the places where I had to go rearrange things was an apartment where five very attractive young ladies lived together.  When I went to their place, they thought it was hilarious that I couldn't teach them by myself.

They said things like (roughly translated) "What in the world to you think we are going to do? Drag you into the back room and have our ways with you?"  And reassured me that my departed companion was much more attractive than I, and that he might have problem, but I was perfectly safe.    When all came down to brass tacks they decided that they didn't want to re-schedule the appointment, and that I could safely ride my bike home.  All this time, I was mostly standing there dumb and blushing,.  I tried futilely to give them some literature and finally slunk off home, muttering and grumbling.

It wouldn't have been so bad if Joensuu had been a bigger city, but it is pretty small, and my new companion and I kept running into the girls on the street.  When we did, they all pointed at me and giggled  and made "kiss kiss" gestures at me.

I explained all this to my new companion, but I think it was awhile before he completely believed my story.


At 10:08 PM, Blogger Darlene said...

It was really interesting to hear about some of your missionary experiences. I haven't had the pleasure of hearing much about it. I was so surprised to learn that you were actually alone for two days. I had no idea that they would ever allow that to happen! And you got to swim too, even though it had to be with men only. You are so right about the basketball though....every missionary that I know played basketball on their "P" day. That is such good exercise.

Maybe if you ever get to out next family reunion, we can have a good visit and you can tell me more about Finland and your mission. I don't suppose we will ever get to Georgia again. We did have such a nice time while we were there, even if you and Jan were not there. Your kids really did show us a good time! I'm not such a good traveler these days. I will be 84 next April. Can you believe that. I surely cannot, because I don't feel any different in my head than I did 50 years ago. My body tells me differently though as it seems to be giving out, one part at a time. Oh well, I still am walking on the treadmill each day, plus riding a stationary bike and we also do a 40 minute exercise routine in the pool each day (except for Saturday and Sunday) It really does help to keep me from just being a cripple. As my doctor tells me, "If you don't use it, you'll lose it."

Hope all of you are doing well.

At 3:51 PM, Blogger Norma said...

Great story. Are rules still rules in the 21st century?

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

Norma, Yes they are.

At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a shame kids nowadays don't have rules to follow. It would give them a lot of peace of mind - which they seem to seriously lack.



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