Sunday, March 3, 2013

My Spiritual Journey - My Missionary Years, Part 5

At the age of 19, March 1979-1981, I went on a two year mission for the Latter-Day Saint church. My dad encouraged me too, but I think it was more for the adventure and life experience. My siblings were very supportive of course, but my Christian friends back home gave me the cold shoulder, expressing feelings that Mormons were a cult, and I should stay away from them. The only people who did not were the Perkins family. I knew them from Ridglea Presbyterian Church, and the daughter Marianne and I were friends from Young Life. They told me they loved me, no matter what. To this day, I am grateful for that. I never asked my mom why she wanted me to go, but I think it was a source of pride for her, in "that's what nice, young Mormon men do". Did they pressure me to go? Not directly. The overall encouragement of the LDS church for all young men is to serve a mission when they're nineteen; so in that sense I did feel pressured. On the other hand, I wanted to go, or I wouldn't have. When I applied to go, my choices were to go to Germany, Sweden or anywhere in Europe. I was called to Denmark. When I left, I reported to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, which is like a boot camp for missionaries. There we were taught and coached in the core beliefs of the LDS church, how to interact with the public, and intense training in the language and culture of our final destination. From Day One we spoke Danish for all but a few minutes of each day the entire two months. My primary instructor was Sister Sonja DeSpain, a middle age Danish-American. The language came fairly easy; the memorization of the lessons did not. I was having fun, and learned a lot, but the "fire in the belly" of converting people to the Mormon church never came to me the entire two years. I did at this point however have a strong testimony of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

When we arrived in Denmark, it was just as they told us, and I had a great first companion (partner) who was a veteran missionary trainer, Elder Raule I think was his name. Missionaries call each other Elder or Sister. He trained me well to work hard, read my scriptures daily, pray all the time and be kind to everyone we met. I enjoyed the work and flourished. I was able to travel and work in about ten different Danish cities including Copenhagen for a year, as well as Vejle, Fredercia and others I cannot remember. After my first companion of six months, I then became a trainer, which was very early for the typical missionary. Most of the time missionaries had a year or so under their belt before they trained others. I include this not to boast, but to point out that from an early age, God blessed me with the gift of being able to teach others, that I would continue to do in my career. I went on to train six missionaries, brand new from the states. Later on I served as a District and Zone Leader. I fit in very well to the mission mostly because I was friendly and loved speaking with people, the language went very well, and the culture fit me to a tee. I guess my Nordic ancestry came out in me. My daily goal was to meet people, become their friend and tell them about the blessings we receive from knowing Jesus Christ. That's what I did. Yes, I always told them about the revelations Joseph Smith received, and always (as instructed) told them not to take my word for it, but pray about it for confirmation. My logic as a nineteen year old figured if God wanted them to be Mormon, He’d tell them so and it wasn’t my job to convince them.

Question: Is it remotely possible, that God wants thousands of different religions? There’s something to think about.

Later I am going to include exactly what I believe in my Declaration of Faith, but let me say this now: I believe that God, through his Holy Spirit can reveal Himself to all people - period. Did he to Joseph Smith? I feel he did, but at some point in what LDS people call the Restoration, something went amiss. I need to say this to my friends and loved ones who think they know Mormons and the LDS faith - I was taught from an early age about the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for all of us on the cross. He was and is the cornerstone of my family faith, so in most aspects I consider the LDS people to be as "Christian" as the main stream population by how I was raised. On the other hand they are very different in their fundamental beliefs, some of which I cannot hold as my own. It is my opinion that when any religion or person goes much deeper than the saving grace of Christ, and the two most important calls of Christianity, i.e. loving God and neighbor, that they tend to easily get wrapped around dogma that will quickly conflict with another and bring discord.

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