Mission Experiences, Chapters 15 & 16

This entry is part 8 of 18 in the series Mission

Chapter Fifteen
Junior Again

Shortly after I retrieved my luggage I received another transfer.

My time in Lancaster had a number of drawbacks that hindered success. First it takes about two months to properly prepare someone for the change of coming into the Church. A couple years before I arrived the Church organized ball clubs in England hoping that would be a good way to rouse interest and help missionaries find investigators.

Unfortunately, this program was greatly abused and we heard stories about missionaries rounding up kids and telling them if they wanted to play ball they had to get baptized. Many kids were thus baptized not even knowing what they were joining.

When I arrived, there were many inactive members on the roles that came in through the sports program.

Fortunately, the Church saw the error of their ways and ditched this, and by the time I arrived the authorities insisted the people be actually converted before they join. I completely agreed with this and went the extra mile to make sure anyone I baptized knew what they were doing and believed the teachings.

In good circumstances the seven weeks I spent in Lancaster would have been just enough time to get a good start on the teaching process, but I was not in the best of circumstances. First, the apparent loss of everything I owned was a big distraction and secondly I was no longer a senior companion. Working with an orthodox missionary as a co-senior forced me to compromise on a number of things and work in a more orthodox manner.

On the positive side Elder Hollingshead was a nice guy and I liked him. This was the only digs during my mission where we had to do our own cooking and he did most of it and was a good cook. If I remember correctly we did baptize one person there, someone that my companion had already been teaching when I arrived.

I was surprised to receive a transfer after only about seven weeks, but was excited at the prospect of being a senior again. As I opened the envelope and started reading my spirits dropped. I was being transferred to the city of Carlisle and to again occupy the position of a junior companion. Now they didn’t make anyone a junior who had been out over a year as I had, but they do make some a glorified junior. That’s basically what my next assignment was. I was to be a companion to a District Leader.

As I said earlier a District Leader oversees about a dozen missionaries in addition to regular missionary work. It was possible they were preparing me to be a District Leader but usually his junior companion is not someone in training but either a green elder or one who is slow of learning or has other problems. Most District Leaders were picked from the pool of senior Elders.

I thought this was a strange way to treat an Elder such as myself who had broken several mission records and proven he can teach and baptize if they just let me go. I thought perhaps President Payne was punishing me for not cooperating in the silly contest or perhaps staying out till 3 AM or who knows what else. If he is, I thought, he is not hurting me but he is hindering the Church in that fewer people will come into the fold.

Well, maybe he did hurt me a bit because the next companion was the elder from hell. I do not recall his name and have no desire to. He was near the end of his mission and had only baptized one person. The guy had an ugly face and a personality to match. He never smiled, never told a joke and was always deadly serious. I was amazed that they placed him in a leadership position for he neither inspired or motivated anyone.

When we went knocking on doors he was such a sourpuss that no one wanted to listen to him longer than about three minutes and when it was my turn to talk he just stared at me with a jaundice eye and then criticized anything I said afterwards.

After a week or so I made some suggestions of things we could do to have greater success and he tersely replied that if I gave him any more lip he would beat the hell out of me.

Getting in a fight with this guy was all I needed to make sure I stayed a junior companion forever. I bit my lip and tried not to antagonize him, but I think that my reputation of success just gnawed at him and made him more bitter than ever. He didn’t want any suggestions from me let along taking charge of anything.

Every day working with this guy was worse than a bad marriage. I say worse because in a marriage you have some time apart from your spouse where you can get your bearings, but in the mission relationship you are with your companion 24/7 and there is no side benefit as that which comes from a relationship with the opposite sex.

After about six weeks I couldn’t stand it any longer and knew I had to do something. The only trouble was that if one complained about his companion he was usually considered the one with the problem. One was expected to stay positive no matter what. Even so, I had t take a chance so I wrote President Payne throwing in as much positive stuff as I could think up while dropping strong hints that the elder from hell just wasn’t working out as a companion. The hint must have worked for a short time later I received another transfer.

Again I was thinking “senior companion” as I opened the envelope, but no such luck. I had another assignment clear on the other side of England in the city of Scarborough. Again I was to be a glorified junior companion, or a companion to another District Leader. I looked to the skies and thought, “What’s the matter, God? You got so many members in the church that you don’t want any more? You’d think you’d use your almighty power to clear the way for me to just be a simple missionary bringing people in the fold. But no! I have to be a junior again and follow orders from another missionary that doesn’t have a clue as to how to do the work successfully.”

The elder from hell was actually quite upset I was leaving. I was surprised that he didn’t want me to go as he acted like he hated me all the time we were together. I’m sure I wasn’t the first one to complain about him and I think he suspected I asked for a transfer.

As it turned out I went from an elder with one type of problem to another with even more problems. I think President Payne read my letter and thought something like this:

“So Elder Dewey thinks he has it bad and is complaining, eh? Let’s give him something to really complain about. We’ll send him to Elder Eldridge.”

Why they made my new companion a District Leader was a mystery for he was the most notorious problem elder in the mission that hadn’t been sent home. He didn’t take missionary work seriously and had dated numerous English girls in the first half of his mission, which was a huge no-no. The only way they would allow him to stay on his mission was to promise to behave himself and write a personal letter to Mark E. Peterson every week. Now Peterson was a leading apostle known well by every member of the church and so to get his attention in a negative way was something quite outrageous.

Perhaps a larger problem than another problem elder was the town of Scarborough itself. Some thought that Peterlee was the most difficult town to work, but Scarborough was much harder for several reasons. It was a retirement town located by the sea and it seemed that over half the people had a foot in the grave and were just too old to change their ways.

The second thing that interfered with missionary work was that it took extra time to attend to the duties of District Leader. The third problem was that elder Eldridge had little interest in missionary work and it was all I could do to get him to put in several effective hours a day.

Unlike the elder from hell though Eldridge had a winning personality and everyone liked him. He loved visiting members (especially if they had cute daughters), not for seeking leads, but just to shoot the bull. Members loved to have him come around and all seemed willing to listen to him talk on and on. In fact he talked so much I couldn’t get in a word edgewise and I was known as the “quiet one” when I was with him. Members thought I was shy but one just had to elbow his way in to get anything said when he started rambling on.

At least Elder Eldridge was an affable guy with a positive outlook and was far more pleasant to work with than the elder from hell.

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Chapter Sixteen
The Encounter

Elder Eldridge wasn’t much into working hard. He was more into making his mission a fun experience and making a lot of friends than he was in converting anyone.

Even so, we did manage to get a little standard missionary work done. One day when we were out knocking on doors we met a nice family with several young children. I believe their last name was Sherlock. They invited us in and we gave them a presentation on the Book of Mormon and left them a copy to read. They said they would read it and we made an appointment to come back in a couple days.

We came back as promised and knocked on the door. There was no answer, but there was a light on and it looked like they were home so we knocked again and then again. As we were about to give up the door creaked open and standing there was a very frightened looking Mr. Sherlock.

He said, “Please go. We are not interested any more.”

This seemed very strange as they were very interested a couple days ago and we left on a very cordial note.

I asked what the problem was. Surely there had to be some explanation.

He creaked open the door a few more inches and spoke very nervously, “We did what you said and we started reading the Book of Mormon. We began to wonder if it was true and decided to pray about it. We got about half way into the prayer and suddenly my wife was struck down and fell to the floor like she was dead. I was able to revive her, but she hasn’t been the same since. She has been freezing cold ever since and in great torment. It is obvious to me that you guys are from the devil and we just want you to go away.”

As he spoke I sensed a dark presence, one that I had wrestled with in the past. I spoke to him, “You must let us in! We can help your wife.”

“She doesn’t want to see you. We just want you to go away and not come back.”

“But I know we can help your wife.”

“Just go,” he demanded.

I felt very strongly that we assist her and almost shoved my body into the doorway saying with a raised voice, “We can help your wife and make her better again. I know what’s happened to her.”

Just as he was about to force the door shut on us a voice came from in the house. It was his Mrs. Sherlock, “Bring them in,” she said in a weak voice.

Mr. Sherlock pushed the door back open and reluctantly invited us in. We went in the living room and found Mrs. Sherlock sitting in a chair with several blankets wrapped around her. Her kids were there also looking very worried.

“She’s been like this for two days,” he said. “She says she is freezing and can’t get warm no matter what we do and feels horrible.”

I grabbed her hand, looked at her and asked, “Are you in pain?”

“Yes, she cried. “This is horrible. I feel like I am going to die and go to hell or something.”

“God is stronger than this evil presence that is trying to overpower you. Will you give us permission to give you a blessing so you may be healed?”

“I’ll try anything,” she said.

We then laid our hands upon her head, went through the healing ordinance and then I said, “In the name of Jesus Christ we command all evil to depart!”

Immediately upon finishing this sentence her body gave a tremendous shake and she slumped in her chair for a moment. I could sense that everyone in the room was terrified that an even worse calamity had befallen her. Then, just as suddenly, she got her strength back and placed her hands on her face and said, “It’s gone. Whatever it was is gone and I feel wonderful.”

Then she started to cry and said over and over, “It’s true! It’s true! It’s true! These boys are from God. I know this beyond any doubt. If they want us to get baptized I’m ready right now!”

We spent a few more minutes with them, made an appointment to come back in three days and ended with a prayer. As we were leaving Mr. Sherlock said to us, “I think we’re all going to get baptized real soon.”

Elder Eldridge and I then went out to the van, got in and just took a couple breaths in silence. Then suddenly he slapped himself hard on the knee and shouted, “By George, the Gospel is true after all!!! You know there just might be something to all this stuff we’ve been telling people!”

“There’s something to it, all right,” I said. I knew that Eldridge didn’t have his heart in his mission, but was surprised to learn that he wasn’t really a believer… until now.
Copyright 2010 by J J Dewey

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