A True Story
J. J. Dewey
Intro: Even though I moved on from standard Mormonism many years ago I find that all belief systems we have moved through are growing experiences as long as the principle of following the highest you know is applied. As you read this I think you’ll agree that I made the best of what I had during an LDS mission that produced some very interesting experiences. The time frame here is Oct 1964- Oct 1966.
Off to England
I first read the Book of Mormon about the age of 16 and from that point on was very enthused about going on a mission. I very strongly desired to go to England and at age 19 in 1964 when I received a letter from the prophet – David O. McKay – calling me there I was elated. My destiny was The Northeast British Mission with headquarters in Harrogate.
Some say that a lot missionaries were not very enthused about their missions. I met and worked with a number of these type later on but in our group of 17 headed to England all seemed to be quite engaged and happy about going on a mission.
During the week in the training center in Salt Lake we met a number of general authorities including Joseph Fielding Smith who later became the prophet. He gave a lecture to us and then took questions.
We were all given blessings by general authorities. Elder Christiansen blessed me and I do recall, one thing he said that was unusual. He said the time would come that I would bear my witness fearlessly to over 10 million people. This was unusual because on a mission you rarely have a chance to teach or bear witness to more than half a dozen at a time.
Actually, I think the guy was inspired but little did he know that the witness I will bear to millions would not be on a mission for the LDS church but it would be a witness in a future time to a number of non standard truths.
We were allowed to take 44 pounds on the international flight and a problem I had was that I decided to take my Olympia typewriter with me. This weighed 20 pounds leaving me only 24 pounds of luggage. I really had to take only the essentials and after all my effort to conserve I was left with two pair of Long John type thermal underwear that sent me over the limit. I was told this underwear was essential to have as the North of England was very cold.
After some thought, I came up with the ingenious plan to wear the both pairs of underwear under my already warm suit. This was a big mistake as I felt like I was in a sauna all during the long flight. What made it even warmer was that I found myself seated next to a very sexy blond girl about my age to whom I found myself very attracted. I thought, “just my luck. Here I am going on a mission where I have to be celibate for two years and I’m making friends with the most desirable female I’ve met in my life.”
Finally we arrived over London and the Captain’s voice came over the intercom saying that we could not land because of dense fog. He decided to circle around London in hopes that the fog would lift. After some time I think he was low on fuel and just decided to land anyway.
Fortunately the landing was fine.
Next we caught a cab to take us to the train station. My first ride in a English cab really raised the hair on the back of my neck. Now back home I was known for being somewhat of a hellraiser of a driver but this driver whizzed around like nothing I had seen before. Maneuvering around those narrow roads with great precision was very impressive and if I didn’t have faith in his experience I would have been very nervous.
We caught the train and I didn’t get a chance to take my underwear off and had to continue wearing it on the long train ride to the North.
It was a great relief to get to the mission home and take off my extra underwear. Unfortunately, this lead to the opposite problem and I a caught a chill and it felt like I was freezing.
We were surprised to discover that there was only one missionary and a cook manning the large mission home. The mission president, his wife and all the local missionaries went to London to go through the temple there.
We all were exhausted and assumed we would be allowed to sleep in, but the guy woke us all up at 6 AM sharp. I never had such a hard time getting out of bed in my life for we lost 7 hours in the time change. After breakfast he tried to keep us as busy as possible, but there wasn’t much to do except to study our lessons. Then the missionary had a bright idea. He said that we were going to do something very character building. We were going to have a street meeting.
“What’s a street meeting?” we asked.
“You’ll soon find out,” he said.
Street Meetings and More
That afternoon the Elder (generic name given to all missionaries) piled all the new missionaries in a van and took us to the neighboring city of Leeds. He stopped and unloaded us near a bus stop that had about 30 people waiting in line. We were all very curious as to what was going to happen next. Then to my surprise he went to the van and pulled out what looked like an actual soapbox and brought it near the captive audience.
Then he said to us, “I’ll show you how this is done.”
He then stood on the box and started preaching to the people waiting in line.
I was amazed, for I had never seen such a brazen attempt to deliver the gospel message before. I wondered what the people thought and glanced at their faces. Most of them ignored him, as if he did not exist. A couple seemed to be mildly paying attention.
The elder preached for about ten minutes and then stepped down. That was interesting I thought and hoped the meeting was over and we would be going soon.
But no such luck… The elder then looked at us greenies and said, “Now each of you must do what I just did.”
My heart sank, as I’m sure did the others. I considered myself a fairly confident person with public speaking and had no problem giving talks in church back home, but the thought of getting on that soapbox and preaching to strangers who I would just annoy caused a fear in me the likes of which I never expected to encounter.
“Who’s first?” he said.
No one volunteered.
“You then.” He picked one. Thank God it wasn’t me.
The poor elder looked like he was going to the slaughterhouse as he approached he soapbox and somehow delivered a message, even though somewhat nervously. Amazingly he seemed somewhat proud of himself when he was finished and the next elder seemed a little more confident.
My turn was somewhere in the middle but I was still nervous as the dickens and had to force myself on that box and started to speak. To my amazement about a minute into the speech I started getting into it and by the time I finished my turn I found myself thoroughly enjoying the situation and could have gone on much longer.
Finally we finished. We had gone though several lines of people awaiting the bus but no one stepped forward to learn more about the church. The elder congratulated us and told us that even though we probably never converted anyone that there was nothing that would build character like a good ole street meeting. “If you can do this nothing much else that you will have to do on your mission should frighten you.”
The guy was right. This was probably the most nerve wracking thing I was asked to do in my two years there.
We then went back to the mission home and hung out and studied our lessons until the group came back from their trip. We met the mission president, a guy about sixty with gray hair. He and his wife were nice people and the missionaries liked him, but it wasn’t long before I heard many words of enthusiastic praise about the last mission president who left just a few months previous. His name was Stephen R. Covey. You’ve probably heard that name before. He later became the author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” At the time he served he was one of the youngest mission presidents in the church.
After a day or so we all received our assignments and we dispersed to various parts of Northern England. My first place of work was Wakefield a town a few miles south of Leeds.
My first companion was named Elder Dee. He was a year older than me, but he had a baby face and looked like he was 16. The members of the church loved him. He had a very dominate personality and used the word “I” so much it about drove me crazy. And that’s one thing I discovered in working closely with another human being 24/7 is that after a couple weeks most individuals, no matter how nice, will start to get on your nerves.
Outside of having a big ego this individual was a fairly decent fellow.
After a period of time I finally sat the guy down and told him that his incessant use of “I” instead of “we” bothered me and he took it pretty good and said he would work on correcting the problem.
I found England in 1964 to be much more foreign than I expected. I kind of thought it would be like working in the states, but with people who have a different accent.
The first thing that hit me was how many people didn’t like or even hated Americans. I thought this odd since we were allies and I never heard of an American who didn’t like the English.
There was a lot to get used to and the language was just one of them. In the North they do not speak the Queen’s English like James Bond but speak much faster and they are much harder to understand. There was even a dying breed called Geordies who had an obscure dialect of their own. A Geordie would rattle off his thoughts a hundred miles an hour and you were lucky if you could catch a couple words.
All the food there had a different taste to it. I called it a “rusty old English taste.” I didn’t like it at first but after a couple months the food started tasting normal.
There were a lot of things that were backward or different to America and driving on the other side of the road is only one. The light switches turned the opposite direction, their doors had handles instead of doorknobs and they named their houses like we name our boats. They usually used the back door rather than the front.
I was amazed at how dressed up everyone was. Almost everyone wore suits. Even people digging ditches wore them.
They were much more security conscious than were we. Back home we rarely locked our doors even though almost everyone had a gun but here when we knocked on a door people would unlock three or four locks before cracking open the door.
I was surprised how far behind us they were in technology and amenities. Few had cars or central heat. I can’t recall the times I was asked if I had central heating back home as they wanted this American item more than any other.
The first place I stayed had a paid meter for their electricity. If you wanted lights you had to put a shilling in the meter. The landlady would only use so many schillings a day so if we wanted lights we had to sometimes contribute a few coins.
Most ate four meals a day and I had only eaten two back home so I gained 15 pounds in my first month there. They had potatoes with almost every meal. There were times I counted potatoes cooked four different ways with one meal.
The food I missed most was a hamburger. Few English even knew what one was. The closest thing they had to one was a Whimpyburger. I don’t think the thing had any meat in it and what was supposed to taste like an American hamburger tasted like it was composed of onion, garlic and sawdust.
I would have bought some ground beef and made my own hamburger but the mission insisted we live in digs where our food was prepared for us so we would have more time for missionary work.
After I was there about a year with no hamburger we finally lived in a place where we cooked our own food. The first thing I decided to do was cook me an old fashion hamburger. The closet thing I could find to hamburger was lean ground round so I bought a pound of it. There was nothing in the shop like an American hamburger bun but I did find an odd loaf of bread shaped like a hamburger bun. It was about a foot wide.
I took them back to the digs and cooked up the whole pound of hamburger and placed it in the giant bun. It was the biggest hamburger I had ever seen. I ate most of it and unfortunately it made me sick. It was too much of a good thing. It did have the benefit of tapering off my desire for hamburger though.
In England Fish and Chips are like hamburgers and fries are to us. I didn’t like them much at first, but they grew on me and to this day still yearn for the taste of some of the higher quality ones.
One thing England was ahead of us in was the mini skirt. In 1964 it was just catching on in America but the British had embraced them and their skirts we a lot shorter than ours – as short as they could get and still be called skirts. The girls also wore colorful stockings in place of nylons and some of them looked quite sexy.
I thought it was great but many missionaries said they found them disgusting. Yeah, right.
Copyright 2010 by J J Dewey
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