Mission Experiences, Chapters 5 & 6

This entry is part 3 of 18 in the series Mission

Chapter Five

Over the next couple days in the mission home I got worse instead of better. On the second evening I felt like I was going to die. This was discouraging for several reasons. First, in a blessing I received when I was set apart for my mission I was told I would have good health and I had the worst health in my life in the three months I was there.

Secondly, I had received two healing blessings from other elders and they had no effect whatsoever.

I decided that when the morning arrived I would ask for a healing blessing from the mission president. He seemed to be a man with considerable faith.

Before that happened I decided to have an intense talk with God. I spent all night in prayer and do not recall getting any sleep at all. Since I was feeling too ill to sleep then prayer was as good of use of time as any. My talk with God went something like this:

“Look God, you’ve sent me on a mission and promised me good health and look at me. I’m in terrible shape and have never felt worse as far as health goes. I’m willing to do whatever you want but I need a little help here. I’ll tell you what. If you heal me when President Payne gives me a blessing I’ll work like crazy in the mission work and make you proud.”

I said a lot more things I do not recall but it must have been a lot of words because I prayed throughout the night.

When morning came I sent a request to President Payne to give me a blessing. A short time later he came in my room with his assistant. He showed some concern, asked a few questions and we had a nice conversation. Then he laid his hands on my head and proceeded to give me a blessing.

Within an instant of him beginning to speak something happened that I have not experienced before or since. The feeling is difficult to describe, but I will do my best.

My body felt like it was on the verge of exploding or maybe imploding, as if my very life force were erupting and reorganizing. From my head to my toe I experienced great discomfort and sweat started pouring out of every pour in my body. I wasn’t sure if I was being healed or was going to die.

This process continued for about two or three minutes while the president had his hands on my head. It took all the self-control and composure I could muster to sit still and not get up and run off screaming.

Finally, the president ceased speaking and lifted his hands. Immediately all pain and discomfort left and was replaced by a sense of well-being. I stood up and looked at my pajamas. They were soaking wet as if they had just been retrieved from being thrown in a swimming pool.

President Payne left without ceremony and then I heard someone say it was time for breakfast. Breakfast, I thought. I had scarcely eaten in two days and had no appetite, but suddenly I realized I was starving. Not only was I starving, but it dawned on me as I walked around the room that I seemed to be completely well. This seemed too good to be true and I indeed hoped this was not just a moment or two of euphoria.

I cleaned up, changed into regular clothes and joined the missionaries for breakfast. As I was wolfing down bacon, eggs, three or four pancakes and lots of juice a missionary across he table said, “Hey, I thought you were supposed to be sick.”

“Not any more,” I said. “President Payne gave me a blessing and I’m all better.”

The missionary replied, “I’ve heard stories about his blessings. I’m not surprised.”

I enjoyed visiting the mission home for I always seemed to meet some very high caliber fellow missionaries there. It was amazing that almost all of them were between 19-21 years of age yet many seemed more mature and had greater leadership skills than I had seen anywhere before.

It is not often that another fellow human being inspires me to do better but it happened a couple times in the mission home. One evening a prominent elder who was about to go home announced that he was going to speak to whoever wanted to listen. I attended and found myself thoroughly enjoying his presentation. I cannot recall what he subject mater was but I do recall his impressive delivery. Every few minutes he injected into his speech a quotation from some famous sage. He rattled these off word for word flawlessly with no notes. It was obvious that he spent a good deal of time memorizing these quotes and it really paid off. He was one of the few speakers in the church that I could have listen to all night.

I determined right there that I was also going to memorize a wide assortment of quotes so I could have them at my disposal. This I did and they have often come in handy. I continued this process for a number of years but eventually let it slip because of so much attention needed to handle daily life in the real world. Even today though some of the quotes come back to me to inspire me.

I often wonder what happened to this elder as he seemed to be a natural leader.

Another piece of assistance I picked up was some advice I received from another leading elder. He gave me a key to memorizing. He told me that for effective memorization to go over the words you want to memorize on the following days: The first, the second, the seventh, the seventeenth and the thirty-second day. If one memorizes one new scripture or quote a day, then by using this method of repetition he will review five passages per day.

I took this to heart and found it really worked and by the end of my mission I had many quotes at my disposal.

Well, my rest in the mission home was complete and it was time to go back in the field with a new companion in a new town. I was hoping that president Payne would realize that I was ready to be a senior elder so I could take charge and convert a ton of those reluctant English.

Chapter Six
The Missionary Life

My next assignment was a sleepy little town named Consett in northern County Durham, a few miles away from Newcastle. About half of my arriving group had been made seniors and since I had proven myself a capable teacher I thought this would also happen to me. Instead, I was made a junior again. I was supposed to be happy though because I had a better sounding title, which was, “Companion to Branch President.” Consett was one of those towns that didn’t have enough members or leadership to govern itself so the missionaries provided it. My new companion, Elder Richardson, was not only my new boss but ran the entire church there and I had to help him. We ran the meetings, kept the records, taught Sunday School, handled problems – the whole ball of wax for about 20 active members.

This new assignment was the worst possible as far as my game plan was concerned. My goal was to just be a regular missionary, be the senior in charge and then convert a record number of those stubborn English. Now there were two things frustrating my plan. The first was that I was still a junior and the second was we didn’t have a lot of time for missionary work because we had to run the branch of the church.

One thing that was similar to my last assignment was my landlady. The one in Wakefield sang the song “Downtown” all day long and my new one sang “Were have all the Flowers Gone.” Neither of them knew all the words but just sang a couple lines over and over. Fortunately we didn’t spend a lot of time with our landladies, except at lunch and dinner, so the repetition was not enough to dive one crazy.

I do not remember anything negative about Elder Richardson except he didn’t like rock and roll. Then my next companion was Elder Moench and was the singer of the Rogers and Hammerstein songs I mentioned earlier. He made the annoyance of my landladies repetitious singing seem minor indeed. He was also appointed my senior so I had to tow the line again.

I don’t recall anything out of the ordinary as far as the work was concerned. It was pretty standard missionary work with the running of the local church thrown in. My memory of the three plus months there is somewhat of a blur.

One thing that may seem odd, that was required of the missionaries, was to fill out a daily report covering almost every minute of our lives. Every mission required reports, but each mission president individualized his own. President Payne must have been part control freak because our report at the beginning of my mission had 85 categories and at the end there were over 100. We had to fill out all the categories on a daily basis and it took quite a bit of time – time that could have been much better spend I thought.

I wish I had saved a copy of the form but here are a few of the things I recall we had to answer daily:

Rising time: (Supposed to be 6 AM. If many infractions of this occurred you got in trouble with the mission home. Many missionaries fudged on this section.)

Individual study time: (was supposed to begin at 6:30 AM and go to 7:30 AM after taking a half hour to dress and get ready. Most digs did not have a bath or shower and we had to go to the public baths maybe twice a week.)

Joint study: (this was from 7:30 AM to 8:30 AM. Here the missionaries took turns reading aloud from study materials and then discussing them. I much preferred individual study as I learned much more on my own.)

We then were allowed a half-hour to eat breakfast and get ready to go to work.

The next item to fill out was the actual time we left the residence to do the work. The time of rising and the time we left for work were the two most crucial parts of the form. It was of extreme importance to the mission home that we not be over five minutes off on either of these. Since I have always been a big believer in honesty the only choice I had of staying I the good graces of the mission home was to arise on time and be prepared to leave for work at 9 AM.

Then we made an hourly account of our activities. Between 9 AM to Noon was usually spent in “tracting.” This was the name giving to knocking on doors in an attempt to find people to teach. For most missionaries this was the least favorite part of their day. The bitter cold weather didn’t help either. I didn’t mind doing it at all because this provided us with the best source of people to teach.

Next we accounted for the time spent at lunch. We were allowed an hour each for lunch and dinner, but if we could get lunch down to a half hour this was a bonus.

We usually returned to our digs for lunch and dinner unless some member invited us to eat with them.

Between 1 PM to 5 PM we were expected to either be tracting or visiting with members attempting to get referrals out of them. Members referring their friends for the missionaries to teach was considered to be the most important resource to find prospects.

Since most missionaries didn’t like tracting they opted to visit members whenever possible and tabulating this up to referral work on the report. Since we only were able to dig up a referral maybe once every couple weeks, this constant visiting of members was not a good use of time. Most missionaries would much rather visit with members and flirt with their teenage daughters than knock on unfriendly doors in the cold.

Another thing that made visiting members desirable was the natural friendliness of the members, for the people of Northern England had a reputation of being much more friendly and hospitable than the South where they were seen as being more stuffy and reserved.

One tradition they had wherever I worked was once you entered their home you couldn’t leave without something to eat or drink. Since Mormons were not allowed to drink coffee a substitute barely drink was used called Pero. This was very popular with the members and is sold as Caro in this country. Members always insisted they feed us cookies, sweets or more. Quite often by dinner I wasn’t that hungry.

Because I was the junior during my first seven months I had to follow the game plan of my companion which was basically the same for all my seniors which was: (1) Do the mandatory tracting for the three morning hours. (2) Spend all the rest of the free hours visiting the members, sipping Pero, eating cookies, flirting with daughters, talking sports, movies, life back home, etc. Sometimes we would even talk about church doctrine. Then at the end of the visit the question was always asked, “Oh, by the way, do you have any friends interested in being taught?”

The members understood that we always had to ask this question so we could count the visit as official business. Their answer was always no.

Why do I say always?

Because if they did have a friend interested in being taught they would tell us at the beginning of the visit, not the end.

Then between 5 PM to 6 PM we took off for dinner. Sometimes we even caught a little news on the television, or “telly” as they called it.

Then between 6PM to 10PM we were back to work. The mission theory was that our morning and afternoon work was to be productive enough to fill our evening hours with teaching. Since the average number of hours teaching in that mission was only about five hours a week we were left with over three hours to fill. Since most missionaries wanted to avoid tracting at night like the plague they again resorted to visiting more members, drinking more Pero and eating more cookies.

Since I came to the mission field to get some results I grew increasingly frustrated by what I considered a very ineffective use of time of just visiting members and exchanging small talk.

Fortunately, the members did not mind. Many would be happy to spend all day with the missionaries. They almost fell in love with them and many a teen age daughter or a single woman (and some married) had a crush on a missionary.

This was of great concern to the mission home for if a missionary had sex with anyone on his mission he was sent home in disgrace and excommunicated. They were very strict on this.

Unfortunately, this did happen from time to time. When it did it usually involved some sexy young girl, but on one occasion a missionary I knew, who seemed quite dedicated to his mission, had sex with his 54 year-old landlady and was sent home. That about blew me away and I really felt bad for the guy for he was a friend and I liked him.

We were then supposed to be back in the digs at 10 PM and to bed at 10:30 PM. Since the mission was not so strict on retiring hours as they were on rising we sometimes missed the goal by a half hour or more. Later, when I became a senior I missed this by a lot, often not getting home till around midnight. All this and more went on the report.

So, every day we had to fill out a humungous report but then at the end of the week we had to fill out an additional weekly report giving the weekly totals of all work related activities.

I do not have many memories of my work in Consett as nothing much significant happened work wise. The main thing I learned from my companions was more in the what-not-to-do category rather than the to do. I decided that when I was put in charge I was going to do things differently. I eagerly awaited the opportunity.
Copyright 2010 by J J Dewey