Surely you've been hassled by those sweaty bike-riding missionaries who barely look old enough to shave. If you've ever wondered what it's like to be one of those kids, I can tell you a few things. As a young Mormon man, going on a mission trip isn't a matter of "if," but "when." It serves as sort of a coming-of-age ritual that bridges the gap between high school and the adult world. Normal kids accomplish this by getting a part-time job at Pizza Hut and playing Halo all summer. Mormon kids do it by traveling to exciting new places and bothering the people there. My whole life was preparing me for my mission. At the age of 19, I finally went. This is what I learned:
Missionaries intentionally go after people in desperate situations. On my mission, we'd go into the worst parts of town to talk to the meth addicts and crackheads. Sure, they need help and attention more than anybody, but most of my colleagues were distinctly upper middle class white Mormons. Short of bursting out into an impromptu rap about how "drugs are for thugs," there's no way they could have been more conspicuous.
"Eh ... why tell him about God? They'll meet at the next cold snap anyway."
And then, of course, there are the more mundane dangers: angry dogs, defensive homeowners, attack junkies. My brother was training a new kid once in East Hastings when a drugged out maniac came at them on the way to their car. They piled in, and the dude chased their car down the street, while the new guy bawled his eyes out. You have a lot of young, naive kids put in positions they aren't prepared to handle. But hey, it's like the old saying goes: "Whatever doesn't kill you ... will probably just stab you a bunch of times. Suck it up, pansy."
It's from either Leviticus or the Buddha. Maybe both?
What are you gonna do, quit? Not an option. Because we're missionaries, and we're doing God's work. When you combine that with naive "youthful invincibility," you get kids who will skip happily toward danger, secure in the knowledge that God will protect them. There's actually a belief in Mormonism that if you die "in the field," you automatically go to the celestial kingdom (heaven) -- it's practically a reward. Come, get mauled by a rabid pit bull for Jesus.
And that's just on the missions to the "civilized" world. A friend of mine got circumcised on his mission. He was in the Philippines, and he got an infection on his dick. He went to a local doctor and, uh ... not to make a bad name for the doctors there, but this guy snipped the foreskin, peeled it back ... and sewed it to the shaft, like a fucking banana. And it was like that for his whole mission. They do not warn you about potential banana-dicking in Missionary School.
Arizona State, however, offers an MFA in banana-dicking.
The first thing you do before your mission is travel to the heart of Mormonism: Utah. That's right: three straight uncut weeks of wacky Utah shenanigans, like "parking" and "waving hello." The Missionary Training Center is in Provo, and it's the friendliest penitentiary on Earth. But like any prison worth its salt, life is extremely regimented -- it's just that the hours normally spent making license plates and pruno are instead replaced with daily 10-hour Bible study sessions.
And Mormon pruno, which is actually stale Sunny Delight.
The whole thing is divided up like the underclass in some dystopian sci-fi world -- we're separated into wards, zones, and then six-man districts. You don't associate with anyone outside your zone while you're training. Every missionary has to be in sight of their companion at all times. For two solid years, our only alone time was in the bathroom. Do not, under any circumstances, picture the state of that bathroom.
You can't leave the training center, you can't read outside writings, and you have no contact with anyone of the opposite sex. No real socializing is allowed. I remember one time we started a snowball fight at lunch. The next day, the president of the Missionary Training Center gave a lecture about how we weren't there to throw snowballs. (Apparently, God makes snowballs so much fun purely to test our resolve.) It's pretty much like The Hunger Games, only instead of learning awesome survival skills, you learn the Bible. And instead of earning your freedom, you pay about the price of a decent used Camry. That's right: You're not paid for it, you pay for it. The whole mission can cost between $10,000 and 12,000.
Ain't no free rides in God's Caddy.
Adam Gault/Digital Vision/Getty Images
The Almighty takes ass, grass, or cash.
The constant goal is to get into a "first discussion." What missionaries teach is broken up into discussions, numbered one through seven. The first lesson is about what makes Mormonism different from other Christian faiths. If I'm talking to a Christian, the point is to explain why Mormonism is the true faith, not to convince them their religion is wrong, drop the mic on their porch, and then disappear with a smoke bomb. And we do that with prepared statements that we have to practice constantly. Spend enough time debating with missionaries and you'll notice they start repeating the same lines like NPCs in a role-playing game.
"Stay a while and listen."
We won't talk about the serious stuff: polygamy, the ban on blacks in the priesthood, the Mountain Meadows massacre, and the fact that the church leadership fought against just about every civil rights movement in the past 100 years. Plus, most missionaries are young men fresh out of high school, not theological scholars. In other words, they don't know the details behind most of that stuff anyway. So if you're planning to don your fedora and use those scandals to systematically dismantle the next kid that shows up in your doorway in an ill-fitting black suit, maybe take your next Friday night alone to write up another game plan.
"Maybe with two fedoras they'll recognize my genius."