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Mormon missionaries find faith in Sequim
by MATTHEW NASH
In the age of cell phones and e-mail, some unconventional 20-somethings from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints break out of their comfort bubbles daily for a more personal approach. They travel by foot, bike and car to knock on doors to share their faith, meet with people and hear what’s on their minds.
Sequim has four missionaries for its three wards, or congregations — Elder Kaleb Tueller, Elder Jon Black, Sister Emily McRae and Sister Alyssa Ash
More than 50,000 Mormon missionaries serve worldwide, including Sequim natives in Europe, South America and stateside. The four missionaries said they’ve had some success talking to people in Sequim but have encountered their fair share of slammed doors, threats and degrading and sexist statements.
“It’s hard at first but you get used to it,” Black said.
He found knocking on doors to be his least favorite thing until his companion Tueller helped him make it more fun because he enjoys the experience.
“A thousand no’s is worth one yes,” Tueller said.
Sister companions Ash and McRae said there are only a few thousand female missionaries in the world with 25 of those in the Tacoma mission.
McRae said it’s not uncommon for women to be in missions because they’ve done it since 1898. “We want people to know we’re not here because we have to be. We want to be here,” McRae said.
Ash said she wants to show that missionaries are real people. “We want to add something to (people’s) lives that could add a lot more,” Ash said.
Young men missionaries serve two years and women 18 months, starting at an older age than men. They meet new people to share their faith, minister to struggling church members and grow in their own faith. The missionaries said missions aren’t mandatory, just recommended.
“A lot of us spend a lot of time praying about it,” Black said.
All missionaries must send in a lot of personal paperwork and testimonies to Salt Lake City, Utah, leaders who pray and decide where to place each person.
“I believe people are sent to places for a reason,” Tueller said.
He and Black come from different worlds — big city Austin, Texas, and a small town in Arizona. Tueller is set to go home Aug. 2 while Black has 15 months left.
“It’s bittersweet,” Tueller said. “It’s easily the best 22 months of my life so far.”
Tueller has trained four other missionaries how to teach lessons, share tracts and follow mission standards and their manual, “Preach My Gospel.”
“It’s cool to meet people and see their lives change through this,” Tueller said. “They can apply their knowledge and feel better about themselves.”
Black is relatively new to the mission field and briefly questioned himself during his stint in Tacoma. He was riding a bike in a snowstorm to go door-knocking and the dreary condition made him miss home.
“I felt like I didn’t need to be there,” Black said. “But I later met a kid on the street and he was baptized some time later. It was all worth it.”
Sense of purpose
Ash said she has wanted to serve a mission since she was 16.
“I think it’s the best way to serve God and my savior,” she said.
McRae said she knew missions is where she’s supposed to be.
“I’ve realized I wouldn’t have gotten a relationship to this level with my heavenly father if I didn’t come,” McRae said.
McRae started her mission in Sequim and is ending her mission here after a few stints in other cities. Ash arrived May 9 to finish her mission here, too.
Before their missions, McRae earned a four-year degree in interpersonal communications from Southern Utah University. Ash was studying elementary education at Brigham Young University and intends to finish her degree in the fall.
Missionaries know what they are giving up when leaving. They must raise and pay for their missions on their own and not indulge in things non-Mormons often take for granted. Black said he paid to go on the mission by singing country music and working on a ranch. Their sacrifices of no TV and music are for the greater good and not that big a deal once in the field, Black said.
Ash said the hardest part is seeing people turn away from them whom they’ve met before.
“You’ve worked so hard to work with them and you put your whole heart and soul into it and they reject it,” Ash said.
“It’s hard, but that’s what life is all about — making decisions.”
McRae said it’s people’s freedom to choose, which the church calls “agency.”
“I know they feel something but for whatever reason they turn away,” McRae said.
Ash said people do recognize and compliment the family values and good works the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does around the world.
“They say they aren’t interested but do admire us,” she said.
Obedience through servitude
Daily routines for missionaries are fairly standard — waking up at 6:30 a.m. and being in bed by 10:30 p.m. Tueller said it’s flexible but they keep the regimen because they want to be obedient to God. Before hitting the streets at 10 a.m., they’ll study biblical and Book of Mormon scriptures individually and with companions. Mondays are preparation days where they do laundry, clean their homes and participate in activities with other missionaries.
Communication obviously is easier nowadays, but missionaries again uphold their restrictions by only using the Internet on Mondays and talking to their families on Christmas Day and Mother’s Day.
Tueller, an avid basketball player, said his chance to cut loose is typically 8:30 p.m. Wednesday nights on the church’s basketball court against other churchgoers.
Mormon missionaries intentionally look sharp in their clothes when ministering.
“We have Jesus Christ on our name tags and I feel I need to look good representing him,” Black said.
On Mondays, they get to wear regular clothes, but they never want to distract or shock someone.
“If we had Mohawks and chaps, it’d be distracting,” Black said.
Pete Rutherford, Dungeness Ward missions leader, said when people dress up, they act differently.
Rutherford and Dungeness Bishop Russ Bonham meet with the male missionaries once or twice a week.
The men cover Dungeness Ward on foot or bicycle and the women cover the Happy Valley and Sequim Bay wards by car. The leaders often split up the missionaries and go with them door knocking.
Bonham, who served his mission years ago in Japan, said it wasn’t his first choice.
“I might as well have been sent to the moon,” he said. “I was traumatized but it became the neatest experience. When (the missionaries) go home, they’ll be completely different people.”
Rutherford said when missionaries come home, they often say it’s was the best experience of their lives.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.