Friday, July 17, 2009
LDS Missionary From Eagle River, Alaska Profiled In Local Colorado Newspaper; Joseph Petersen Serving Mission In Grand County
Tired of the endless litany of stories about celebrity governors, obsessive-compulsive public watchdogs, rogue cops, and people who think the Soviet Union took over Alaska? Here's a story about a much more anonymous Alaskan who's representing the state with honor and distinction in Grand County, Colorado.
On July 9th, 2009, the Sky-Hi Daily News, which serves Grand County from Granby, published a profile of two missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Austin Holden and Joseph Petersen (Holden left, Petersen right in above photo) are going door-to-door sharing the message of the LDS Church in Granby and other parts of Grand County. And Petersen is identified as being from Eagle River, Alaska.
Elder Petersen is 20 months into his mission and has four months remaining before he returns to Eagle River, after which he intends to go to college and get married. He arrived in Grand County three months ago (missionaries are normally moved around every six weeks within a specific mission geographical area). His companion, Elder Holden, arrived in early July. Missionaries are assigned together by twos to watch, strengthen, and encourage each other, and must remain within sight of one another at all times. This protects them against possible awkward situations, such as false accusations of sexual abuse from members of the public (the Ferris Joseph case was a situation in which an individual suddenly claimed to have been molested by an LDS missionary as a youth, but Joseph waited until well into adulthood to file suit against the Church, so his suit was suspect. Nonetheless, he eventually settled with the Church out of court).
The missionary lifestyle is rather ascetic. For example, missionaries are not permitted to watch TV or movies, play video games, or listen to secular music during their mission. They are only allowed limited access to computers. They can call home only twice per year, on Mother's Day and Christmas, although they can write an unlimited number of letters. Here's the typical day's schedule for Elders Petersen and Holden:
-- 6:30 A.M. Wake up, exercise and eat breakfast.
-- 8:00 A.M. Spend an hour individually studying the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the missionary handbook, titled “Preach my Gospel.”
-- 9:00 A.M. Engage in an hour of “companionship study.” Basically they brainstorm each other on how to preach the Gospel more effectively.
-- 10:00 A.M. One hour studying Spanish. Holden's mission is specifically identified to be to the Spanish-speaking community.
-- 11:00 A.M. Leave their residence and begin proselyting. Normally this means getting decked out in the suit and tie, but on occasion, they may dress in work clothes to help people with mowing lawns, painting houses and even moving house. When natural disasters strike within a mission area, mission presidents will divert missionaries from proselyting to assisting in disaster relief.
-- 9:00 P.M. End activities for the day, in bed by 10 P.M.
What the article doesn't mention is that the missionaries are given one day off per week as "P-Day", to wash clothes, shop for essentials, and let off steam at Church social functions.
This is their routine for two years. They are but two out of an average of 53,000 missionaries in the field at any given time. And not only do they not get paid for it, but they actually pay their own way. Before they embarked upon their missions, Elders Petersen and Holden both worked for a year after high school to save money. Parents frequently help out.
And they volunteer to go on missions. An estimated 30 percent of 19-year-old LDS men go on a mission. Men are strongly encouraged to go, but women are accepted as well (they must wait until they're 21). Men who successfully complete missions tend to end up on the fast track for leadership positions within the Church, filling slots as bishops, branch presidents, stake presidents, and mission presidents. As they get older, some go on to become General Authorities.
And how does Petersen feel about his mission? He says he will approach life differently than he did when he left home. “I have more faith,” he said. “And I know now that with that faith, I can overcome anything. Before, I didn't talk to my friends about The Church, but it's such a huge part of me. I'm going to share it with them.”
No kidding he'll have more faith. If you can cold-call successfully for two years, enduring rejection and privation, you can endure anything outside a combat zone. Missionaries are like the special ops troops of the Church. And their "basic training" starts off at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah (for American missionaries). But the Church doesn't allow the young to monopolize the mission field; older couples can also volunteer to serve "couples missions". One prominent Alaskan example of this is Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Mark Wood, who recently resigned his post to accept a call to serve a couples mission with his wife.
One of the thornier issues for the Church has been its use of illegal immigrants on missions inside the United States. Church leaders believe in pursuing a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy; they don't think it's fair to deny an LDS man who is spiritually qualified to serve a mission an opportunity to do so because he might be an illegal immigrant. Unfortunately, this can backfire; recently, an illegal immigrant missionary was arrested by Federal agents when he checked in for a flight at Cincinnati Airport. Church members are split over this practice; many believe that failure to enforce immigration laws in this case is a violation of the Twelfth Article of Faith, which calls upon members to "obey, honor, and sustain the law. I would prefer that bishops screen missionary candidates in advance and assure their legal residency to avoid such problems. However, I suggest that the mere presence of Barack Obama in the White House poses a far greater test of the Twelfth Article of Faith.
According to official LDS statistics, at the end of 2008, there were 30,169 Latter-day Saints in Alaska, spread out among 81 different congregations (wards and branches). Information on LDS membership at other locations can be accessed HERE. If interested in attending a service, first find out what to expect at an LDS service HERE, then click HERE then enter your address to find the chapel nearest you. I also recommend a visit to the "Bloggernacle", a collection of LDS blogs discussing a wide variety of topics.