“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Missionaries Behaving Badly October 20, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
Tags: books, christianity, Holidays, missionaries, Mormons, religion, shenanigans
Continuing with my chapter-by-chapter review of the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries:
Chapter 15. Skeletons in Missionary Closets
(Content advisory: animal cruelty)
A whole chapter on misbehavior! Let’s see where this goes.
“While fulfilling a mission is a great privilege, it is also a great responsibility. Everything you say or do is being recorded in somebody’s mind for good or ill.” (pg 136)
So we start right out with setting an impossible standard that 19-year-old boys really can’t be expected to live up to. And then?
“A tactful missionary will not step over his bounds; he will respect other people’s beliefs rather than argue with them; he will not laugh at quaint or unusual mannerisms or customs but will view them so sympathetically as to adopt them as his own, at least during his mission; he will not criticize the people, the bus system, the food, the toilet tissue which might bear a strong resemblance to either wax paper or sandpaper, nor the beds which he suspects were invented for medieval torture chambers. Rather, he will admire what these people do have, realizing that all persons are entitled to hold good opinions of themselves and their country, and that they are happy the way they live and are proud of their backgrounds and country just as we are of ours.” (pp 136-137)
Right. Respect their beliefs, then tell them that they are completely wrong about everything they think about religion and have to change to what you think. Good plan.
So, as this author usually does, she harps on manners. She gives us a couple of examples on the necessity of thanking people. The first story I think really shows how outdated this book has become: A missionary had to be hospitalized, and of course didn’t have the money to pay for it. A local Mormon paid for his treatment, and the missionary never bothered to thank him. The author says about the Mormon: “She told herself to forget it since it wasn’t a matter of great consequence…” Nowadays, there’s no way that a hospital bill could be considered a matter of no consequence, it would be a huge financial outlay and a really big deal.
The second story also includes somebody being extremely rude, but I don’t think I agree with the author as to who the rude people were.
“One mission president and his wife decided to surprise their missionaries with a big Christmas dinner. Turkey was scarce in this distant land…. His wife worked in the kitchen for days making all the trimmings to go with the turkey, but they both felt rewarded just anticipating the eyes that would sparkle and the mouths that would water as the door of the dining room was opened at the climactic moment to show the festive table. On Christmas morning the missionaries all arrived for a brief meeting following which the mission president happily announced that they were all to stay for dinner. Just as he was opening the door into the beautifully decorated dining room, two elders blurted out “Do we have to stay? We were going to hit a flick.” (Go to a show.) With spirits somewhat dampened the mission president said “I think maybe you’ll want to stay when you see what we have planned for you.” Without so much as a single word of thanks, these same two elders complained to their mission president the following day that they got cheated out of their day off…and they had to go over to his house and eat that Christmas dinner!” (pp 137-8)
Somebody was rude here, but it wasn’t the missionaries. This mission president didn’t think that any of the 180 missionaries in attendance would have already made plans for christmas Day. Perhaps they were already invited to eat with local friends, perhaps that was the one day in the whole year that they allowed themselves the luxury of a movie and already had tickets, perhaps they had spent the previous week being invited to christmas dinners at other houses, and stuffing themselves each night. This mission president just assumed that his idea of what a perfect christmas dinner should be would take precedence over the plans of all these other people, and that they should just drop everything they had on their schedule to stay for his dinner. It’s pretty clear that while these youngsters are expected to take on the responsibilities of an adult, in no other way is the hierarchy treating them like adults.
Now we come to a long section on “don’ts”, and bad examples.
“For instance, two elders in a playful manner placed a rubber band around a dog’s mouth, but they inadvertently forgot to take the elastic off when they went into the house for supper. For five days the poodle wouldn’t eat and the landlady couldn’t imagine what was wrong (the rubber band had worked down into the fur and couldn’t be seen). Finally she took the dog to a veterinarian who had to perform a minor operation in order to cut the elastic which had become embedded in the animal’s flesh.” (pg 138)
Playful manner? Really?
“In one of the foreign missions, a group of elders found some old American Remington and Winchester rifles. So great was their excitement at this unexpected discovery that it blurred their judgment and consideration for others: they climbed on top of the church and began shooting at stray cats. People throughout the neighborhood began saying “What’s the matter with those Mormons?” Then they began referring to the elders as ‘Latter-day Cat Haters.’ “(pg 138)
So remember, missionaries, don’t be cruel to animals because it makes Mormons look bad.
One lovely member lady actually said to a mission president’s wife “Please don’t send us any more missionaries – wait a few years until the town can forget the last two!’ ” (pg 138-9)
“An elder or sister who is living up to the ideals of missionary work will never do any of the following…”
15. Feel that just because a method works it is right. For instance, one elder resorted to many different tactics to gain entrance to people’s homes. When a lady opened her door, he would throw his hat in and then have to go in to get it. Or, he’d walk in without making any comment and then say, “I’ll get the table ready while you get your Bible.” …
18. Be impatient with those not ready to accept baptism. One elder actually pounded the table and said to an investigator, “You are ungrateful. You should be thankful that you have been called. You must join now when the call is upon you.” The woman was offended and has not joined to this day.” (pp 139-40)
So at least there are limits on sneakiness in getting your foot in the door to preach at people. Bait and switch is OK (as seen in a prior chapter), and cornering your seatmate on a plane, but not overt rudeness.
Next section is back to basics on manners, this time regarding relations with the landlord. Don’t be noisy, don’t leave a mess when you move out, pay your bills, etc. All really good advice.
And finally a long section on relations with Mormons who live in the area the missionary is working in. Mostly it boils down to “yes visit them, but remember to behave like a guest, and don’t take advantage of their hospitality.” I also think this section is more of a cautionary tale for Mormons living in areas where there are missionaries active.
“On her arrival, one mission president’s wife who sincerely wanted to be like a mother to all the missionaries living in the mission home made the statement ‘I want you to know that this is now your home,’ but it wasn’t long before she had to put little signs all over the house such as the one on the refrigerator which said “Keep out. For family use only.” (pp 142-3)
That was her mistake. If you tell a bunch of 19-year-olds to “make themselves at home”, then you should not be surprised if they put their feet on the furniture, eat all the food in in the fridge, leave dirty dishes in the sink, and borrow your stuff without asking.
I found this chapter somewhat refreshing. All through this book there’s been this impossibly high standard set for the missionaries, that they have to be perfect every moment, always smiling, always polite, and must never slack off or relax too much, or stop thinking about pushing their religion on everybody. Do the missionaries actually live up to this expectation? From reading all of the “don’t let this happen” examples in this chapter, it’s pretty clear that a lot of them don’t.