Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cowra Guardian Profiles Two American LDS Missionaries Serving In Cowra, New South Wales, Australia

The Cowra Guardian has published an article profiling the accomplishments of a couple of Latter-day Saint missionaries in Australia. Identified only as Elder Savage and Elder Qualls, they are two missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints currently operating out of Cowra, in the Australian state of New South Wales. Cowra is approximately 300 km west of Sydney.

The duo are becoming a familiar sight walking everywhere, even during 40 degrees Celsius summer heat, and they welcome people asking them who they are and what they are doing. They walk everywhere because they don't have a car available to them. Elder Savage and Elder Qualls have already spent a year in the country, visiting a variety of different areas across the state, from the Sydney suburb of Blacktown to country towns like Armidale.

Back home in Colorado and Texas, they were law and music students who worked extra jobs and saved to visit a country as a representative of their church. “A lot of people think we are paid to do this, but we aren’t,” Elder Savage explained. Savage also stated that, “We don’t get a promotion for doing this, it doesn’t make us a leader in the church or a professional clergyman”. The LDS Church provides a rough guide to monthly costs of missionary service in various locations HERE; although the listed costs are for couples, divide by two to get the estimated costs for a single missionary.

Technically, it is true that missionaries do not get an immediate "promotion" following successful completion of a mission, but missionary service is considered a necessary step towards long-term future progression. Every member of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve once served a full-time mission. Read this article in the Church News which details how young men are meticulously prepared for missionary service from the time they are young nippers, through a combination of Scouting activities which provide practical skills and Aaronic Priesthood service which provide spiritual skills readying them for a mission call normally around the age of 19.

Although called missionaries, their time overseas is not spent in the traditional stereotype of the title. They welcome people wanting to talk to them about what they believe, but aren’t here to force their beliefs on anyone. “We invite people to learn. We do knock on doors a little bit, but we’re only looking for two things, to teach about the Gospel and people to help.”

Yes, help. Part of their mission while they are in Australia is to help people. “We go around town, looking to give people a hand. It could be as simple as offering to help pack groceries in a car.” Or it could be as complicated as providing assistance in the wake of the major wildfires recently scorching the Australian state of Victoria, just to the south of New South Wales. They have already done yard work for several different homes and are hoping to be able to help with Habitat for Humanity projects currently underway in Cowra.

They also seek to clear up misconceptions about LDS beliefs. Because of television and the Internet, many still believe Mormonism is a cult, and Mormons aren't Christians. “We are Christians, we believe in God and the Bible, we just have unique views on divine authority".

Although older couple missionaries are permitted to pick the location and type of mission they serve, this is not the case with younger missionaries. Elders Savage and Qualls didn’t get to choose Australia as their home for two years, but are more than happy with the result. “The church has missionaries all over the world - Brazil, Thailand, but with Australia, you have the best of both worlds. It’s a foreign country, but you don’t have to learn another language. Australia is looked at as a dream destination for missionaries.”

Some within the LDS community question the wisdom of sending young men out on missions as early as 19. The Mormon Mentality blog recently asked this question, claiming the 19-year-olds weren't very mature. However, most respondents disagreed with this notion, asserting that 19-year-olds, being younger, were likely to be more fired up and enthusiastic about preaching the Gospel. And they have a point - Joseph Smith had his first vision at the ripe old age of 14.

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