Sunday, May 31, 2009

Montgomery Advertiser Profiles LDS Missionaries Winston Jordan and Caesar Reese From Prattville, Alabama

The Montgomery Advertiser has published a thoughtful and informative profile on two missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who hail from Prattville (NW of Montgomery). Winston Jordan (pictured at right) and Caesar Reese (pictured at left) grew up together in the Prattville Ward, located within the Montgomery Stake, and recently received their mission calls. They are presently at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah, where all U.S. residents called to missions go before entering the mission field. But after completing studies at the MTC, Jordan and Reese will go their separate ways for two years; Jordan to Seattle, and Reese to a Spanish-speaking mission in Salt Lake City (the Wasatch Front has a burgeoning Latino population).

"Caesar will receive intensive immersion for language," said Susan Turley, spokeswoman for the Montgomery Stake. "They both will train for the routine they will have, and will also learn to teach the gospel in an orderly and clear way."

And the routine will be spartan; up at 6:30 A.M., study, proselytization, and other related activities until 10:30 P.M. One day per week is devoted to what's called "P-Day", during which they wash clothes and take care of other personal business. But they are only allowed to call home twice per year, on Mother's Day and Christmas, and cannot participate in entertainment such as movies or music, go on dates or attend parties. They're not even allowed to read newspapers. All of their time is spent spreading the word of Jesus Christ, whether it is through proselytizing or through humanitarian efforts. And if a natural disaster hits their service area during their tenure, the missionaries will frequently be diverted from proselytization to assist in disaster relief. A good description of missionary service is available HERE.

Both Jordan and Reese have prepared for this task. They grew up in service, both attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. And because missionaries are required to pay their own way, except for transportation to and from the mission location, both Jordan and Reese worked at Bruster's and Chick-fil-A, respectively, for the past year to help cover their expenses. But even before making their formal request to their bishop to be considered for missionary service, the two men also gained first-hand insight into missionary life through "Team-ups", in which they essentially shadowed active missionaries, accompanying them while knocking on doors, teaching or just during their everyday activities.

According to Montgomery Stake President C. Eric Boswell, serving a mission is not required of church members, but is definitely encouraged, particularly for men. Boswell said that his stake currently has 10 missionaries either in the field or waiting on a mission call. Historically, Boswell said, about 15 percent of young men who are eligible in the Montgomery stake serve missions. Women are allowed to apply for mission calls, but are not so strongly encouraged as are the men.

To expand this post beyond the Advertiser article, it is only fair to disclose that missionary service itself can be rigorous. In "developing" countries, missionaries can contract medical ailments concomitant with lower standards of sanitation. Some missionaries do have bad experiences and are sent home early, either because of illness, misconduct, or a family problem back home. Occasionally, inexperienced mission presidents, in a desire to please Church authorities, will stress quantity at the expense of quality, which may result in more baptisms, but will also result in a higher attrition rate amongst converts. And even the occasional General Authority who visits a mission field can be forgetful as to what it was like and be excessively demanding of missionaries. That's because the LDS Church is not populated by perfect people, but instead by people trying to become perfected. We can and do err.

Anti-Mormons will seize upon and exploit tales of bad experiences and suggest that the Church inherently "abuses" its missionaries. This is bogus; the vast majority of missionaries who serve look back upon their experiences with fondness in later years (read Tim Malone's account of his mission HERE for a more typical example). Besides, if mission service is so "abusive", why do so many 19-year-old men apply for mission service every year? Why do so many older couples apply for mission service? It's because it's not easy; they want to serve the Lord, and they want to sacrifice. They understand that there can be no Crown without a Cross. It's the same motivation that drives people to join the military, and even to apply for tough elite training such as that offered by the Green Berets, Delta, and the SEALs. They want to test themselves. People need adversity as an isometric exercise for their character development.

The Montgomery Advertiser did a fine job in reporting objectively and accurately about the LDS Church and missionary service in this article. Another equally prominent resident of Montgomery could learn from this example of fair and balanced reporting.

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