Opening your front door, you’re met by two clean-cut young men. They stand out from the crowd, if for no other reason because of the conservative way they’re dressed.
They wear dark trousers and suit coats, and white dress shirts. Both sport ties, one with red stripes, the other a blue print. A name tag on their lapel gives their surname, with the appropriate title and the name of the church they represent. They grip the Book of Mormon in their hands.
“Hi,” the younger one says pleasantly. “I’m Elder Walz, and this is Elder Morin. We’re missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Today we’re sharing a message about the Book of Mormon.”
Depending on the householder’s reaction, the missionaries either continue with their message or politely turn and walk away. Either way, their part’s done.
Meet Daniel Walz, 19, who is from Provo, Utah, and Alexandre Morin, 21, whose hometown is Saint-Hilaire, Quebec. These two LDS Church missionaries have been living in Bay Roberts for the past several months, following a brief period of training in Provo.
During a recent interview, they spoke openly about their mission.
“As representatives of Jesus Christ, we volunteered two years of our lives to come out and preach to people, to invite them to come to Christ and receive his gospel,” Walz explains.
The LDS Church makes missionary work top priority. At least 50,000 missionaries currently serve worldwide. Most of them are single men and women in their late teens and early 20s. Each one volunteers for a two-year mission on a full-time basis, and is assigned a place, usually far from home.
They travel in groups of two, “as Christ himself told the apostles in the Early Church,” Morin says.
He adds: “It’s a really important step in my life. There’s great blessing that comes from it, and it will help me to grow and learn.”
Men between 19 and 25, who meet standards of worthiness, are strongly encouraged by church leadership to consider a mission.
On the other hand, they have no say whatsoever about where they end up. By signing on the dotted line, they indicate their desire to go on a mission. The church then sends them “wherever they feel we would be needed,” Morin explains. Raised in the LDS Church, both young men are unquestionably committed to the task. “I’ll go wherever I’m told to go,” Walz states firmly.
Bay Roberts is Walz’s first posting, while Morin has already served in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. They spend four to six months in a community. A day or two before they are to move on, they get a call from a church leader.
LDS Church missionaries receive no salary, but they or their families usually provide financial support.
“We work and save up beforehand enough money to support us for the two years,” Walz says. They pass over their earnings to the church who, in turn, dispenses it to them over the duration of the mission.
“Yes, it is a sacrifice,” Morin admits. “I left school, family and friends. You never know what’s going to happen before you go back home. But I find that what we learn in those two years is well worth that sacrifice. Still, there are those days when I miss Mom.”
Walz agrees. Though he misses his family, he knows “God is with us. It’s definitely worth leaving my family and friends and school.”
As for their conservative dress, Morin admits, “Yes, we’re obligated to dress this way.” He explains it this way: “If somebody comes to your door dressed in rags and a dirty T-shirt, the first message that comes to your mind is, ‘Who’s that clown?’ It’s not the best way to represent our Saviour.”
At the conclusion of their mission, Morin hopes to train as a high school teacher and Walz plans to go back to university.
Until then, they have little spare time.
“Most of the time, we go door-to-door, seeking people who want to listen or who are interested in learning more about our message about Christ,” Morin says.
A sacred text of the LDS Church is the Book of Mormon, commonly dubbed “another testament of Jesus Christ.” The flyleaf describes it as “an account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi,” transcribed by Joseph Smith Jr. “It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas.”
A second sacred text is the Bible.
“We believe both books to be of equal value,” Walz says. “They are both the Word of God. But the Book of Mormon is something we want people to know about because most people don’t. We sometimes seem to put a bigger emphasis on the Book of Mormon because that’s the thing that makes a difference.”
Walz and Morin offer their service to residents in very practical ways, whether it be shovelling snow or digging ditches. “We try to involve ourselves in whatever opportunities show up, to help whoever’s in need in the community,” Morin says.
Their other activities revolve around Sunday.
At 10 a.m., the faithful gather in the church, located on Central Street in Bay Roberts and where all are welcome. The first hour is a public meeting. In the second hour, children, men and women divide into study groups.
About 19 people – five women, eight men and six children – attended the meeting on Oct. 24. It was presided over by President Gary Young.
Everyone is known as either “Brother” or “Sister.”
Prayers are complemented by congregational singing, accompanied by a piano. No offering plate is passed. The saints believe in the “law of tithing,” with members willingly giving 10 per cent of their earnings to their church.
A meeting highlight is the blessing and passing of the sacrament by the priesthood. Participants eat bread and drink water, the latter in individual cups, as a way of remembering the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
“We view it as a renewal of the covenant we made during baptism,” Morin explains. It’s offered to the entire congregation, whether LDS or not. “It’s up to the individual.”
In a surprising variation, the liquid element of the ordinance is water, not wine or grape juice. This is reflective of the LDS Church’s prohibition against the consumption of alcohol.
The congregation was informed that a local young man, Jordan Norman, had “received his call to a mission.” His assignment will take him to Anchorage, Alaska. The announcement was received by the congregation with an audible note of approval.
Cameras and recording equipment are not permitted in LDS Church meetings. The reason? “To keep the church sacred,” Walz says.
The missionaries’ presence in the community evokes varied reaction.
“Around here, I find people really give us a warm welcome,” Morin says, “They are very respectful of what we do and what we’re here to share. We do encounter all kinds of people, from the really nice to those who are a little more aggressive. But if I’m able to help at least one person and make his life a little bit better by sharing the message with them, that will be worth my while.”
At the end of their day, Walz and Morin return to their basement apartment. Even there, though, their activities are limited.
“We don’t watch TV or movies during the two years of our mission,” Walz said. Morin adds: “We do live a really straight code.” They spend their spare time studying the sacred texts of the LDS Church.
Assumedly, they don’t read newspapers. Which is rather too bad, because they’ll miss reading this feature on their lives and work.