Saturday, December 22, 2007

Unrighteous Dominion among Missionaries

When I was in the Language Training Mission preparing to go to Rome Italy on a mission S. Dilworth Young who was very old at the time came to speak to us with a new guy Gene R. Cook. Elder Young told about an experience he had during World War I when he was stationed in Paris, France. He was walking down the street when he saw a fellow Latter-day Saint serviceman coming down the street on the other side. For some reason he didn't shout out but stepped in to a doorway and watched his friend. The LDS man was approached by a French women who spoke to him in the universal language and went inside with him. Elder Young said many times when he is in the temple this scene comes back to him in shame that he didn't speak out and stop the man who he was sure did some bad things. He said it is better to smell the roses in the winter of your life which I took to mean stay morally clean and stand for truth. That talk actually meant something to me as a recent convert since I had struggled with moral issues briefly as a Catholic teenager growing up in Las Vegas.

When I finally went to the field I was assigned to help open Ragusa in Sicily. Six of us elders shared a palazzo on Via Giovanni Meli 1/11. I was assigned to another Italian convert who was known for his dynamic preaching and baptizing skills. He only spoke Italian. My companion and I were hard working and very successful we even baptized a couple of people and led the mission field every week in discussions taught, Book of Mormons placed etc. Our mission put out a weekly newsletter and we always were number one. The rest of the district were Americans who had limited success. We had a fairly good and compassionate district leader from Idaho but he was eventually transferred and a hard nosed guy from Utah took over.

Overlooking our apartment was a small valley. Our apartment was right on a bridge. Across the bridge was a dreary part of the city with a red light district. You could actually see it from our balcony where we prayed every day. Four of the elders thought it was funny to walk up the street of the red light district even though it wasn't a very righteous thing to do. After hearing S. Dilworth's talk I encouraged them to avoid the area. They would laugh at me and immediately after prayer on a few occasions they would hit me in the back of the head saying Elder do you feel the Spirit.

It actually got worse. One morning I went in to breakfast as we took turns making breakfast. When I entered the room all of them including my companion decided to mess with me. The district leader told me that there was alcohol in the pudding. I knew there was no alcohol and said that is funny elder. I thought that would be the end of the matter. He grabbed me and the two elders who were slapping me on the back of the head help wrestle me to the floor. I wasn't weak so soon it took five of them to actually fight me down to the floor. One elder kept insisting that he was going to shove the alcohol in my mouth but I turned my head at the last moment. I fought them hard and they finally gave up not too willingly. It had turned brutal but finally one had the sense of mind to say stop and they quit huffing and puffing.

A few days later the district leader called me in to his room. He told me he that had to be commanded in all things was a wicked and slothful servant. I asked him what he meant. He told me I knew what he was talking about. I actually was very idealistic and didn't have a clue. The only thing I could figure out is that I wasn't learning the discussions fast enough. I passed off the baptismal challenge and the last discussion within a couple of weeks. The district leader treated me hostilely after that point with great disdain.

My companion even though we worked hard was a good looking guy who came from a wealthy non-Mormon family who manufactured shoes in Verona. He had opened Siracusa another city and had been branch president even though he was only out about six months when we became companions. He had a bullhorn and would stand on a stool and preach in Italian. He baptized a lot of people, many were young good looking girls about our age. Apparently he had one who liked him a lot so he was sent over to Ragusa where we became companions. I knew he was writing her but I didn't think it was very serious. Then one day she and four or five others showed up at our missionary apartment. I was taught that you should never leave your companion. The other missionaries knew I was pretty strict about that. I told my companion that it wasn't good for him to be alone with the visitors. He didn't seem to care and was so fixated on the girl since I wouldn't leave him alone with her. Finally I went to the bathroom when I came out he was gone. The other missionaries claimed I was splitting with a different missionary for the day and that he was with the other missionary. In reality they had let him take off with the girl alone. Of course I reported it to my mission president who transferred him.

I was assigned one of the junior companions who became my trainer. My companion went off to another city far away from the girl. These elders actually destroyed my idealism. My new companion and I picked up and were always in the top leaders of the district. He wanted to get along with the other elders so he was not friendly. He actually got an ulcer and had to take shots from a member in his hip. I felt sorry for the guy that he was under so much stress.

I had another bad experience with the district leader before the Italian companion was transferred. There was a handicapped man in his early twenties who was a college student. He had become crippled as a teenager in some kind of accident. He investigated the church quite seriously and learned about the priesthood. One day as we were teaching him I felt a strong feeling from the Spirit that if he had faith I could lay my hands on him and heal him. I started to tell him in my limited Italian. He became very excited and I told him that I would give him a blessing if he would fast and pray first. He agreed to join the church if I would heal him like Christ in the Bible. We agreed that he would come back another day for the blessing. My companion discussed the matter with our district leader. The district leader came to me and said I am not going to let you give that man a blessing. If you bless him and he isn't healed it will hurt the work here in Ragusa. When the investigator came back he was given a bunch of excuses and told that a wicked and perverse generation seeketh for a sign and that he needed to join the church then he might be healed later. He wasn't stupid and became a bitter enemy of the church in the city.

I was so depressed by the behavior of my district leader that I almost gave up on my mission I wrote the mission president about some transgressions I hadn't cleared up before my mission knowing I would get transferred. I was willing to do anything to get away from those elders. After a few months I was sent up to Catania to a new assignment. I thought that things would die down and my mission would be fine. Instead I was reassigned to Toronto Canada. When I got there and told M. Russell Ballard my story he told me my mission president overreacted and that he didn't think I needed to be transferred. My mission president was a recent convert in his early thirties. He said that was water under the bridge and to just move on.

I was willing to move on but my first several companions didn't. They accused me of things the moment they saw me saying the word in the mission was that I must of done this or that since I was transferred from another field. I didn't put up with crap after that and went through companions fast. One time I lasted two days. I saw this elder flirting with a divorced woman in one area and told him to knock it off. He eventually married her after his mission. Another example of why locking your heart is important in the mission field. I was transferred pronto. The next guy picked me up and told me he knew all about me. I tried to tell him about the other guy messing around. He didn't want to hear it since the guy was his district leader and told me I was a whiner and a complainer. I had the problem not the other guy. I told him he was a jerk and if he didn't get out of my face about the other guy I would break him like a twig. I didn't last the day as his companion as he called immediately and insisted I be transferred. It ended up he was the first cousin of my first girlfriend at BYU. She ended up dumping me to marry the cousin. My one day companion was recently released as a stake president. Ballard tried to send me home after that but that is the subject of a future blog.

The saddest thing that happened was that my first Italian companion was eventually excommunicated from the Church for sexual problems with the girl who visited. They claimed he didn't fornicate but that he did other lesser things. It happened after I was transferred up to Canada. I cannot believe that those elders in that district could have been that stupid to let him go off with the girl that day. I would have protected him. I sure wouldn't have let him get on a motorcycle without putting up a fight and riding off with her. Some day they will have to tell the Lord why their roses stink in winter.

Years later at BYU I ran in to my second companion from Ragusa. We ended up being good friends as he lived in my BYU ward. The last guy who I lasted with one day and I got along also pretty well as we would talk at the Y. He should have gotten to know me better. The district leader from Ragusa ended up married to my LTM teacher who was a gorgeous Italian woman. I think he had a construction company. He was by far the worst mission leader I ever had. I bet he became a leader in the church too. He will probably end up a mission president back in Italy.

I will always remember Russell Ballard telling me that the Church was true otherwise the missionaries would have destroyed it a long time ago. I wonder if there are any others out there who had the best two years of their life with experiences on a mission like I did. I think we can learn by both positive and negative experiences.


Bookslinger said...

Please counter-balance these negative experiences with some more positive ones. Someone might come away with the idea that most experiences in most missions are bad. But of course, they aren't.

I was in Ecuador in 84-86, and had some experiences not too unlike yours. Looking back, I now realize that the friction and contention I had with some (not all, just some) missionaries was as much (or more) due to my own lack of people skills as it was their immaturity or disobedience.

It sounds like both of us were occasionally "unequally yoked" with some elders who didn't have the same level of committment to mission rules. But it sounds like you had it much worse than I did.

I never lost my testimony, but I did lose the Spirit, and became bitter over those experiences, and it took many years to heal. I went inactive a year after I got home, and then requested name-removal in 1991. I didn't come back to church until 2002. Again, I still new the gospel was true and that the church was true, but I was very bitter towards Mormons, and was angry at God and church leadership for putting me through that.

So if you stayed faithful after all that, you're a better man than I am.

Also, I came to conclude that a convert shouldn't go on a mission as a young adullt unless he or she gets a clear confirmation from the Lord. I didn't. I went mainly because I wanted to.

If you haven't done so already, you need to forgive those misbehaving elders for being the silly teen-agers they were. And forgive yourself for not knowing how to handle them at the time.

It took me a long time to forgive the others for being young-and-stupid, and it took me a long time to realize I was also young-and-stupid, and to forgive myself as well.

Stephen said...

"f you haven't done so already, you need to forgive those misbehaving elders for being the silly teen-agers they were. And forgive yourself for not knowing how to handle them at the time. "

Nicely said

Dr. B said...

I appreciated your candid and sincere comments. I don't really have a problem I chose the topic in hopes that others could learn from my negative experiences and not repeat them. I don't really have much trouble with those involved any more now that thirty years has passed. I am too old to hold a grudge any more. I did some stupid things and said some ignorant things also. It strengthened me rather than weakened me. I have stayed a member despite some interesting people who have helped me through their helpful behavior. Your comments were meaningful to me.