Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tough Love and Missionaries: A Parable of the Crapper

A year after I joined the Church I went on a mission. I was called to the Rome Italy Mission and helped to open up the city of Ragusa in Sicily. It was my very first area on my mission and I stayed there five months before spending a couple of weeks in Catania before going over to Toronto Canada. My companion, a native Italian from Verona was Giorgio Dal Pazzo, a dynamic missionary known for baptizing many people. He had opened up Siracusa and had baptized about twenty people. He was even the branch president there. He had a bull horn type microphone and would stand on a box and call the people to repentance and preach blasting out his sermons.

We didn't use the bull horn in Ragusa much since there was many opportunities for conversation. Every night the downtown area was closed off from traffic and thousands of people would come out and walk the street in what we referred to as a passagata talking in adamant or passionate conversations about important matters. There were no members in Ragusa when I got there. We had a few good prospects, three joined the church eventually. I even baptized one fourteen year old boy later [Salvatore Cappella?]; which is more than most missionaries averaged in a whole mission.

We had many conversations with professors and students. People from all walks of life were there. People would walk arm in arm in groups of two, three, or four. I remember one day having a conversation with a Salvatore Parrisi, a philosophy professor at a local university, who wanted to discuss the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. He ended up later joining the church. In my limited Italian I made an attempt which he thought was interesting and daring for someone who spoke such limited Italian. He said he was impressed that the Mormone would take him on. My companion rescued me and got him to agree to be taught.

Another man we met was Gianni. He was a nice young man around nineteen who had sandy blond hair and patrician features with large expressive brown eyes. Since most Sicilians are dark hair he was quite unusual in appearance. He was quite interested in the gospel. He actually approached us in conversations. We successful taught him most of the lessons and he came out to church for a few weeks. He totally believed all that we said. He had a definite change in his countenance and was thrilled about the gospel. Finally we committed him to baptism. He agree to be baptized. We set up a date for his baptism. But first we needed to establish a few commitments to see his sincerity.

He wasn't very rich and lived in a tiny ground floor flat in an older part of the city. His apartment consisted of a combination living room/bedroom with the kitchenette all in around four hundred square feet. In the kitchen was a drain in the floor with a shower head. There were two outside windows. He did have a tiny bathroom with just a toilet.

We told him before he could be baptized he needed to give up a couple of bad habits like smoking. We took his cigarettes and broke them up and flush them down the toilet. We then monitored him for a couple of weeks. He didn't have any problem not smoking. He asked us when he could be baptized. My companion said for him to be patient he would let him know when he was ready.

He had a huge collection of alcohol with probably thirty bottles of different wines and spirits. He was quite proud of his collection. We told him that now that he had overcome smoking he needed to give up drinking. He said he only drank socially and that he could do it. He wanted us to come back the following week so he could test his ability to not drink.

The following week we came back and he said he had resisted drinking even though he was tempted when some friends came by. My companion said that we need to do one last thing to prove his desire to be baptized which was to flush the alcohol all down the toilet just like the cigarettes.

I thought he wouldn't have any problem since he had given up cigarettes and alcohol but he voiced a concern. He was very distraught his hands were trembling and he began shaking when we began pouring the first bottle out. He asked us to please stop. He said that he thought he could really live the word of wisdom but that he couldn't flush the alcohol because he needed to give his friends a drink when they visited. He asked if he could give it to his family who he said were poor. He actually began to cry since he was so upset. My companion explained that living the word of wisdom meant committing not only to not drink yourself but to be an example to others. Gianni just couldn't make the distinction between living the word of wisdom completely no matter what my companion said. He couldn't see the harm of having it if you didn't drink it yourself.

In the end Gianni decided he just couldn't afford to flush all that good booze down the crapper. He said he had sacrificed with his meager income to build up his bar. He asked my companion if he could give it to relatives but my companion who was pretty hard nosed said no he had to flush it. My companion shook his head sadly and told him that we couldn't baptize him until he could pour it out. We left that day sad that he couldn't bring himself to part with his worldly goods.

I asked my companion what was the big deal of not letting him give it to his relatives since I suggested we could go with him and make sure it was done. He told me Gianni could easily backtrack. My companion who was quite the scriptorian stopped on the street and opened his scriptures and read to me Mark 10:21

Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

That ended any discussion on my part. Gianni came out to church a few more times. We tried one last time to get him to give up his booze. He eventually stopping coming out to meetings and drifted away. It was a lesson I learned early as a convert of one year that missionaries practice tough love. Today I wonder if it was the right approach if we should have considered other options or been more patient. Missionaries have to be strong to get people to leave their habits behind. Discipleship has a price sometimes it involves flushing your worldly habits down the crapper.

1 comment:

Hayes said...

sorry to be glib, but the scripture passage your comp cited actually states that he should "sell" all that he has and/or "give" it to the poor. It doesn't say to literally flush it away.