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Service missions

December 19, 2008

When I had heard about service missionaries, I was intrigued. It’s not talked about a lot in the church, even though I suppose it is an option. Since I know utterly nothing about how it officially is set up in an LDS capacity, my mind races to create all kinds of rumors and hypotheses that I have no way of validating. Part of me wants to believe that service missionaries are for those members who are worthy, but in some way physically limited from doing regular missionary work.

But that hypothesis quickly makes no sense to me. I don’t know why I assume that things out of the norm are automatically due to worthiness problems — I think that’s a throwback from mormon gossip culture.

It’s all speculation.

But when I had heard about service missions, I thought it was this tremendous idea. I was ready to champion the cause as what the model mission throughout the church should be.

Imagine this. Two guys (or girls, or a guy and a girl, or whatever) are walking in the neighborhood in nice clothes (or perhaps more casual clothes for working, but still something that distinguishes them). They stop by you at your house, and you freeze. You know what to expect…they say, “Hi, we’re Elder (name) and Elder (name)…and we are representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Now, while you might be wincing, trying to escape what comes next, they say, “Can we help you with anything?”

Oh. Well, you do have some heavy things that you have to move…but what’s the price? Is this some gimmick?

No, they say. They just want to cultivate a loving attitude through selfless service. No strings attached. When I think about it, I guess that if someone had some spiritual questions, then the missionaries could also answer those. I guess the missionaries could leave a card. But the purpose would be to seem completely selfless, without ulterior motives.

It came to my attention that it seems that Mormons have this reputation of being nice and loving, but in the sense that they love nonmembers as potential members. So, to nonmembers, it might seem like members, and especially missionaries, only care so far as they can try to convert or share the gospel. And I would have to agree with people who are wary of a member’s intentions — it does seem disingenuous to love, but only as an extension of obedience to your own church. I’m sorry — I’ve never been able to swallow the reasoning of evangelical, Mormon, or any other proselytizing groups: they claim that because of their love, they must share the good news they’ve found with and in Christ! I don’t buy it.

Some point out that serving on missions can soften the hearts of the people served to the gospel — so service may not be inimical to preaching. After all, I know I’m more receptive to a person if they care (oh, isn’t that an expression? “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”) And I’m immediately less receptive to a person if they act like they are bestowing enlightenment on me (the ignorant). If they insult my current beliefs or actions, then the conversation is nearly as good as over. Even if they are right.

My imagined situation seems ideal. I don’t know if it would lead to less converts or more, a better opinion of the church or worse, more life-changing experiences for missionaries or less. And I quite frankly don’t care. But unfortunately, it seems that there’s a strong current of belief that missionary work, in the end, is not about service. It is a calling to spread the gospel first and foremost, so service that is incidental to that end is just that — incidental. So I guess my idea is just a machination of an unfaithful mind: one that doesn’t really care so much for the nuts and bolts of the gospel but is more concerned with helping people in need.

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