Saturday, May 17, 2008

Boys on Bikes

How do they do it? How does the Mormon Church get a couple of prime years of a boy’s life to go out and be a missionary either here or abroad?

I still see them all the time. Just saw a pair on the way home. You know the boys on bikes who are wearing black pants and white button-up dress shirts. Always clean-shaven with short hair. And of course they wear backpacks containing the Book of Mormon and literature to hand out.

The Mormon kids I have known in my lifetime have all been well-mannered and never seemed to question the rules they inherited by being part of the Mormon Church. No caffeine. No drugs. No premarital sex. And, at least for boys, two years of service on behalf of the Church.

One of my best employees was a young Mormon boy from Utah, whose wife was extremely homesick from the minute they moved east. He came in one day to tell me he had seen a shooting star as he was taking out the trash the night before and a voice told him to go home to Utah. So they pulled up stakes and took their three children back to live in the basement of his wife’s parents’ house while my ex-employee went back to school and ultimately got a new job.

Which leads to the other essential part of this religion: FAMILY. There is nothing much more important to a Mormon than his/her family. There is always a family safety net that means that Mormons are rarely homeless. I’ve always enjoyed the radio ads “It’s about family” aired by the Mormon Church.

I actually don’t know much about the Mormon religion and am less than excited about their treatment of blacks and their penchant (albeit now illegal) toward polygamy.

But I am impressed with their ability to turn boys into missionaries who seem not to resent what they are doing. How do they do it?


Blogger Steve said...

My only concern about Mormonism is it doesn't seem to leave much room for individuality. I'm not a Mormon myself, so I'm saying that from the outside, but that's my impression -- along with the family support comes heavy-duty pressure to conform.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- I totally agree. But the Mormons I have known have been fine upstanding people who never expressed any concern about fitting the mold.

I could not picture my own son buying into this for even 10 seconds!

5:39 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I do not agree with all the tenets of the faith but the Latter Day Saints I've known have been kind and generous people who take care of each other and give back to their communities.

10:03 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- And they have a positive outlook on life too, yes?

10:44 PM  
Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

mormons - a most curious sect/denomination....I have known a few mormons in my 'travels through life'...they have all been quite different. but being a bookish kinda gal I have read some interesting books which intersect with musing on mormonism:

refuge: an unnatural history of family and place by terry tempest williams (terry was raised a mormon) she's an ecologist and a feminist and her books (the open space of democracy) expands and broadens one's understanding of mormon culture. interested in women's health issues - read this book!

"under the banner of heaven" by john krakauer - a tale of mormon fundamentalism gone awry but much much more....incredible bit of social history and 'true crime' journalism

"leaving the saints: how I lost the mormons and found my faith" by martha beck....what can I say the title says it all... martha tries to go 'back home' after the birth of her son who has down's syndrome only to find the community isn't really all that she thought it was cracked up to be....

the last close encounter I had with a mormon family was with the family who lived in the other half of my house....the were a sweet, sweet family...not to drop the dime every time wifey & kiddo was away daddy would bring home a 12 pack of pepsi and do who knows what (well I know, but I won't tell)! but who cares, really!! humans, we are a most curious lot!!

10:52 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Mouse -- Sounds like your reading list would perhaps balance out my impressions of Mormons and your experience with your neighbors totally bursts my Mormon bubble. At least it was Pepsi and not alcohol...

But no one is telling me how they get these kids to be so compliant!

11:01 PM  
Blogger lettuce said...

i can't shed any light on that question barbara.
But was interested in info. from my friends in Pa about the Amish - I read something a while back about how younger Amish were questioning/leaving, but it seems that not significantly the case. Amish population is growing in numbers and spreading geographically beyond Pa.

I suppose we make such assumptions about freedom and individuality that there is something very striking about groups with such strict rules. But some people find rules appealing I suppose, questioning and nonconformity can take some courage.

3:24 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Many young women serve missions for the Mormon church too; the women serve for one and a half years if they choose to go.

Men are expected to go; women are not expected to go but are encouraged to go if they feel it is right for them.

The answer to "how they make them do it" is simple: some of them do it out of fear of being ostracized, some do it to satisfy the demands of a girlfriend who won't marry them unless they do, but most do it because they honestly believe that what they are teaching is true, and they believe it's what God wants them to do.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Randy Wood said...

Congratulations Looking2Live. You made the Washington Post Express today. Page 32 --> that is how I heard about your blog.

I am a Mormon and served a two-year mission in the Germany Frankfurt Mission and loved every second of it. My little brother is currently in the Mesa, Arizona mission as well.

How do they do it? Well, the fact of the matter is that 'they' don't. We do. Many young men such as myself chose by ourselves to follow the counsel of our modern-day prophet and Savior Jesus Christ to go serve, learn, grown, and teach. The reason these Latter Day Saints go on a two-year excursion is to spread Christ's love by serving our fellow man.

And Steve, I feel like I am as individual as they come. I have lived in a fraternity house for 3 years (never drank alcohol once) and have Looked2Live all my life. I know God lives and I am proud to know that. It was a pleasure to serve the somewhat stubborn people of Germany by living among them for two years.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Bob, Randy -- You pretty much confirmed what I had assumed. I wasn't sure how women were included in mission work, so thanks for the explanation.

I do recall a picnic lunch with my ex-employee Ryan who without trying to persuade me told me just what he believed and why. He is a fine young man who made a wonderful father and husband for his growing family.

What puzzles me a bit is the fact that we raised our children in our religion and as adults they confess to not believing much of anything they learned. I'm not even sure they believe in God.

Whereas for most Mormons I have met, they are proud of what they believe and it is obviously their choice.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

I was a Mormon missionary in Argentina. From a young age Mormons are prepared by parents and sunday school teachers to be missionaries. We look forward to this Christian service as one of the highlights of our lives. Other churches have full-time professional ministers - we do not. Rather, we see these two years as our period to serve full-time (at our own expense); afterwards, we go back to school and careers. The vast majority of returned missionaries loved their time as missionaries - even those who later disassociate with the Church. Not everyone is able to or chooses to serve a mission, and of course we accept their decision.

Before going, each potential missionary is encouraged to seek his or her own "testimony", or feeling that what they share is true and that sharing it with others by being a missionary is the right choice for them. By the time they leave for the mission, virtually all missionaries have a strong conviction of what they are doing. This conviction increases during their service and remains with them long after the mission - which may explain why we Mormons continue to practice our faith throughout our lives.

I recommend taking a look at for quick answers to what we believe. Or to really dive deep into what we believe you can read the Book of Mormon itself at

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Brandon said...

I've found literature "about" Mormons to often be surprisingly skewed and sensationalist (or merely trying to confirm the public's preconceived notions), and as with most things, primary sources are best. "Our Search for Happiness" by M. Russell Ballard is one start,, and the Book of Mormon for the real stuff. The stereotype of Mormons all/mostly being conformists or never questioning authority breaks down pretty quickly when you know enough Mormons. There is certainly some shared understanding on basic beliefs, but also a wide range of views--we are, after all, people. I have found that being a Mormon has added a lot of depth and meaning to my life, and I enjoy the opportunities for service it provides.

7:56 AM  

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