2—How it all began: teenagers looking for religion.
8—what the missionary discussions were like. One of the missionaries feels bad about it all now. I already had a strong testimony.
France, July ’95—He was an alternative kid with “bright white bleached hair cut like a woodland elf.” But he was told to go back to his natural colour and he was now sporting an unnatural shade of strawberry blonde. Elder Patrick was 19; a fun and funky Canadian.
In the room where we had our Cours d’anglais, I told the missionaries I’d read three books about their religion: Britton’s sympathetic Les Mormons; some inflammatory exposé and Introvigne’s neutral essay—my favourite. ¹
Elder Garant was a nice and soft-spoken Frenchman with an understated sense of humour. So, in spite of the wrongly called ‘Mormon look,’ with the black tag with their title—Elder—and last name on it—both missionaries were, and looked, different from one another.
I wanted to find folks who believed the Bible was the word of God, not inspirational fiction.
“I believe God is a real being. I know Mormons do too; and that the events in the Bible are real and Satan too… At 15, I bought a Bible and a new girl joined our school. Her father was a minister. He said: ‘We can’t believe all the Bible says… Miracles are just stories to show we can turn things around. The Devil? Just a symbol of evil in the world’.”
I wanted to find folks who believed the Bible was the word of God, not inspirational fiction. I didn’t think Protestants in France believed God was real, and I rejected the official claim that He was one being who manifested Himself in three ‘parts’—the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. I believed—like the Mormons—that the Father and Jesus were distinct beings.
“What would you say the purpose of life is?” asked Elder Garant.
I replied it was to be tried and proved, so we may obtain salvation. An answer they didn’t hear often—especially from a boy their age.
Elder Patrick explained, “With life on Earth—because of the Fall, which was part of the plan—come sin and mortal death. Both separate us from God. We are ‘tried and proved.’ God sent His Son to fulfil the plan. Through the sacrifice of the Son of God, we will all overcome death and—if we choose to follow the eternal Gospel he taught—we may be saved (from spiritual death resulting from sin) and go back to the presence of God.”
Elder Garant added, “God revealed His plan through the prophets and the Scriptures contain their dealings with Him.”
I told them I received a strong personal testimony of Mormonism that brought me here. ² Still, I asked questions to check notions and definitions. They mentioned some verses that I quickly found. We were on the same page. Elder Garant remarked that I knew my Bible well.
I had enrolled in a free distance-learning course when I was in high school. Every week I studied a passage and answered a series of questions. The correction with annotations pointing me to verses came back from Switzerland. I searched the Scriptures and I learned. Then the course finished. It was me and my Bible again—with ‘traditional’ Protestant notions, which I accepted. I started to write stories based on those episodes that inspired me so much. I would have gone to a church of that denomination had there be one in town.
When we went over the part of the discussion dealing with God still revealing the Truth and choosing Joseph Smith in this day and age, I wondered what part of ‘I have a strong personal testimony of Mormonism’ they didn’t understand. They told me how Joseph Smith saw the Father and Jesus, and was therefore a prophet of God and a witness of Christ, authorised to teach the Gospel and to bring forth the Book of Mormon—additional Scriptures which he was commanded to translate.
Elder Patrick took in his hands the blue covered book that the Church printed for missionaries and members to distribute free of charge. I produced mine.
“I haven’t read half of it, but I know it contains the writings of prophets and is named after one of them. I know the story starts in Jerusalem in 600 BCE and takes its protagonists to the American continent where they started a civilisation.”
Elder Garant added that the prophets knew about the plan of salvation and the coming of the Saviour: “In fact, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the people there and taught his Gospel and established his Church among them.”
At the end of our ‘First Discussion’ on ‘Heavenly Father and His Plan for us,’ they gave me a pamphlet with verses in the Book of Mormon to look up—a ‘commitment’ for next time.
“That’s terrible! I feel responsible for starting the whole thing!”
Did I have any more questions? I did. There were a few things I could not get my mind around. I asked them about the teaching of an embodied God and, after we discussed that point a little, I asked about the Priesthood ban: “Why didn’t God allow blacks to hold the Priesthood before 1978?”
Elder Patrick said he’d struggled with that point too. He stood up and went to the clip-board and drew a large circle and some lines on top—”the light of the Sun on Earth.” He said the light could not reach every part. “God loves everyone, but some people are not always ready for His light. So, God waited for all to be ready before he could tell them it was OK.” ³
Whenever I see missionaries I remember those who taught me. Far from home, far from friends and family (who usually finance their mission but aren’t allowed to visit), over the course of the 2-year long ‘rite of passage’, missionaries go from district to district, and from companion to companion, in the mission field they’ve been assigned to.
Strict rules apply—no TV; no secular music; no dating. They must be clean-cut; with their companion at all times and at home between 9:30 P.M. and 9:00 A.M. But Elder Patrick liked bending the rules and got in trouble with his Mission President. He was a Smashing Pumpkins fan and I heard he played Nine Inch Nails, “a Satanic band!” When I discovered that band in ’98, I discovered there was nothing ‘Satanic’ about it at all. I never cared what others said. That unconventional missionary was the one who had invited me to Cours d’anglais.
Elder Patrick was transferred the following day. Our first discussion was also our last. He married shortly after his mission ended and then turned his back on Mormonism. We got back in touch around 2010, when I was converting to Fundamentalism. “That’s terrible! I feel responsible for starting the whole thing,” he said, half-jokingly.
³ After reading this post, the former Elder Patrick wrote to me, “I don’t remember doing that sun on the earth explanation. My explanation for the delay was always that the world wasn’t ready until god had caused the civil rights movement. And that he had brought ‘prophets’ like MLK to prepare the day for the return of the priesthood. Maybe I explained it poorly in French.”