In Mormonism, males are expected to preach the gospel for two years when they turn 19 years old. This is a full time job. It does not pay anything. Missionaries are sent everywhere in the world.
In 2001, after I turned 19, I was sent to Baltimore, Maryland to fulfill my religious duty. One of the main activities of a missionary is to knock on doors, and invite people to hear a message about Jesus Christ. Below is a video of me and some of my fellow missionaries knocking on doors.
A Voice for God
In high school, I used my camera to be a voice for other groups. But on a mission, I was a representative of God.
Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan was famous for saying, “The medium is the message.” His theory was that the object that delivers the message has an effect on the way the message is perceived. In some cases, the deliverer can alter the message so it no longer resembles it’s original form. Because of this, Mormonism stresses conformity. Mormon missionaries look the same. We memorized our lessons, word-for-word. We were told not to view ourselves as individuals, but as replicas of the savior. We were an army of modern-day Jesus Christs.
This was a challenge to me because I appreciate the differences that make me unique. I felt like I was doing a dis-service to God by silencing my creativity. I felt like I was trying to be something I am not.
Also, I struggled to grasp how to act like someone I have never met. Who was Jesus christ? Why was he so important? If his claim to fame was his ability to do miracles, then what do Mormonshave to offer anyone? I can’t raise people from the dead.
Missionaries are not allowed to watch movies. We could not listen to the radio or read the newspaper. Also, we could not film. For two years, we were suppose to be free from the media. This was suppose to help separate us from the world and bring us closer to the voice of God.
My first month was spend in a training center in Utah. When the training was finished, me and my companions boarded a bus to go to Maryland. When the bus stopped we had circled a return to the training center. I was told that the flight was canceled.
We returned to the main building and saw people rushing in every direction. One sister missionary was crying in the middle of the hallway. She said that her father and brother had just crashed in an airplane. As more buses returned to the center, the building was overcrowding and people were panicking One lady shouted that everyone’s missions had been canceled cause the United States had declared war. But because we did not have any media devices, no one knew what was going on.
In the chaos, I found a group of missionaries that had smuggled a handheld radio into the facility. Together, we hid ourselves in an abandoned dorm and listened to the news... It was September 11th, 2001. America had just been attacked by terrorists.
The Day I Met Jesus
There was no war. The missionary program continued. Later that month, I arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, ready to preach the word of God.
Below is a picture from when I met Jesus on the street. He was casually walking next to his crucifix. He had a lot less teeth than I expected. He seemed quite pleasant for someone who was about to be executed.
In Salem, I was famous. In school, people formed crowds around me. In the city, people asked for my autograph. Even when I left the city to go to the beach or to Portland, strangers approached me because they knew who I was. But Baltimore was on the other side of the country. Here, I was a nobody. After three weeks of nonrecognition, I fell into a depression.
At that time, I realized how fake fame is. Also, I understood the power it had over my life. I promised myself that, from here on, I would not let fame influence the value I placed on myself or other people.
After months of slammed doors, I invented reverse missionary work.
In this activity, rather then offering to tell people about Mormonism, I offered to listen to people tell me about their religion. This was a game changer. Lots of people let me into their homes. They taught me about Catholics, Baptists, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Born Agains, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and more.
At first, I could not understand why people believed such ridiculous things. I did not understand how they could except certain contradictions. Then, I realized that I was not viewing each denomination as separate but as part of the same flawed establishment. When I began viewing them in isolation, I saw that each denomination forms a unique system that is just as plausible as Mormonism or other theories of existence.
Then, I gained a passion for the studying the scriptures. The more I learned, the more complex my studies became.
The Book of Mormon
Just as the Jews believe the Bible was written by ancient prophets who lived in Israel, Mormons believe the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets who lived in Mesoamerica.
Below is a study wherein I tried to map the locations of the Book of Mormon and match them with real locations in central america. (Creative liberties were taken.)
Through the Church, I was raised doing service for people. But it was my mission that introduced me to nonprofit organizations (NPOs).
My introduction to the world of NPOs began when I volunteered for Ronald McDonald House Charity. Every week I did whatever service they required from mowing the lawn to sharing comforting words about God with sick patience.
I met a lot of kids from the make-a-wish foundation. My job was to make them smile. Those are bittersweet memories I will never trade.
No Video Cameras Allowed
Much of my mission has been forgotten because I was not allowed to use a video camera. I agreed not to film to prove to God that I was willing to sacrifice my passion to be obedient to his commandments. But sometimes I tripped, and my hand fell onto a camera and accidentally pressed the record button.
Baltimore is a racist city. Many neighborhoods are still segregated by color. Debate over the color of Jesus Christ was a common stumbling block that I encountered while teaching. According to history, Jesus was Jewish (olive skinned). According to Baltimore, Jesus was black, as was Moses, Santa Clause, and President John F. Kennedy.
The Bible Bash
On the last week of my mission, two street preachers invited me and my companion to have a public debate at the harbor. We agreed.
At the debate, the preachers criticized Mormonism for 20 minutes. When I asked to counter their claims, they refused to give me the microphone. I soon learned that when they invited us for a debate, they never intended to let us speak. And because the debate was on their property, they were not obligated to let us have a turn. This infuriated me!
The next day, I located a camera and gathered several of my fellow missionaries for round two. We argued with those preachers for 45 minutes. We fought about religion and the color of Jesus Christ. But to me, the argument was really about freedom of speech. How dare they silence my voice.
At the close of 2003, my missionary obligation had come to an end. I felt that it was a worthy chapter in my story for God. I learned about modern cultures and religions. I also learned about the ancient cultures of the Bible.
For my next chapter, I wanted to go to a location that would further my narrative. So, I applied for a job at Disney World and took a plane to Florida.