LDS missionaries call Grand County home
July 9, 2009
The first thing that strikes you about Joseph Petersen and Austin Holden is their sincerity. There is no sarcasm, no cynicism, no doubt. Just a whole-hearted belief in what they are doing.
They are on a mission – in every sense of the word.
For a year and a half, Grand County did not have missionaries going door-to-door sharing the message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Missionaries returned again in November last year.
Three months ago, Petersen arrived (Elder Petersen, according to his nametag), and Petersen was joined last week by Elder Holden.
This year, The Church sent out 50,000 missionaries around the world. Each missionary pays his or her own way.
Holden and Petersen both worked for a year after high school, saving money for their mission.
They serve two years – focused every day on one goal, to spread the message of the church.
Petersen and Holden wake up every day at 6:30 a.m. They exercise and eat breakfast. At 8 a.m., they spend an hour privately studying the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the missionary handbook, titled “Preach my Gospel.” At 9 a.m., the two men sit together for an hour of “companionship study.”
“We share with each other what we learned and pray to gain inspiration,” Petersen said.
Usually, missionaries head out onto the street at 10 a.m., but Holden’s mission is to the Spanish speaking community. So, the two men spend the next hour studying Spanish.
“A lot of (Spanish speakers) are Catholic,” Holden said.
But even if they aren’t interested in the Mormon church, they “still feed you,” Holden said. “They are nice and open people.”
Holden and Petersen leave the house every day at 11 a.m., ready for anything.
Until 9 p.m., the men do everything they can to spread the message of The Church.
“We knock on doors, we open our mouths on the street, we offer service,” Petersen said. They have mowed lawns, painted houses and helped people move.
From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., this is their life for two years.
Being a missionary isn’t required, but more than 30 percent of all 19-year-old men in The Church go on a mission.
There are four requirements: Be an active member of The Church, tithe 10 percent of all earnings to The Church, follow the Word of Wisdom (no alcohol, coffee, drugs, smoking), and live a morally clean life.
“It’s a rigid standard,” said volunteer branch president Lou Arnold. “We believe our bodies are the temple of the Lord.”
While on their mission, there are strict rules to keep the missionaries focused.
They can only call their parents twice a year – Mother’s Day and Christmas. (They correspond with letters and a once-a-week e-mail.)
“Talking to your parents can make you homesick,” Petersen said. “We want to stay focused on the mission.”
Missionaries cannot watch TV or movies. No video games. No secular music. And the two men stay together all the time – “mostly for safety reasons,” Petersen said.
At the other end of two years, they leave their mission changed men.
Petersen is 20 months into his mission. In four months, he will return home to Eagle River, Alaska. He will go to college and get married, he said, and approach life differently than he did when he left home.
“I have more faith,” he said. “And I know now that with that faith, I can overcome anything.
“Before, I didn’t talk to my friends about The Church, but it’s such a huge part of me. I’m going to share it with them.”
Usually, missionaries are moved from location to location every six weeks, which means it’s unusual for Petersen to have been in Grand County this long.
“I love it here,” he said. “It reminds me of home.” He said he’d like to spend the rest of his mission here, but will go wherever he’s “called.”
“But,” he said, “if you stay, there’s a reason you stay.”
– To reach Autumn Phillips call 887-3334 ext. 19600 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.