Hometown Faith: Elders pound the pavement

Editor’s note: The Sentinel will publish Hometown Faith on June 30. The following story offers a preview:

At 6:30 a.m. each morning, Elder Benjamin Harker and Elder Jonathan White wake up to spend two hours studying. By 10 a.m., they’re out the door to share their faith, and they won’t return home until 9 p.m.

The two are missionaries with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as “Mormons” because of their belief in the Book of Mormon.

“It’s an adjustment at first, getting up at 6:30, going to bed at 10:30,” Elder Harker said. “But it’s a good schedule. It keeps you healthy.”

LDS’ young missionaries spend two years in the mission field, moving around as often as every six weeks. During their tenure, they only correspond with their families on Mondays, which pushes them to rely on their faith and their church family in the different communities where they’ll be stationed.

“You definitely get to spend a lot of time on your own,” Elder Harker, 20, said. ‘It’s a lot of time for reflection and growth. A lot of maturity happens in two years.”

Knocking on doors in a strange community was intimidating at first, Elder Harker acknowledged, but he quickly adjusted.

“You grow to like it,” Harker said. “Eventually, each door is an adventure and a privilege, as you see how people might benefit from the message. It grows from something you fear, to something to look forward to.”

White, 19, also enjoys getting to know people and learning about their backgrounds.

“And aside from teaching, we like to serve people too,” he said.

If someone needs help with yardwork or moving, the LDS missionaries offer to lend a hand. They also regularly volunteer at Ingleside, an assisted living facility in Fairmont, and at Heaven’s Table food shelf.

Their schedules are not micro-managed, though they do report their progress.

“Ultimately, we’re accountable to the Lord,” Elder Harker said.

Home for Elder White is Riverton, Utah. Elder Harker is originally from Rexburg, Idaho. They had known each other for just a week, as of their interview with the Sentinel on May 8, but the two presented their faith with confidence and cohesion that belied both their ages and their short time working together as a team.

“The main message we share is that we believe the Bible. We believe in Christ,” White said.

They also believe that Jesus passed on the power of God to his 12 apostles. When those apostles died, the power was lost, White explained.

When those apostles died, the Truth was lost and twisted, and the dark ages followed, according to Harker. He believes the Truth was restored through Joseph Smith, the first modern-day prophet and founder of the LDS church.

It was 1820, and Smith was a teen-age boy living in New York when Mormons believe he was first chosen by God to restore the Church of Jesus Christ. The story, according to www.mormons.org, is that Smith was praying to learn which church he should join, when God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him that the Church as it was originally organized by Jesus Christ was no longer on Earth. In a 10-year period, Smith was visited by other heavenly messengers, who directed him to uncover a record of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent. In 1827, it’s said that Smith unearthed the record and translated to English what would become the Book of Mormon.

“We’re not going around to convert people,” Elder White said. “We want to give them the opportunity to find out the truth themselves.”

“It’s said that if you give someone the Book of Mormon, and if they pray and ask if it’s true, God will manifest the Truth to them,” he added. “We want people to gain their own confirmation from God.”

A 2012 Religious Congregations and Memberships Study showed that Mormonism is the fastest-growing faith in more than half of U.S. states. That means more and more Mormon youth could be hitting the streets in the future to share their beliefs.

These young adults don’t leave home unprepared. Before entering the mission field, the elders and sisters (male and female missionaries) attend a training center in Utah. Elder White also spent two months learning the Hmong language.

Though the missionaries have no input into where they will be assigned, and little time to prepare – they find out where they’ll be stationed the same week they’re scheduled to leave – Elder White was not surprised his first assignment was in St. Paul. Minnesota’s state capitol has the largest Hmong population in the world. Elder Harker was previously in Rochester, where about 1,000 LDS members attend church each Sunday.

Here in Fairmont, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a church building on Johnson Street, which sees about 60 attendants each Sunday. The local church is a lay ministry, where everyone volunteers their time.

The church does not have a chapel, so sermons are held in a classroom, but the building was designed to be easily expanded.

“That’s why they have this huge lot with a tiny building on it,” Elder Harker said. “Typically with an expansion they will add a chapel.”