Elder Eric Swenson and Elder Hayden Dixon parked their compact car in a Kelso neighborhood, picked up a stack of copies of the Book of Mormon, said a short prayer and start knocking on doors.

"We're going out today to share the gospel of Jesus Christ," Dixon told a woman who came to her door.

"Do you think God has a plan for you?" Swenson added.

The woman said she respects the Mormon church but wasn't interested in talking with them. On the missionaries walked, knowing that few people would want to hear about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, let alone join the church.

Swenson, 20, is from West Point, Utah, which is a few miles north of Salt Lake City. Dixon, 21, is from Las Vegas. For two months last summer, they were teamed up as Mormon missionaries in the Kelso area. Since then, they've been assigned to different partners.

The pair and others like them make up one of the most visible aspects of the Mormon church.

For two years, Swenson and Dixon are leaving behind families and career plans for the regimented, austere life of missionaries. The young men seem content in their choice, however, as they leaf through well-annotated Bibles and the accompanying Book of Mormon to describe their faith.

Single Mormon men between 19 and 25 are expected to serve as missionaries, they said. They are recommended by the leaders of their home churches, then assigned by church headquarters in Salt Lake City to one of about 300 missions around the world. Though young Mormon women are invited to become missionaries, too, the current worldwide force of 55,000 is predominantly male.

Swenson and Dixon are staying in Southwest and South Central Washington their entire two years, though they move around within the region. They work in one pair for a few months, then are assigned to other partners.

"We believe we are called by God to do what we do," Dixon said. "It's a great honor in the church."

"When you're chosen to be a missionary, you're sacrificing these two years," Swenson added. "You give these years to God."

Missionaries assigned to work in the United States receive several weeks of instruction; they're expected to be well-school in Mormon beliefs beforehand. That's because during their high school years, Mormon boys and girls attend an hour of "seminary" every morning before school.

Missionaries like Swenson and Dixon are expected to pay $9,600 for their own expenses for the two years. Missionaries usually stay with Mormon families, and the church provides a car.

Because of the distances they have to cover, missionaries in Southwest Washington don't ride bicycles much, Dixon said.

They aren't allowed to visit their own homes during the two years of the mission. They can send emails home once a week, and are allowed to phone or Skype their families twice a year, at Christmas and one other day, typically Mother's Day.

Dixon and Swenson carry small white books with rules of conduct and schedules, which are highly organized.

On Sundays, they'll spend about half the day in church along with local members of the ward. Sunday afternoons aren't for watching football. "After church, we go out and teach," Swenson said.

Mondays are reserved for doing laundry and catching up on errands. Other days, they're expected to be occupied from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. "every day for two years," Dixon said.

They don't watch TV or movies. "All of our time and attention is devoted to serving the Lord," Dixon said. "We don't waste time watching TV or texting our friends or on Facebook. There isn't time for those things."

'This is THE way'

One day recently, Dixon and Swenson drove to the rural Kelso home of Alicia Davis, who was raised a Catholic but has been a Mormon for four years. She's going through a divorce and has three kids, with a fourth due in October. Dixon and Swenson helped her move furniture and brought along work clothes to change into from their dark slacks, white shirts and ties in case she needed help with yard work.

"The church really is your family," Davis said. "Everybody cares about everybody. Everybody is always here helping."

She likes the Mormon church's focus on the family. "I like that it felt like this is the only church that didn't have man-made laws, and its love for the Bible," she said.

The missionaries' duties with Davis included spiritual work, too, going over points of Mormon theology because she's a relatively recent convert to the faith.

"The only way is to live by this doctrine," Swenson said.

"This is THE way," Dixon added. "There is no other way."

After their visit with Davis, the missionaries switched to the heart of their job: "tracting," or contacting people door-to-door.

"We will talk to anyone," Dixon said. "If you cross the street, we will talk to you, the mission is so important."

"Many of the people we come into contact with have this faith in Jesus Christ," Swenson said. "A lot of people are firm in their belief" — though the Mormons still want them to covert. 

They'll tell people, "I'm glad you go to church but we believe we are the only church that has the priesthood authority to baptism," Dixon said.

Those who haven't been baptized as Mormons can receive "a degree of glory, but we are offering them the whole pie, not just a piece of pie," he said.

Sometimes people confront the missionaries with the belief that Mormons aren't Christian.

Mormon theology differs from that of Catholics and Protestants on numerous points, from Mormons' belief in the Book of Mormon to differing concepts of the Trinity of the father, son and holy spirit.

"We do hear that a lot," Swenson said. "But our name tags say, 'The Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints)'. I say, 'of course we believe in Jesus Christ. We teach about Jesus Christ. ...'

"He is the center of everything we do," Swenson said. "When people say we don't believe in Jesus Christ, it's not only absolutely not true but also very un-Christlike."

If people bring up the fact that presidential candidate Mitt Romney is Mormon, or other political issues, the missionaries are taught to avoid the subjects.

In an era when few salespeople or representatives of other faiths go door-to-door, the missionaries say they aren't worried when they approach strangers. "We have this calling when we knock on someone's door," Swenson said. "We're not afraid, because God is there with us. Because of our desire to teach, we're not afraid."

Even if most people shut the door in their faces, missionaries are heartened by successes, like the woman they met on a Wednesday who was baptized in the Mormon church the following Saturday.

Dixon, whose two-year mission will conclude this month, said at least a dozen people he talked to have been baptized as Mormons, which he said is about average for this part of the United States.

In any case, "we don't focus on the numbers," Swenson said. "We focus on the people."

When their missions are over, Dixon plans to attend Brigham Young University and study industrial or fashion design. Swenson wants to get a job and go into business.

The two young men say they're absolutely sure of the righteousness of their mission.

"A lot of people think, "Why are you doing this?' " Dixon said. "To put it very shortly, because it's true, because the Book of Mormon is scripture. It's a true book."

(17) comments

LordBear
LordBear

ugh..nothing worse than annoying bible salesmen. its bad enough there are so many churches and religious propaganda every where. they also have to come harass you in your own home. your place of relaxation and solitude.

JackTwo

Few things are more irritating than having some bananas knock at your door unexpectedly pushing religion at you. When you want religion, you go to church for it. that's what churches are for. I don't care to talk about religion when I'm underneath my car in the driveway or waiting for some glue to dry on a construction project.The time to talk aout God and prayer is when I want to talk about them, not when some stranger pops in to my day and wants to babble on for hours about them.

Mobilemehappy

"..."seminary" every morning before school." True, but it should be said that seminary is more than just teaching Mormon doctrine. It is scripture study and prayer with a called teacher and it is voluntary. Each year of the 4 a teen is in high school is concentrating on set of scripture. Last year it was the Old Testament, this year it is the New Testament and the next two years will be the Book of Mormon and then Church History. It's a sacrifice for kids to get up an hour early for Bible study.

Mobilemehappy

"...the woman they met on a Wednesday who was baptized in the Mormon church the following Saturday." Hmm. That doesn't sound right. Perhaps the reporter misunderstood? A person who is interested in joining the Church needs to attend church several times and be taught sufficiently before committing to baptism. They need to be sure this is what they really want and as missionaries, there are guidelines to follow and their mission president would ask them to wait. Think there was miscommunication.

Mobilemehappy

JackTwo- you certainly may not want to be approached at your home, but there are plenty of people who do and feel more comfortable than at a church. All you have to do is politely say that you are not interested and they will be on their way. They are instructed NOT to be pushy, argumentative or babble on. We aren't bananas. We just have something that is incredibly dear to us and want to share it. Don't want it? That's okay. We'll still be kind to you.

Cougs80

Why all the recent news coverage of Mormonism? I find it slightly creepy that this all occurs at the same time that we have a Mormon presidential candidate. George W. is Methodist, Bill Clinton is Baptist ... during their campaigns I don't recall TV commercials for www.methodist.org or having Baptists going door to door preaching their beliefs. Everyone is entitled to their own religious choices, but why must it be pushed down everyone's throat? @Mobilemehappy - I can assure you that approaching

Cougs80

people at home is highly unlikely to result in convincing them to convert to Mormonism. The in-your-face tactic doesn't work on most people. I support many things that others disagree with, including marriage equality and women's reproductive rights, but I'm not knocking on your door trying to change your mind about those issues, so what makes you think it's okay for you to be knocking on mine?

Mobilemehappy

If you feel so strongly about people coming to your home, perhaps you should put a "No Solicitation" or "No Trespassing" sign on your property. The reason there is so much news coverage about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is that there IS a presidential candidate running who is LDS and many people don't know a lot about us. Who's pushing it down your throat? If you don't want to hear about it, just politely decline. And for the record, I can assure you that approaching

Mobilemehappy

people at home, where they feel safest to discuss things of faith and religion, is a very effective way to share information about the Church with others. Why do you think we do it? :) BTW, Missionaries have taught many people who will never convert to the Church. That's okay. It's about sharing what we know and love and then letting people decide for themselves. If they like it, great! If not, at least they are educated about what we believe. Knowledge is power.

Cougs80

The religious affiliation of presidential candidates has no place in an election campaign. We have separation of church and state for a reason, whether you agree with it or not. The fact that it is all over the TV and the newspaper is why I feel that it is pushed down my throat. As OldIrish states below, the door to door Mormons are quite nice; I am not disputing that. Annoying perhaps, but not offensive. I simply think that religious matters should be irrelevant in a political context.

Mobilemehappy

ABSOLUTELY agree that religion has NO place in politics and vice versa. It's fine that a candidate for President is a member of my church (or yours), but it also greatly annoys me that people feel we are all one large voting bloc. LDS members are Republicans, Democrats, Independents, etc. We are constantly counseled from the pulpit to maintain political neutrality. No candidate/party should EVER be discussed in our services to be construed as support from the Church. Good discussion! Thanks. :)

OldIrish

The Mormons who come to my door have always been very polite, and so am I when telling them I'm not interested. In fact, every Mormon I've known has been kind and polite and almost without fail they're the least objectionable religious group I know. Now, if religious groups (of all stripes) would quit trying to impose their beliefs on others via the legislative branch of our (supposedly non-theocratic) legislative branches of government, I'd be really tickled :-)

The Man

Mobilemehappy... Thank you for your true testimony and conviction of the Church! You are correct in everything you said. The missionaries that knock on your door are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father... just as we all are. Could you imagine slamming a door in your brother or sister’s face? Unfortunately that happens to these Elders of Israel who are 19 to 21 years old. It sickens me when I even think of it happening! All somebody has to do is politely say, "Sorry, I am not intererested."

The Man

There were things misrepresented as far as what the journalist wrote, but the overall message was great! I just wish the public would understand that we are not trying to push things in their face or "Interrupt" their day. Just keep in mind that the people you encounter from the Church are people as well... just as your sons and daughters. They are doing the best they can to help people to the right path. Next time you see missionaries, I hope you stop and say I hope you are having a great day.

AudreyIsDeadLOL
AudreyIsDeadLOL

Nice trick, the Mormons send out their cute kids to peddle their fake religion. I recommend any other mainstream church.

pretty girl

I think that it is a very good thing that they are doing if they are taking 2 years out of there life to share about god and jesus christ why not open the door in the bible its say knott and the door will be open so I say why not there no reason for anyone to get upset I don't think it would be christlike not to open the door

SkyleekayleeHD

I think what the Church stands for as far as the doctrine and the "Family" being in the center of gods plan is wonderful. But, the young lady that they are helping is pregnant on her fourth child and in the middle of getting a divorce? Yet she talks about how the family is important? Seems like a contradiction to me and really makes that church look kind of bad. A church with such a strong focus on family is supporting divorce while a woman is with child. Something is wrong with that picture.

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