Sunday, May 23, 2010

Brent's Life as a Missionary is Featured in the Faribault Newspaper

Driving a different road
Faribault News
James Warden

Elders Daryl Jarman (left) and Brent Jorgensen stroll through Cannon River Trailer Park on Thursday while speaking to residents about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (James Warden/Daily News)

Mormon missionaries can, in fact, drive.

Of course, passersby who don’t belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints most often see them strolling along Faribault’s sidewalks or pedaling their bikes. But they’re allowed to drive a limited number of miles on church business.

This particular Thursday, elders Brent Jorgensen and Daryl Jarman are driving a silver Chevy Malibu to share their message at Cannon River Trailer Park.

“The drive is kind of boring because we can’t listen to music — well, except church music and I don’t have any right now,” Jorgensen apologizes.

Missionaries like Jorgensen and Jarman walk a path that runs somewhere between the arcane rituals that the conspiracy-prone imagine and the everyday lives of those they seek to convert.

They favor North Face jackets and an Oakley backpack but carry scriptures and the Book of Mormon inside that backpack. They’re up-to-date on local happenings like few others their age but will only call Faribault home for a few months. They occasionally travel in a Chevy Malibu but keep a bike rack on hand because they can only use it so much.

This is life for the missionaries who chose to spend two years of their young lives driving people to Christ.

• • •

Today’s trip may be a few brief miles, but the missionaries’ journey started in 2009 when they traveled to Utah for two months of training. By chance, they sat next to each other on the plane even though Jarman comes from Blackfoot, Idaho, and Jorgensen hails from Albuquerque, N.M.

Their lives were little different from most American youth before that point. Although Jorgensen never drank or smoke, he hung out with his friends just like any other teen. He played wide receiver for his high school’s football team. Of the 100 people on the team, there were just three Mormons.

“Back in Albuquerque, the church isn’t too, too strong,” he says.

Jarman, 20, worked on a farm and as a life guard between high school and the start of his mission. Jorgensen, 19, attended Brigham Young University. When they finish their two-year mission, Jorgensen wants to be an orthodontist and Jarman wants to be a family doctor.

Yet during their mission they will be part of more than 50,000 LDS missionaries active around the world. They stand out in their slacks, white shirts and ties and — yes — their habit of walking or biking from place to place.

And while the myths of cabalistic practices are imagined, the structure that sets their lives apart is real. Their regimented days are planned to the half hour — beginning promptly at 6:30 a.m. and ending just as promptly at 10:30 p.m.

They can’t watch TV or movies. They can’t listen to music. They can’t play video games. They can’t read fiction.

Jarman and Jorgensen won’t see their families during the entire mission, either. They can only phone them on Christmas and Mother’s Day, and they can only e-mail once a week.

But they take these differences in stride — as if they were a pair of college students leaving home for the semester.

“The way I look at it, I have two years of my life to make Minnesota a better place,” Jorgensen says. “Whether that’s by hope and faith or by raking someone’s lawn and carrying their laundry upstairs if they’re old, that’s what I’ll do.”

• • •

Once the missionaries park their Malibu, they head to a mobile home where two women and a man, all Hispanic, sit at a patio table.

“Hola,” Jorgensen says, and begins speaking to the group in Spanish.

The LDS Church assigned Jorgensen and Jarman to learn Spanish in a process that sounds random to an unbeliever. The only language-related question on the missionary application was how well do you think you could learn a language. The person making the assignments prayed and, just like that, decided that they would learn Spanish and go to Minnesota.

Although Jorgensen studied the language two years in high school, he didn’t learn much. Jarman never took language classes.

Now they are two of just four Spanish-speaking LDS missionaries in the outstate — meaning they cover a swathe of territory ranging from Northfield to Owatonna and from Waseca to Kenyon.

They’re near fluent, though. The people at the patio table grin at Jorgensen and tell him how they moved here from Monterrey, Mexico, 10 years ago.

The missionaries make small talk for a few minutes before Jorgensen launches into his pitch: “I’d like to share a message of how Christ can help families. It’s hard times, and sometimes we need that extra help.”

Jorgensen and Jarman confess that they were nervous when they first started. They still get nervous occasionally.

Yet they’ve internalized their belief that God called a prophet in the 1800s — just as in biblical times — to lead humanity back to the truth. They spend hours each day studying scripture, reading devotions and preparing lessons.

Each knows the church’s teachings well. In their church just before they went to the trailer park, the missionaries explained how the bread and water of the LDS sacrament are just symbols, not the actual body and blood. Baptism, on the other hand, is not just a rite of passage. It’s for the remission of sins.

But the missionaries aren’t seminarians discussing how many angels could dance on the head of pin — or some of the more controversial ideas of the LDS church. They’ve distilled the teachings into easily understandable points about family, peace and happiness. When they’re invited into a home, they open up with prayer and then use Rubik’s Cubes, stacked cups and other paraphernalia as extended metaphors to make the ideas even clearer.

“A lot of people can take our message and complicate it a ton,” Jorgensen said.

Whatever nerves they once had, they make a point to speak with everyone they meet (although they don’t proselytize to children, in deference to their parents). Tank-topped man playing with a little girl on a swing set? Check. Three dirt-stained teens working beneath a Ford pickup? Check. Woman putting hydrogen peroxide on a hurt toe? Check, check and check.

“We believe we have a unique message,” Jorgensen says. “We don’t believe any of this is new stuff. We just believe it is restored.”

• • •

The group at the patio table are friendly enough during Jorgensen’s evangelizing. They chime in with an “Amen” as he talks to them about the good works God can do in their lives. “Dios,” after all, means God whether you’re Mormon or Catholic.

As he will at each home, Jorgensen eventually notes that the group is busy at the moment, pulls out a hand-sized, spiral-bound planner and asks if he can speak with them in greater detail sometime.

They offer up a date later in the week, Jorgensen gives them some Spanish-language cards and then the missionaries say their good-byes. The entire visit took maybe five or 10 minutes, and Jarman and Jorgensen agree that it went really well.

Not every visit goes this way.

Some people listen politely but aren’t interested in hearing any more. Others all but flee when the missionaries approach. About once a month, they encounter someone full of fire and brimstone.

“Usually rejection is more, ‘OK, we’re Catholics. We’re good,’” Jarman says.

Even with those who do make an appointment, only about one out of 10 will be home when the missionaries return.

“You work hard all day. Sometimes you get back and realize nothing happened,” Jorgensen says.

Constant rejection has made them adept at knowing what works best and whom they are most likely to win over. The Hispanic population’s large portion of Catholics can more easily be won over because they already have a practicing belief in God — unlike many other Americans.

However, the missionaries rarely speak with Faribault’s Somali community: “Usually other Christians will listen the most. Muslims are pretty set in their way. Plus, there’s a language barrier there. We speak zero Somali,” Jorgensen explains.

When asked where it’s hardest to share their message, both he and Jorgensen simultaneously answer, “Northfield.” In a city with the motto “cows, colleges and contentment,” there isn’t as much of the restlessness that leads people to God.

The church’s own regimen poses one of the biggest obstacles for the two missionaries, they say. LDS Sundays are a three-hour commitment. In Faribault, English speakers get together at 10 a.m. for the church’s sacrament meeting. At 11 a.m., the youth and adults separate for their respective classes. Adults have separate classes for English and Spanish speakers, but the children are all together. Then the men and women split for their classes at noon. At 1 p.m., the English speakers go home, but the Spanish speakers stay for their sacrament meeting.

It’s a good chunk of a family’s weekend.

But after much trial and error — and footwork — the missionaries do reach some people — usually, “people who have trials,” Jarman says. “People who lead a perfect life really don’t want change.”

The trailer park is fertile ground for trials. Someone shot a 17-year-old girl the weekend before this visit, with glass from a car window hitting her 18-month-old daughter. Siding is decaying on many of the homes. Grass overruns many lots. It’s poor.

Of course, the missionaries have trials of their own. People stare while they’re walking down the street. Others mock them or shout at them.

“There’s just, like, random people yelling at you, telling us we’re going to hell. People throw things at us from their car while we’re riding our bikes. Pretty much every time you go out, something crazy is going to happen,” Jorgensen says. “There are a lot of hard times. It’s not just rainbows and butterflies.”

Yet the missionaries keep going — partly through prayer, partly because of the universally understood desire not to let their families down. But also because of the feeling they get when they see the church’s message brings peace and joy into their lives.

“Once you have one of those cool experiences — when you have one of those experiences, it just mountains over those crappy experiences,” Jorgensen says.

• • •

Jorgensen and Jarman are back in the still-quiet Malibu heading toward their church. They spent a little over an hour speaking with people and knocking on doors. They didn’t win any converts. Then again, no one hurled abuse on them either.

Tonight they’ll eat at a fellow church member’s home, prepare for the next day and then slip into bed. The ride the following day may be smooth or it may be bumpy, but the missionaries have faith that they’ll be able to endure any obstacles along the way.

“This isn’t our work. It’s his,” Jarman says. “If we ask, he can help us through anything.”

And whatever happens, they’ll keep driving on.


6:30 a.m.: Wake up

6:30 a.m. — 7:30 a.m.: Exercise and shower

7:30 a.m. — 8 a.m.: Breakfast

8 a.m. — 9 a.m.: Personal study (Reading scripture and devotions alone)

9 a.m. — 10 a.m.: Companionship study (Talking with each other about what they learned during personal study and planning lessons for that day)

10 a.m. — 11 a.m.: Language study

11 a.m. — 9:30 p.m.: Work. Ideally, this is filled with teaching lessons in homes. Usually these contacts are referred by LDS members. The missionaries do about 25 lessons a week, sometimes in the jails. If they’re not teaching any lessons, they’ll find a charitable activity or go door-to-door meeting people. Lunch and dinner usually come from fellow church members who volunteered to feed them.

9:30 p.m. — 10 p.m.: Plan for the next day.

10: p.m. — 10:30 p.m.: Unwind, write in their journal.

10:30 p.m.: Lights out.

— Staff writer James Warden may be reached at 333-3127.


Ingelheim Five said...

Oh Cheryl I loved this! What a great article. And so fun to see Brent and his comp. Thanks for posting!

Cheryl said...

I linked to this from Leah Acton's blog. She's my sister in law and my son comes home from his mission to Micronesia in two days. I was struck by how similar his mission is to Elder Jorgensen's. I have gained so much respect for missionaries over the past few years! Brent sounds like he has a great attitude.