The Lonely Mormons at the Door

[My friend Bronwyn has been blogging for a while now, mixing reports about the family with fantastic insights on faith and life. She has now started a new blog focusing on faith, although who’s to say if family won’t sneak in occasionally. Seminary-trained, kid-tested, and Spirit-led, Bronwyn is a writer you should be reading. I am so pleased to be able to run her guest post here today and point everyone to her new site, Bron’s Corner.]

***

Last week I had an encounter that just about broke my heart.

It was around dinner-time and the pots were boiling, counters were cluttered, kids were clamoring. You know, the regular 6pm drill. A knock on the door announced the arrival of two fresh-faced Mormon missionaries. (Aside: The older I get the stranger it seems to greet these youngsters as they ask to be called: “Elder Smith” and “Elder Mason”, but anyway….)

So there were two Mormons at the door, wanting to chat.

In years past, I have sent them away: courteous but dismissive (No thanks, I already have faith in Jesus. Good bye)

In years past I have invited them in and been passionate but argumentative (No! That’s not what the Bible says. Where do you find that?)

In years past I have invited them in and tried to be courteous but still landed up feeling argumentative (I’m sorry, that’s not what the Bible says).

In all these interactions, I have always had my ‘defensive guard’ on, seeing myself as defending the gospel that God freely GIVES us His favor through Jesus, contrary to their message that you have to WORK to attain God’s favor.. I have viewed them as Pharisees: self-righteous and preaching a burdensome message that you have to attain your own righteousness before God. And like the Pharisees in the gospels, I have seen them opponents Jesus silenced, rebuked, corrected.

Until last night.

Last night our kids were around and Jeremy was talking with them at the door, and on a whim I invited them to our dinner table. I warned them that there would be no arguing at our dinner table in front of the kids and that they had to “play nice”. And I asked questions: how did you come to be a missionary? where are you from? how long are you into your stint? how long have you been in Davis? How are you doing being so far away from home? And friends, i discovered some heartbreaking things.

These young guys, full of sincerity and zeal, take a 2 year commitment believing they are earning God’s favor by doing so. They are not allowed to call home except on Christmas and Mothers day. But they are allowed to write once a week, they hastily assured me.

I asked the more argumentative of the two about his reasons for deciding to go on a mission. He told us that his parents’ marriage hadn’t been doing well and that he hoped that, by going on the mission, Heavenly Father would bless his family and perhaps spare his parents’ marriage.

Friends, I nearly burst into tears on the spot. For years, I have seen these travelers as young Pharisees. But last week I saw them in a completely new way. I saw the Rich Young Ruler, coming to Jesus full of earnest desire to do right.

“Teacher,” he said, “What must I do to possess eternal life?”

“You know the commandments” said Jesus.

He heard Jesus, but didn’t hear him. “Teacher, all of these I have kept since I was a boy.”

And Mark 10 says that Jesus looked at him and loved him. For all his misguided zeal. For all his sincerity.

Sitting at our dinner table, I looked at these young guys and loved them. How lonely they must be! How hard to be away from your family for 18 months – hoping every day your parents will stay together and finding out 7 months later when you are finally allowed to call that dad has moved to Texas and they split up anyway. How lonely to have no-one call you by your first name for TWO YEARS. I bet no-one has hugged them in as long either.

Our dinner was cut short as they had another appointment to go to. But as they left, the one young ‘Elder’ thanked us warmly. Tearing up, he said that no one had ever invited him in the 18 months he had been door to door, and we had no idea what this meant to him.

I was so stunned. And so ashamed. After they left I prayed for them and wept for them. I asked God to forgive me for the many, many times I bludgeoned young visitors like them with the Bible instead of loving them as the Lord does. All those years I was hoping I would be able to show them what real Christianity looked like, but I had failed to listen to what Jesus had said: “they will know we are Christians by our love.”

I write this as a confession. And I write this because Hebrews says we should consider how we can spur one another on to love and good deeds. Believing friends: next time two young guys knock on your door, invite them in. Love them. They don’t need answers as much as they need grace, and we have access to storehouses of it.

[Challenging yet encouraging, yes? For more gracious and outstanding writing, head over to Bronwyn’s blog.]

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35 Responses to The Lonely Mormons at the Door

  1. Tim says:

    Bronwyn, thank you so much for allowing me to post this here. Your love for those who still need Jesus is so strong, and the grace of God comes through clearly in your writing. You and your family are doing much to build God’s kingdom; thanks for showing us how that’s done in the everyday opportunities God gives us to serve him.

    • Bronwyn Lea says:

      Tim, thank YOU for your overwhelmingly kind words and the great honor of being a guest on your blog. I feel like I am very cautiously trying on this “blogger” hat, and to have my writing described as gracious and outstanding is … Well, I don’t know quite what to say. Except thank you.

      The sermon this last Sunday was on Hebrews 12: the exhortation to extend brotherly love and not neglect showing hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels. I so clearly felt Gods voice through the message: the young guys may not have been angels in the sense of being supernatural beings, but they were “messengers” of God in a different sense – a reminder from The Lord to me that no matter how messy or unprepared or disheveled or noisy I may feel our home is with three kids 5 and under, it is still “adequate for love”, as the preacher so eloquently put it.

      This whole experience has been a game changer for me in so many ways, not least of which is being a powerful reminder from my definition of “ministry” is too narrow. He is sovereign and able to redeem even the crazy twenty minute dinner shuffle. Woohoo! I love God’s surprises!

      Thanks again, Tim.

  2. Fantastic story! Compassion… it’s not just for breakfast…

  3. I love how God works! It’s wonderful how when we open our hearts — and, sometimes, our front door — He can wreck wonderful havoc. Bronwyn, you are a treasure, and Tim — thank you for reposting that amazing story here. I don’t know that I will have the courage to respond exactly that way the next time I have “friends” at the door, but certainly you have changed my perspective!

    • Tim says:

      You don’t have to respond exactly that way, MM. However you respond in Christ will be exactly the right way though, because it will be in Jesus. What will that look like? However it looks when you act as a child of God. Don’t worry about the form. Instead, have confidence that Jesus is with you throughout. How could anything ever be wrong then?

    • Bronwyn Lea says:

      Well said, Tim. Love you, Jen, and looking forward to your next blog post.

  4. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for showing us Jesus’ love today. Beautiful.

  5. Thank you, Tim, for posting this. My heart broke too, and I will never see these young people the same way again. Why is it that we don’t think this way automatically? Why is it that I have no time for the folks who come to my door? One of my friends has an ongoing relationship with two Jehovah’s Witnesses. She always invites them in and chats with them, also (like Bronwyn) deliberately showing them Christ’s love instead of sending them away. In my case, I think that I have the mistaken belief that showing them love just encourages them to continue in their beliefs, that arguing and rejecting is the only way to cause them to rethink. But hasn’t someone once said, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words”? Maureen

    • If I may make a suggestion…

      There is a new book that I just got done reading and that I’ll blog a full review of on June 25th…. there’s a blog tour going on right now on each of the 10 chapters…

      But in this book, what was described in this article here is pointed out in at least three different chapters of a way forward of being an incarnational, missional church in the “faraway country”, following the “prodigal God” into the world. Rather than defensive, propositional Christianity… or wishy-washy “anything goes” Christianity, this book, titled “Prodigal Christianity” gives a very real way forward into our changing culture and, especially, into the increasing pluralism here in the west.

      I HIGHLY recommend it… Look it up. “Prodigal Christianity” by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw… and no… they are NOT paying me to say this…

    • Tim says:

      I know what you mean, Maureen. Isn’t it easy for us to not have time for people at our door? Bronwyn’s example shows us what a wonderful blessing God has for us when we make time for the people he brings our way.

      Tim

      P.S. On that quote, I’ve heard it attributed to Francis of Assissi, but most scholars think he’d never have said anything like that since it is actually counter to the Bible’s instructions. Jesus and the Apostles were clear that it is preaching the word that spreads the gospel. They also made clear that serving those around us is how we demostrate that ours is a God of love. Both together are part of what it means to follow Christ and represent him in this world, don’t you think?

  6. Judy says:

    Wonderful and inspiring. Thank you.

  7. nmcdonal says:

    So Pharisees have a heart underneath all that garb, after all…great story.

    • Tim says:

      Makes me think of Nicodemus. That guy ended up having one bursting heart for Jesus, going with Joseph to collect the body and lay it in the tomb. Can you imagine what all his Pharisee friends thought of him?

  8. Karolina says:

    Thanks for sharing this great story!

    I’ve always felt bad for the poor guys in suits that we can meet even where I am (Kraków, Poland). Now that I know that the poor souls cannot even call their parents for two years, all alone in a foreign country, so far away from home, I feel even worse for them! My grandmother used to chat with them to “polish her English” and she always said that they seemed grateful that they could talk to her about themselves and their experiences (they dared not preach to the elderly woman, who gently told them she does not want it).

    My friend went on a (Catholic) mission — she is a med student and she helped out with medical care in a “medical base” in Africa and helped to build the hospital, but even in those hard conditions she could contact her family whenever possible.

    A propos your story — When I was in my mid-teens, full of my own misguided zeal, perhaps, I was walking through the park. It was October, the paths were all covered in brown, yellow, and orange leaves, a natural carpet. It had rained that day, so the carpet was wet and slippery. It was just me in the park, and then I saw two guys in suits, barely older than myself. I passed them with a smile and told them (the truth) that I was already late and wished them a good day. BUT when I was a few meters away from them (but still in their sight), I thought to myself something along the lines of “Oh, those guys! Phiew! Thank God I didn’t have to listen to their blabbering ons…” (of course, I thought in Polish). And in that moment I slipped and, with little grace and a lot of rattle, I fell down on my bottom. THEN I thought that perhaps I shouldn’t disrespect them. I am pretty sure that there was some divine force that helped me slip:)

  9. Shalini says:

    Thanks Bronwyn. Jesus always made us see people as human, as fellow beings desperately in need of the grace we ourselves have freely received. Your post has helped ‘humanize’ Mormon missionaries. Next time, they come calling, I sure hope I won’t be judgmental, but that I’d demonstrate the same kind of love and hospitality that you graciously extended to them.

    Tim, I need to read up a month’s supply of your blogs!

  10. marsdenmom says:

    Although I do think there is space for spiritual discernment on who we let in the door, sometimes I really do have to prioritize my time, I have experienced this same kind of blessing. I recently welcomed a Jehova’s Witness woman (Amy- pray for her!) into my home multiple times. I felt convicted to show her some love and that I knew my Bible, but didn’t feel the need to fight with her. I mostly just asked her questions about her history with JWs and her conversion. When she was a teenage, single mom her grandmother brought her to a probably well meaning “Christian” church that basically treated her as a charity project, but never preached from the Scriptures in the pulpit. As she felt herself drawn to digging deeper in the Word a helpful JW came into her life and taught her how to correctly approach scripture. Like Bronwyn, I will never look at these door to door religious salesmen the same. This situation has helped fuel my passion for producing scripture centered study materials for women that will drive us deeper without settling for the fluff that only addresses superficial issues.

    Checking out the blog– Davis is just up the freeway from us!

    • Tim says:

      Aleah, I bet that woman could tell the difference between your hospitality and what she experienced at that church. How wonderful for you to be able to let her tell her story, and to respond with the love God has put in your heart.

      Tim

      P.S. You’re just down the road from Davis? We’re neighbors!

    • Bronwyn Lea says:

      Hi there, down the road neighbor. I love this story! Thanks for sharing, encouraging, and thanks too for stopping by my blog 🙂

      • marsdenmom says:

        Thanks for writing! Your “voice” really resonates with me.

        I’m in Vacaville neighbors! We might have the workings of a local writers group forming here guys… A girl can dream! 😉 I look forward to seeing more of both of your work, thanks again for sharing.

  11. Lesley says:

    Oh boy…I feel like this was meant for me, Bronwyn. We invited a few Mormon missionaries to stop by last night for dessert. (They dropped by twice last week and we told them we’d love to invite them in, but timing wasn’t right.) Jonathan and I were really nervous about having the over. I baked cookies and J and I prayed over our time, but then the men cancelled at the last minute. We hope they’ll come back next week instead. Reading this has encouraged me so much! The cookie dough is still frozen, and I’m much less nervous. We know how to love–don’t need much prep to do that! 🙂

  12. dangermom says:

    Hello from up the street as well, since I live a little way north of Davis. For me this was an interesting perspective of the other side of the door, sort of–though I never served a mission myself. My husband spent two years in Chile on his LDS mission, and of course I have many friends and relatives who served. I am so glad that you came to see the elders as real people. I am not so sure that everyone needs to pity them quite so much; though a mission is indeed very hard work, IME most returned missionaries will also say that the rewards are commensurately great. A mission is a time of serving the Lord, learning humility and selflessness–and joy too. (Although the reason you give for the elder hoping to help his parents would not usually be considered a good reason to go on a mission.)

    Just yesterday I came upon a very interesting piece that describes the difficulties and rewards of an LDS mission. It’s not quite relevant, since it’s mostly a response to the portrayal of missionaries in the Book of Mormon musical, but I think you might enjoy it. http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2013/06/01/time_for_some_mormon_myth_busting.html

    • Tim says:

      I am so glad you stopped by, dm.

      Bronwyn’s experience may not reflect what all Mormon Elders go through on their missions, but it was an interesting experience for us to read about, nontheless. Thanks for adding to our conversation here with your insights as well!

      Cheers,
      Tim

    • Bronwyn Lea says:

      Hi dangermom, thanks so much for your comment. The original post (at http://bronlea.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/the-pair-at-the-door/) generated some very interesting conversation with a gracious LDS blogger, and has also been interesting to talk through with some good LDS friends.
      The article you referenced is extremely well written – thanks for sharing it. I think it eloquently explains some of the tremendous character growth that comes from serving in the crucible of cross-cultural service alongside other real-and-therefore-challenging people. Similar things are said of young men going into the army, and certainly every young college student I ever helped prepare for a short term mission came back a little the wiser and more humble for that experience. As one who lives abroad from my country of birth, I well know how much being tried, misunderstood, uncomfortable and far away from home has chiseled me.
      However, when opening the door to missionaries, I usually don’t think first of the great opportunities for growth there are for the person in front of me. I presume that, while they may be growing tremendouly in the process, that is not the primary reason they are there. I have presumed they are coming not for themselves but for us – to impart information, ask questions, get conversation going; and my response to that in the past has been often dismissive and defensive.
      I shared this story on the blog because it was a watershed visit for me to view these young men not so much with pity as with compassion. It is a really tough thing to serve as they do. They are really young. I have many friends who have expressed that often they feel confused and threatened when a missionary comes to their door, and I shared what I did in the hope that it would help the Christian community respond with warmth, not wariness.
      For what it’s worth, I should add that the young guys have been back for dinner twice since then and my husband and I are loving getting to know them. We’ve talked about the bible and our differences by this time, but have also shared stories, laughs and a great deal more.
      I’m so thankful. These two guys do not have my pity. They have my love.

      • dangermom says:

        That is wonderful. 🙂 I was referring more to the responses here than to your own piece when I talked about pity, and I’m sorry I was not more clear. Of course you are correct that serving a mission is not something people do for the character growth; it’s an opportunity to serve the Lord and other people, that’s what it’s for. I was just saying the thoughts that occurred to me at the time.

        I hope you don’t think I was trying to be hostile. I was quite hesitant to comment because I was worried about that, and you are all clearly very nice folks. That is not how I wanted to come off.

        • Bronwyn Lea says:

          I’m so glad to did write. Really. And didnt think it was hostile at all. Not as “dangerous” as your ID might suggest. 🙂 I really appreciated what you said and would so love our paths to cross one day.

        • dangermom says:

          That would be very nice, and is not improbable given that I live in Chico.

  13. Aimee Byrd says:

    Bronwyn, thank you for sharing your experience, and encouraging us to ask questions and show Christ’s love to the lost.

  14. Laura says:

    I was deeply touched by this post. Thanks for sharing it Tim, and to the author Bronwyn.

  15. Pingback: Weekly Links (1/17/2014) | LBC Beacon

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