Mormon missionaries walk Hub City streets

Two-year volunteers welcome challenge of getting message across

Aberdeen American News/August 3, 2003

A typical day for Larry Story and Christopher Johnson usually starts around 6:30 a.m. They eat breakfast and do some volunteer work at the Aberdeen YMCA before heading back home to "pross up."

"It's what we jokingly call putting on our dress shirts and pants for when we go proselytizing - going door to door to talk to people," Story said.

Elders Story, 22, and Johnson, 20, are missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are both doing two years of voluntary missionary work for their church before returning back home to college and careers.

Story, of Hayburn, Idaho, and Johnson, of Paradise, Utah, didn't know each other when the church assigned them to the Aberdeen area.

"We filled out the application papers and sent them to the church headquarters in Salt Lake City," Story said. "They assigned us to work together in South Dakota."

Missionary work is something the pair have always wanted to do.

"I wanted to do it while I was young and didn't have a lot of other commitments," said Story, who has been a missionary for about 18 months. He worked in Newcastle, Wyo., before coming to Aberdeen. Johnson said he felt missionary work was something the Lord wanted him to do.

The two cover the costs of most of their two-year service out of their own pockets, but the Mormon church chips in with rent and other expenses.

"There is a general missionary fund and volunteers receive the same amount no matter where they go," said Johnson, who has friends doing missionary work in China and Poland.

Johnson and Story said they have been enjoying their time in Aberdeen.

"The LDS church in Aberdeen has around 100 members and there are more during the school year," Story said. "We visit friends we've made in Aberdeen as well as members of the church who aren't very active."

Spreading their message door to door is a source of both frustration and happiness for the pair.

"The reception here is good. People are usually always friendly to us, even if they aren't interested," Story said.

It can be a challenge to condense the message of an entire faith into a few moments in a doorway.

"We just try to share some of the basics of what we believe," Johnson said. "Our main approach is to introduce ourselves and what church we belong to, and then we ask them if they would like to talk to us."

Sharing beliefs is a rewarding part of the job, according to Story.

"We ask people what they believe about God. We also ask them if they would be interested in having a copy of the book of Mormon," he said. "That explains a lot about what we believe. We also learn a lot from the people we talk to."

Story said that there are also days filled with frustration and fatigue when it is easy to feel discouraged.

"Sometimes we get doors slammed in our faces," he said. "Other times we'll be walking down the street and people will yell at us and tell us to go home."

The pair also encounter people who are curious about the Mormon faith and want to ask questions.

"A lot of people don't know much about the church and they hear a lot of rumors and falsehoods. They want to know if what they've heard is true," Story said. "The topic of polygamy is brought up a lot, even though it has been outlawed by the LDS church."

"Yeah," Johnson added. "One woman is enough."

The missionary life has its rewarding moments, too.

"There is interest here," Johnson said. "The best part is meeting new people and also watching people making positive changes in their lives. We keep pretty busy."

Staying busy helps keep Johnson and Story from missing their friends and family at home.

"We are only allowed to call home twice a year -Christmas and Mother's Day," Story said. "The rest of the time we can only write letters, and we're encouraged by the church to write home once a week."

Family members at home eagerly wait to hear from the two, which is an incentive to write.

"If I get lazy about keeping in touch, my mom will report me to the mission office," Story said, laughing.

After their mission work ends, Story wants to be an auto mechanic. Johnson wants to attend college and pursue a career as a writer. They both said that they will never forget their experiences in the mission field.

"It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done," Story said.

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