Boot Camp: Missionary work helps Mormon 'sisters' grow spiritually

Star-News of Wilmington/April 10, 2004
By Amanda Greene

Wilmington -- For Sister Aspen Waters and Sister Melanie Jolley, being Mormon missionaries is spiritual boot camp.

Daily discipline is the key.

Up at 5 a.m. to exercise - walking or jogging.

Dressed by 7 a.m., always something modest.

Studying scriptures and planning outreach together until 8 a.m. They write their favorite quotes from the Bible and Book of Mormon on the paper tablecloth.

Eat breakfast until 8:30 a.m.

Prayer before they leave for the day of mission work at 9:30 a.m.

Female Mormon missionaries are a rare group in North Carolina. Only 7 percent of the 370 missionaries in the state are women. Eight percent are retired couples, and 85 percent are young men, called elders. Nationally, women make up 17 percent to 18 percent of the Mormon missionary force. Men enter the optional missions at 19, and women enter at 21.

The only difference between the women's and men's daily routines: Women drive cars; men ride bikes.

Waters and Jolley are among six Mormon missionaries working in the Wilmington area. Like all Mormon missionaries, they move from post to post about every three to four months. They chose this duty to spread their truth about Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and his church.

In her ninth week in Wilmington and eighth month on the mission, Waters spent mos-t of her 21 years in Idaho. She plans to return to her pottery business there after her two-year mission is up. At 22, Jolley is the senior sister with 17 months of mission service. She plans to become a massage therapist after her mission.

Going out into the field was not her plan until she saw the way missions changed her brothers' lives and decided she wanted to try it. "I look back now and think of what my life would have been like if I hadn't served, and I'm glad I'm here," she said.

Waters grew up knowing that service was her calling. "We have the opportunity to see a tiny glimpse of the love that the heavenly father has for everyone as we go from area to area," she said. To do their jobs, missionaries need patience, endurance, willingness, and "a warm smile and a helping hand, two of my favorite things," she said in a cheery voice.

The women have learned to deal with rejection. "It's always hard to have somebody tell us they don't want to hear our message, but you have to keep it in your heart that they're not rejecting you personally," Jolley said. For Waters, rejection is the worst thing about missionary work.

"It's hard because we know how important this message is, but everyone has their free agency," she said, referring to free will.

Teamwork is a another key to the women's mission work. They are supposed to be within each others' range of sight at all times, including when they sleep. The apartment they rent has two bedrooms, but they sleep in one and study in the other.

Though the women spend their time teaching, they say they're learning, too.

"I've learned we can't judge people. There are so many people we meet, and the way they live and their circumstances are different from ours," Waters said. "But we're all God's people, and we can't judge them."

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