Mormon missionaries' families sit by the phone

Lexington Herald-Leader/December 24, 2005
By Frank E. Lockwood

It can't be wrapped in ribbon, but it will be among Kevin and Bonnie Massie's most-cherished holiday gifts: a conversation with their 19-year son, K.C., a missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"The phone call is the big thing, and that's what I look forward to -- hearing his voice," said Bonnie Massie of Lexington.

Across Kentucky on Sunday, Mormon parents will be calling their missionary sons and daughters in Lubbock, Texas, and Long Beach, Calif., Las Vegas and London.

In the Lexington area, roughly two dozen of these LDS families will reunite telephonically.

The Salt Lake City-based church doesn't allow parents to visit their children while they're doing mission work, and it generally prohibits its 56,000 missionaries from dialing home. But it makes an exception on Christmas and Mother's Day.

Christmas phone calls are frequently lengthy, but the Massies have free cell-phone service on weekends.

"We'll talk for an hour or two," Kevin Massie says. "Eventually we'll run out of things to say, but it'll be great to hear his voice."

K.C. Massie is a missionary in Deming, N.M, an old railroad town roughly 50 miles from the Mexican border.

His bicycle tires are pockmarked with goat's heads -- giant thorns that thrive in the desert. And his skin has been thickened by occasional insults.

"We hear people yell, 'Satan loves you,'" he said in a telephone interview. "You've got to laugh it off. Jesus had to deal with all that stuff, so it's just a little taste of what he had to go through."

On his first day as a missionary, Massie doubted he could do the job. "I was so homesick, I just felt miserable," he said. But he gained strength through prayer.

"I have to trust the Lord more than anything," he says. "You pray all the time. You always have a prayer in your heart."

Latter-day Saint families have been sending their offspring to far-off lands for more than 160 years. Most people aren't interested in receiving them -- millions turn the missionaries away every year. But a tiny remnant embraces their message in 165 nations.

Without the missionaries, who pay their own expenses and volunteer their time, it is unlikely the faith would be a global spiritual force. Their efforts have helped the church grow from 1 million members in 1945 to more than 12 million today.

Missionaries persuaded K.C. Massie's great-great-grandmother to join the faith, baptizing her in a Bath County creek a century ago. But the church struggled for years to make greater inroads in Kentucky.

In Shelbyville, LDS missionaries withdrew around 1900 after local residents threatened to tar and feather them, Bonnie Massie says.

In Lexington, as recently as 1960, the church had no more than 50 members. Today, the city has about 1,650 Mormons, church officials say. Many have moved to the Lexington area to work or study. The church is also flourishing because members typically have larger families than non-Mormons.

But the missionaries' effect cannot be overstated.

"It's extremely important because they can concentrate their entire life for two years on sharing the gospel with others," says Becky Quick, a Lexington woman with two children on the mission field.

On Christmas, she'll be calling her son Tyler Quick, 19, a missionary on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona. She'll also phone her daughter Annika Quick, 21, a missionary in Salt Lake City. "I'll probably cry the minute they say 'hello,'" Becky Quick said.

Annika Quick will likely tell her family about the tourists she ministers to in Temple Square. Tyler Quick will probably tell his parents about a woman who heard his message and believed. She plans to be baptized today..

Becky Quick is thrilled for her children. "It's something I've wanted for them all their lives. It's a growth experience, not only spiritually, but emotionally, socially. They come back different people," she said.

Sometimes, the missions are dangerous. A missionary from Corbin was shot while living in Argentina. But most return physically unharmed and spiritually enriched, says Rob Hymas, a former LDS missionary and church official.

Hymas' son, Billy Hymas, is serving a mission in Uruguay.

The missionary misses some American delicacies (his parents are sending him Kool-Aid packets, maple syrup extract and ranch dressing mix for the holidays), but he's thriving.

"He's happy there. He really enjoys it. He's learned a lot," Rob Hymas said. "We are grateful that he's there ... sharing the message of the savior."

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