Men on a mission

Mormon faith drives travel

The Independent Florida Alligator/July 27, 2006
By Melissa Thompson

Elder Trevor Ricks hasn't seen his family, eaten one of his mother's home-cooked meals or gone on a date in more than 20 months.

He doesn't have time.

During rare moments when the 20-year-old is not volunteering eight to nine hours a day, six days a week in the Gainesville community or preaching the Gospel around the UF campus, he said he dreams of playing his guitar and finally beginning his own college education.

"I'm always afraid of what I am going to do when I'm older," he said. "I'm thinking about going into construction management."

Ricks, of Lindon, Utah, chose to delay his collegiate dreams in order to serve as one of an estimated 52,000 missionaries worldwide for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon church.

The term Mormon is derived from the Book of Mormon, from which church members draw their beliefs. It was founded in 1830, and has matured into a religion with more than 2 million members in the United States.

Although young adults are not required to serve as missionaries, most Mormon men from ages 19 to 25, known by the title "elder," choose to attend one year of college or delay further education to volunteer for two-year domestic and foreign missions, said Donald Russell, a spokesman for the Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City.

"It's generally not a problem to re-enter college after a mission," he said. "The church places a great deal of emphasis on education."

Women missionaries, known as "sisters," are less common. Sisters begin missions at 21 and serve for 18 months, Russell said.

After turning in medical and financial paperwork, Russell said church officials interview potential missionaries and send them an assignment to serve at one of 340 missions or geographical areas assigned by the church.

Missions, which include areas around college campuses, exist in about 100 countries, including Brazil and Japan, Russell said.

Missions generally cost about $400 per month and are funded solely by money earned by the missionaries or their families, Russell said.

He said many young missionaries often enjoy preaching the doctrines of the Mormon faith to students because of the energy found around college campuses.

"I think there is just a little bit of fun and electricity associated with a college campus," Russell said. "It's a hub of activity."

Elder Tyrel Eddy, 21, of Tropic, Utah, said he was excited to serve among students at UF.

Eddy, who began his mission two years ago, said young people are more receptive to new ideas about religion and spiritual lifestyle.

"Lots of people are more open-minded because they're not old or set in their ways," he said.

Although missionaries are often sent to exotic locations far from home, Russell said missions are anything but a vacation.

While many missionaries have friends who are enjoying college life, young elders and sisters are asked to knock on strangers' doors teaching church doctrine or volunteer in the community 62 to 64 hours a week, he said.

"Basically for six and one-third days you actively work," Russell said. "Then one day, normally a week day, they have time to themselves for shopping, laundry, playing basketball, that sort of thing."

Missionaries cannot date during their missions and are limited to sending friends and family one letter a week, Russell said.

"It's mainly so young elders and sisters keep their mind on their work," he said. "They get one phone call home on Christmas and Mother's Day."

Although not seeing family members is difficult, Eddy said the purpose of the mission is to grow one's own faith by constantly serving other people.

"You think about your buddies and say, 'Oh man, they're going on dates and doing fun stuff,'" he said. "But it's definitely paid back to you in spirit."

Eddy said he is looking forward to wearing shorts, a hat and T-shirts instead of the standard missionary "uniform" of tie, dress pants and white dress shirt that he has worn every day for almost two years.

He also said he can't wait to see his family and delve into his favorite pastimes.

"I've missed my family and friends, he said. "I really look forward to fishing and hunting and all that kind of stuff."

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