Water balloons and Dear John letters

Northern News Services/May 20 2008

They may be strangers in a strange land but Mormon missionaries Elder David Philipbar and Brandon Potter are enjoying their time in Yellowknife. "People are friendlier here than in Edmonton," said Philipbar. "They wave." Philipbar and Potter are two of four Mormon missionaries in Yellowknife right now. The Yellowknife branch is part of the Canada Edmonton mission, to which the missionaries were assigned for a two-year term.

Yellowknife is a long ways from Potter's home of Clearfield, Utah and even further from Philipbar's home of Paradise, Texas.

When Yellowknifer visited the missionaries last week, they were understandably tired, having hit the pavement all day.

"We work from Monday to Sunday," joked Potter.

The missionaries live in a suite in Yellowknife's Church of Latter Day Saints, sleeping in two separate rooms in bunk beds.

On a typical day, the missionaries wake up at 5:30 a.m., exercise, return home for breakfast and a shower, then they study scriptures from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. After that, they go out and spread the word.

Stories within the Book of Mormon detail accounts of followers who went out to share the gospel with people. In the Bible, apostles, or those who follow Christ, are told to "proclaim the gospel to those who don't have the blessing of having it," said Philipbar.

Their job is not always easy. First, there is the new place to get used to, and with that, comes new challenges. Elder Potter, who has been in town since January, experienced a Yellowknife winter for the first time.

"(The mission) has a recommended temperature to not be outside proselyting in the city, which is -30 F," he said. "Here, it just says to be smart."

At -55 F, they stayed in. "People kind of stop opening their doors," Potter joked.

Another difficult part of the job is going out and engaging strangers.

"You get used to it, but it's never easy," said Philipbar.

"My first day, I got a water balloon chucked at me."

"It's pretty nerve-racking going up to talk to someone," said another missionary, Elder Sam George, adding he is definitely stepping out of his comfort zone when going door-to-door. In the time Yellowknifer accompanied them around town, Philipbar and Potter got two non-answers and a prompt "No."

Philipbar said they prefer not to go door-to-door and would rather talk to people who are already investigating them.

"Referrals are what we like to get because they are more receptive," he said. "Knocking on a door is a last resort."

Missionaries volunteer for the job, and it is not cheap.

"A mission costs about $12,000," said Potter.

Missionaries save up for the trip and pay money into a fund. When they are assigned their mission, money is taken from the pool to subsidize their trip. Missionaries are given a $160 allowance per month for necessities, although they get an extra $20 here, due to higher living costs. Obviously, that does not leave much for recreational pursuits. It fits with missionary guidelines, however. George pulled a 70-page rule book from his breast pocket, which all missionaries adhere to.

"It's there to make sure we stay out of trouble," said Philipbar.

Girls are definitely off limits. Potter has a girl back home.

"You have to lock up your heart," said Philipbar.

With the long distance and lack of communication, George said holding onto a girlfriend is tough. Sometimes missionaries get Dear John letters where their girlfriends' break-up with them, even going as far as sending them wedding invitations, said George.

Missionaries also have restricted communication with their families.

"We get to call our parents twice a year, on Mother's Day and Christmas Day," said George.

If this all seems like too much sacrifice, you will not hear the missionaries complaining.

"When you give it your all, it's fulfilling," said Philipbar. "It's just like anything, I guess."

Philipbar said they have had some successes in Yellowknife. Although some recruits have not shown up for future teachings, Elder Potter said they have been talking to people on the streets and some ladies were even coming in for a baptism.

"It feels good to do what you came here to do," said Philipbar.

"The reason we do this is not for ourselves, or anyone else, it is because we love God," said Philipbar.

"We don't do it because we want to annoy or anything, we do it because we want to help."

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