Thursday, 29 March 2007

Entry 2 - The Second visit and commitment

Two days after the first visit from Elders Crane and Finchley, they were due to arrive that Thursday evening. I was looking forward to it and had already told friends at school about it. I'm not sure what they initially thought, I think one of two hadn't a clue who or what Mormons were? Nonetheless, I was curious and had a few questions of my own prepared for when they arrived. In preparation for their visit, my Mum tidied the front room so everything was clean and neat, my younger brother Pete was probably doing homework in his bedroom and my Dad, I can't remember if it was another early night or if he actually went out for a drink or two, either way,he was well prepared not to be involved or present, however he had no objections to me and my Mum listening to what they had to say.

When they arrived they seemed genuinely pleased to see us both, again shaking our hands and making enquiries into how our day had been, you know the sort of thing, general politeness. Of the two of them, Elder Finchley seemed to be the most natural . He appeared to be so at ease with everything, very laid back and friendly, almost casual and carefree. Elder Crane was the more serious and studious at times.
Naturally, once the polite exchange of chat had finished, they asked us if we had read the literature they had left for us and both my Mum and I replied that we had. My mum didn't have any specific questions that I can recall, although she did mention the fact that she would struggle without her coffee, she loved and still loves her coffee, I think that must be where I get it from. I also recall her mentioning something relating to prescription drugs, as there was a vague mention in their literature that this was too not well looked upon. Elder Crane clarified that where a drug has been prescribed for a particular condition would be acceptable, but everyday tablets and pills like headache tablets are something they try to steer clear of. It all fell under the same blanket of drink and drugs, this including cigarettes, tea and coffee. Chicory, we were told, was a drink they were fond of as it contained no caffeine. Elder Crane went on to say they treat their body as a temple, nothing harmful should enter it. After Mum had finished I decided to put my questions forward

The first one was about the missions that they undertook and if it was compulsory. Elder Finchley explained that it definitely wasn't compulsory and that a mission is a calling, they had had the calling and therefore committed themselves to their mission. You see, at 14, the last thing I wanted to do was be sent on a mission when I turned 20 for two years going door to door preaching. If I recall correctly , Finchley was 21 and Crane 22 or 23, it seemed really young to me! The next question I had was about their Book of Mormon and how it related to the bible From the pamphlet I had read, I understood it came from gold plates found by Joseph Smith after being directed by an angel to where they were and with Gods help ,translated and transcribed them into what would become the Book of Mormon, but was it a new bible, and if so, what about the bible I had known before?
They explained and clarified the exact discovery made by Joseph Smith and how it came to be and that they believed in and used the Bible , the Book of Mormon however related to a different set of people who branched out to the Americas, and that Mormons used the bible hand in hand with the Book of Mormon. They explained it contained new teachings, new prophecy's and dealt with a different group of people . My train of thought surrounding all this at the time was that, in truth, I never really questioned the bibles' validity, I took it to be what I was taught, so if I believed that it was true, it was quite possible the Book of Mormon was equally as true. Who was to say it didn't happen and after hearing a few passages from their Book of Mormon, to me it sounded just like something from the Bible anyway!

The subject of polygamy also came up. My mum had mentioned to me after their first visit that what she had heard about the Mormons is that they can have more than one wife. Elder Crane explained that this was the case, many years ago. However it had been outlawed by the church, there were breakaway groups who still practised it, but it was not something that occurred within the church now. I'm not sure if I took that as good or bad news!

Elder Crane made enquiries into my Dad and my brother and whether they would be interested in joining us at some stage in the future. Crane explained that family is very important to Latter Day Saints,their church in East London , he went on to say, was filled with families. My Mum explained that my Dad was really not interested and that Pete was only 10 and maybe a bit young to sit and listen to this. I noticed Crane was disappointed, I felt even at that early stage of knowing him, he was definitely the "stickler" of the two. I looked at him as an older person, a polite one, but I felt I was talking to an older person at times with Crane, with Finchley it was completely different, it felt like talking to a mate at school, really relaxed and chilled. In fact , during this second visit, it became apparent that Crane was concentrating more on my Mum in terms of eye contact and discussion, perhaps he felt more comfortable taking to an adult. Even to look at , they were both worlds apart. Crane was tall and thin, short cut hair, serious looking and business like. Finchley was shorter, bigger build with longer hair and a more casual look about him that put me at ease.

I found the heavy religious discussion was only mildly interesting to me, most of which Elder Crane covered, nevertheless, it did sink in and more important, I liked the messengers. Elder Finchley more so. He was treating me like an intelligent young man and not a teenage kid and I appreciated it, I really liked it. The phrase " So what do you think Marko?" was common when Elder Finchley was talking or explaining something and I liked the fact that he did that. Teachers at school rarely asked for an opinion or a thought, I was full of them, so to be asked by a relative stranger meant a lot to me.He also mentioned that as missionaries, they sometimes attended youth social evenings during the week and that if I were interested, I could come along and meet other people my age . He said the group in the East London Church were a great bunch from different backgrounds and the social events were always a lot of fun. At the time, I had my own small group of friends, we did the usual things 14 years old do, but I was looking for something new and exciting , something different , something to get involved in, and this was beginning to look like something attractive.

The second visit lasted about an hour and half, but I was pleased they had come back. Again, I don' t recall every word said , but at the end of their visit, I was interested in them coming back. But my mum was not as convinced. I got the impression she wouldn't have been bothered either way. Yes, she did ask questions and she did listen, but I think it was out of politeness. She had grown up with the bible in a Catholic school and although not a church go-er now, she was, and still believed in that way of thinking. I think the older one gets, the more difficult it is for someone to change their views, however patient and interested one is in other peoples opinions. So when the time came for Elder Crane to ask if they could come back again next week, I remember looking at my Mum to see what her face was saying. She was hesitant, but agreed to let them come again. I was pleased , I too said I would be interested.

To my surprise, Elder Finchley went one step further , by inviting us to a church service the following Sunday after their next visit. He added that there would be no pressure, it was entirely down to us, they would pick us up and take us, bearing in mind it was about 25 - 30 miles away from us. My mum said she wasn't sure about that or if she was ready to do that, both Elders assured her this was fine, there was no pressure, but I said I would, I was keen to go. I suppose this created a bit of a dilemma, because after all, I was 14 years old, far from an adult and very much a teenager. But the thing was, I was always very stubborn and always very opinionated. I was fortunate in that my Mum and Dad allowed me at an early age to have my own views and express them. My mum asked if that's what I wanted, and I said Yes. She too then agreed to the Church visit, she would accompany me. I knew she was only agreeing because I wanted to go and she was doing what any mother would do, make sure everything was as O.K as the elders made it appear and go along with me.
With that sorted, the elders left and they were to come back on the following Tuesday, before they left, Finchley said a short prayer, he asked the Lord to look over us, I' d never asked him myself up to that point, so I was pleased someone else had.

Once gone, my mum and I had a discussion about things. She aired her reservations . She felt that everything we asked, they had an answer for, I didn't find that odd, but to my Mum it was as if they appeared perfect and she said she could never be like that, she could never live her life the way they paint it. I wasn't too concerned about all that, all I knew was I liked the Elders and I liked the adult attention I seemed to be getting, the religious aspect seemed to be of a secondary importance, I just felt that this place and this way of life they described, would be something new and something different.More importantly ,I felt as if I could belong.

The following day I went to school and I was bursting to tell friends what had happened and where I was going in a week or so. I took my pamphlet along, I explained things as they had been explained to me. My friends seemed to be either uninterested or just humouring me. I didn't really care either way. However Mike, one pupil who wasn't really a friend, in fact, I didn't really care much for him at all, was really against all this talk. He was a very intelligent lad, he was top of the class and I have to admit, bright and switched on. Mike was obviously more aware of the Mormon religion than others I knew and decided to give me me a warning. He told me to steer clear, he said he knew about them and they were a cult. He also said he would bring in some books that show what the Mormons are about and what they get up to. He said they married more than one woman and had children with numerous different women. That didn't really bother me, I told him that was not the case now anyway. But Mike was adamant they were a cult and I should avoid it, true to his word , the Monday that followed, he brought in two books. One was a sort of encyclopedia of cults, and the Mormons featured in it, the other was a general book on religions of the world. He had even bookmarked pages for me to read. The problem was, the more Mike pushed this in front of my face, the more determined I was to carry on seeing them and to go to the church on Sunday. I didn't read a single word of what he had brought in to show me, I wasn't interested and that small rebellious streak in me was enjoying all of this.

Back at home, my Dad was beginning to have doubts as to whether we should allow the elders to carry on coming. He said this in response to my Mum, who was having serious doubts. She felt she would be wasting their time. I though wanted to carry on and was already looking forward to the following evening. My brother Pete decided to start calling me "Moron", leaving out an "m" and getting a big laugh out of it, I'm sure he got a few clips around the ear from his older brother for that.

Tuesday evening eventually arrived and with it, Elders Crane and Finchley. Again, my Dad had an early one, but I'm pretty sure he did greet them as they arrived this occasion. They read passages from the Book of Mormon, read passages from the bible and spoke about the Doctrine and Covenants , another tool they used alongside the Book of Mormon and the Bible. My mum aired concerns about the almost "perfect" image that they seemed to portray in the way Mormons live , she said she would not be able to live up to that, she had always lived her life by trying to follow the ten commandments, and in her opinion, if you did that, you wouldn't go far wrong in life. She didn't see the importance of not drinking coffee for example. I remember what the reply was. Elder Finchley said that they were not perfect, nor would they ever claim to be, but their goal in life is to live by the teachings of the Bible and the Book of Mormon .He reiterated that their body was a temple, holy and something to cherish. Sustaining from harmful drugs and alcohol was one way in which they went towards achieving this.
I' m not really sure this answered my Mums concerns, Elder Crane went on to reassure her that she shouldn't worry, many people new to the religion had similar concerns, it was normal. In honesty, I had none of those concerns.

During his visit, the elders spoke about many religious beliefs and practices that the Mormoms were involved in. Temples where marriages were sealed for eternity was mentioned, I asked about marrying a non Mormon and what their views were on this, Finchley explained that it was acceptable to marry a non Mormon,but they could not have their marriage sealed in a temple. It would also be encouraged that the Mormon attempt to "bring " the non Mormon member of the partnership into the church, especially if children were later involved.The spoke a little about heaven and the 3 "levels" , the short version was that Mormons who lived their life to the scriptures were going to Level 1 with all the rewards it offers.

The elders also spoke about their church services. They lasted 3 hours! That was the first point at which I flinched. They ran from 10.00am - 13.00pm, bearing in mind we were about 30 miles away from this church, the calculations were running through my mind that we would have to leave at about 9:15am and only be getting home just before 14.00pm, which in turn meant I would be getting up on Sunday morning at about 08.15am and by the time I got out of my church clothes and had Sunday dinner, it would be almost 15.30pm . It felt like my Sunday was already gone before it had started, the thought of a 3 hour church service never entered my mind, it was never mentioned, or if it was, neither my Mum or I picked up on it. However, I still wanted to go though with it. Finchley explained the first hour was their traditional church service called Sacrament I think , the second hour was like a Sunday school, where different classes were held, we would be in the newcomers class with other similar people, the third hour was Priesthood for the men and Relief Society for the ladies, it all sounded different to the typical Catholic one hour service. Crane explained that the first Sunday of each month the church service hour was traditionally a testimony hour. Members of the congregation could bear their testimonies in front of the congregation. This sounded a bit intimidating to me, but we were told you only did this if you felt you wanted to, no one was forced. Also, members were expected to fast in preparation for this testimony Sunday, usually not eating the two main meals before the Sunday meeting. Members would then donate the cost of those two meals to some sort of fund, can't remember precisely what it was called. Which brought us nicely onto the tithe.
We had read about tithing in the pamphlet to be truthful, however my Mum raised it at this point. Her understanding was that as she worked and earned an income, she would have to give 10% of her salary to the church, this was another element she found concerning. Crane clarified that this was the case. The tithe money from members was put towards the upkeep of the church, for church programmes and also a church fund which was used to help members who were experiencing financial difficulties. It could also be used to assist missionaries. I could understand my mums concern over this, 10% sounded a lot to even me, but as I wouldn't have to contribute a penny for some years to come, I didn't really think much about this.

But at the end of the evening, despite concerns and doubts and questions that my Mum may have had, we were going on Sunday to our first service at the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints, the elders closed with a prayer and agreed to pick us up at approximately 09.00am Sunday morning. We said our goodbyes.
My Mum didn't want to go, that much I knew. She was going more for the sake of me. I'm sure a small part of her felt she wanted to see it all for herself, but that was all. She knew it would be hard to commit to something like this. I hadn't reached that stage, thinking about commitment and things like that, but my mum wanted to know how serious I was about this. Was I really interested ? I told her I was, I told her there were certain questions and concerns I may still have , but that I too wanted to see more for myself, only then could I make a decision, I didn't see the harm in going once, if it was not for me, I wouldn't go again and that would be it. On this basis, we were going on Sunday. I didn't want to blow what I thought was an exciting opportunity to meet new people and get involved in something that could change my life.
Little did I know how it would change my life.

NEXT TIME: The First Sunday.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Entry 1 - How it all began.

I don't think it would surprise anyone if I said that I could answer the question to "How it all began ?" with 5 very simple words. "A knock at the door!" As unspectacular as it may sound, that's exactly what happened. The only strange thing about it was my Dad answered it, my mum was in the kitchen and under normal circumstances she would have been the one to get it.
However my Dad could , and still can, be very quick to extract himself out of facing any awkward or unwanted visitors , and he did what a lot of us fella's do so well, he opened the door , saw who it was, and asked them to hold on for a moment while he called the wife!

My mum duly went to the door . My dad walked into the front room , collected his cigarettes ,shook his head and did a pretty good disappearing act. A few moments later my mum walked into the front room with two young men in suits. She invited them to sit down and they both shook my hand and introduced themselves as Elder Rob Crane and Elder Ian Finchley. I greeted them and was really curious as to what they were doing in our front room on a Tuesday evening. My mum sat down and the two elders began to tell us that they were visiting homes in our area to talk about Jesus Christ and they had a pamphlet of material that they would like to share with us . I was still curious, not in how they actually got in - my mum was always going to let them in, they hardly had to do any sort of pitch to get in, that is just my mum's nature, but more along the lines of what two young men in posh suits were going to tell me about Jesus Christ that I hadn't already heard. They began by asking a lot of questions, of which my mum answered the majority. They were general questions, not specific to any religion, things like "Do you currently attend a church?" - which incidentally we didn't. What I can remember noticing were the badges they wore which displayed their names and the name of a church underneath, The Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints. Eventually the conversation swung round to them and who they were and where they were from. Both hailed from South Africa, both were early twenties and both were on their two year mission They explained that a huge part of their mission is visiting homes, like ours, and sharing the information they were going to share with us.

My mum patiently listened, Initially I was only half interested. References to Jesus and heaven and so on and so didn't really interest me, but for the following 45 minutes or so they sat, they were friendly , they declined a cup of tea or coffee, explaining they didn't drink either of these as it was against their beliefs. "NO COFFEE?" I can remember thinking, that would finish me off! But in between all the religion and all the beliefs, I started to listen a little more attentively. They were focusing more and more of the conversation on me, and I suppose for a 14 year old , I was impressed. They commented on their youth programmes within their church and activities they get involved in, this was more of interest to me. I don't' remember every particular word spoken on that first visit, they did say they were Mormons, but preferred to be called Latter Day Saints, they did tell us about where there church was, which was about 30 miles away in a place called East London, (Yes, it is in South Africa) and yes, they did ask whether my Dad would be interested in joining us, to which my Mum politely explained that he was having an early night and wouldn't be interested anyway, but by the time they had said they were going to leave us with their material , and would like to come back for another visit, I was quietly curious.

My mum was yo-yo-ing as to whether to agree to let them come back, which again, didn't surprise me. I'm pretty sure during the course of that first meeting she pointed out she was a Catholic who didn't go to church, but was a believer nonetheless. They assured her there was no pressure at all, but by coming back , we would have an opportunity to read the pamphlets in more detail, and they could answer any questions we had. In truth, my mum was being polite, and not really totally sold on what she had heard, but she was willing to listen and so leaned towards letting them come back for another visit .Then, to my amazement Elder Finchely asked if I would be interested in them coming back to answer any questions I had?

I was impressed , the thought that they would be interested in what I had to ask really sparked something in me ,so replied I would be interested, with this, my mum agreed to another visit in two days time.

They shook our hands and said their goodbyes. Amazingly my Dad re-appeared in the front room and my mum went through the events of the evening. It didn't impress my Dad that much. I flicked through the pamphlet and we talked about what we thought. I think we were both impressed with the elders more than anything in particular we had heard. My mum liked them both, polite, friendly young men. I was more taken with what I felt was their interest in me. We both knew they were keen to talk, but I felt they were especially keen to talk to me, it was the way questions became more directed at me, how genuinely interested they were in any comments I made. It made me feel more grown up. like an adult. I had had an adult conversation with my mum and two Mormon missionaries, and I didn't feel like a kid. They didn't talk to me like a kid at all and that was great as far as I was concerned.

I did look at the pamphlets and the majority of what I read seemed to make fairly good sense,at the time, it seemed as if the Mormons were good people who lived good, clean , healthy lives. At that time I hated smoking, my Dad smoked , and I hated it, so this was a plus to me too. My poor Dad, that was the cruncher to ANY further interest for him, not that there was ever going to be any realistic hope , but the non smoking belief was the final nail. That, and the no alcohol practise added to it , well.... that was that. But they were coming back in a couple of days and I wanted to make sure I had some sensible questions for Elders Rob Crane and Ian Finchley!