Tuesday, June 29, 2010

(Un)Righteous Dominion

Our chastisement was nothing new. The process of taking nineteen year-old boys and women in their early twenties and turning them into missionaries often entailed this type of confrontation. Arguably the single most important rite of passage in the life of Mormon men and women into adulthood, the religious mission has become a science of sorts. Teachers and leaders had speeches prepared to humble us in order to take on the huge responsibilities awaiting us. No one in the world has much reason to trust the average nineteen year-old with finances let alone the proverbial keys to salvation.

It wasn't long before we learned the rigors of the CTM (Center for Training Missionaries)—in a crude manner of speaking it was spiritual boot camp. Ideally, the experience was meant to break young men of their immature habits to prepare them to enter the "Army of God." In many ways, the experience was a success in that sense.

Army of Helaman

That said, more trivial matters than coming of age dominated our way of life in the secluded six-story building. Settling into the routine of the CTM there were a few lessons that came quickly to the intuitive observer. In my first year of college, I'd been trained to examine the world in a set of power relationships and this religious center was no exception.

One person in the entire center wielded an immense amount of power and it didn't take long to figure out. Elders and Sisters would go out of their way to be nice, often begging and pleading, reaching a new level of brown-nosing in the course of their time there. Contrary to what you might be inclined to believe, it was not the President of the CTM, but rather the mail lady.


Imagine hundreds of teenage boys thousands of miles from home (many for the first time). On a whim, Sister de Paula could devastate a young man or woman by electing not to pass on a letter from mom or a package from grandpa. Although, I seriously doubt she would have done anything like that (contemplated, yes; actually done, no), many of the missionaries acted as though a syrupy sweet compliment or a piece of candy would somehow get them more mail. As internet access was forbidden in the confines of the CTM and limited to a single hour outside of the CTM grounds, a distinct form of cabin fever infiltrated the minds of missionaries slowly but surely.

In our district, no missionary was more consumed by the seductive power of the mail than Elder Carter who forced his companion to spend far too many of their breaks buttering up Sister de Paula. The usual barrage of compliments and questions she’d heard from any number of homesick or love sick missionaries spurted from Carter’s mouth as he sidled up to her in her office:

“Are these your grandkids? They’re so cute.”
“You have such a lovely voice. Can I join your choir?”
“You and Brother de Paula look so in love. How did you two meet?”
“Could you use some help sorting the mail?”
“What time does it generally arrive?”

Sister de Paula and Sister Ballenger

Without a doubt, she realized that he was one of many young missionaries missing his mother and hoping to find a surrogate somewhere. de Paula didn’t get annoyed at this stream of boys latching onto her as some women might. She welcomed the sentiment, but put him in place.

“Really. I don’t need the help. This is my responsibility and yours is to study and prepare to be a good missionary.”

Elder Laramie smirked and recounted the story to the rest of us when he was out of earshot. Everyone experienced the siren’s call whether that be in the form of homesickness or relationship detachment from that girl (or boy) friend back home. Later that week, during a group study session, we all admitted out catalogue of homesicknesses.


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