I looked out the window of the bus at the dreary grey sky, as we winded down the long road from Hitler’s Tea House on the top of the mountain. It had been another dismal workday and I was ready to crash. I was nineteen and living alone in a mountain village in Southern Bavaria, doing an internship that I had gotten through BYU. Up until the point that I boarded the airplane for this secluded place, I had barely left my own mountains of Utah. I was sheltered to say the least. Now I was the lone Mormon kid, an hour away from the nearest LDS church in Salzburg. In my immature and naïve mind, I was also surrounded by heathens who might be contagious. I would come to love the people I was surrounded by and lose most of my self- righteous attitude toward them, but at this point I was spending too much energy trying to keep myself unstained from the sins of the world. That left me with little capacity for love.
This day had been a particularly hard one. When I finally arrived at my apartment, depression seized me and I threw myself on the bed and pulled the covers over my head. I was ready to give up. I lay there crying and praying. In my loneliness that summer, God had become my one constant companion. I knew that if I got up and ran in the hills behind my apartment I would feel better, but I couldn’t pull myself out of my bed. I lay there in misery until I saw something curious on my back door. I got out of bed to see what it was and found that it was a note from the Sister Missionaries.
That note was everything to me at that moment, and it got me out of bed. I put on my running shoes and ran through the lush forested hills. I wondered why the missionaries would take so much time and energy to travel an hour by train and then hike all the way up to my apartment just to leave me a note. They could have been searching for converts, but they spent the greater part of their day just to make my day better. That day was not a successful one for them by any outward appearance. They didn’t find a golden contact, they didn’t convert anyone to the gospel, they didn’t even get to see the one person they spent their day travelling to see. As a missionary it could have been considered a wasted day. But their efforts meant everything to me, one lonely nineteen-year-old girl far from the comfort of her tribe. That day, my missionaries chose to represent Christ.
That was the loneliest time of my life because I was in an unfamiliar culture with people who weren’t like me. I have felt a similar loneliness over the last few years. This time I am not alone in a foreign country where I struggle to use the language to express myself. I am not different from everyone around me because I grew up with different beliefs and values than they did. This time I am in the culture of my birth. I should fit in. But after a life-changing faith transition and feminist awakening, I am different. I believe differently. I speak differently and I do struggle to find a common language with which I can fully express myself. Now I am the heathen whom others are struggling to be around for fear that what I have is contagious. In the very culture of my birth I don’t fit in. I am different.
So naturally I am thinking about those missionaries so many years ago and the effort they made to help me feel like I was okay in a culture that I didn’t belong to. And I am thinking about the ideal we set in the church for every member to be a missionary. What does that mean? The typical Sunday School answers are to pray for missionary experiences, give Book of Mormons away, and talk to our friends and neighbors about the church. But my wise sister missionaries knew that it wasn’t just about getting converts. What good does it do us to convert people to our church if our church is not a place for many people with differing beliefs and levels of orthodoxy to feel welcome. If our church is not a church of love and inclusion, then converts will profit us nothing.
We worry about our image, we worry about our numbers, we worry about our rules. We don’t want to get too close because what that person has looks like apostasy. We bear our testimonies in an attempt to convert them back to our way of thinking and believing. We live in a cold and delusional world of Sunday school answers. It’s time to shed our rules, shed our agendas, and shed the self righteousness that makes us believe that we have all the right answers for everyone. If we truly want to be representatives of Christ in our member missionary work, then it’s time for us to climb the mountains to find the one. To find the one who is lonely and feels out of place. To find the one who is giving up on the church because the church has given up on her. To find the one who needs to know that she is loved no matter what she believes or how she lives her life. We can spend our energy worrying about apostasy and trying to keep ourselves unstained from the sins of the world. Or we can give ourselves fully to loving the way Christ did.