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October 24, 2007 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2007-10-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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You know those two hyper-clean cut guys on the Diag?
They're not on their way to give a presentation at the
B-School. They're here to save your soul.

mid the Diagbustle on a recent Thursday
evening, two men, roughly the same age
as everyone else, stood apart from the
rest of the crowd.
You've probably seen them before.
Impeccably groomed, wearing identical
white up shirts buttoned to the top and
sporting black nametags, their names are
Elder Stoker and Elder Macintosh, and
they'd like to give you a free copy of the
Book of Mormon.
Mormon missionaries like Stoker and
Macintosh have been a fixture of the Diag
for years, and though there are only six
of them in Ann Arbor at any given time,
they put in enough hours to be a formi-
dable presence.
That day, they set off on a winding
path around the Diag and the surround-
ing area, approaching young people who
were sitting or walking alone with lines
like "Have you heard of the Church of
Mormon?" or "Would you like a free
book, the Book of Mormon?"
In 30 minutes, seven of the 20 people
they solicited refused their card. Five
addressees paused to hear at least a few
moments of the extended pitch and one
student independently approached the
missionaries with interest in Mormon-
The day's street contacting work
was relatively successful for Stoker and
Macintosh, who are the missionary team
currently assigned to the University area
by local Mormon ward officials. Every
bit of success in promoting the Mormon
faith is significant for the pair, who will
have spent the near entirety of every day
doing nothing else for two years.
The life of a Mormon missionary is
wildly different from most of the other
20-year-olds living on campus, even the
roughly 100 practicing Mormons. Their
days are strictly regimented, they enjoy
privacy only in the bathroom and they
don't have access to the phone or the
Internet. Converting other young people
with a wholly separate frame of refer-
ence seems like an impossible task, but
it isn't. Stoker and Macintosh say they've
met with considerable success on their
Diag rounds.
Stoker and Macintosh are one of the
three missionary pairs currently assigned

to wards in the Ann Arbor territory of the
Michigan-Detroit mission, which is one
of several thousand mission locations in
a highly structured, worldwide mission-
ary system in which young Mormons like
Stoker and Macintosh shed their first
names for the title of "Elder" or "Sister"
and take time off from school or work to
live the strictly ordered life of a Mormon
For generations, young Mormon men
- and less frequently young women
- have taken these two-year mission
trips as a sort of rite of passage, said Ste-
ven Hedquist, stake president of the Ann
Arbor area Mormon wards.
"Our children grow up anticipating
that they'll participate," Hedquist said.
"The put college on hold, courtship,
romance, girlfriends on hold - mother's
good cooking - and go out and proclaim
the message of Mormonism."
Hedquist said mission trips are land-
mark events in a Mormon's youth and
have the effect for many, including him-
self after his own mission to Bavaria, of
changing their life perspective.
"We take these young kids in the flow-
er of the youth and take them out of the
most narcissistic, self-absorbed time of
life and plant them somewhere on Earth,"
Hedquist said.
On the missions, they "realize for the
first time that there are other people on
this planet besides themselves." Mission-
aries often fund their trips themselves -
a cost of at least $10,000 that covers room
and board and about $125 per month for
Mission trips can land young Mor-
mons in one of 176 countries - which
country, though, they have little control
over. A council of eight men whom the
church esteems as living apostles pray
about the assignment of each missionary
and decide where in the world he or she
would best serve.
During their two-year assignments,
missionaries live in different cities with-
in their mission's territory for varying
lengths of time, changing partners and
locations at the discretion of the local
mission president and his wife.
Stoker and Macintosh currently work
in the Hill Street Ward, a congregation of

unmarried Mormons from 18 to 30 years
old that has mass in Ypsilanti and holds
meetings across from the University's
Ross School of Business in the Institute
of Religion building on Hill Street. Stoker
said wards of youths separate from the
main congregation are created so that the
family-centric sermons of Mormon mass
can be tailored to be relatable to people
who haven't yet started a family. The
ward's membership draws mostly from
the University, about 100 of 135 members
are University of Michigan students and
nearly all are college students.
Mormonism is the fourth largest reli-
gion in the United States, despite being
the youngest recognized Christian sect,
founded in the United States in 1830.
Mormons do not believe their religion to
be derivative from the Catholic, Ortho-
dox or Protestant churches, but instead
that an American prophet, Joseph Smith,
restored the original ministry of Jesus
Christ before the formation of the pre-
vailing Christian establishment.
The religion's dismissal of 2,000 years
of Christian history often provokes an
aversion to Mormons among members
of other Christian sects. The Mormon
claim of a third text in the Christian
canon in addition to the two testaments
of the Bible, recovered and translated by
Smith from hieroglyphics written on gold
plates never seen by anyone but him and
which he found buried in the New York
countryside, doesn't help relations.
A past history of polygamy and mis-
interpretation of Mormon practices like
baptisms for the dead also dog the reli-
gion's public image. Many people still
associate Mormons with having mul-
tiple wives despite the church having
forbid the practice in 1890. And before
the act was prohibited in 1995, Mor-
mons performing baptismal for deceased
Holocaust victims offended many, even
though the ritual's performers believed
the recipients would be able to reject the
christening in the afterlife.
But on campus, Stoker and Macintosh
said they rarely encounter harassment
or confrontation by students. When they
have it has generally been political chas-
tisement from liberals who incorrectly
identify them as representatives of the

religious right.
"They take out their frustration with
George Bush on us," Macintosh said.
The peaceful relationship between
the missionaries and students can be
chalked up to the contrast between the
Mormon's approach and the melodra-
mas of campus's other street preachers,
who have elicited outrage and incredu-
lous crowds by screeching slurs and even
pantomiming hypothetical gynecology
Trying to convert
people without
yelling is unusual
on the Diag.
appointments in which you find out how
that one-night-stand you had in col-
lege resulted in a Herpes infection years
Stoker and Macintosh said the phi-
losophy of Mormon mission work isn't
to scare or hassle people into joining
the flock, it's to make sure the chance to
learn their faith is available to all who are
That doesn't mean the missionaries
won't be persistent in affording you the
opportunity to experience the church.
Right now, Stoker and Macintosh have
a pet project in two Mormon graduate
students whom the missionaries were
informed have yet to attend church since
they started here in the fall. The pair's
mother called the ward with concerns
about her children's religious activities
and gave their residency's address. Stoker
said when he and Macintosh stopped by,
the graduate students said they've been
busy. Presumably, their heavy class load
consumedSaturdaynightas well,because
they no-showed the single ward's Hal-
loween party last Saturday even though
Stoker and Macintosh invited them.
Even without a mother's worried call,
the missionaries would have looked into

the situation of the absent graduate stu-
dents. When a Mormon moves away, his
church sends records about him to offi-
cials of the ward he moves into so his
membership can be tracked.
"They don't know that we already
know," Stoker said.
Stoker said he and Macintosh prefer to
fill the daily nine hours allotted for out-
reach work by meeting with people when
church members refer them to or check-
ing in on the scripture study of investi-
gating prospective converts, but that an
inability to fill their schedules puts them
on the street most of the time.
Business School sophomore Kristin
Bates said she appreciated the mission-
aries' plans to follow up on her when she
returned to Ann Arbor after having con-
verted at home in Texas during the sum-
mer. Bates said she was confused about
where to find a Mormon church and how
to incorporate her new religion into her
life on campus.
"I was still struggling with 'So, I told
my family, can I tell my peers?' " she
Bates's introduction to the singles
ward by the missionaries eased her tran-
sition and led her to add the ward activi-
ties organizing committee to her other
extracurriculars, Alpha Delta Gamma
and Relay for Life.
Dressed as Dorothy and smelling of
flowery perfume, Bates bustled around
the large meeting room of the Institute
of Religion on Hill Street, a stately brick
building which houses the local Mormon
leaders' offices, which she had helped dec-
orate black and orange for the singles ward
Halloween party last Saturday. Between
laughing with friends and posing for pic-
tures, she checked on her chili and the
caramel apple bar, prepared the night's
activities and commented on the costumes
of the party's 20 to 30 attendees.
See MORMONS, Page 12B

Mormon missionaries walk around campus on the lookout for potential converts. In the
photo on the left, Elder Macintosh stands on the left and Elder Stoker on the right.

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