It’s 10 a.m. and the women have just finished preparing to leave their one-bedroom apartment. There are three women, one bathroom and two mirrors. Also present in this small apartment, as these missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) explain, is a lot of faith in Jesus Christ – and a desire to spread the message of His redeeming power.
It’s mid-morning now, but the three sisters, as they’re called, have been up since 6:30 this morning. Colette Duffin, a 22-year-old from Boise, Idaho, awakened her companions by singing a cheerful song called “Way Up In The Sky.”
“She wakes us up that way every morning,” says Corrie Rindlisbacher, 23, from Grantsville, Utah, with a laugh. “Every morning.”
This is a time of life when many women are just finishing college and looking to start a career or go to graduate school. These women decided to serve missions for the LDS church. Not only do LDS missionaries choose to take a substantial chunk of time out of their lives to serve Jesus, they also pay for it themselves. While the church does help missionaries whose families are in distressed circumstances, all missionaries are required to pay some for portion of their missions. This attitude to true sacrifice is a move that is at odds with the general trend of young adults in America.
A Gallup poll found that 43 percent of people in the18-29 age group say religion is important to them, but only 23 percent of them actually attend services regularly. Additionally, 70 percent of those surveyed in this age group feel that religion is becoming less important in daily American life. However, for Duffin, Rindlisbacher, and their companion Rhonda Mayo, 25, Mesa, Ariz., religion is a fixture of daily life.
After a half hour of physical activity, the women spend an hour from 7 to 9 studying scriptures. Scripture study is a way for them to better learn the words of Christ and it helps them move closer to the spirit. They study one hour individually, and one hour together. The time from 9-10 is spent getting ready for the day. They do not wear odd clothing – they simply dress in clothing that transcends style, looking modern yet somehow different from their peers. And they are just like others their age. They think about going back to school when their missions are over, and sometimes their thoughts even dwell on men and marriage sometime in the future.
Just after 10 they leave their cramped quarters and walk to the house of someone they’ve been teaching. The three don’t have a car, so they walk most places. The investigator doesn’t know they plan to visit, but the sisters try to stop in occasionally, unannounced, to find out if there are any questions or if help is needed.
“It gives us a chance to see how they’re doing,” Mayo explained. “We can also offer to help them, or answer any questions they might have thought of since our last appointment.”
The investigator isn’t home, so the trio decides to do some tracting. They walk down the street, knock on doors and ask whoever answers if s/he wants to hear a message. They don’t plan to tract long today because there is a meeting later with the rest of the missionaries in Syracuse. After the meeting, which is expected to take two hours, they have an appointment, and dinner, and more appointments. They won’t do much walking today.
They knock on a few doors. No one is home. The person who answers the door “is set.”
Another door. They knock, and the door opens. A man with darker skin opens the door, and Mayo offers her hand.
“I’m Sister Mayo,” she says, “and this Sister Rindlisbacher and Sister Duffin.”
The man immediately invites them in. They meet his sister-in-law. The two are from Bangladesh. The man doesn’t seem very interested, but the woman is curious. She doesn’t speak English very well; she speaks Bengali.
The three ask if she would like a copy of the Book of Mormon, a companion to the Bible. For the LDS religion, the Book of Mormon is not a replacement Bible. The Bible is still very much a part of Christian faith for Mormons. Instead, the book is a companion to the Bible, offering further insight into the teachings of Jesus Christ. The woman says she would like that, and Mayo notes in her planner to order a Book of Mormon and a Bible in Bengali. The three promise to return with a Book of Mormon. They continue down the street. More knocking. Not home. Not interested.
“I’ve had maybe five to ten doors slammed in my face,” Mayo says. “Most people politely say they’re set religiously.” She has been on a mission the longest, 18 months. That’s the maximum for female missionaries (men, most around the age of 19, serve missions for two years), and she will return to Mesa soon.
The missionaries live and proselyte on the south side of Syracuse. For safety reasons, they don’t tract after dark. They make their appointments between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m. They meet their appointments at the church, which is near the apartment, or a congregant drives them. Mayo has seen drug deals while tracting on the south side, and she sometimes feels unsafe.
Duffin shares a story about how she felt tracting in Albany one day. She had a feeling she and her companion should leave an area, so they did. She doesn’t know what would have happened to her had she ignored that feeling, but it’s better not to find out.
Rindlisbacher says missionaries are protected when they do the Lord’s work. “You feel separate, like you’re not part of what’s going on. But you still have to be smart. You’re not invincible.”
At noon, the sisters head back to their apartment to eat lunch and get ready for their meeting. They feel good about the woman from Bangladesh. They also feel good about what they’re doing. They are helping people accept Jesus Christ and salvation.