The Trials of an LDS Missionary

synthroid purchase canada We’ve all seen the two young men with the suits and name badges, but who are they? What are they doing here? They have sacrificed two years of their lives to answer those questions for you.

 By Christopher Tracy
Elders McKeon and Kiikko
Elders McKeon and Kiikko

The two young men sit at my kitchen table. They are both dressed nicely in dark suits, their suit jackets hanging off the back of their seats. With crisp white shirts and ties, their name badges give off the impression they aren’t your average men. They are young, younger than one might think when considering why they are here. But despite their youthful appearance, they look professional. The way they smile so openly, leaning casually with their elbows on the tabletop exudes an air of familiarity, as if to say, ‘we’ve done this before.’ This is likely not the first time they’ve sat in someone’s kitchen to explain who they are, what they do, and why.

‘We’re missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,’ says Elder Ben McKeon, 20, the younger of the two. This rolls off his tongue so confidently. It’s clearly something to be proud of. ‘We invite people to come to Christ.’ The other, Elder Aleksi Kiikko, 22, nods his head, agreeing with him as he focuses on what his companion, the missionary equivalent for a coworker, is saying before adding, ‘We very basically work for Jesus Christ. We represent him for two years and we focus solely on that.’

From the way they look, it is clear they take this role seriously. Their hair is conservatively styled, short with no unnatural colouring. ‘No crazy hairstyles or military hairstyles,’ says Kiikko as he mournfully runs his hand through his moderately short hair. Even their ties are somber. ‘It’s just to hold yourself to a high standard I guess,’ says McKeon. ‘It’s a bit drastic being in a suit, especially how times are now. I feel like we would be more approachable if we were in jeans, but once people do talk to us they see that we are normal.’

While they may be normal guys, their current lifestyle is anything other than normal. Their clothing is only one part of the intensely strict lifestyle these two must adhere to for the next two years. ‘We wake up at 6:30, exercise, eat breakfast at 7:30ish…’ Kiikko begins explaining before McKeon cuts in. ‘Personal study at 8. Then at 9 you do companionship study and during that you talk with each other about what you learned, what you went over, and hopefully you learned something new.’

Then Kiikko jumps back in. ‘We also usually confirm the plans we’ve made for the day, maybe call some people, ask them if we can see them or confirm tea appointments. Then, for missionaries like myself who come from a non-English speaking country, there’s also one hour of language study. Then we usually have lunch at around 12 o’clock, 11 o’clock.’

McKeon once again takes the lead in an almost unconscious motion. They have worked together long enough to be able to fluidly alternate between each other in a discussion. isn’t a mandatory set time. Some days we skip it to go out and work,’ he adds. Skip lunch? They really are devoted to their work. Then he continues. ‘When you’re out, get some food, but once you leave the flat it’s straight to work. You go out, talk to as many people as you can, meet with those people you have plans set for.

‘Realistically, during the day it’s just share the message as much as you can. You talk to people all the time. Most times, people know who you are, that doesn’t matter. Not only do you try and share the message, you offer them any volunteer work, community service, just try and change people’s opinion about the church and try and help people in the process.’

That seems to be their biggest message: they are here to help people. If they can’t help on a spiritual level, they are more than content to help on physical level. ‘We do a lot of service,’ says Kiikko. ‘We always offer to help someone with their gardening or if they have some work to do in the house like painting or decorating or whatever really. We always offer our help.’

What have been the best moments?

‘The best moments are when you finally see it click for someone,’ says McKeon. ‘When you’re teaching them and all of the sudden you start to see the gears going in their head and they’re starting to understand and then two months down the road you see they’re a member of the church and their life’s completely changed. There’s a lady from my first area who I brag about to every other missionary.’

As McKeon begins to recount this story, he sits up a little taller, his smile shines a bit brighter. This is clearly an important experience for him. ‘We met her street contacting and she didn’t really know if God was, didn’t really have a belief in Him. I was having a really rough day, probably one of the worst days of my mission because I just wasn’t handling the rejection well. My trainer was talking to her, her name is Helen, and we were having a good chat, and then you know we just invited her to be baptized on the street, which was pretty common in the first days of my mission. She said yeah. So we got her address. In my head I was like, “we’re never going to see her again. There’s no way. She’s going to flog on us next week.” So we go. Long story short, we teach her everything. She had so many spiritual experiences, so many powerful experiences where she went from this lady who said, “I don’t really know if there’s something there, but there could be,” to a lady who full on knows there’s a God through these experiences she’s had. She knows the church is true. She wrote me a letter saying the three best days of her life were, the third when she met me and my companion, two when she got baptized, and number one is when she got confirmed a member. So just the power that you have to change people’s lives, I mean there’s only two years we really have that power to change someone’s life. She wrote she didn’t think she had a purpose, and then she told us before I left, “I finally feel that I have a purpose and I know what it is.”’

The room was silent as the power of his story sunk in. It was mesmerizing to hear them talk about the experiences they’ve had.

‘I think for me it’s making people happy,’ says Kiikko, breaking the silence. ‘If it’s a joke I tell my companion or a member and it makes them laugh, I enjoy that. If it’s an old lady who I can help by carrying her bags and that makes her really happy, those are for myself the highlights of my mission that I will remember. Of course experiences where you bring someone from a point of no belief in Christ or no belief in God to a point where they have a testimony now and can see how the gospel of Jesus Christ can help their life and how it makes them happy. Those are the best moments of course, but for myself I really enjoy when I can make someone happy.’

Of course, they face many challenges as well. One of the biggest challenges these missionaries find are the rules. ‘There’s a lot of them,’ says McKeon. ‘Everyone we talk to that knows about the rules thinks it’s crazy, it’s ridiculous, but most of them are just common sense. They’re rules that we already live back home, but are just more detailed, more specific. There just there probably because past missionaries have done something stupid.’ Some of these more detailed rules specify exactly what kinds of films they can and cannot see and where they can see them, what types of music they listen to, what books they can read, no dating and limited interaction with members of the opposite sex, to only name a few. Naturally, some of these are harder than others to follow. ‘I’ve missed good music a lot,’ says Kiikko. McKeon agrees with him about the music and adds, ‘I’d say waking up at 6:30.’

As outrageous as some of those rules sound, the two men look indifferent as they discuss how these rules have affected their lives in the 1+ year they’ve been on the mission. It is almost disconcerting to see how they respond to only being able to speak with their families twice a year. ‘It hasn’t been hard for me,’ says Kiikko, smiling embarrassedly. ‘I know that might sound terrible. Even though I miss them. I’d like to have them here with me everyday, but two times a year is not a big deal.’ McKeon laughs at his companion’s embarrassment despite agreeing with him. ‘I lived away from home for a year so it’s not that hard. I miss them a lot, but writing them once a week I think is actually good.’ Every week they have one half day off, aptly called preparation day, where they are allowed to e-mail family and friends. ‘It’s good to update them once a week. Skyping twice a year is good because if you saw them too much you’d want to go back.’ Despite their claims that being away from their families isn’t difficult, they both whole-heartedly admit that ‘not seeing your family’ is the biggest challenge they have experienced so far.

The two men, who speak with such confidence about their troubles and triumphs, don’t seem particularly normal or even relatable.   It isn’t until they recount how they weren’t always the clean-cut gentlemen they are now that their normality shines through. ‘In Utah, you could consider me completely inactive,’ says McKeon, who is originally from California. ‘I wasn’t going to church because I didn’t feel comfortable around a lot of the members who were these returned missionaries. I was just kind of not really bothered.’ This seems surprising considering he is now serving for his church. ‘I was really into sports, normal things, shopping, hanging out with my friends, getting really close with girls. I saw church as just another thing every Sunday. Nothing too special. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I didn’t know it was that important. I just did it every week to make my parents happy.’

He wasn’t the only one either.

‘Church really wasn’t for me before my mission,’ says Kiikko. ‘Military took a year of my life and I did competitive swimming for nine years. Church was just three hours of a week where I went to meet friends from church, maybe learn a little bit about church stuff, but it wasn’t a part of my life. After those three hours I would switch back to normal Kiikko mode and sort of forget all about church. I never did anything contrary to the church commandments, like the law of chastity, but I never thought, “Look. You’re a Mormon. You’ve learned to live like this.” I just went with the flow.’

If church wasn’t a big deal, what changed?

A slight change comes over their faces as the reminisce on their past lives. ‘I decided that I wanted to serve a mission really,’ says Kiikko. ‘I decided I wanted to know if it’s something I want in my life. I wanted to find out a reason why I go to church, why I want to be a member of the church. I wanted to see if it really can benefit my life and if it really is true.’

McKeon nods and says, ‘It really didn’t even change when I started my papers; I was still considered inactive. It changed when I got out to the field. I started seeing why church is important, but now being a year out I’ve seen what church can do for you, what I’ve seen it do for any person.’

It isn’t very difficult to see how important they find their religion. They gave up everything to go to a foreign land to invite the people to come to Christ. ‘There’s a scripture where Jesus Christ says that whosoever shall lose their lives for my sake shall find it,’ says Kiikko. ‘That’s what’s been true for me in terms of missionary work. I’ve learned that serving other people has made me happier, it’s made me a more Christ-like person. I know that if we do service for other people and try to help them it’ll benefit us more than if we choose to be selfish and focus on ourselves, because I know that God will bless us if we do this small bit of service to our friends and fellow man.’

McKeon finishes off our meeting with a final thought. ‘I know that missionary work is so important. A mission is setting aside everything you know, everything you’re comfortable with, everything that’s easy. It’s setting it all behind and going at something you’re probably not the most comfortable with, something that’s difficult, something that’s hard, something that is going to change your life, but it’s something that’s worth it. A mission in one word is rewarding.’ The two young men nod knowingly. Their words have displayed an immense maturity not normally seen in ones so young. They may believe that they are normal, but the truth is, they are extraordinary.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.