March 2, 2013

11 Things I Remember About Being A Mormon Missionary

I.

I probably hadn’t even been in the country for a month yet. My companion and I were walking along a dirt road pretty far out in the country. We came around a bend and saw a guy on a motorcycle crash into a horse that had wandered into the road. The impact shattered the horse’s leg and broke the cheap motorcycle into hundreds of plastic pieces.

The animal lay in the ditch on the side of the road breathing heavily and bleeding. The man stood and held his unhelmeted head in his hands. He looked at the mess and started crying.

II.

In north Montevideo, I got off the bus and a young man, about my age, leaned out of the bus window and spat a huge glob of mucous on my shirt. I wanted to curse at him as the bus pulled away, but I kept quiet, afraid to create a bad reputation for the Church.

III.

An old woman invited us over for lunch and gave us a plate of soggy noodles with some kind of stringy meat sauce. Someone later told us that she had killed her neighbor’s cat and fed it to us.

IV.

For six weeks I had a Samoan Australian companion named Elder Davies Taupa’u. He weighed well over 300 pounds and maybe took four or five showers the whole time we lived together. He carried an Airsoft pistol and a large hunting knife in his backpack. I figured out pretty quick that the handle of the knife was hollow. Hidden inside was a secret stash of cigarettes.

It was after dark, and we were walking home when Taupa’u found a 100-peso banknote on the ground. He bent down to pick it up, and realized that there was a fishing line attached to it. The other end of the line was in the hand of a teenager who was hiding behind a nearby tree. For reasons I don’t quite understand, this made Taupa’u extremely angry. He took out his Airsoft pistol, which looked like a real gun. He cocked it in warning and slipped it back in his bag.

I smoked my first cigarette that night. I was 21 years old.

For the rest of the time that I was stationed in that town, people who we didn’t know would come up to us and say “I knew you Mormons were actually CIA agents.”

V.

I masturbated almost every day; I felt a sense of intense guilt every time.

VI.

About eight months into my mission, I stopped believing that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the one and only true religion. I told this to my mission president, and informed him that I was ready to go home. He asked me what my father would think of my decision if he were still alive. Then he asked if I really wanted to put my widow mother through another “trial” in her life. The guilt I felt was a big part of why I stayed in Uruguay for the next 16 months.

VII.

There was a young woman from Page, Arizona who was stationed in the same city that I was for a while. Sister P______. We shared a taxi one time, and I held her hand in the back seat. I made out with her on two separate occasions. Even being alone in the same room as a woman was against the mission rules. Once, another missionary saw me smack Sister P______ on the butt. He told my mission president, but I was able to talk my way out of it.

VIII.

There was a missionary from Paraguay who routinely drugged his companion. The Paraguayan didn’t want his companion to wake up when his secret girlfriend came over late at night. The Paraguayan and his girlfriend would have sex in the bed right next to where the other missionary was drugged and sleeping. The girlfriend was 45 years old. The Paraguayan was 20.

IX.

I had three separate, scary, paranormal experiences that involved ghosts and something that I can only explain as demonic possession. I had never really believed in the existence of Satan or demons. I didn’t know how to reconcile my experiences within the context of my personal beliefs.

X.

Sometimes, during the night, we could hear drumming and chanting off in the fields behind our house. As we walked through the streets during the day, we would find sacrificed chickens surrounded by circles of melted candles. Many women told us that they were witches.

XI.

My companion and I came home one evening to find all the lights on and the front door locked from the inside. We climbed over the back wall and found our back door smashed open. The thieves had stolen all of my companion’s jeans and shoes. They stole some of my clothes too, but I was saddest about losing my iPod and my “Elvis: Ultimate Gospel” CD.

I went next door to ask the neighbor if he had seen anyone break into our house. He answered the door with his handgun drawn.

The mission president wouldn’t let us buy a new back door until our next day off, which was almost a week away. He didn’t want us “wasting the Lord’s time.” We taped the door back together and propped a chair in front of it, hoping that the thieves wouldn’t come back.

Nobody burgled us again until we had already spent a lot of money on a new, metal door. They broke that one too.

We called the police. About 12 cops and three journalists showed up within 15 minutes or so. The radio reported that the thieves had stolen $20,000 worth of stuff. This was not true. Everybody in town heard the broadcast, and more people than ever let us in when we knocked. We were celebrities. TC Mark

Nathaniel Kennon Perkins

Nathaniel Kennon Perkins lives and works in Salt Lake City, Utah. His journalism, reviews and travel writing have …