Saturday, April 14, 2012

New York Times: "At Age 19, From Utah to Uganda"

Yesterday's New York Times featured a lengthy article describing the experiences of Mormon missionaries serving in Uganda. Many young missionaries are mentioned in the story, beginning with a 19 year old missionary from Salt Lake City, Jared Dangerfield.
LAST summer, Jared Dangerfield was simply 19, skateboarding the streets of suburban Salt Lake City, plugged into the Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu. He had just wrapped up his year at Utah State University, where there was a girl he liked to make laugh. 
Memories of college and family are kept in a photo album his sister gave him when they said goodbye, but it is rarely looked at. 
“Little time to remember home,” he says. “We kind of have to stay away from the world.” Gone are his friends. Gone is his given name. The next time he will see his mother’s face is 2013. Until then, he is Elder Dangerfield, as it says on his name tag.
That is the common experience shared by all young men and women who choose to serve missions for the Church, whether in Uganda, Oklahoma, or elsewhere. They give up two years of their lives (one and a half years for the women) and travel to destinations not of their choosing to serve a religious mission at their own expense, while most of their contemporaries are working, going to college, and pursuing other life goals.
It is certainly a time of sacrifice. Missionaries are slingshot into an intensive, airtight and sometimes lonely schedule of prayer, Scripture study and door-to-door proselytizing six days a week, 52 weeks a year. They are to abstain from virtually every earthly pleasure — not just the usual temptations prohibited under Mormonism, like premarital sex, alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea, but also magazines, television and music not sanctioned by the church. They can call home two days a year, on Christmas and Mother’s Day. (When suicide bombings ripped through Kampala during the 2010 World Cup, killing more than 70 people, including an American citizen, the missionaries still were not allowed a call.) E-mailing, through a secure Internet server, is for Mondays.
While the article focuses on the missionaries, it also describes the interaction they have with native Ugandans, including a recent convert to the Church, 29 year old Joseph Kagodo.
For new converts like Mr. Kagodo, the values of the young proselytes are as compelling as any set of religious beliefs. Indeed, Mr. Kagodo says the details of Mormon doctrine were confusing for him at first — do they believe only in the Book of Mormon, or in the Bible as well? (They are meant to complement each other.) But in a land where many aggressively preach the word of God and worship tends toward the enthusiastic, he appreciated that the Mormons lived as they taught — quietly, humbly. 
“I found what I wanted,” Mr. Kagodo says. “It is the way of life. I’ve met many other Christians who would be very comfortable just saying they are born-again or what, but their character does not depict it.” 
“For me,” he adds, “the fact that nobody pushes you, but asks you, and read the Scriptures, and just keep the gospel, that matters a lot.”
Thanks to The Times and reporter Josh Kron for providing a good snapshot on the life of these missionaries in Uganda.

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