My Mormon friends speak fondly of the time they spent on their youthful misson abroad. Around the age of 20 or so, Mormon men (and sometimes women) apply to become a missionary, and often they get sent abroad for a year or two. It’s as much a year (or two) abroad as much a mission. And for those who are leery of religious campaigns, I have to say the Mormons keep it low key: they’ll invite you to church, but if you’re not into it, they’re not going to argue.
As it happened, I ran into Mormon missionaries, not once, but twice, in Germany, in two different cities, and on the very days I happened to be the most homesick and tired. It was rather refreshing to see my fellow countrymen, and the most wholesome of them at that.
I was pooped from walking the Philosophenweg and the castle, and was stumbling down the Hauptstrasse in the Altstadt in Heidelberg called out to me: “Entshuldigung!” (Excuse me!) I looked up, and what did I see but two distinct LDS missionaries:
I spoke to them in English (After all, I’d recently been dissed by the Heidelberg tourist bureau for my mistake in contemporary German), was happy to see fellow Americans, and then tumbled off to catch my movie.
The next day I was in Cologne, where the people speak beer, and if you make a mistake in German, they just think it’s yet another joke. So I’d gotten over my nervousness about speaking German, but I still missed my family. So who should I encounter on the way back to my hotel but yet another set of missionaries:
This time, though both of the young men were from Utah, we had a conversation in German. We all spoke German like Americans, clearly, carefully and accurately, but I have to say we were all pretty good. The man on the left corrected me that I shouldn’t say “Mormon” but rather LDS (Kirche Jesu Christi) in German, so I did, though I pointed out that I don’t consider “Mormon” to be an insult. He offered to send me a book of Mormon, but I told him I already knew people who could hook me up if I was interested.
And yes, the sign behind them says “Have you had your pork today?” because we were in front of the fast food pork shop almost underneath my hotel room. If I’d’ve been thinking, I could have asked them to take a picture of me on the coin-operated piggy ride.
After that day in Cologne, the missionaries disappeared, almost as if some power above knew I didn’t need familiar reassurance any more.