My doorbell never rings. I suppose it’s possible that it rings quite frequently, it’s just that I’m not home very often to hear it. That’s why when I heard a strange, thuddish ping a couple Saturday nights ago I wasn’t sure what it was, much less how to respond.
Realizing it must be someone at the door trying to get my, or anyone’s, attention, I debated ignoring the ping and pretending that I wasn’t home. But I was home and whoever was at the door might notice through the door’s window that the TV was on and thus surmise the truth. I was also somewhat curious as to who might be ringing for my attention.
With one glance out the window I knew it wasn’t a relative or friend just passing through town and dropping in to say Hi, or a neighbor hoping to borrow a couple eggs, or a stranger down on his luck looking for some cash. Standing, hopefully, if not cheerfully, at my door were two Mormon missionaries. They were much more cheerful when I opened the door and, not just that, actually stepped out to talk with them. I got the sense that doesn’t happen all that often.
They offered their names with the missionary title of “Elder,” despite being in their 20s, and proceeded to tell me they were going door to door to share information on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and to introduce people, such as myself, to the Book of Mormon. Had I heard of it? they asked. “That’s wonderful,” one of them replied when I said that I had not only heard of it, but that I had a copy in my office library.
It was at this point that I identified myself as a Catholic priest, which seemed to put them at ease. They no doubt realized there wasn’t a conversion in the offing, but early indications were strong that it wasn’t going to be a hostile encounter either.
The guys talked a little bit about their church’s significant contribution to genealogy, of discovering where we’ve come from and how that influences who we are. They asked about my ethnic origins and one of them said that his great-great-grandparents had come to the United States from Germany too, and eventually became a Mormon and so, the missionary said, had initiated the path that was now bringing him to my door.
One was from Iowa and the other from Idaho. One was in the second year of his two-year stint; the other had just finished mission orientation and was still getting his feet wet. They explained that they would be in Stevens Point for three months and that their mission of going door-to-door making cold calls was an every-day proposition so the next day, Sunday, would not be a day off. Their only free time was dedicated to grocery shopping, doing laundry, reading, praying and keeping in touch with family and friends.
I didn’t ask about how difficult it must be to do what they do or how they deal with the rejection of people not answering, or closing the door in their faces, or continuing to watch TV pretending not to be home, as I had almost done. I didn’t ask because the frustration seemed obvious and not worth raising in conversation. I did suggest that making calls after dinnertime on a Saturday night of a holiday weekend was possibly not prime time for their cause, but then I wondered what days or times might be better.
As I began to wrap up our conversation I told them I had a confession to make regarding some of their predecessors who I had once encountered. I was living and working in Eau Claire at the time, between college and seminary, and it was a late Saturday morning when my doorbell rang. At the door were two young men in the classic black pants, white shirt and black tie. Before they could even introduce themselves I interrupted. I couldn’t talk, I said, I was late for an appointment and needed to go. They thanked me for my time and went on their way.
I was really going to Wendy’s to read the paper and that’s where I was sitting with a burger and Frosty when the missionaries walked in and caught me in my lie. They waved at my from across the room and I sheepishly waved back. The guys at my door now laughed at my deception and assured me that they’d experienced far worse. While our beliefs differ, I told them that I had a high regard for their resolve, their determination to witness, to persevere. They offered a prayer that we would all be willing to respond to God’s grace, and they headed down the street to make a few more calls before the sun set and their day was done. TL