So I was recently listening to John Dehlin’s very first podcast in which he brags about all the kids he baptized on his mission in Guatemala. Er…I mean in which he tells of other missionaries who baptized large groups of kids after having played soccer with them and then “cooled off” in the water. I probably wouldn’t believe this except that I was there 8-10 years later to witness the aftermath.
These stories circulated among missionaries and members alike. Elders taking kids down to the river to go swimming. Elders giving “service” (like helping someone build their house) in exchange for getting baptized. Missionaries taking names off of gravestones (to which I ask what’s the point? Why not just make up names if you’re not dealing with real, live people?). And of course you can’t hear legends like this without having a poster-boy who epitomized the spirit of the epoch, my mission’s being Elder Terry. It was said that he went inactive in Patzún (due to playing on the town’s soccer team on Sundays), had a profitable business in selling music CD’s (which he acquired two missions over in Mexico) to other missionaries, once went all the way to Mexico City, had a baby in Sipacate and BAPTIZED LIKE CRAZY! Every member I spoke with that knew him loved him.
This was rather vexing to us elders who were doing our best to teach discussions, go to church and not have sex.
Right after I got to Guatemala (Fall of ’96) our mission initiated what eventually became the cleaning up of the membership records in all of Central America. That meant every ward got a stack of records of each “member” of that ward. It was our job to go around, find all these people, correct any mistakes and invite them back to church. Of course this was more difficult that it appears, us being in Guatemala and all. When the listed address is “red house on the corner” or “San Luis neighborhood” then the difficulty of finding that person increases. This problem was compounded by the fact that when we actually found someone we’d often have a conversation that went something along these lines:
Elder Cleepstone: …so it says here that you were baptized into our church and we’d like to update…
José: No, no you must be mistaken. I was never baptized in your church. What church are you from?
Elder Eagleston: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Actually, it says here you were baptized on April 10th, 1989 in Escuintla. You would have been…hmmm, let’s see…nine years old then.
José: No, that never happened.
Elder Cleepstone: Don’t you remember a couple gringos with white shirts, ties and black tags?
José: Sure, I remember some gringos going swimming with us but I never got baptized.
Elder Eagleston: Um…so Rusty, what’s for lunch?
After listening to John’s experience and since my mission I’ve often wondered where all these jackass missionaries are now. Did they all go inactive? Have they all been excommunicated? Are they the DAMU? (or BCC for that matter?)
The devil in me hungers for vindication. My smug side wants to hear their stories of apostasy so that I can continue knowing what happens to sinners. My prideful side wants to hear that all their baptisms went inactive so that I don’t feel so bad about so many of mine going inactive. My Spirit-less side wants to hear that they are all the top pest-control salesmen so that I can write them off and just say that they were good salesmen, nothing more.
The side of me that wants to hear that they have remained faithful in the Church and lead fulfilling lives is growing, but only at around 3% a year.