Far from home: Mormon missionaries on a sacred call

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 10, 2003

You’ve probably seen them in your neighborhood, two clean-cut, neatly dressed young men, each carrying a leather-bound volume in his hand. If you open the door when they ring the bell, you will notice that a badge is pinned to their left shirt-front pockets, with their names and title printed at the top. Beneath is lettered &uot;Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.&uot;

Some of you invite them to enter and you listen to the message they bring. Some of you refuse to hear it, occasionally slamming a door in their faces, or shouting profanity at them. No matter, say Elder Adamson and Elder Zehnter, although they admit to feelings of rejection when such negative response is given.

Their mission is voluntary, with the goal to proselyte people to their church. They seek those who want a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, and in addition, they commit four hours a week to some form of community service. Elders Adamson and Zehnter give their hours to the Old Depot Museum two mornings weekly. Museum board members consider them &uot;a true blessing.&uot;

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Selma is not the first stop on their two-year mission; they have served in Northport and West Point, Miss. They’ve helped the Kiwanis Club make hotdogs in Tuscaloosa, &uot;which means I got to watch the University football games,&uot; said Adamson. They have also helped in Salvation Army projects and in nursing homes. At the Old Depot, they do anything asked of them &uot;cheerfully, willingly and well,&uot; says the staff.

The two were not acquainted before beginning their missions. Gerald Kaye Adamson (first names are not used during their two years in the field but were allowed for this article), was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho, on June 30, 1982, and is one of five brothers. He attended Idaho State for a period, admits &uot;I was not always active in the church but I met a girl who helped me back to it.&uot;

Kelly Ryan Zehnter was born June 14, 1982, in Panorama City, Calif., grew up in Frazier, Calif., and after home schooling attended the College of the Canyons. He has two older sisters and two brothers, one his twin who is also on mission in Albuquerque. Volunteering for his two-year mission &uot;has always been part of my life. I always looked forward to it.&uot;

Although not at the same time, both attended Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, a three-week school, where there are usually from 2,500 to 3,000 people from throughout the world in training. There volunteer students are taught to &uot;feel the Spirit and how to teach it. Very few fail to finish,&uot; Adamson and Zehnter


However, few other than those of the Mormon religion realize that each volunteer must raise his or her own funds to finance their two-year mission. The cost is $375 a month for 24 months, approximately $10,000. Families and friends help and the prospective Elders work. &uot;If that falls through, the church comes in,&uot; they said.

Zehnter’s parents agreed shortly after their marriage to pay for mission for any of their children who desired it. His mother is a postal carrier. His father, who retired after 27 years in the Los Angeles Police Department, and his eldest brother have served, his twin brother Kyle is serving now, and he says &uot;if I hadn’t made it I probably would have joined the marines.&uot;

His future plans include &uot;building a kayak, taking it down the Colorado, and doing some cliff-jumping, my hobby since I was 14.&uot; College is also in his future, probably Brigham Young University.

Adamson’s family helps with his support, although his mother, who is an LPN, is in college preparing to be a psychiatrist and his father is a truck driver. He is a member of the Army National Guard, at present on a two-year leave. After his mission is completed he plans to enter college, study electrical engineering and join the ROTC, &uot;so I can go into the Army with a commission.&uot;

To an outsider, the two-year missions of these volunteers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints resemble closely a period of service in the Armed Forces. Their average stay in each station is three to five months. They are housed in a fully-furnished apartment kept especially by the church for this purpose. They are furnished an automobile, but the bicycles they ride in good weather are their own.

Every Wednesday is their Preparation Day, one of the strickly-laid down rules to follow. Laughing that &uot;it is the big excitement of our week,&uot; the two young men explain that is the day to do laundry, grocery shop, maybe get to play tennis, basketball or other recreational sports and find a chance to relax.

Other days they must study for two hours, leave their apartment by 9:35 a.m. and return no later than 9:35 p.m.

They watch no television, see no movies, are allowed no swimming and absolutely no dating.

They may listen to classical music only and opera written before 1900, and, of course, the concerts of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Telephone calls to their mothers are allowed only at Christmas and on Mother’s Day, although they can keep contact by E-Mail and by letters.

There are compensations, the two say. &uot;We goof around a lot, tease each other, look for times to relax. Often we are invited to meals in the homes of members of our local church.&uot;

In both Adamson and Zehnter, local friends may remark times when their youth shines through and for a moment, they are just average young men preparing for their future in the real world. Such a moment occurred recently when they were asked &uot;What is the very first thing you plan to do after the end of Mission when you released in the church.&uot;

With their permission, their replies are published.

Elder Adamson:

&uot;First spend time with my family. Then go on a date with a girl to the movies. My brother Hyrun will get me a date.&uot;

Elder Zehnter: &uot;First see my family, then find a girl and go on a date. Maybe my older sister will introduce me to a girl.&uot;

What kind of girl would they like to meet after two years of no social contact with females?

Their responses were identical: &uot;Smart, intelligent, good looking and keen about sports.&uot;

However, for those fortunate enough to know them, the light shining brightest is that of their love and respect for the teachings of their Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.