A calling of devotion

Published 12:23 am Sunday, August 2, 2009

They’ve long been a familiar sight in Selma, two young men wearing white dress shirts and ties. Sometimes pedaling bicycles, sometimes walking and, depending on the day’s weather, sometimes riding in an automobile.

Always together, the two are a team in number, although the members change from time to time with the average length of stay in one place as short as six weeks or, occasionally, as long as six months.

They are friendly, usually smiling, and when asked, always eager to help in local projects. A brief conversation reveals they are on a Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Email newsletter signup

Joining the mission is by choice. “We choose to do this, making the decision as early as age 19, no older than 25,” explains Elder William Miller, 23, of Springville, Utah. The senior member of the present Selma team, he was born in Alaska when his father was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base.

His decision to participate in the mission, he says, was first made at age 12, but changed when he was older “because of a girl, temporarily. Then my family and an interview with a church leader influenced me positively. So, after I finished high school and worked a year or two setting tile and in a machine shop, I was ready.”

Elder Samuel Russell, 20, of Dallas, Texas, finished a year and a half in Collin County Community College in addition to working at “Toys ‘R’ Us” in Frisco, Texas, for Pintail Technologies. His decision to begin work with the mission was made after first being undecided. “About a month ahead I talked with my dad and to the Heavenly Father, then submitted the application form online and heard of my acceptance in about three weeks.”

Miller explains that after acceptance, it can take from 1 1/2 to three months before leaving for the assignment, depending on the assignment’s locale.

“It could be anywhere in the world: Russia, Japan, Africa, France, Switzerland — there are 53,000 of us throughout the world right now. No matter where you go, you’ll run into a couple of guys in white shirts.”

Once a candidate is notified of the pending assignment, it may or may not be accepted. If refused, the decision and reason must be put in writing. If accepted, the appointment is for a two-year period, with a visit home allowed only in extenuating circumstances. A telephone call home may be made only twice a year; however e-mail is available for use.

Those selected for the mission have to pay all expenses, “that’s the reason we have to work first and save,” Miller and Russell explain.

“That means car payment, auto expense, living expenses for rent and food. The amount needed is dependent on the cost of living at an assigned place.”

They attend church every week in Selma but are responsible to a mission president based in Hoover, who interviews them every six weeks. Suggestions are made for the mission and if improvement is needed, they are told.

Miller and Russell are assigned to the district running from Clanton to Camden to Magnolia, based in Selma. Their transportation method is dependent on the distance to their assignment: by auto if it is in one of the other towns, by bicycle or on foot in town.

Wherever they are, the purpose of their mission remains the same: “To teach people about the Restoration.”

Their workday begins at 6:30 a.m. when they are awakened by “an annoying alarm clock,” Miller laughs. “Then we shower, eat breakfast — usually cold cereal or eggs — then make beds and wash dishes.”

On Wednesdays, their so-called off day, they start the morning at 8 a.m., studying Scripture from the Book of Mormon. Afterwards, they do their laundry, their food shopping and cleaning of the house maintained for their use by the church.

Other mornings they are out the door by 10 a.m., carrying their pass-along cards, extra copies of the Book of Mormon and several of the King James Bible. These are given to those who want them. Mornings in Selma are spent contacting people, usually on the street, putting the cards in stands, and saying “Hi” to everybody.

Many locals are familiar with the two through their volunteer work in the community. After Hurricane Ike, Russell volunteered at the Birmingham-Jefferson County Convention Center where he distributed water, sang hymns to uplift victims and talked with them.

At Christmas they did neighborhood caroling. In Selma, they help at Holiday House, an Old Depot Museum annual project at which current mission elders volunteer each December. Miller and Russell recently gave hours to the Old Depot’s “Evening to Remember.” In Fayetteville, Tenn., elders help with the “Host of Christmas Past,” and in Decatur they help build and paint sets for Little Theatre presentations.

“Community service is a lot of fun,” the two agree.

In Selma, Miller especially enjoys “the love for history I’ve seen in the people who live here. That’s what I like about volunteering here.”

Russell agrees, adding, “I like how people treat each other here. It’s diverse and kind. It reminds me of home.”

When asked if there are negative sides to their mission work, they responded reluctantly, but with laughter.

Miller finds “the worst part riding our bikes in that hot June. And I miss a social life.”

Russell, too, finds “the worst part being no social life. Sometimes it’s personally lonely. But having no one to talk to is a growing experience.”

At home, the two left hobbies to which they plan to return. Miller enjoys snowmobiling, elk hunting, making knives and skiing with his dad and grandfather.

Russell enjoys mountain biking, turning bowls on a lathe in woodworking and making and collecting knives. And both admit it will be fun to meet young ladies again.

In the meantime, smile when you pass the two clean-cut young men in white shirts. They always respond with a smile and a friendly greeting.