My uncle is a "famous" painter for the Mormon church. There isn't a church, or member's house, I go in that doesn't have a painting of his on the wall. Remember that; it will come up in the story.
If there is one phrase that gets my blood boiling more than any other in this entire world, religiously speaking, it would be any story that starts with the words, "On my mission". There is a sort of unwritten rule in 'the faith' that you don't talk about mission stories whilst in church classes. If it were the golden rule, it would sound like this: Do not tell mission stories unto those that are able to tell mission stories back to you. That is because everybody hates them. They are the lamest, most unimportant, non-personal stories that exist. The problem is, not everybody adheres to the code. And, when one story comes out, it becomes a virus in the room that recreates itself over and over and over again. Pretty soon, as is always the case, the war breaks out to determine who will have the most faith-promoting and life-changing, and yet juxtaposed with excitement, mission story that ever walked this green earth. Well, I am here to tell you that none of them has won....until now. That's right, I have the conch. It is time to tell my mission story. My blog, my story. Suck it.
I did not want to go. Period. Not because of a girl. Not because I would miss my mommy. I didn't party. I worked and went to school. I just did not want to go. I did not believe in the religion. I did not have faith in the religion. I honestly did not believe it. Of course to my parents and family, this came off as me being lazy and confused, not putting forth a real effort to know the truth, and having some sin in my past that I had not taken care of. But it wasn't the case. So, just before I turned 20, I went. I was being sent to Brazil. And, incidentally, the only mission in the world that sounded like it had the word "penis" in it. That turned out to be a lot of fun for me, because I got to watch my mom squirm every time she had to say the name to someone. She would blush and then try to throw a sexy Brazilian accented twist to the name to hide the penis. In fact, that is what I named this enjoying game. "Hide the penis", starring my mother. My dad literally had a Brazilian accent because he served his mission there, a little over 2 centuries ago. Now, his first, genetically his, son was going to follow in his footsteps. This was a big deal for him, because passing on history, and I cannot emphasize this enough, is huge. After all, this is what he concentrated his life's work in. His doctorate degree focused on years of research on the early missionaries of the LDS church. I know because of all the slave labor I put in to doing the research.
So, if I didn't want to go, why did I? Several reasons, I guess, but I think it boils down to doing what I thought I was supposed to do. Nothing amazing was going on in my life, all my friends in Utah had pretty much already left and there was an expectation for me to go. Unfortunately for me, I was not able to make a stand. Even though I didn't believe, I think I thought that it was a good thing to go and would perhaps help me 'grow' into believing. I truly believed that it was like a maturation thing. I thought, my friends had matured in their religious beliefs before me, because that is what they focused on more than I. I think growing up in the family that I did, it seemed like this was an inevitable thing to occur. Everybody has a testimony story and a 'first time believing' story. For my dad, he says he was pre-teen and has had no doubts since then. In the back of my head, I thought that even though I didn't believe, the mission would bring out that process.
I went in to the MTC with that assumption; that I would walk in and grab me a testimony and realize that I did believe in God and the Mormon religion. The problem was, I felt like I was the only one there with that idea. Everybody I met there brought their belief with them, like you were supposed to. The MTC is not the place to go to pick one up. It was like doing my residency program before medical school, and thinking I could just pick it up as I went. But I tried, for a while. The problem was, I was in the MTC for an extended amount of time due to visa issues with Brazil.
The MTC was intense. Spirituality 24/7. A dream come true for some. For me, I felt like I was taking a very long final exam that I had no knowledge of and everyone else had studied their eyes out. I was scrambling for answers. I soon began to panic, because the end of the test time was coming and I was nowhere near completion. It soon turned in to a very stressful and not-so-pleasant opportunity. It seemed no matter how hard I tried, I got nowhere. I put in a lot of effort, but got nothing back. No answers, no changes, just status quo. By the time we left for Brazil, I was exhausted. I was trying so hard to gain a testimony and to have my moment. I even talked about it with the mission president in the MTC. First thing he suggested to me was to confess the sins that were holding me back. When I told him there were none, he brushed it off as the jitters of going to another country. He said he knew I was doing the right thing, that God was watching over me, and that I did have a testimony; I just hadn't realized it yet.
I saw my parents at the airport, to say farewell before flying to Brazil. I'm sure my dad sensed my lack of enthusiasm because, just before boarding the plane, he pulled me to the side. He squeezed my arm and whispered in my ear, "I don't care what you do for the next two years in Brazil. Just DON'T come home".
Brazil was crazy. After a day or so there, I was dropped off at a bus station, by some other missionaries, handed an envelope with some money in it and an address, and was told to hand the address to the bus driver and then a cab driver when the bus driver signaled for me to get off. They didn't tell me where I was going, other than the address on the paper. I didn't know if this was a 30 minute bus ride or an hour. Turned out that it was about 8. I got on the bus, handed the bus driver the ticket and address, he said something back to me that could have been Chinese for all I knew, realized I didn't understand a word he was saying, laughed at me, mumbled "gringo" and motioned for me to sit in a chair. So I did. A few moments later, this girl got on the bus that was about my age. She fixed her eyes on me and sat in the chair next to me and started talking. Again, I had no idea what she was saying, and I tried to tell her that. She laughed at me, rubbed the top of my head, got up and moved to another seat. I thought she was hitting on me. Turns out, I figured out later, the bus was assigned seating and I was probably in her seat and she was telling me to get the crap out of it. She must have given up and thought it was funny how dumb and lost I was; hence the head rub. So there I sat, 8pm, 9pm....again, I had no idea where I was or where I was going or how long it would take. It was dark and we were flying down these roads in the middle of the jungle, with tree branches smacking the sides of the bus. I remember the bus driver passing another bus on this 2 lane road with the jungle up to the edge of the road, going at least 55mph. 10pm, 11pm, midnight...We made a few stops at small town junctions and people would get off and on. Every hour or so, I would make my way up to the driver, and hold out my paper with the address. He would nod, to say that he remembers me, and chuckle. 1am, 2am....I'm getting very nervous now, but also very hungry and tired. I try to stay awake, but eventually fall asleep. I am awoken by the bus driver, motioning that we were at my stop. I am the only one that gets off, and he drives away. I am at a bus terminal, which is basically a few cement pillars with a roof, restrooms, benches and of course a television with soccer highlights playing. Other than the occasional GOOOAAALLLL from the announcer on the t.v., I am completely alone. Outside of the terminal, there is a parking lot, empty of cars and thick forest beyond that in all directions. There is one road leading in, and there I sit. Middle of the night. Brazil, I think. No cell phone and no idea what to do next. So I sit, for about an hour, waiting to die. Finally, I see a car driving up the road, and it is a taxi. I wave him down, hand him the address, he tries to talk to me, chuckles and says "gringo". We exchange nods and shrugs and he motions for me to get in. He drives me through the outskirts of an old city, mostly pitch black and stops at a car repair shop. He motions for me to get out, grabs my luggage and puts it on the sidewalk. he motions for payment, so I hand him the envelope of money that I had. He rummaged through it, took some, pushed a button by the door of the building and drove away. It is now about 5 in the morning, still dark and once again alone. I pushed the same button a few more times over the next 15 minutes or so, and eventually this little 3-foot dude opened the door, got excited, grabbed my stuff and in I went.
Spiritually, once I arrived in Brazil, I really struggled. Everything became instantly real to me, and it overwhelmed me. I was no longer just 'in school' and going through the motions of an institution. I was really telling other human beings that I believed in this message and I knew that they should as well; and that it would make their lives better. I was going in to their homes, or shacks, and telling them that I believed this stuff. The problem was, I didn't believe it. I wasn't even close to believing it; and every time I said that I did, it got harder to actually say it. Finally, one day, while we were in a house, doing our thing, my companion motioned for me to give my testimony of belief; which is part of the lesson plan. I couldn't do it, and I excused myself from doing so. Awkward. A few days later, we got on a bus and drove all the way back to the mission headquarters to spend a week for the Christmas holiday. We stayed at a nearby church with several other missionaries. My companion had spoken to the mission president about his concerns regarding my beliefs, and I got called in to a meeting with him. I told him I didn't believe and was struggling with being there. He shrugged it off and I went back to the holiday festivities. A few days later, I was summoned by the president, and we, along with 2 other missionaries, drove the 3 hours to the temple in Sao Paulo. He took me through a temple session, and then to another building where he told me, in his broken english, he wanted me to meet with someone. It turned out I was having a meeting with the regional General Authority for Brazil. Just me and a General Authority. No big deal, right? Wrong. I sit outside of his office for several minutes while the two of them met; probably conjuring up the plan to convince me of changing my ways. The mission president and the G.A. came out of the office. He motioned for me to go in and have a seat, and he would be back in a moment. As I walked in the office, the first thing I notice, on the wall next to his desk, is a very large painting that my uncle had made. Oh crap, I thought; this is not going to go well. My plan was to try to get through this without any mention of my family. The G.A. came in, sat in his chair, stared at me for a few seconds, and then said "You have got to be related to Rex Price: Just look at you". I acknowledged that he was indeed my grandpa. He then said, pointing to the painting, "Do you know who painted this?" I reluctantly told him that I did. He then told me that my uncle, the artist, was one of his best friends growing up. He said there was a time in his life when he was troubled and drifting from the things that were right; and that my grandpa took him under his gigantic wing (6'6", 350+ lbs), and changed his life for the better. He told me, "I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for your uncle and grandpa". He told me the painting on the wall was the original that my uncle made specifically for him.
The two of us had some small talk for awhile, then the fun started. I eventually told him that I didn't believe what I was telling other people to believe; and that I felt like I was lying to them. I told him I didn't want to feel like I was a liar. He told me that he knew I DID believe the church teachings, and that I wasn't lying. He told me I was feeling that way because I was homesick. He said that my geneology wouldn't allow for me to not feel the spirit; that I came from a long line of great Priesthood holders. It was now my responsibility to continue the great line. I remember feeling a sort of panic; a feeling that things were going to get worse for me if I didn't do anything about it. I knew this man was not going to listen to me, so I became determined to get my point across. The only problem was, when I get in that frame of mind, I usually end up just pissing people off. I have a gift for being able to get under people's skin by arguing in a way that makes their heads spin. People of power hate it the most. I think it is because they feel they are not being respected. They are used to people just agreeing with them. Not today, sir, not today.
I told him I was definitely not homesick, and the last thing I wanted to do was go home to a disappointed family. I asked him to not tell my parents, and send me back to Wisconsin, where I grew up, and I would figure things out from there. He chuckled and said no. He said that I was denying the fact that I was homesick: He had seen it a bunch of times and knew that was my problem. I was needed in Brazil, and he had no intention on sending me back to America. He promised that if I would work hard for the next six months, that everything would work out and the Lord would bless me for it. If I went home, I would miss out on many blessings to come and it will effect my life forever. I reiterated that I was indeed not homesick. I told him that I didn't feel the spirit, and truly did not have a testimony of the church. I told him that I could no longer look people in the eye and testify to them that any of the church doctrine was true. He told me that Satan was putting those feelings in me to confuse me and hold me back from sharing the true gospel to others. Wittingly, or so I thought, I asked him that if Satan was in me, should I really be teaching people about things? Because how would I, or the people I was teaching, know if I was teaching the words of Christ or of the devil? His demeanor changed. He went from the laid-back, feet up on the desk guy that was giving advice on something he dealt with every day; to the intimidating, angry guy leaning over his desk, flush faced with a stiff finger pointing at my head. He definitely did not like my smart comment. He raised his voice a few octaves, telling me to stop being a jack ass (my words, not his) and get back out there and do my job. Again, I told him that I didn't think that was the right thing for me to be doing. He got even louder and more angry, stood up, told me to get out of his office and to grow up and be a man. As I was walking out, my mission president was hustling in, due to the commotion. The G.A. told him to send me back out on the mission and he doesn't ever want to see me in his office again.
So that went well. We drove back to the mission home in an awkward, 3 hours of silence. My mind was racing. The strange thrill of bringing a G.A. to his boiling point, the shame I was undoubtedly placing on my relatives, and the hopelessness of my situation, were turning in to a dark, cloudy force of panic. For the first time in my life, I felt I was in a situation in which I had absolutely no control. I couldn't just run away, because they had my passport and I did not know the language well enough. I didn't even know how to notify the police; and from everything I had heard about the police there, you didn't want to notify them of anything. I wasn't allowed to use the phone to call for help. Growing up, I was always in the middle of trouble. But, as my dad would say, I would "always come out of it smelling like a rose". Not this time. I couldn't get myself out this. As the car slowly made it's way out of the concrete jungle and in to the green one, the despair became intense. I truly felt hopeless. I felt like my name didn't even matter anymore; that my existence was irrelevant.
The president kept me at the mission home for a few days so he could keep an eye on me and so that he could have daily, personal lecture time with me. That was delightful. I would wake up in the morning, run errands with the office missionaries, do some chores, get lectured, eat meals and go to sleep on the couch in the hall while watching the cockroaches play. The only joy I felt was taking rubbing alcohol and pouring it in a circle around a cockroach, and lighting it on fire. That only lasted for a few seconds until either the cockroach ran through the fire and disappeared, or the alcohol burned off. Whoopee.
I believe it was day 5 of my imprisonment at the office, when 'it' happened. I was given a little freedom to go eat lunch at the deli across the street. You know, for good behavior. As I sat there, eating my rice and beans, a thought came in my head. I quickly dismissed it and moved on. A few hours later, it popped back up again. This time, I spent a little more time on it. That night, as I lay on the couch, the thought came back. I stayed up all night considering it. In the morning, I met with the president. I told him that I had been lying this entire time, and that I couldn't take it anymore. I told him I had sex with someone when I first arrived on my mission. A smile came across his face, and this is what he said: "I knew it."
The next morning, as the president was dropping me off at the bus station, to take me to the airport to go home, he said, "It is good that you told me. I know that God is proud of you, I can feel it". This was coming from the same guy that was dropping me off at a bus station, by myself, with all my crap, instead of driving 2 hours to take me to the airport. He told me that my ticket was waiting for me at the airport, handed me my visa/passport, and drove off. Douche bag. Sorry, I meant president douche bag.
I spent the next 24 or so hours arguing with customs and hopping plains to eventually return to the outstretched arms of two very dejected parents. That night, or the next night, I went to visit with my stake president to officially be released from my mission. I really liked my stake president. I told him everything. I told him the truth about what I was feeling and the truth about lying to get home. When I was finished with the story, he smiled and said that he felt like I did nothing wrong. He wouldn't even take the money I offered to pay for the plane ticket home. As far as he was concerned, he felt I was still worthy to serve a mission. He said, "Well let's get you back out there!". He told me he could have me on a plane the next day if I wanted to go back. I told him I didn't want that. So, he left it as an open invitation, for when I was ready to return. I was then released from my missionary duties.