Have Faith: Mormon missionaries

Knocking on doors and sharing the faith.

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Parker Rogers and Sam Gardner. —Stacey Rupolo

Every other week, Connie Berry reports on the news, events, and people at Martha’s Vineyard’s various places of worship.

Sam Gardner and Parker Rogers could knock on your door any day now, if they haven’t already. The two young men are Mormon missionaries serving on Martha’s Vineyard, and a big part of what they’re doing here is knocking on doors and sharing their faith with whoever invites them in. This is not work for the faint of heart.

I caught up with the two young men last Sunday afternoon, and asked them about their church and their faith, and what they’re doing on the Vineyard.

They don’t have a car at their disposal, so they really are walking door to door. They told me that most of the time they are welcomed with hospitality, though there has been little by way of conversion.

“Every day our goal is to teach people about Christ,” Sam said.

“It’s hard when it’s cold out,” Parker admitted, “but there’s always somebody willing to let us in, and it seems like it’s always the last door we knock on. So it’s hard, but it’s often a rewarding experience in the end.”

Sam is 20 and Parker just 18, and they both come from traditional Mormon families. Sam is from Salt Lake City, and Parker came to the Island from Pocatello, Idaho. The experience of signing up for a two-year mission far from home was one they had planned since they were young boys. They were assigned a regional mission in New England, and can be transferred within that region with just a few days’ notice.

“Your application goes to the leaders of the church, the prophet and apostles, and they look to where you’re needed around the world,” Sam explained. “I have friends in Japan and Brazil, and others in the U.S.”

The two missionaries are also volunteers at the Edgartown and West Tisbury libraries, and they help out at the Island Food Pantry. They didn’t know each other at all before they began living together on the Vineyard weeks ago.

“In the first few days with a new companion, you try to figure it out,” Sam said. “You learn to love each other and you figure it out. I’ve had about 10 companions so far, and some will be lifelong friends, and with others it’s been a harder time.” Sam will be finished with his mission in May, and will be going back to Utah State this fall, where he plans to study dentistry.

“Six months ago [that’s how long he’s been on his mission], I wasn’t so easygoing,” Parker admitted. “I had a tough time at first. It took a lot of humility. I took a lot of time studying Jesus Christ and his life, and that really helped me.”

Sam said he thought coming to the Island would be an adventure, and he came not knowing what to expect. He did know that the local Mormon church is made up of 25 or 30 people who come to the weekly services, a much smaller faith community than he’s used to in Salt Lake City.

They explained that there are apartments set up for the missionaries wherever they serve, and that they each came up with the $10,000 that’s required for their two-year mission. That covers their travel expenses, room, and board, and they receive a stipend for food and essentials.

“Everyone pays the same fee, no matter if you are assigned in a foreign country or here in the U.S.,” Sam said.

Sam said that he’s noticed that there aren’t a lot of people on the Island who are interested in what they have to say, but those they come in contact with are always courteous and “thank us for the work we’re doing.”

The young men didn’t seem daunted by their missionary service. They said the two years they spend on their own will help them in the future.

“One thing I’ve had to learn is how to rely on God more,” Sam said. “Early on I struggled a lot; I honestly didn’t want to do it any longer. When I started forgetting myself and relying on God, I started to really enjoy the mission work.”

Parker said he considers being on the mission a sort of trial run for living on his own.

“They trust us to make our own decisions,” Parker said. “This is going to affect me for the rest of my life. It’s going to influence how I budget money, my time, my studying, and it’s taught me about public speaking. It really helps the rest of your life.”

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The Martha’s Vineyard Clergy Association and Karam Belly Dance present Nomad’s Oasis, a fundraiser for Island homeless, on Thursday, March 23, at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center in Vineyard Haven. It’s an evening of Middle Eastern music and dance, with reception, show, and silent auction. Admission is $20, and doors open at 6:30 pm.

If you have news for Have Faith, email it to connie@mvtimes.com.