Author: John Williams
Publisher: John K. Williams
Copyright date: October 2011
Pages: 223 (nook edition)
Reason for Reading: Acquainted with the author via blogging
That night as we got ready for bed, Willka looked me in the eye: “You know what your problem is? You’re not humble enough.”
“I’m doing my best,” I said, trying not to sound hurt.
“We would have been able to teach someone this morning if you hadn’t given up so easily,” he said, his voice oozing self-righteousness.
That did it. I got out my cassette player. I fished in my suitcase and found one of the contraband tapes my brother had sent me. I hadn’t listened to them in months, but now I popped in a cassette, turning the volume up. I smiled when I heard Echo and the Bunnymen singing: “It may be hell down there ‘Cause it’s heaven up here.”
“And you don’t follow the rules, either,” Willka said in disgust.
Young Mormon men, when they turn 19, are expected to serve 2-year missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There was a brief period when the missions were reduced to 18 months, but the church decided to revert to the 2 year term. These missions are taken at the expense of the missionaries and/or their families. While serving as a missionary, there are a myriad of rules that must be followed. A companion is assigned to each missionary, and they are supposed to be together at all times. There are rules about when they can do their laundry, when they can call home (Christmas and Mother’s Day), how much scripture study must be done daily. They’re not allowed to date. They are not allowed to listen to secular music. And on and on and on. Women may also serve missions, if they choose, but they have to wait until they are 21 years of age, and their mission terms are only 18 months in length.
Williams leaves his California home to go to Bolivia for 18 months (which he extends another 6 months, an option given to male missionaries who are in the field at the time the church decides to return to 2-year missions). The culture shock is just unimaginable, as is the near constant illness and disease he suffers due to parasites and bacteria attacking his system.
The book begins as he and a companion discover what appears to be a dead body on a bridge. Fortunately, the woman is still alive, and they help her despite her obscene insults. As Mormons are encouraged to keep extensive journals, and as an obedient missionary, Williams had recourse to the journals he kept as a missionary as he wrote this very moving, very disturbing book.
One gets the sense that writing his missionary memoirs is a purging for Williams, a chance to recognise and accept the past–both the good and the bad–and move on to whatever the future holds.
I still have dreams–nightmares, really–in which I’m somehow a missionary again. I know that time has passed and I have a life and a family, but in the dream I have to put my life on hold again and go back to Bolivia and serve another mission. Never in the dreams do I think of how to get out of the mission. Instead, I have to tell myself over and over that I can do this, I can handle another mission. But I feel nothing but dread at the thought of going back.
I always wake up relieved that it was just a dream.
I hope he finds the peace he seems to be seeking.