June 13, 2009
Mormon missionaries deal with life on the road
Utah natives go door to door every day from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. as they seek out converts
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Mormon missionaries and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Elder Thomas, left, and Elder Lybbert, right, walk along south Main Street in Cortland Wednesday.
Two tall young men have been walking the streets of Cortland lately, wearing a distinct look: white dress shirts, neckties, dark pants and name plates over their hearts.
Elder Lybbert and Elder Thomas, both 20 and both from Utah, are in the midst of two-year missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as Mormonism.
Two Mormon missionaries are in this region at all times, walking door to door in residential neighborhoods to preach their faith to anyone willing to listen.
“Like the best cake you ever had — once you take a bite, you want others to taste it,” Lybbert said of his deep faith. “We both have a sense of the blessings we have gotten from Jesus Christ, and we love bringing those blessings to other people.”
Lybbert and Thomas are their last names. They do not provide their first names.
Thomas, the taller of the two missionaries at 6-foot-4, is from West Valley, Utah, and Lybbert, who is 6-feet, is from Orem, Utah.
Both men come from large families, Thomas with seven older siblings and Lybbert with four siblings. They said their parents did missions, and about half of their friends did.
From 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, the pair knock on doors and see if residents will hear their message, in communities within about a 15-mile radius around Cortland. They also meet with people, to discuss the Book of Mormon’s stories and teachings. They also teach English at the East End Community Center.
They attend services on Sunday at the Mormon church in Cortlandville. One day per week, they are allowed to do laundry, pay bills, buy food and write home.
“We can write or e-mail our families,” Thomas said. “We can call home only twice a year, Christmas and Mother’s Day.”
Lybbert arrived here four and a half months ago after six months in Gloversville. Before that, he spent three months in Ithaca.
Thomas came to Cortland six weeks ago from Lake Placid, where he spent six months. He was in Binghamton for three months before that.
The two can be reassigned every six weeks if their church officials wish. The most recent six-week period ended June 6, and they were told they would be in this area for six more weeks.
Mormonism, a form of Christianity, started in America in 1820, after a 14-year-old named Joseph Smith Jr. prayed in a forest near Palmyra in Wayne County and said he was visited by an angel who said he was a prophet.
He began preaching his faith and converting other people. Over the years, persecution caused his followers to migrate west to Utah, where Mormonism is now based.
Both missionaries have paid their own way to be here, with help from their families. Missionaries have to raise money before their missions. The money is put in a common fund and split among all missionaries, because the cost of living differs so much between regions, but Lybbert said they each receive about $400 per month.
Mormons who choose to do a mission have to wait until they are 19, so after high school they either work for a year or go to college for a year or two before leaving home for their mission.
Thomas spent a year at Brigham Young University before deciding he wanted to go on a mission. Lybbert worked in construction in Utah and Texas, and did an internship with an aircraft company.
Both plan to study engineering in college.
Before leaving on a mission, they spent three weeks learning how to minister to people — how to explain their religion and try to convince people to join it.
They cannot watch television unless they are in a place where a TV set happens to be on.
“None of that bothers me,” Lybbert said. “We just like to stay focused on why we’re here.”
Asked if he has ever had doubts, Lybbert said, “At times, but now I’m more sure of this than what I’m going to study in college.”
Thomas said people’s reactions to the two, as they go house to house, “run the gamut. Some appreciate and love it, some don’t want to hear anything.”
They have converted a few people — Lybbert said he has converted one person in each area he has lived.
“It brings a lot of joy for me, to see change in their lives,” he said.
The missionaries said they miss their families sometimes, but are fine with being far from home at others.
Both hope that when their missions end, they can go to Palmyra and see the hillside where Joseph Smith said he encountered the angel Moroni.
“That’s like a treat, if we can do that,” Lybbert said.
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