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Monday, 5 September 2005

image for The Best Little Missionary Discussion in Texas What happens when a Mormon Missionary tries to teach the gospel in a brothel?

The following is not a joke. This really happened to me when I was a Missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church) over twenty years ago. The experience occurred right after I was transferred into a small town in Texas as a missionary in the early 1980’s. I have changed the names of the city, my companion, and the member of the Bishopric to save some people from possible embarrassment. I tell this not to try to convert, but to show that funny things can happen to people regardless of their background or circumstances.

In January of 1982, I received a phone call from the Assistants to the President informing me of a transfer. I was leaving Robstown (real place), where I had served for six months, to go to Longhorn, Texas (I made up the name). I would be working with a missionary who had been in the United States for only nine months and who still spoke very little English, and I was replacing a companion who also spoke very little English. This was unimportant as the small city was on the Mexican border and our area was mostly Spanish speaking, My new companion, Elder Rodriguez, was from a small town in Latin America. I had spent all of my time in English areas and spoke very little Spanish, even though I had grown up on the border in El Paso.

I arrived in the town in mid-afternoon and was picked up at the Greyhound Bus station and taken to my apartment by another set of missionaries. Here, I met my companion for the next four months. We went over some of the things missionaries do when they first start working together. He informed me of our scheduled appointments and I wrote them down in my planner.

That evening, I drove our car (it was not a bike area and I was a district leader) towards downtown, following the directions on turns from my companion. We were going to a teaching appointment with a man named David. This was to be done in English (so I would be doing all of the teaching) and it would be the “D” discussion, over the Plan of Salvation (covering our purpose in life and where we went after we died).

Elder Rodriguez told me that David was a funny man. I asked him if he meant funny “strange” or funny “ha ha ha.” He told me that David was a funny man to listen to, so I assumed her referred to David’s sense of humor and some jokes. I was wrong.

We turned down an alley in a rather seedy area of town and I parked alongside the dumpsters. I got an eerie feeling as we walked towards an alley entrance to what looked, on the outside, like an apartment building.

We climbed a few steps, and entered what appeared to be a lobby or waiting area. I assumed at first that this must be an old boarding house. My companion approached the man at a desk and asked for David. Elder Rodriguez walked over and sat down on the couch to wait, so I joined him. Surveying the lobby, I saw no art or pictures of any kind decorating the walls or end tables. There were no books or old magazines on the coffee table in front of us. The furniture was a little old and worn and it, like the whole room, seemed a little dank and dusty.

As we sat and awaited David’s arrival from upstairs (there was a staircase coming out of the corner of the room by the desk) several men and women came through the room. Most stared at us or did doubletakes as they saw us. We were apparently an unusual sight for the tenants and their guests. Strange suspicions begin to form in my mind as I saw how these people were dressed and how they carried themselves.

When David arrived, after about a ten minute wait and a mounting mental disturbance in my mind, he confirmed my fears. David begin to tell us how tired he was feeling; he spoke of being called on to satisfy the needs of men and women at all times of day and night. Throughout this introductory discussion, I saw my companion sitting there and smiling at David, happy for his Christian charity of helping others. I, however, knew that I was paying my first visit to a house of ill repute. I was in a chicken ranch, attempting to teach the true, restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

I suggested that we start with a prayer, still hoping that my suspicions might be wrong and that the spirit could tell me what to do in the prayer. It was not an appropriate place to kneel, and David pointed this out to me. I prayed, but did not feel good about where we were at and did not feel inclined to invite the spirit to be with us (something missionaries do at the beginning of every discussion). I opened my flipcharts and started teaching the discussion. After about five minutes, I quit in frustration at having to force out the concepts and feeling no support from the Holy Ghost. I told everyone that I could not continue because this was not a good place to teach eternal things.

Elder Rodriguez, in his gullible stupor, suggested that we could possibly go to David’s room for the lesson as it would be quieter and we would not have people walking through the area. At that point, I saw in my mind a newspaper headline that said “Whorehouse Raided, Two Mormon Missionaries Arrested with Man.” I also doubted that the man at the desk would allow us upstairs without paying.

I knew that we had to get out of there. David’s room was not appropriate for our message either, and David was brought to an understanding of that. The waiting room was not conducive to the spirit. Elder Rodriguez, however, was still oblivious.

I apologized to David, telling him that we needed to find a better place to meet. I suggested that we could meet some afternoon in a public park and present our message. He felt that this would be better. We set a date and time for the discussion and I wrote it in my planner.

Turning to my companion, I informed him that we needed to leave as we had an appointment with the Bishop. He told me that no such meeting was on his schedule. I told him that I had made a call earlier and scheduled the meeting. He told me that I didn’t even know the Bishop. Feeling stupid and embarrassed, I informed him that I had set the meeting for the purpose of meeting the Bishop. We excused ourselves and left, my companion not understanding my anxiety and my seeming abruptness and rudeness in leaving the apartment house.

We tried visiting the Bishop, but he was not available. I ask my companion if any of the other Priesthood Leaders who spoke good Spanish lived in the area because it was important that I speak with them. He gave me a confused look, but led us to the house of a member of the Bishopric.

Brother Garcia met us and invited us into his living room. He was a native of Mexico, but was a highly educated and articulate man in both English and Spanish. I told him that we needed to speak with him privately, and he dismissed his spouse and children. This discussion would not be appropriate in front of his wife and young family. I related our experiences of the evening and asked him if he could describe to my companion what had really transpired.

Elder Rodriguez can only be described as innocent and naïve. He was from a small Caribbean island town of only two hundred people. Brother Garcia kept having to go back and explain several concepts to him that he had never heard of. As he explained such things as prostitution and homosexuality, Elder Rodriguez sat there with mouth wide open and eyes agape and said “No, no way! They do that to people! No, I don’t believe that.”

Brother Garcia and I were both amazed at the naivete’ of the young elder, and I felt a little guilty for bringing him into the modern, sinful world. After the explanations and story of the birds and the bees, however, my companion was both angered and embarrassed.

I thanked Brother Garcia for his time and his help, and we excused ourselves and left. My companion was a little subdued for the rest of the evening and we spent the time just visiting and introducing ourselves to other members.

I never embarrassed my companion by telling the story to other Elders or Sisters in the mission, though I did share it with the Mission President in my weekly letter. He, of course, wanted more details in our next interview. My family enjoyed reading about the experience, and got a big laugh when sharing it with my friends and home ward members. I still brag sometimes that I may be the only Elder in the history of the Mormon Church to teach a discussion in a whorehouse.

I wish I could say that David turned his life around and abandoned his profession. He never made it, however, to the appointment in the park, and I was not about to go back to his “office.”

This was, then, both a funny and a sad experience. It is funny due to having a naïve companion and sad that we were unable to help a man who seriously needed what we had to offer.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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