Every now and then, you probably see young men in clean white shirts and dark ties, walking in pairs along the road. Chances are pretty good you are seeing volunteer missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or perhaps you know them as Mormons.
Who are these young travellers? Why do they leave their homes to come to St. Maarten or other far flung places? They do it to spread the word of their faith and because they feel they are called by God to do it. Weekender recently had the opportunity to visit with two such young men, who introduced themselves as Elder Huefner and ElderManasanga. “The work we are doing truly means everything to us,” shared Elder Huefner. But what is this work and how does this group differ from other churches?
This summer season there are seven Mormon missionaries on the island. They work in teams of two or three which they call companionships. Each companionship is directed to serve a certain portion of the island and they live in an apartment within their region while on their mission. Each missionary feels he or she has been called to this service, to share their faith with the communities of the world, and they devote a great deal of their personal savings and of course their time to their mission. Those who are called to be missionaries are given the title Elder or Sister.
Elder Arnett, from Utah in the United States is spending two years here, leaving to return home this September. His companions are Elder Manasanga and Elder Caraes. Their region reaches from Pointe Blanche all the way to French Cul de Sac. Elder Manasanga is from an island in the Pacific Ocean called Vanuatu and he will also be going home this September. Elder Caraes is from Tahiti and he will be going home in February 2019. Elder Huefner previously worked with Elder Manasanga but since the time of the interview he was called to serve in Barbados.
Over in the Marigot area there are two missionaries who work together named Elder Palmer and Elder Marahiti. Elder Palmer is also from Utah and will also be going home this September. Elder Marahiti is from Tahiti and will be going home this month.
Then in the Cole Bay area two female missionaries are working together, both are from Utah. Sister Dopp goes home in September 2018 and Sister Olsen returns home the following month... As one missionary goes home, there will always be another missionary called to serve in his or her place.
The missionaries travel in the service of their faith as young adults, normally between the ages of 18 and 25. They may again go on missions after raising a family, but at that time their companion is their spouse. While on the island they live modestly and devote 100% of their time to the mission. They do not eat out or go to the beach or the movies.
They rise each morning to study the gospels and the Book of Mormon and then venture out, visiting people in their homes, at a church or even just outside. “We try to talk with everyone,” shared Elder Arnett, “but of course, I am only 22 years old, so I get nervous to talk to every person, but we do our best because this message will bring more blessings into the lives of others. We do this from 8:00am to 8:00pm daily, and it’s the most amazing and exhausting thing ever.” Also, we love to serve the community by doing the laundry, cleaning a house, or picking up trash on the road sides, we are eager to help and to serve wherever possible!
These are volunteer missionaries and they receive no pay. Most of them saved up money through high school to help pay for this experience. Often parents or extended family help support them while out here. When they finish their two year mission, they return home to start regular lives - careers, schooling, starting a family etc.
“Many people in the world know of our church as the "Mormon Church." Though we don't shy away from this nickname, it is not the name of our church,” explained Elder Arnett. “The real name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The reason we might stress the difference is because there are a lot of false conceptions of what the "Mormon Church" is. Many think if you are Mormon you can have several wives, or you can't use technology, or to even weirder things like we have horns. These things are simply not true. We are here to help all others know that God has truly restored His church, the same one Jesus Christ established when He was on the Earth. There is a website for the church, www.mormon.org, which helps to answer those questions and shares what is to be a true Mormon.”
Weekender asked about their experiences on the island and here is the response: “The people here are usually very kind to us. There are many, however, that see us coming towards their house or down their street and they dodge us. I don't know if it's because they don't know what we are here to do? Perhaps they've heard some kind of bad rumour about us? Or possibly they just aren't interested in hearing a message about God. Many people think they already know everything they need to, and they don't want to learn more. There are also many others who allow us to set a return appointment, but then they don't keep the appointment. Sometimes it's entertaining to watch people try to avoid us without letting us notice! These are some of the struggles. But it is a great pleasure to meet those who are honest seekers of truth, who are willing to listen to us, and who are willing to change their lives in order to follow Jesus Christ.
“Our message is for everyone. Devout Christian or staunch atheist. Pastor at the front, or first-time visitor at the back. Poor or wealthy. Hindu or Muslim. Our message, I know, will bring peace, knowledge, and the very power of God into your life more than ever before.
He continued to help Weekender understand this unique branch of Christianity. “This is a Christian church, and we are Christian people. We sincerely love and revere the teachings of Jesus Christ that are found in the Bible, and we do all we can do abide by those teachings. Our purpose here as missionaries is to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel. We believe that the truths that Jesus and his Apostles taught in ancient days have been warped and twisted by imperfect men, and that as a result, the Christian world in general is in confusion about what is true and what is not.
“In the spring of 1820, God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to the 14 year old boy Joseph Smith as he prayed alone for direction concerning which church was true and which he should join. Jesus answered him (Joseph) that none of the churches were true, because they lacked the authority necessary to preach the gospel, and they didn't teach all the correct doctrine. The true church had been lost centuries earlier. God called Joseph to be a prophet through whom He would restore the full truth of His gospel. A prophet who would receive authority to preach the gospel in all the earth - authority that had been lost for centuries. Under the direction of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church). We declare that this is the only true and living church on the earth today. By the power of God, Joseph received and translated the Book of Mormon as evidence of his divine calling. There is another prophet called of God living today. He holds the same authority to preach the true gospel that Joseph Smith received. He is the president of the church today. His name is Thomas S. Monson. He helps lead us on the path towards Jesus Christ, just as the ancient prophets and apostles did.”
Weekender asked the Elders if they believed that Christians who were not Mormons would go to heaven. Here is their answer: “Every Christian church has a different belief about what people must do to go to heaven. To go to heaven is the hope and dream of nearly every Christian. God has set specific requirements that we all must follow if we wish to accomplish this great goal. We believe and know that although most of these churches are well meaning, they do not have the truth nor the authority necessary to help their congregations meet the requirements set by our Almighty Creator. Those truths, and that authority, have been altered or lost through the generations since Jesus and His Apostles walked the earth. Without a correct knowledge of God and His commandments, we cannot make it to heaven. In the words of Jesus, "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Something God has revealed more of in His restored gospel is about what's called the Plan of Salvation or the Plan of Happiness. It is His plan created for us to receive true happiness in this life and the life to come. In that, He has revealed what happens after death. God being just and merciful will not send someone who did good all his life to hell just because he wasn't baptized. But being just, they cannot live in His presence either. God has prepared a place for everyone Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:40-42, we will be blessed according to our obedience to His commandments here on Earth. Those who do all the Father asks will receive a Celestial glory, like the glory of the sun. Those who live good lives, but don't follow all His commandments will receive a Terrestrial glory, like the glory of the moon. Those who choose not to repent will receive a Telestial glory, like the glory of the stars. If someone is not baptized by His proper authority they can't enter into the highest kingdom, the Celestial Kingdom where God lives, but they will be able to enter another kingdom. They will not be able to receive the fullness of glory God's prepared for them, but they will still be able to receive the amount of glory their obedience allows them to.
“I know that this message is true. I have prayed and asked God if Joseph Smith truly was a prophet called by Him, and if this church really is His true church. I received an unmistakable answer that it is all true. This answer came by the power of the Holy Ghost. And that is why I am here. We know the truth, and we have a mandate to share the truth with all who will listen, so that they can be partakers of the greatest happiness with God in the life to come. Seeing people give their lives to God makes all the sacrifice and struggle we experience completely worth it! We also love the local food and the relaxed culture. Caribbean people are a ton of fun. I have probably learned more in these past 20 months than at any other comparable time period in my life. It is truly a blessing from God that we get to be here serving the people of St. Maarten.
If anyone has any questions, we are more than willing to share more and answer any questions. Our phone number is +17215806291.”