I hope they call me on a myth-ion

By: Stephen Carter
September 25, 2011

A bowl of fou fou in its resurrected and glorified state.

A few days before my MTC cohort flew to Toronto, we all went to a meeting to experience what would become a defining story of my mission. It featured a presentation by a guy who had been home from his own Toronto mission for a few years. He was there to orient us culturally and tell a few inspiring stories.

The culture stuff was fun, but it was only the warm up for the big act: the Ghanaian conversion story. It started out innocently enough with a tracting scene–the beginning of 80 percent of missionary stories. One of the doors that opened that night happened to have a Ghanaian family behind it. The presenter told us that the family wasn’t interested to begin with, but that everything changed when he sang them a little song. They threw the door wide and insisted on feeding the missionaries reservoirs of peanut soup, mountains of fou fou, and entire herds of cow’s foot.

“And now I’m going to sing you the song,” he said. The lights went down, the overheard projector snapped on, words appeared on the pull-down screen, and we all leaned forward.

Dawna say, dawana say. Daw una may naw say.

Ifreesay, Oh yeah, nana do, do soooooooo.

Dawna say, dawana say. Daw una may naw say.

Through this song and a healthy dose of dues ex machine, a big old baptism came to pass.

You have never seen a more rapt audience. We lapped this story up as if it were the nectar of the gods flowing down our throats, electrifying our spirits, and inflaming our zeal. Pen tips flew over paper, scratching out the lyrics of this most amazing song. And then, we sang the song over and over again all the way back to our dorms, during lunch, between classes, during classes–any chance we got. We were NOT going to forget that song!

What happened that night was simple. A myth had been planted in our minds. There was nothing any of us wanted more than to sing that song to a Ghanaian family, eat peanut soup, fou fou, and cow’s foot, and then baptize the family. We believed with every fiber of our being that to end one’s mission without having this experience would be to admit that you had not truly been a Toronto missionary.

It’s the same feeling many young Mormons have, sitting in sacrament meetings listening to the stories of the newly returned missionaries. Even if you didn’t remember the individual stories, you remember their outlines.

We tracted for weeks, fighting off rabid dogs, plucking banana spiders from our heads, and trying to stem the tide of our latest bout of diarrhea. Finally, one night, we were exhausted, the spiders had built nests in our hair, we were giving a new definition to the word skidmarks, and it was 8:55 p.m. Only five more minutes until we could call it a day. But WE TRACTED ONE MORE STREET! And found our golden contact.

Remember the thrill? Soon, that story became a part of the myth of being a missionary in our minds. It would probably strike us as absurd to think that a missionary might come home without a story like that. And we sure as heck weren’t going to miss out. Myths are unique in that the role of main character is open, and we can step into it.

It is with great pleasure that I announce my successful participation in the Ghanaian myth. I did indeed tract out a Ghanaian family, I did indeed sing them the song, and lo, I did feast upon peanut soup, fou fou (a gelatinous glop made mainly from corn starch and water), and cow’s foot (nothing to write home about).

But the fact was I DID write home about it. Because I had finally arrived. I could now stand in front of a clutch of bright-eyed young recruits and tell the Ghanaian myth from personal experience. I even had a few bonus features to throw in (visions of angels, anyone?). I got to participate in a few other myths as well, like the overly-toothed guard dog myth, the epic encounter with the grumpy Italian man, and the battle with the anti-Mormon preacher. Really, I can’t complain.

I sometimes feel sorry for people who go on missions to areas that aren’t very exotic to them. I wonder if they feel a bit left out—If they feel like they’re being denied a number of potential myths to step into. I certainly missed out on the “I said something really obscene in another language without knowing it” myth. And the “I crapped liquid for a month” myth.

But then again, maybe these people are lucky. Their mythical space isn’t all taken up, and they have more room to create their own stories.

8 Responses to I hope they call me on a myth-ion

  1. jmb275 on September 26, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    Dang, I really loved this post! I too enjoyed living and filling the myth sold to me by my missionary ancestors. I loved my mission experience, and love to rehash it.

    This is precisely what makes missions, religions, and the church powerful – a mechanism for providing us with the hero myth that we can fulfill.

    Fun stuff!

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  2. Paolo on September 26, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    DENIED! I too, grew up hearing the great stories, but alas, was sent to Eastern Canada, on a large island that had never had missionaries. I only saw 2 other members for 11 months (save my DL and ZL). Perhaps it’s exotic to say that I opened 2 new little fishing outport villages that had never seen the likes of me and my white-shirted/suited companion. Went to other areas where I saw narry a baptism, and came home without ever dressing in white and baptizing anyone. So this was in the mid seventies, and I still waver between if the whole thing was a total waste or if I was like my early church namesake and was laying the foundation.

    Of course, when I went, there wasn’t even a stake in the mission, and now there is a temple there. So obviously there was some growth.

    So the mythology of having great faith and bringing many souls unto Christ is simply that. Sometimes it’s just a crap-load of walking the streets, knocking on doors for 10-11 hrs/day and NEVER baptizing a soul. Did I not have faith? Did we not pray daily for our work? Did we not work hard, do our reports, etc? Too often, “faith promoting” stories really aren’t, especially if you think you have the same faith, etc., and you never baptize, or if your spouse dies even after prayer and blessings, or if ….(fill in your own trial that didn’t get fixed with prayer and fasting and blessings like the storyteller said).

    I’m glad you had the great experience on your mish, God works in His way and His time.

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  3. KLC on September 26, 2011 at 7:35 PM

    Paolo, I think you need to read this post at M*:

    http://www.millennialstar.org/have-we-not-great-reason-to-rejoice/

    so you can be chastened and understand why you didn’t have faith promoting experiences. I tried to weigh in to no avail, several of my comments were removed by the OP.

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  4. Paul on September 27, 2011 at 6:30 AM

    My last companion’s brother visited us in the mission field (he had permission). As we had lunch together, he observed that the greatest secret in the church is what a mission is really like. I couldn’t argue with that a bit.

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  5. Sharon LDS in Tennessee on September 27, 2011 at 6:53 AM

    I firmly believe that our lessons in every class, conversations in every hall, exchanges at every dinner table, testimonies at every door, prayers at every entreating, thoughts at every Temple visit, references at every chance would mean ALL THE WORLD MORE….IF….they were filled will preaching OF CHRIST, reaching TO CHRIST, PROPHESYING OF Christ, sharing HIS LOVE, not stories, SHOWING his WAYS, not culture ditties, LEADING TO Him…NOT away from. Where, Oh, Where is Christ in our lives….so brilliantly filling our hearts and minds and ACTIONS that we shine and LOVE everyone and forget our selves and PROGRAMS.
    That we grow and come NIGH up to GOD every hour….trying with ALL our little selves to be ONE with them instead of stories of glory…BE glory filled! THAT is the whole point of missions…LEADING to CHRIST.
    (of course it would include membership in HIS restored CHURCH) >>>BUT<<<<all the empahsis would be on HIS character and life and ways for THIS life, like in Preach My Gospel. Just a thought….Empahsize Him in the BofM MORE..being able to because the missionaries are so FILLED WITH CHRIST-likeness, not trailing the remnets of POTTER-isims and Buffy and all the darkness of the past video hundred hours…instead of searching for Christ. THAT would make ALL the difference and eliminate all the myths.

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  6. Paolo on September 28, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    KLC,
    I think you missed my point, and I think that you’re pretty damn arrogant to assume that I need chastening. For what? Because I (apparantely) didn’t enough faith to baptize? The article at M* is just another load of rhetoric aimed at inducing shame/guilt on people when things are not going as hoped. I knocked doors for 10 hours a day in a mission where 1/2 the missionaries went home without baptisms. Growth has got to start somewhere, and I challenge you to go to a place where there has never been missionaries and the church has ZERO presence and with all your faith convert thousands! As I mentioned, there is now a temple and a couple of stakes in the mission, indicating growth, but these things take time.

    God is not so black and white and you and the article portrays. There are tonnes of stories where the expected miracle or blessing didn’t happen even with men and women of great faith. As I posted earlier, All things are on God’s timetable and plan, and all we can do is our best.

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  7. Toni on September 29, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    Paolo, I’m absolutely sure that KLC was being sarcastic, and had no thoughts that you actually do need chastening. In fact, I perceived a bit of anger toward the site he linked to, that kept removing his comments.

    Unfortunately, the written word (even with smilies) cannot adequately convey what spoken words (with inflections, facial expressions, and body language) can.

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  8. [...] mentally diseased? And don’t forget the far-fetched anecdotes, the unhelpful scriptures, the strange myths, and the metaphors that kind of [...]

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