Toting Bibles and bike tools

Young men answer Mormon Church call for two-year mission

Bobby Ross Jr.

Published: April 7, 2001

EDMOND – A car honks.

The driver yells an indecipherable insult.

Three Mormon missionaries riding their bicycles on a side street near the University of Central Oklahoma just smile and keep pedaling.

“I don’t think we really want to know what he said,” quips Trevor Alvord, 20, from Ogden, Utah.

A name tag clipped to Alvord’s wrinkle-free white dress shirt identifies him as “Elder Alvord.”

That title distinguishes Alvord and his two companions – Joel Crawford, 20, from Cypress, Calif., and Dallas Hartle, 19, from Richfield, Utah – as ordained ministers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Even without the name tags, their attire might give them away.

Each sports a white shirt, conservative tie and dark pants. Each wears a helmet and carries a backpack filled with King James Bibles, Books of Mormon and religious tracts, not to mention bike tools. Each keeps a hand-size missionary handbook in his shirt pocket, just under the name tag.

Page 16 of the handbook details the missionary’s preferred daily schedule, starting with a 6:30 a.m. alarm and ending with lights out at 10:30 p.m.

“Your time as a missionary is precious, so use each day to full advantage,” the handbook advises.

Missionary classified

The help-wanted ad might read like this: Say goodbye to family and friends for two years – except for telephone calls on Mother’s Day and Christmas – and go wherever you’re sent in the United States or abroad.

Study, knock on doors and pass out tracts from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. six days a week – with breaks for three meals.

Get spit at, cursed at and have doors slammed in your face.

Work for free and pay the church $375 a month – $9,000 total – for the privilege.

That’s the challenge that Alvord, Crawford and Hartle accepted.

“We are out here on our own free wills, and the way we look at it, we’re serving Jesus Christ,” said Hartle, who left behind a girlfriend and a prospective degree in computer information systems.

“A tough schedule isn’t really much, when you look at it that way, after all that He’s done for us.”

Mormons believe that God calls men at age 19 to spend two years spreading the news.

Alvord, Crawford and Hartle are part of a 60,000-person army of Mormon missionaries who preach what they consider the “restored” gospel of Jesus Christ. About 75 percent of the missionaries are 19- to 26-year-old men; 18 percent are single women who can become missionaries at age 21; the remaining 7 percent are couples.

“We’re just basic guys with a calling from God to be here,” Alvord said. “We’re still 20-year-olds, and we still make a lot of… wrong choices, bad decisions.”

American prophet?

The message the missionaries spread is that God appeared to a prophet named Joseph Smith in New York in 1820.

God told Smith, who was 14, that the true Church of Jesus Christ was not on Earth and that He had chosen Smith to restore it, Mormons believe.

The church considers the Book of Mormon a book of revelation containing the testimony of prophets who lived on the American continents. The Mormons use that book along with the Bible.

Mormon missionaries generally work in pairs. The day The Oklahoman interviewed Alvord, he was awaiting the assignment of a new partner.

Missionary service isn’t required when Mormon men turn 19, but it’s encouraged.

Alvord said he tried his best to avoid it.

“It was really the last thing I wanted to do,” said Alvord, who served in Wichita Falls, Texas, and Ponca City before his transfer to Edmond.

However, a talk with his older brother – who served as a missionary – changed Alvord’s mind. Over spring break from the College of Eastern Utah in 1999, Alvord discussed what his brother “learned about Christ and what Christ did for him.”

Alvord hadn’t saved to pay the missionary fee, but his parents came through with the money. The fee pays for the missionary’s room, board and living expenses.

The church of 11 million members has no general salaried ministry. Thousands of Mormon bishops lead their congregations in their spare time while working regular jobs. Oklahoma has about 34,000 Mormons in 75 congregations, according to the church.

“I just prayed about it,” Alvord said of serving as a missionary, “and after I prayed about it, that’s when I knew I had to do it.”

‘Out here to serve’

In a university community, these three could blend in easily.

After all, they are 19 and 20 years old and live in a cheap, barely furnished apartment near the UCO campus.

They even have a weight set in the living room.

But posters of barely clad supermodels don’t dot these young men’s walls. Rather, they display drawings of Moses and Jesus, photographs of latter-day prophets and a local map. On the map, they mark the streets where they have gone “tracting” – their term for knocking on doors and leaving information about the church.

They don’t ride their bikes everywhere. They also share a church-owned car. That’s essential in a major metropolitan area, they said.

However, the car is limited to about 800 miles a month. When cars reach 50,000 miles, the church sells them, they said.

“They encourage us to ride bikes at least two days a week,” Alvord said.

Their apartment has a washer and a dryer, which they use on their one “preparation day” a week. Besides a chance to wash their white shirts – Alvord brought 10 to Oklahoma, seven with short sleeves and three with long – the day off provides an opportunity to go sightseeing.

Alvord, for example, has toured the Oklahoma City bombing memorial and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

The missionaries also devote four hours a week to community service, such as helping with the food pantry at the Edmond Hope Center.

What they don’t do is watch television or play on a computer.

Their apartment has neither.

“It’s so we don’t get distracted,” Crawford said. “We’re out here to serve the Savior.”

‘I’m cool, man’

Before leaving the apartment for an afternoon of proselytizing – making contacts with strangers and asking to teach them about the church – the missionaries bow their heads.

“Our Dear Heavenly Father, we’re grateful for this day, for all Thou hast given us,” Alvord prays. “Father, we’re grateful for this opportunity we have to go out and to work for Thee this day.

“And we ask Thee to bless us with Thy spirit and help us to know Thy will that we may glorify Thy name.”

On a sidewalk at UCO, Hartle spots two students leaving a building near “Broncho Lake.”

“How are you guys doing today?” he asks. “Hey, do you have a few minutes I can share a message about Jesus Christ?”

“I’m cool, man,” one student replies without slowing down.

“Hi, how are you doing?” Hartle asks as he turns his attention to a woman coming from the other direction. “Are you having a good day?”

The woman is too busy to talk now, she tells Hartle, but she gives him her telephone number.

A few minutes later, Hartle finds a young man willing to sit down on a bench and listen to his message.

The man doesn’t say much as Hartle discusses his belief in an “all-powerful God” and asks for the man’s reaction.

“I don’t want you to believe what I said because I told it to you,” Hartle tells the man after giving him a Book of Mormon and a study guide.

“I want you to believe what I said because you found out from God Himself. So, that’s why it’s important for us to ask you to pray.”

Out of 1,000 contacts, the missionaries expect rejection from 999.

Far more conversions come through contacts with relatives and friends, they said.

Still, they keep pounding the pavement.

“There are some days that I never want to do it again, to be honest,” Alvord said. “The biggest thing that’s helped me out is prayer.”

Crawford, whose family became Mormons three years ago, said he lives for that one person who accepts the message.

“When you find that person and they’re sincere, it makes it all worth it.”

Future dreams

When their service is done, the missionaries will return to college and pursue careers.

Alvord hopes to become an Air Force chaplain or get a job in sports management.

Crawford, who worked at Knott’s Berry Farm in California drawing caricatures, may go to art school and become a cartoonist.

Hartle, meanwhile, plans to finish college and get a job in the computer field. He also will revive his relationship with his girlfriend – if she’s not married. Before he left, they agreed she could date other people.

“Life goes on,” he said. “If she’s there when I get home, we’ll date and stuff.”

Hartle can trade letters with his girlfriend, but he can’t visit her or talk to her during his two years away.

Oh, he could. But he won’t.

“It’s a choice I’ve made to be obedient,” he said.

Long after Hartle and his fellow missionaries leave Oklahoma, these two years will reap spiritual rewards in their lives, they said.

“It’s totally changed my life,” Alvord said. “I now know what it’s like to live, what it’s like to actually be alive.

“Before, I was just kind of drifting around. I guess the main thing is, we know what it’s like to be a servant of Jesus Christ.”

Crawford agreed.

“This,” he said, “is the training for the rest of your life – how you can become as close to Christ as you can.”

Daily schedule

Preferred daily schedule for Mormon missionaries:

6:30 a.m. – Arise.

7 a.m. – Study time with companion.

8 a.m. – Breakfast.

8:30 a.m. – Personal study.

9:30 a.m. – Proselytizing.

Noon – Lunch.

1 p.m. – Proselytizing.

5 p.m. – Dinner.

6 p.m. – Proselytizing.

9:30 p.m. – End proselytizing, plan next day’s activities.

10:30 p.m. – Retire.

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