Yesterday I shared some background on my 'growing up' years... and today I want to write and share about my college years, and especially my experiences with being exposed to the LDS Church, and it's teachings.
After graduating from High School, I chose to attend the University of Washington, a state university, located in Seattle , just 1/2 hour from my parent's home. I really wanted to join a sorority with my other girlfriends, but my Dad ( with great wisdom) opposed that idea strongly. I ended up rooming at home and saving my parents and I a ton of money! I was able to get thru 3 1/2 yrs of college with no college debt! Praise God for my dad's wisdom, even though at the time I was disappointed by his decision to not let me go thru Rush. ( Rush is a week long event where "initiates" into the sorority and fraternities visit each of the various houses and pledge to join one of them.) Looking back I can see God's hand protecting me from that environment. ( definitely not a Godly environment for a young lady)
It was during my first week of school , at an introduction for Freshman that I met my friend "J". He followed me after the introduction and introduced himself. He was obviously Latin American, and very outgoing. He later called me at home and asked me out to eat. We agreed to meet on campus for lunch. "J" was polite, and courteous, and clean cut. I noticed he didn't smoke, use foul language or drink & party like so many college kids did. I soon found out "J" was a Mormon. I had no idea what that was.... I knew that my neighbors across the street growing up were Mormon, but I really didn't know what that meant or entailed. " J" wasn't really a devout Mormon at this time, or he wouldn't have dated a "gentile" girl. The LDS church teaches that LDS youth should only date other LDS youth. I didn't know that then.
We began to date each other exclusively. Mostly , we would just hang out on campus, eat together, etc. We would have long discussions about religion. I was pretty closed at that time to investigating or learning about his Church at all. I was attending mass weekly and really wasn't looking for anything different. I had "religion" in my life, and thought that was enough. ( yeah, right) We had some pretty heated discussions as "J" expressed his distaste for the Catholic Church. The Mormons "used" to teach that the Catholic Church was a "great and abominable church". ( that teaching has since been dropped) That kind of talk did not go over well with me. My mom at this time picked up on the fact that I was going steady with this young man. She assumed since he was Latin American that he was a good Catholic boy...not so, I told her. He was a Mormon. All I can recall from that moment when I told her that was that she was startled and mentioned to me that Mormonism is not "our faith" and to be careful not to get "too serious" with this boy. Looking back, I wish my mom had done more, said more to me..... but with her limited Biblical knowledge, she was not equipped to warn me about the LDS teachings. I don't blame her for not warning me, but I just wished she had. Does that make sense?
Although my Mom, did not do much about the fact I was dating a Mormon boy, my oldest sister, Mari, did enough and then some! Mari was 16 yrs older than I was. I had been very close to her growing up. She was my 'big sister' and I had been her babysitter, sitting for her 4 kids for years. When she found out I was dating a Mormon boy she about flipped her lid -- in fact she did flip her lid!
I remember one night she was driving me home from watching her kids... she really laid into me about this "Mormon boy" I was dating and that I needed to stop dating him and just end it. She really was upset and yelling and all said a bunch of stuff, but I can't remember the details. All I remember is how upset she was. I came home in tears, very upset. My parents were upset that my sister had laid into me, and called her up and basically told her to "chill out" and let this one go. They thought the more the made a 'stink about it' the more I would want to date this young man. They were right. I continued dating "J".
I was in my 3rd year of college and still dating " J " when he told me he was going to go on a "mission" for his church. What was a mission, I asked? He explained to me as best he could what that entailed. He was 20 yrs old, and had already postponed going by 1 yr. I had no idea that the LDS church requires/requests that all 19 yr old males in the LDS church serve a full time proselyting mission for their Church. That is they are expected to go out and tell people about the Mormon faith and then have them baptized as Latter-day Saints. This was considered "voluntary" Church service, but I later learned, thru serving my own LDS mission, that many a young man goes because of the incredible pressure they feel to go, the family expectations, etc. Oh yeah, they also are required to pay for their entire mission themselves. ( that is the young man pays for it or his family)
" J " seemed to be very torn about his decision to go on a mission. Part of him wanted to stay and finish up college... and part of him felt he needed to follow in his big brother's footsteps..... ( he had 2 older brothers that had served missions) ....... then there was the pressure he was receiving from his Bishop. A Bishop , is in the LDS church the equivalent of a "pastor" but with a lot more power to "call the shots".
I could see "J" being torn up inside about this. I knew that I probably wasn't helping the situation, being a "non member" and all. ( a non member is what the LDS call those who are not baptized Mormons) . I decided to break things off with him . I gave back his promise ring he had given me and 'stuff' he had gifted me with. I placed them in a locker and gave him the key to it. He was shocked, sad and hurt. Obviously, I could have been a lit bit more compassionate about things. Oh youth , with it's follies.
Our "breakup" only lasted a few weeks..... "J" said he would put off his mission some more.......I can only imagine now the incredible stress he was living under.
I told " J" that I would support him going on his LDS mission if he was doing it for the "right " reasons..... that is because he wanted to go , not because of his family's expectations of him or because what his leaders were asking him. I can't remember at what point after that ... but he did come to me one day and tell me he needed to go, and he wanted to go.... I said "OK" I support you. At that time I was working at a retail store. I would purchase items that he needed for his mission and give them to him as gifts. Ties, white shirts, socks, etc. Typical LDS missionary attire. It wasn't long afterwards that " J " received his "call" to serve in Quito, Ecuador. He was very excited, because he spoke Spanish fluently and was returning to Latin America. ( J was born in Panama)
A few days before he was to leave for his mission, the LDS church hosted a special Sunday service to bid the young man "farewell". ( it's called a "farewell" in LDS lingo) " J " had asked me to come, so I did. I dressed in a nice pair of slacks and a lovely silk blouse. Boy, did I feel out of place! All the women wore dresses and skirts! Later on I found out that LDS women are required to wear dresses or skirts to church. No pants. I don't remember much about the meeting, other than having my hand "shook off" by well intentioned Mormons who seemed to know all about me, even though I had never met them before!
Which brings me to share that "shaking a person's hand" is a very very LDS "thing to do". Everyone shakes every one's hand. I know it may sound "odd" to you, but it's a very cultural thing in the Mormon Church.
After this special Sunday service or "farewell" , J's family asked me over for a special supper they were having. Later that evening, J, and J's family and myself went to J's "stake president's house" . A Stake President, is similar to a Catholic Archbishop, he oversees the affairs of 10 or more separate congregations. I didn't know at the time, but "J" was going to receive a "Priesthood" blessing and 'setting apart' as a Mormon missionary. The LDS really have their own "language" and it's hard to understand what everything means if you are not or have not been LDS. The "blessing" entailed this Stake President's hands being laid on "J's" head and "praying over him". He did invoke some " by the power of the priesthood" and I thought that odd at the time. I later became well acquainted with all these new concepts, language, etc.
The thing that struck me the oddest is that once " J " had been given this special blessing he could not sit by me. Yep, you read right. He could not sit by me, hold my hand, hug me, be alone in a room with me, and definitely not kiss me !
" J " would be gone the standard 2 yrs. During this time he would have no contact with his family and friends other than thru letter writing and a once a year phone call made to his mom on mother's day. " J " would not be allowed to leave Ecuador at any time or visit his family in the U.S. Our goodbye consisted of a 'handshake'. No hug or goodbye kiss. Nada. No one explained anything to me. I felt very hurt by that. I think I would have handled things better had someone take the time to explain "why".
I never saw " J " again.
He completed a successful 2 yrs in Ecuador, and although he wrote me for the first few months, his letters dwindled and finally stopped. I never got a word of explanation. I tried to call him once, after I got his phone number of his apartment from his sister, whom I was friends with. I thought he would have been happy to hear from me, but instead he was cold, distant and very upset that I had caused him to 'break' mission rules by calling him. That was the last time I spoke to " J" . I did receive a wedding announcement , years later after I had converted to Mormonism and served my own LDS mission.
Before " J " left his mission he left me a Book of Mormon. He had never done so before, and I had heard very little about this small blue book that bore the title : Another Testament of Jesus Christ. I took the book and was willing to read it. I was and still am an avid reader. I'll read just about anything. "J" also wrote in the first weeks of his mission and told me to go and talk to a Brother "H" at the Institute of Religion on campus. The Institute was a place where LDS could go and take religious classes to compliment their studies at the local public university or college.
Up until this time, I had been very very resistant to anything " J " wanted to teach me or show me about his Church. Believe me, he tried. :) Being the somewhat stubborn woman that I am, I didn't want to be swayed by him because we were dating. I didn't want it to be like that at all. But when he left, I felt I was now free to study this Church for myself, without having any pressure from " J " whatsoever, and for the most part that was true. Sadly, because I lacked biblical knowledge and had NO clue of what was true or not ..... I walked into a maze........ a huge maze that would take me the better part of 20 yrs to come out of .....
And that is what I'll be sharing about next...... stepping into the " Mormon Maze"..........
Until then, God bless