Kirby: Mormon missionary companions can be friends or foes

By Robert Kirby

Tribune Columnist

Published: June 12, 2014 12:17PM
Updated: June 13, 2014 10:30PM

Our neighbors’ eldest daughter, Adyson Short, left Wednesday on an LDS Spanish-speaking mission to Arizona. She is one of the billion or so young women who rushed to answer the church’s call to serve.

OK, it wasn’t so much a call as it was a simple lowering of the age requirement. When it dropped from 21 to 19, just about every young woman in my ward signed up or made plans to go.

Adyson got her call in February and is only now just leaving. Depending on one’s temperament, that’s nearly five months of eager waiting or fretful stewing.

Forty years ago, I turned in my papers and was gone less than a month later. That’s good. Had I been forced to wait five months, I might have been dissuaded by all the unsolicited advice.

I was the first one in my family to go on a mission. None of my closest friends at the time had gone (or ever would). And because I had only recently started going to church again, I had but a vague idea of what to expect.

In the weeks leading up to her departure, Adyson heard a lot of advice about the travails of mission life. Because we live next door to each other, I heard most of it.

“You can’t sleep in.” “The food might be yucky.” “The hours are really long.” “There are, like, a million rules.” “You’ll think you’re dead and in hell.”

Note: That last one was mine. I was only half-kidding. The average July temperature in Scottsdale, Ariz., is 110 degrees. It might be possible there to confuse the Holy Ghost with heat stroke.

Most of the advice took into account that Scottsdale isn’t a Third World country. Adyson won’t have to eat tripe or dodge military patrols. They probably have electricity in Arizona. Odds are there will be air conditioning.

It’s all relative, of course. You can go to a really poor, violent country and still have a mostly good time. I did. You could also go to the French Riviera and be thoroughly miserable.

What makes a mission tough isn’t location. It’s relation. No one said anything to me about this. I bet they didn’t tell Adyson either. The toughest part of a mission is becoming a conjoined twin.

Not even married people spend as much time in suffocating proximity to one another as LDS missionary companions. At least with marriage, there’s some say in who your companion will be. Not on a mission. You get who they send.

Sometimes you get lucky. I spent two of the best months of my mission in a dank, mosquito-infested apartment with a district leader named Rat Lips, a guy I still stay in touch with today. I cried when he transferred out.

Conversely, a micro-second after Elder Lekker opened the door, I knew it was going to be awful. In fact, it was almost a testimony killer.

I mean it. Our companionship was supposed to be the product of spiritual insight. But how could an omnipotent being like my Heavenly Father stick me with a self-righteous and egomaniacal sack of #$%*@ and expect me to spread the gospel?

My inability to take Lekker as seriously as he took himself made him instantly crazy. Meanwhile, his penchant for singing hymns every night to ward off inappropriate dreams made me nearly homicidal.

We learned something important from each other. The 77 days, six hours and 11 minutes we spent together gave us both a good idea of what an eternity in hell would be like.

But maybe that’s just me. Adyson is a much nicer person. She better hope her companions are, too.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.