Lately, I've been transcribing the journal I kept while spreading the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in South America 40 years ago. It's where I expressed what I really thought. Parts of it are damn scary.
According to my own hand, there were a number of things I hated about being a servant of the Lord. In order of seething intensity, the top three were:
1. Elder G. Ronald Karpus
2. The LTM (Language Training Mission)
3. Knocking on doors
Karpus was a district leader prone to inserting his personal line of priesthood authority and therefore the Lord's will into every situation.
Karpus: "The Savior foreordained me to be your senior companion."
Me: "Then he already knows I'm going to punch you in the face."
The LTM was its own special horror where I learned two valuable things: the rudiments of missionary Spanish and that if God wanted me to be good, it would have been a lot more effective to simply tell me that hell was being trapped forever with 300 other missionaries.
Finally, there was knocking on doors. Also known as "first contacting" or "tracting," it consisted of trying to sell the gospel to people immediately annoyed because they answered the door and it was only us.
Unfortunately, knocking on doors was the primary method of trying to find people willing to be taught. Depending on my companion, we would knock on as many as 200 in a single afternoon.
For my money, it was the least effective way of getting our message across for the simple reason that it more often than not resulted in a curt dismissal from a harried housewife, an inebriated jerk or a large dog.
This didn't mean it didn't sometimes involve a genuine surprise. Occasionally the door would be answered with a gun, a sexual proposition or someone stark naked. Once we were set upon by a large pig.
Another time, the door revealed a guy covered in blood. He told us that while he appreciated us stopping by, he'd sooner have his wife hit him in the head again than listen to what we had to say.
By my rough guess, we knocked on 500 doors per gospel message delivered, and maybe 5,000 per actual convert. Those could only be considered good results if the people doing it are voluntarily paying for the privilege.
Toward the end of my mission, I started thinking that maybe knocking on doors was actually just busy work, a way of keeping a bunch of teenage boys out of trouble until they stumbled into someone to teach.
I was older and had already been in the military by then, so I understood the concept of chipping paint and arranging rocks when there was nothing better to do. And because I knew that keeping young men busy worked, I couldn't complain.
It's different when you're on the other side of the door. Christians have been in Utah this past week knocking on our doors. With roughly half a billion returned missionaries in the state, it's possible that we'll be more understanding.
They haven't knocked on mine yet, but I tell myself that my own door-to-door tracting experience has taught me how to be polite to people who only think they have my best interests in mind.
It will help if I remember to keep my clothes on and don't buy a pig.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.