Today I attended the Meet My Religious Neighbor at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I knew pretty little about Mormons upon arriving at the church, but my friend and I were kindly greeted at the door and we soon had two tour guides to show us around the church. Our tour guides were two young men that were sent to Iowa to complete their mission. I was a bit confused at first, however, it was soon explained to me that these young men and women who meet the qualifications of the church are sent on two-year mission trips to places around the world and teach people about Jesus. I was sort of taken back that someone so young would be willing to leave their family, friends, hometown and more to go somewhere new and teach strangers about their beliefs. Although it is comparable to them leaving for college, it just seemed like such a different experience since most of the missionaries I am used to seeing are older. I was already learning so many new things within the first 10 minutes of arriving!
Our kind tour guides started off by taking us to the genealogy section where they trace their ancestry. I was told that knowing their ancestors and where they come from is something very important to them. They even offer a free website to help not only those who are members of the church but anyone who comes to them finds their ancestors. Though I did not partake, my friend did sign up for the free website to find out where she was from and it was a very exciting process to be a part of! After spending some time talking with an older gentleman volunteering in the genealogy section, we then started going room by room in the church where we were explained to everything that happens in the church. There were so many new things to learn and hear about the Mormon community. It was fascinating that they find so much comfort in the word of God and believe that he even has direct relations to the President, currently Russell M. Nelson, of the Mormon church.
After having such a welcoming tour and having so many members there to answer any and every question we could possibly have, we got a chance to simply interact with some of the missionaries over snacks. Considering they were roughly the same age as us, they felt more comfortable and told us to ask questions, even the odd ones that we were secretly dying to. We discussed more personal topics and one missionary even admitted to us that he used to be an atheist before committing to the church. They were also quick to ask us our personal beliefs and how they differed from their own. A simple conversation with them turned into something really more unique than I had thought possible. You often hear about how many Mormons have that stigma surrounding them where they only want to come to knock on your door to shove their beliefs in your face, but when one takes the time to just talk with them, you can see that it goes deeper than that. They had just as many questions for us as we did for them making for an invigorating conversation.
There are so many new things you can learn about a religious community you have little experience with, which is why I highly recommend attending any future Meet My Religious Neighbor events. The communities are always so welcoming and willing to help you understand their beliefs and practices with no judgments!
Kelsey Rick Religions of Des Moines Student