There they were—Mormon missionaries—heading toward my neighborhood, two clean-cut young men in their late teens or early 20s pedaling their bicycles two-by-two, white shirts and ties. I feel the dread of “Oh, I don’t want to have to mess with these guys today.” As I turn down my street leaving them in my rear-view mirror, I quickly forget about those two strangers on loan to God for a 2-year stint as ambassadors for Jesus Christ of the Ladder Day Saints, away from friends and family, school and home church, defending their faith and reaching out for converts door-to-door and drive-way to drive-way across western North Carolina and northern South Carolina. No, I don’t know all this background yet, not yet.
A few minutes later, safely at home, car in the driveway, I venture out to give our little shih tzu a short walk. Just as I leave the front door of our house, I spy them, walking just across the street turning up toward one of the houses on the opposite side. Seeing my chance, I quickly engage the dog into a trot heading away from the pair as quickly as possible. I turn right across a tiny park and into the woods along a hiking trail safely out of distance and sight of the dynamic duo. But even as I’m turning into the woods to avoid them, God sends his word to me: tell them they are not preaching the same Jesus that Paul preached. OK, Lord, I think, when I get the chance, that’s what I’ll do, but not today, right? I’m headed into the woods right now for a little doggy walk. But that’s a great idea. I’ll have to use that next time.
It only takes Mushu a short time to do his business and his tiny little legs take about 20 steps for each one of mine so about ten minutes later we’re behind my house on the hiking trail and I realize I can get safely into the house through the back yard without speaking to the Mormons. Inside the house, I again forget about them entirely and am off to do the next thing on my unwritten list of random household activities. Upon entering the garage to do exactly what I don’t recall, I spy a plastic ice cream container used to catch the overflow dripping from the hot water heater and its contents have turned putrid and stinky. I open the garage door and head out to dump the yucky contents in the bushes when I look straight-forward into the approaching smiles and direct eye contact of the two diligent disciples.
Now I’m sure they didn’t notice but I’m smiling on the inside, nodding my head as I look up into the air briefly to say, OK, God. You’re funny. I’m not getting out of this, am I? For a brief moment, I realize I could just look at them, throw the water away and walk back into the garage. They would be used to that. People ignore them all the time, especially men who just got home around dinnertime.
“So what are you up to this lovely afternoon?” one of them asks. I’m still thinking about feigning deafness or Alzheimer’s. “Well, I’m dumping this gunk that I’m afraid may have been contaminated by the exterminator. It smells really bad, see?”
“Yes, it does!” the other clean-cut college kid says. “We’re here as ambassadors in the name of Jesus Christ.” They both have very professional-looking name tags with the title Elder Brian or Robert Something-or-other of Jesus Christ of Ladder Day Saints.
“You know,” I start, “I lead a men’s Bible study at my church, and I wonder if you are familiar with one of the Apostle Paul’s warnings that if someone comes preaching another Jesus than the one Paul preached, or a different spirit than the Holy Spirit, or a different gospel than the one Paul preached…” Now I start to stutter a little because the verse ends, “Let them be accursed!” At least that’s the way King James has it and I’m thinking, maybe that’s a little too harsh as an opening salvo. So I say, “I probably shouldn’t have anything to do with them. I don’t think your Jesus is my Jesus.”
We talk on for more than a half an hour. I’m enjoying it. I’m thinking what great young men these are. So committed. Why was I trying so hard to avoid them? Jesus would not avoid them. He would love them. He would not cast the first stone. I think he might even weep for them because as sincere and self-assured as they were, they did not know Him, nor did they know their gospel was a different one, one full of promises but missing the Promise.After the theological jousting had gone back and forth with no clear victor in the mind of the other, I wish my visitors a good evening and they move on down the street. But I pray for them later that night and wonder if I had left an impression on them as they had on me. And I thanked God that He made me show up for the battle whether I wanted to or not.