GREENFIELD — As Elder Chase Hadden unpacked in Kokomo in the first days of 2014, the temperature was 120 degrees colder than the desert area of California where he went to high school.
These were the first days of his mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I was like, ‘What the heck did I sign up for?’” he said.
What he had signed up for was a mission, the two-year period of service many Mormons embark on between the ages of 18 (for men) or 19 (for women) and 26. They are sent out as teams of two men or two women, changing teammates often and living in various regions of an area.
With less than two months left in his mission, Hadden, 20, is working in Greenfield with Elder Wyatt Hancock, 21, who is 18 months into his mission. They’ve been in the area for five weeks, knocking on doors and offering to talk about their beliefs with anyone who will listen.
People’s reactions are mixed, Hancock said.
“I’ve had people make noises and shut the door in my face,” he said.
Hadden said missionaries don’t seek to force their message on anyone, but “we invite them to hear what we have to say.”
For those who do engage in conversation with them, the men offer pamphlets and teachings from their own times of study, trying to choose topics relevant to that person. Listeners who want to talk more can book an appointment, usually about an hour.
In earlier stops on his mission journey, Hadden saw people who weren’t faithful in church attendance before attending a Mormon church.
Moments like those are gratifying for Mormon missionaries, who embrace a regimented lifestyle during the time they are serving. They avoid television to focus on their work and study, emailing family once a week and calling home only twice a year, Christmas and Mother’s Day.
They sign up for a mission not knowing where in the United States or the world they will serve. The men in Greenfield have friends or relatives serving around the globe — Missouri, Florida, Japan, Mexico and other places.
Don Elkington of Greenfield, a fifth-generation Mormon, recalls being sent to Scotland for his mission. He serves as a liaison between the team working in Greenfield and the local LDS congregation meeting at 11220 E. 30th St., Indianapolis, where Hadden and Hancock worship on Sundays.
Those serving missions must raise $10,000 beforehand, which goes into a fund to pay living expenses for missionaries. They do not receive a salary. If they don’t raise the $10,000, their families can help them.
Hadden and Hancock share an apartment and a cellphone, both of which go to whoever is serving in Greenfield at the time.
They rise around 6:30 a.m., exercise for 30 minutes and spend an hour in personal study, followed by another hour of study together. There’s a weekly conference call with the mission president and afternoons of knocking on doors or performing community service, such as raking leaves for those who need it or helping nonprofit organizations. They’re typically back in to the apartment by 9 p.m. and turn in around 10:30 p.m., in time to be rested for the routine to begin again the next morning.
During their morning studies, they read the Bible (King James Version) and the Book of Mormon; they regard both books as Scripture, considering the latter a “second witness” of Jesus’ work, or as Elkington put it, a history of God’s dealings with people in the Americas.
The latest chapter of Mormon history includes the building of a temple in Carmel. Elkington said about 90,000 people passed through the structure during an open house period in July and August, when even curious non-Mormon members could tour it before its Aug. 23 dedication, after which it is considered sacred and for use by members only.
The building, members say, is not a place for weekly worship but a place to carry out ordinances of the Mormon church, such as sealing of marriages for all time and eternity, even beyond the grave. Some of the baptisms performed in the temple can also have far-reaching implications; a family member can stand proxy and be immersed on behalf of a deceased loved one, and “they are able to accept or reject it in the hereafter,” Hancock said.
Mormons, in their conversations and in their promotional materials, talk about Jesus’ death on the cross as a payment of the penalty for sin. In doing so, they sound like many other churches. But Hadden and Hancock agree there are other beliefs unique to Mormons.
Those include believing that God called Joseph Smith as a prophet in the 1820s and gave Smith a message on buried golden plates that Smith translated. This was important, Mormons believe, because the church fell away from truth after the days of the original apostles.
“The Lord took the priesthood authority and his church from the earth,” reads mormon.org, and the message to Smith was a step in bringing it back.
“Our claim is a little bit bold,” Hancock said. “We have a lot of restored truth as well.”
Hadden said that, in his soon-to-end journey of sharing about Mormonism, he has grown to love teaching people. The time since those early days of bitter cold in Kokomo have passed quickly, and he feels differently about his journey.
“I’ve definitely seen the blessings and why it was worthwhile,” he said. “I can say I had an impact on people’s lives.”
The church: “A general falling away from the truth occurred after the death of Christ’s Apostles. … Joseph Smith’s First Vision marked the beginning of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth.”
The Bible: “The Bible is the word of God and came from the writings of holy men of God as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost (see 2 Peter 1:20-21. Through the same process we have additional Holy Scripture, including the Book of Mormon, which supports and exalts the Bible.”
Book of Mormon: “Moroni told Joseph (Smith) that a record of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent was buried in a nearby hill and that the record contained the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The fall: “You may know the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but did you know it was they who paved the way for the rest of us to come to earth, make choices, and become like our Heavenly Father? As God’s first children on earth, Adam and Eve were living in their garden paradise. They didn’t feel any sorrow or pain, which might seem nice, except that without it, they also couldn’t feel joy.”
Polygamy: “At various times, the Lord has commanded His people to practice plural marriage. For example, He gave this command to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon. … In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it. … In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff received a revelation that the leaders of the Church should cease teaching the practice of plural marriage.”
Prophets: “Because God loves His children, He continues to send living prophets. Joseph Smith (1805–44) was the first prophet of our time. Thomas S. Monson is God’s chosen prophet today. Just as God led the Israelites out of slavery and to a better place through His prophet Moses, He leads His children today into happier, more peaceful lives when they choose to follow His living prophet.”