Thursday, December 18, 2008

South Africa - the long awaited mission

In 2001 my husband and I began to talk about serving a mission; something I had really looked forward to once the kids were grown. We sent off our applications with assurances from our stake president that no matter where we were called to serve, we should accept even if we could not afford it. We were not as fortunate as some of the couple missionaries - set for life financially, so it was a sacrifice for us, but one that we were so willing to make. We were assured that our home ward and stake would make up the difference financially if necessary.

As a child I had longed to be of service to the god I had been taught to believe in by serving as a missionary in Africa. The call letter at last arrived and we gathered our family around us so that they might share in the excitement. I was completely overwhelmed with emotion when I discovered that we had been called to serve in the South Africa Cape Town Mission. It was as though President Hinckley was truly in touch with god and god with me. As I read the letter more thoroughly I realized that we had been called to serve in the mission office. I did not have a lot of skill with computers and I had never acted in the capacity of a secretary. I realized that my husband did possess the skills necessary to do the job and I assumed that god would help me. Mormons are taught that god will make up for all that we lack if we are obedient and do our best; in fact Mormons are taught to accept any calling for service within the church.

We sent off our acceptance letter and in March 2002 we were on our way to the MTC in Provo, Utah. I wouldn't be honest if I said that the MTC was not a great place to be; great food, great people and some wonderful lectures. The enthusiasm was palpable as we walked the grounds of the young missionaries training center and observed them practicing the various languages they would need to know. It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement; but it was a tiring schedule. We met people who were sacrificing so much and though we were making a huge sacrifice of our own, the other people's sacrifices seemed to be greater. Some of the couples were much older than us and not in the best of health yet still willing to serve. I felt humbled to be in their presence.

We had a son-in-law suffering with cancer and felt that this was our huge sacrifice, but when it comes down to the truth of that matter I realize that we were bargaining with god for his life. "If you love them, leave them." This is the motto for couple missionaries. All will be well with your family and our family was praying hard for a miracle for this young man that we all loved so much.

We were at the MTC for 10 days and excitedly departed on a Thursday for our long, long trip to Cape Town. We got on a shuttle bus for the Salt Lake City airport for a flight to LA. Then a long flight to Heathrow, UK. Then after a wait there we were on the last leg of our journey, roughly 12 hours to Cape Town. We were watching the little TV monitor on the back of the seat in front of us; wanting to see when the plane image crossed the equator. We dozed off and missed it. That is a horrendously long trip with no layovers and we were exhausted when we finally arrived early in the morning on Saturday.

We were picked up in a shiny volkswagen combie (passenger van) by the mission president and his wife, other couples and the AP's. On the trip to the mission home I was dismayed to see the shanty towns lining the roads; it was hard to believe that people lived their lives like this. At the mission home we were given a room and told that we could sleep for a couple of hours, get cleaned up and then go for dinner at one of the couples' flat, after which we were to travel to the stake center to attend the general conference broadcast in the evening. My ankles were like two puffy balls, but we did as we were told. I could not stay awake for much of it; my dreams and the talks were all muddled together.

We met some people and looked forward to getting to know them better; loved their accents. Got back to the mission home and had a fitful night; trying to adjust to the heat, and the change in time zone. We got up in the morning and headed out for a whole day and evening watching general conference broadcast again. The view from the chapel was wonderful and the people seemed nice. Still had puffy ankles and was thinking that if I could just lie down the swelling would disappear. After about 32 hours of air travel and then all this sitting at conference, lying down would be such a luxury. I didn’t know at that time that I would be spending the next week lying down.

On the way home from the stake center once again as passengers in the shiny red combie, we were involved in a terrible accident sustaining among other injuries nasty blows to my head which took away my memory of most of the events which transpired for the next several hours. I had blotches of memory after the accident but no coherent memories about the accident itself. I have since been hypnotized to try to come to terms with this terribly traumatic event but I feel that I was mostly hypothesizing what would have been the case and re-constructing things from what I had been told by those less injured. I know that I was cut out of the back of the vehicle. I remembered later, a voice telling me that he was a paramedic and informing him that I had a broken wrist – that was one of many injuries. I also remember trying to negotiate a deal with god once again; my life for my son-in-law’s life. He was young and I somehow knew that I was in rough shape.

Being wheeled along a concrete corridor is my next coherent memory and thinking that I was in a morg. I called out for my husband and heard his reassuring voice. Everything was so confusing as I tried to piece together the events. I watched blood soaked gauze pads; one after the other being pulled away from their mopping job on my left forehead and temple. The doctor told me I had a 13 centimeter gash which needed to be stitched up. My wrist WAS broken and I would need surgery in the morning. My husband came and stood by me; his head a mass of lacerations and his eyes rapidly turning black. I finally said, “Were we in an accident?” He said yes and things became confused again. Yes, they were admitting me and my husband wanted to stay with me. His neck was sore and he was obviously injured and he needed rest. They finally admitted him too and we were put into a ladies ward with 4 beds but just the two of us as occupants – then blessed oblivion.

I awoke in the morning as they were moving me to go for surgery on my left wrist. I asked my husband how his neck felt and he said it was very painful. I believe I was quite bossy in demanding that they x-ray his neck; something that had not been done in emergency. I was a first aid instructor until our mission and I was trying to take charge of the situation. I had to have a plate and screws in my wrist to hold it together. When the anesthetic and pain pills effects began to weaken I realized that my husband was now sporting a neck brace. His neck was broken; how close we had come to dying right there on the second day of our mission. God must have wanted us to survive, although for the life of me later on, I couldn’t understand why. If he had needed me in South Africa why didn’t he protect me from injuries that would make it almost impossible for me to do my job? Other injuries were a broken collar bone on the right and a broken scaphoid also on the right. A couple of broken ribs, fractured L1 vertebrae made moving around an extremely painful thing to do. Can you imagine doing office work with these injuries? We decided to stay on and do what we had been called to do for several reasons.

  • We had just traveled all that distance and the thought of returning with those kinds of injuries did not bear thinking about. Couldn’t even rummage in my suitcase when we were released from the hospital to the mission home one week later.
  • God wanted us to serve in South Africa and this was another sacrifice
  • Maybe this would be the sacrifice that would save our son-in-law
  • We had rented out our home to some young women so had nothing to return to
  • Our family was already struggling so hard to support our daughter and her dying husband; the last thing they needed was two badly injured parents to house and care for.
  • Our stake president in setting us apart for this calling counseled us to stay on our missions and not come home, no matter what happened.

So within two weeks of the accident we were learning our duties in the mission office, up two flights of stairs, with my husband now in a much more substantial neck brace, black eyes and a head that looked like it had been grated. I had two wrist casts and a sling for the collar bone, a giant concussion combined with the memory loss that kept interfering with my recollection of my duties. I sat in the cheap office chair with the broken back and ribs, answering the many phone calls, trying to open envelopes and file documents etc. It was the worst experience of my life and what made it worse was that our mission president was an MD and did nothing to help. He had absolutely no compassion for the severity of the pain as he dumped letters on my desk telling me to sort them or to type letters from his dictation machine. My husband slogged away at learning the mission finance work.

Immediate results of the accident were that the mission president paid for the hospital expenditures because money was needed immediately to cover those costs. We had insurance but until we had all the receipts etc. there was no way of making a claim.

Nobody from the mission bothered to phone our kids; my husband did that on the Monday or Tuesday.

Nobody from Salt Lake HQ bothered to contact us to see how we were and what would be best for us.

Nobody from the area office in Johannesburg bothered to contact us until some time later when the travel arranger called and asked how I was making out with my job and my injuries and I cried and told him how callous the mission president was. Then I got a call from a member of the area presidency in Jo'burg. He must have talked with the mission president because I got somewhat of an apology from him admitting that he was not a very caring individual. Glad he wasn't my doctor.

None of the missionary couples who were serving in other areas as much as sent a get well card. I felt so alone and so uncared for. I felt abandoned by god and my husband and I were sleeping in separate rooms to allow us both to get the rest we so badly needed. I was spaced out on pain pills for weeks.

We were barely making it from one day to the next emotionally and physically. We were living at the mission home temporarily until the couple we were replacing had taught us our numerous duties and left for home. They were wonderful and so patient. Mormons are some of the best people on the earth. They helped prop up my mattress when we got home from the hospital and provided dinner.

The mission home's maid was helpful in making our beds and changing the bedding often for us. The MP and wife headed out for Port Elizabeth and we were on our own to make meals and entertain ourselves in the evenings. With no energy left over from a day at the office we mostly just read, wrote in my journal if it killed me; I wanted to remember all the details.

My collar bone was not healing and I had to have surgery after 12 weeks of working with the bone ends jamming into each other.

More about that in the next blog.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I let go!

It was a nightmare! I wanted with all my heart for the church to be true; I tried everything I could within the limits that are recommended by the LDS Church leaders to bring back the testimony that I thought was always going to be mine. I was not disobedient; I was not mentally ill; I was faced with a dilemma regarding the truth.

When I allowed the missionaries to teach me back in 1967, I was impressed with their love for the gospel and integrity to their beliefs. They were so convincing, young and sweet; really, I mean that from the bottom of my heart. My own sons, who were barely more than babies at the time I joined the church, later served missions to Japan and England. I know that they went with full purpose of heart to teach people exactly what I had taught them and what they had learned through all their years growing up in the church. They believed it and wanted to share it with others. I want to make it quite clear as I post on this site, that I in no way hold the missionaries responsible for teaching what turned out to be a huge pile of lies. The people that I do hold responsible are the leaders of the organization from Joseph Smith down to the present day. Those who have been mind controlled to believe everything that they are taught from birth are not responsible for believing the wonderful dream.

We are all responsible however for what we do with the information that comes our way. We all have the right to dissect information and form our own opinions. This is what we do with any information that we encounter throughout our lives and it is not only acceptable, but very wise. Unfortunately, when it involves religion, there are so many taboos placed upon our dissection methods. The acceptable ones; answers that come through prayer or scripture study, the 'promptings that seem to come to many in the temple, keeping ourselves free of sin so that we are worthy vessels to receive promptings from the Holy Ghost and failing that, going for help to the bishop or others 'in authority' over us, just don't seem to help for many of us; hence the dilemma. What do you do when all of those efforts have failed? Many continue on though they have lost their belief; they believe that they can put on a front and they do until it wears away at their integrity and peace of mind. It eats at you and like a new cancer patient you frantically search for a cure. The cure is within you but you know or at least think you know how painful this will be for you and those that you may have born testimony to for many years; especially any children that you love or a spouse as in my case. You know that they will look upon you as an unfaithful person; one who could not endure to the end. They will think that Satan has his hooks into you most likely because you have sinned in some way. In fact in their eyes we sin the moment we look at pro-truth literature. I refuse to call it anti-Mormon because that is not what most people read unless you want to label the Doctrine and Covenants, The Book of Mormon, FARMS and FAIR articles and The Journal of Discourses as anti-Mormon literature. This is where faithful Mormons go for their information usually; though the latter has been largely ignored except for the favorable sermons that are still published in LDS lesson manuals. It is a shock to see these writings in a new light - frightening as you feel your faith wavering.

I felt the pre-shocks in South Africa on our mission and will post more about those in the future, but for now I just want to say that once a person's faith has been shaken so badly that they go in search of the cure and the answers, they will find them. If they finally decide that they can no longer keep up the charade and leave the church, they may go through more hell than any that Christians may describe as the just desserts of a sinful life.

I did let go 2 years ago; at least I thought I had, yet when I attended my very first Exmormon Foundation Conference in Oct 2008, I finally let go of the beautiful dream in a flood of tears during one speaker's presentation. Letting go means turning the corner and that is just what I needed to do. The cure is validation. Just as Mormons and other religious groups like to gather together for strength and enjoyment of one another's company, so do ex-Mormons. I have not felt so validated and loved since I was love-bombed into the church all those years ago.