Editors’ note: Every year, more than 52,000 Mormon missionaries descend upon the world. This is a four-part series that follows two such messengers.
God, Guns and Glory
When you’re staring down the barrel of a 12-gauge shotgun, the Promised Land can either look very hazy or pretty close — depending on your outlook on life.
The only thing standing between James Tate and a round of angry shells tearing through his anatomy was his Book of Mormon and a belief that there was a God and that He had made him fast — real fast.
“We got to go,” insisted a hushed voice, carrying traces of urgency.
As Tate firmly jerked at the passenger’s side handle to the 2006 red Toyota Corolla that would take him away from the madness, he couldn’t help but give way to a sweeping tide of sadness. Behind the pitch-black darkness that blanketed pine trees and mobile homes lived a soul — a thriving, beautiful soul that wanted to reach out for something more.
Salvation would have to wait.
As he sat back against the cold leather car seat, a mist of sweat seeping through his short brown hair, his eyes peered through the window and stole a glance at the hollering bald-headed figure adorned in a ragged shirt and cutoff jeans. Before his mind could wrap around what had just happened, the ignition roared to life, announcing retreat.
When he had submitted his name to become a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Tate understood that his work would require a lot of faith and discipline to make it through the rough patches. Nobody had ever told him, however, that he would need a bulletproof vest to defend himself against shotgun-wielding, testosterone-infused, redneck ex-boyfriends of baptism candidates.
He had already had a long day, helping a local Mormon ward construct the set for its play while getting his daily dosage of slammed doors and adamant refusals. But he forgot about those things when he flipped open his rumbling cell phone, which would summon him into the night.
For Tate and other missionaries, the call doesn’t end —it only gets louder.
It came on April 8, 2009. Bound in a thick manila envelope, it took nearly all the space within the mail box, shoving the bills and coupon lists aside.
What laid inside was enough to bring Tate’s stomach to an abrupt standstill. He knew it was coming. He had been waiting for this package since he was 10, saving up the money he made through household chores and part-time jobs in anticipation.
Inside were papers that would tell him where he would spend the next two years. As he called his parents to tell them the news, his mind flashed with possibilities pertaining to where he would be going. Missionary papers are like a cruel game of global roulette; they could order you to any part of the world that they saw fit. Tate could end up a few hours away from his hometown of Mesa, Ariz., or he could be sent to the jungles of Uruguay, like his older brother, Zach.
“Oh man, I’m terrible with languages, and I’ve got a soft stomach,” said Tate, whose brother had to eat sheep stomach soup while on his mission. “I was not about to have that.”
For the second part, click here.
For the third part, click here.
For the fourth part, click here.