Missionaries travel Caldwell County's streets

Jan. 21, 2014 @ 10:24 AM

When you see a pair of Mormon missionaries riding their bikes, wearing their black nametags and pressed white shirts, raising their hands to knock on doors, it’s easy to think of them as anonymous. Transient. Simply part of one massive group.

But, of course, they aren’t actually anonymous. The five Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionaries currently assigned to Caldwell County are 21-year-old Cody Troseth, 19-year-old Quinn Miles, 19-year-old Will Richardson, 20-year-old Jessica Campos and 20-year-old Emily Ashcraft. (They don’t call each other by those names -- LDS missionaries are referred to as “Elder or “Sister, based on gender.)

All five are spending 18 months to two years proselytizing on behalf of the Mormon church.

Mormon missions aren’t mandatory, but they do work a little differently from the Protestant mission work many North Carolinians are familiar with. Most of the missionaries are young; they have to be single men age 18 to 25, single women age 19 or older, or retired couples. They are not paid. Their housing is not provided. The missionaries pay their own way, or their parents do.

“I don’t know how many people understand that we’re out here for two years, 24/7,” Richardson said. “It’s not a weekend thing. It’s not a part-time thing.”

Troseth, Miles, Richardson, Campos and Ashcraft were all assigned to the Charlotte mission, a central office that has sent them out to various towns in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina. Missionaries stay in each town for varying lengths of time, anywhere from six weeks to nine months. They’re always paired with at least one other missionary — they’re called “companions,” and they spend much of their time together.

All five missionaries rise at 6:30 a.m. every morning, and end each day at 10:30 p.m. Most of the day is spent proselytizing – following up appointments, knocking on doors, meeting people in the street. They also spend time on various service projects, from helping people move to raking leaves.

To the actual proselytizing, reactions vary.

“You get your extremely welcoming people with the happy smile, like, glad to see you,” Miles said. “Then you get some who are — well, still happy to see us, but they want us to go somewhere else.”

Although most of the missionaries are college-age, the rules regarding entertainment are stringent. They’re not allowed to date or watch movies. They have a curfew. They’re allowed to use Facebook, but they’re supposed to discuss faith, not secular things.

They’re allowed to contact their families once a week, via email.

The adjustment is easy at first, Miles said, because it’s often been planned for so long. But later, things can get tough.

“I think at first, it was easy to kind of leave everything behind,” he said. “But as you get further into your mission, it kind of creeps up on you. You kind of wish you were home with your family.”

The “why” of spending a year away from home – and many of its creature comforts – differs a bit from person to person. They’re trying to set an example for younger siblings, or they’re living up to the example of a brother who served a mission in Brazil, or they’ve grown up in the Mormon church and simply always planned to give this year away.

But there are common threads, of course: zeal and belief and passing along principles.

“I’ve seen how what we’re teaching has blessed my life,” Richardson said. “I wanted to be able to give other people the same thing.”

Some of the young missionaries currently biking through Lenoir haven’t been doing this long. Ashcraft, one of the two women, is only three months in.

Others are almost finished. In two weeks, Troseth’s mission will be over.

“At this point, you’re nervous and trying to figure out what you’re going to do when you get home,” said Troseth, who’s still not sure what he plans to do next. “It’s time to get a job. It’s time to go to school. It’s time to kind of get your life going.”