The Homer Tribune in Alaska received an odd phone call recently. It was Elder Nelson Witt, a Mormon missionary from Syracuse, Utah, asking if the paper had a typewriter.
"We did," a Tribune editor wrote in the paper this week, "an old 1950s-era manual (typewriter) tucked away in a closet."
When Witt and his companion, Elder Thomas Butler, stopped by to pick it up, they explained that among other things, "They can't go out on a boat fishing, watch television or movies, nor even read a newspaper," the editor wrote. "So the typewriter was to use for letters home, and a news column Witt had in mind."
Needless to say, Witt wrote his column this week and the Tribune published it: "My name is Elder Nelson Elias Witt," he wrote. "Elder Witt is what my name tag says and that's just what people in Alaska call me. I am a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
He goes on to explain that an LDS mission lasts for two years, is voluntary and self-funded. He tells how many members of the church there are in the world, how many missionaries are proselytizing and what exactly it is that they do for two years.
"In all honesty, we are just as nervous standing at your door as you are having us there," Witt wrote. "We are not trying to sell anything, so why do we do it? We do it to try to bring happiness into people's lives.
"When we stand at your front door, if you do not want to hear about Christ or The Book of Mormon, simply tell us. We have other ways we want to uplift and help."
Other ways indeed, in Witt's 15 months of service he has shoveled snow, planted gardens, cooked, cared for endangered ducks, laid cement floor, weighed fish, cleaned driveways, visited the lonely and built a shed, a wall and a greenhouse.
"Don't think of us as merely missionaries," Witt pleaded. "Think of us as people who want to uplift, inspire and comfort …So next time we knock on the door, consider our offer to serve. If there is no service to be done, feel free to just talk to us. Numerous times I have talked to people that just needed a friend to talk to."
Witt's service and letter align with the LDS Church's "Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service." In a section proffering suggestions to missionaries, it says, "Coordinate closely with the church's local public affairs representatives for opportunities to get articles published in a local newspaper about your missionary service," and elewhere, "Look for opportunities to offer simple service."
Needless to say, the LDS Church believes missionaries should seek the opportunity to serve.
"(Missionaries are) encouraged to look for opportunities to assist others with whom they come into contact," said LDS spokesman Scott Trotter. "Engaging in service helps missionaries to follow the example of Jesus Christ."
In response to Witt's open letter, a commenter on the Homer Tribune's website wrote the following: "Thank you. This should be published in all the papers … Couldn't be published at a better time."