Wright Words: A day in the life of Mormon missionaries in Woodstock, Virginia

Published: Friday, July 18 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Elders Spencer Jensen (left) and Kenneth Kuhn and Sisters Briana Moore (center) and Brook Swisher, take a "service selfie" while helping a woman in Edinburg, Va.

Provided by Briana Moore

Recently, I wrote about exciting developments in missionary work in Baltimore. A new social media program called #socialmediasplit seeks to better link local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the full-time missionaries, and to take the blessings of the traditional “split” and multiply them using tools like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

For a deeper understanding of the project, I spent a full day in June with two Spanish-speaking elders serving in the city. The experience was a memorable, educational whirlwind and exposed readers to the unpredictable nature of the work in a multicultural, fast-paced area.

On Friday, July 11, eager to appreciate the differences in work in diverse areas, I scheduled a similar adventure with the full-time missionaries serving in my own backyard — Woodstock, Virginia. Though we’re in the same mission as our friends in Baltimore, the backdrop for the work couldn’t be more different.

The Woodstock Ward, part of the Winchester Virginia Stake, sits in the middle of Shenandoah County and is blessed with two sets of full-time missionaries. We have a phenomenal companionship of both elders and sisters, and while they live in tiny Woodstock — population 5,000 — they are responsible for a county with 42,000 people spread across 513 square miles.

For perspective, the missionaries I joined in Baltimore work in a city with a density of 7,671 people per square mile. I witnessed firsthand how they encounter more people every day than they could possibly talk to. In Woodstock, the missionaries labor in an area with just 67 residents per square mile.

My day began by coordinating schedules with Elders Kenneth Kuhn of Las Vegas and Spencer Jensen of Lewiston, Cache County, Utah; and Sisters Briana Moore of The Woodlands, Texas, and Brook Swisher of Brentwood, California. I planned to bounce back and forth between them throughout the day, helping as much as I could without becoming a distraction or overstepping my role.

After their studies, I was scheduled to meet the sisters for an appointment with an investigator in the town of Strasburg, another small town at the northern edge of their massive area. Much to their disappointment, and despite confirming the appointment the night before, the woman wasn’t home. With an hour free before lunch, and already having used 15 of their preciously allotted monthly driving miles, they decided to contact people on the street for an hour.

In Baltimore, this would mean near nonstop contacts on the bustling streets. In Strasburg, this meant walking a full block without passing anyone. I caught up with them on the sidewalk and we made our way north. Soon Sister Swisher, perhaps one of the most irrepressibly bubbly and positive missionaries ever to wear a tag, was gushing over an infant in a stroller. (It is said that if Sister Swisher laughs in Virginia, her family hears it in California. This is unconfirmed.)

The woman pushing the stroller, Janet, was very impressed by the sisters and agreed to a visit. Already the sisters were wondering if the earlier missed appointment had been divine design.

We stepped into an indoor flea market and I introduced the missionaries to the owner, Sally, a relative of a local LDS Church member. They chatted freely and the sisters expressed genuine concern when learning that Sally’s husband recently passed away. Before we left, Sally accepted an invitation for a visit to discuss what the church believes about the eternal nature of families and the importance of temples.

Although the sisters had packed a lunch, we felt prompted to step into a Mexican restaurant across the street. After the sisters were seated, I invited the server, Jose, to give them three minutes before they left for the beginning of the most important message he might ever hear. He agreed, and I left the sisters to their lunch. They reported later that, indeed, he had listened and had passed along his name and address to meet with the elders for a more formal discussion.

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