Give the missionaries a chance - April Avison

You've likely seen these young men around the county. They wear suit jackets and ties, and they walk or ride bikes, even on the cold days. They wave at every passing car, and their smiles reflect genuine happiness.

I had the opportunity to meet some young missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while attending a canning project with the Rotary Club last month. The young men were spirited and kind, and I was confused by how different they are than most young men their age.

Those who have had little exposure to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, myself included, have formed their own, usually un-researched, opinions. We think of Mormons as bigamists and we label them as the people who aren't allowed to drink soda (neither assessment is true) and we rarely allow them the opportunity to tell us what they're really all about.

When two 19-year-old missionaries, Elder Balaich and Elder Barnes, stopped by my office for a visit, I figured they would try to convert me and save my soul. I was pleasantly surprised by how they simply told me why their mission was important to them and let me ask question after question as I progressively realized how little I know about this religion.

I was also pleased at the respect they show to people of other faiths. I think people of other faiths owe them that same courtesy and respect.

This column is not being written to persuade anyone to attend the Mormon church or believe their teachings. However, I was discouraged to hear that these young people who sincerely, wholeheartedly believe in their mission and sacrifice two years to share with other people, get doors literally slammed in their faces every day. People are not willing to listen to them. Why?

Knowing more about other people and other religions can only make you a better person. Please understand that I'm not asking you to change your personal beliefs, but rather open your mind to learn about what other people believe. I found it to be a very rewarding experience.

I wrote a news story a few weeks ago about these two local missionaries, and in it I made a mistake. Allow me to correct it here. There are about 12 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world, and about 60,000 full-time missionaries. I had the numbers confused in the story I wrote, and I got more e-mails about it than I've ever received in response to any story I've ever written. Each writer was kind, gently educating me n not to make me feel stupid, but to let me know the truth. And that's really what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems to embody n sharing their truth through kindness.

If Mormon missionaries come knocking at your door, I encourage you to invite them in. Share with them what you believe to be religious truths, engage them in discussion and debate, do what your heart leads you to do. But please be kind to them. They may not have the same beliefs you do, but they believe in their religion as strongly as you believe in yours, and they deserve to be treated with respect.

April Avison is the city editor of the Daily Herald. Her column appears on Mondays. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at aavison@henryherald.com.