So... being a missionary scares me. Like... spitless. Talking to some random stranger about religion? Scary! I suppose if the stranger brings it up and asks questions, I'm fine. But I really can't fathom a situation where I would be the one to bring up the topic of religion and what we Mormons believe.
That is... until today. So, I'm at this luncheon. When I walked in, most of the tables were full and I didn't see anyone I knew, so I just picked a partially-empty table and asked if I could sit with them. They agreed readily, saying that they were a table of strangers. Then I heard a voice say, "Well, not anymore." I looked up and across the table from me was Steve! Hahaha. Go figure.
Anyway, so we all got talking and I mentioned that I work for FamilySearch. (Now, the problem with saying this is that the Digital Book project is just a teensy weensy bit of FamilySearch. Also, they only quite recently even put us on their website. So I always fear that when I say I work for them (or wear the shirt with the logo on it (which is everywhere at conferences)) that people will think I will know how to use FamilySearch. Hmm... perhaps I should learn how to use it...) They asked what I do and I told them that I was part of the Digital Book Team, which was only a tiny part of FamilySearch, but then explained our mission of digitizing family history books and putting them online for the world to access. One lady asked how much it cost to access. I told her it was free to everyone. Susan, the lady next to me, looked doubtful. "Why would you do that?"
!!! Now what? Perfect opportunity, but how do I explain without babbling forever? I think that's another reason why I'm scared of missionary opportunities. I don't know how to simplify things. How do I answer this questions without a huge discussion about temples and sealing and then gosh, we'll have to get into priesthood keys and I'm not entirely clear on that, and ahhhh! I don't have time for this!
Instead I used previous conversation to help me. Susan is quite new to the genealogy world. She did her genealogy, but did it all by herself. She had no idea the network that was in the world... people wanting to help other people put family histories together. Once she experienced this network she was shocked at how many people wanted to freely share everything they had done with her. Why would people be so nice and sharing? She loved it. So when she asked why we would do all of this work for free, I reminded her about how genealogists wanted to share everything and told her that's what we were doing. "Why should our Family History Library be limited to only those people who can come to Salt Lake? We want people to be able to do their genealogy sitting at home at 2 am in their pajamas." Another lady commented on how those were called "Slipper Genealogists" and conversation went on from there.
Here and there questions were asked about the Church's projects, but most of those questions I deflected to Steve. (Oh thank you, Steve, for being at that table! I really need to learn so much about us before I do anything like this on my own!) I think he convinced half of them to do Internet Indexing by the end of it. (Did you know you get a free subscription to Ancestry.com if you do? Who knew?)
Susan got a phone call she had to take and left. I got this feeling after she left that I needed to tell her more about why we do this. Why we think it's so important that we provide these services for free. Oddly enough, I wasn't even afraid about it. Of course, about a minute before she came back they started the lecture (which was hilarious. I'll have to blog about that in and of itself). So when she came back I couldn't say anything to her. But through the entire presentation bits of things I could say kept creeping through my mind.
After the lecture was over, conversation just never lent itself to an easy opening while we gathered our stuff up. So I made a point to leave as soon as Susan did. Of course, now fear enters. What am I gonna say? Can I really do this? !!!!! I really almost just said goodbye and left. But I didn't! Be proud everyone!
Susan and I were walking down the hall, towards the classrooms where the next set of sessions were (even though I had every intention to go the opposite way back to my room so that I could go do some touring before I leave) and just chit chatting. A pause finally came and I worked up the guts to say, "So, you were wondering why we're willing to do this for free." Her faced lit up in an "I knew it! There really is a catch!" sort of way. But I plowed on. "We believe that families are forever. We don't believe that they have to be separated at death. So we need to put families together now. So you were asking why we're willing to do this for everyone and not just members of our church? Well, aren't we all family? We were joking back at the table that we were all related somehow, so everyone should have the opportunity to be together. It's not fair to keep a family apart just because they don't belong to our church." Her expression changed as I was speaking. She looked thoughtful now. "I'm sorry I was skeptical," she said, "but in this day and age, everything seems to have a catch. It's refreshing to know that there are still genuine people out there."
I figured this would be the end of the religion topic, but I was wrong. It was her turn to look really nervous as she stammered her way through a question for me. "What is the difference between LDS and Mormon?" Shocked by the question (I had expected polygamy or prophets or Word of Wisdom), I took a second to answer. But I told her the official name of our church and how LDS was just a shortened form. Cuz really, who wants to say, "Oh, you're Catholic? I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." It's just too long, so we decided to shorten it for ease of conversation. Then I explained how Mormon was a nickname given to us because we believe in the Book of Mormon. I explained a little about the Book of Mormon (oh, why didn't I bring one with me?!) and how people used the term against it, but how we don't take offense to it, because the Book of Mormon is such a central part of our religion. But because people don't believe we're Christian (enter different beliefs such as the Trinity here), we wanted to change our focus so that people know that we are, in fact, Christian. Thus, we use LDS, which indicates our full title, which includes Jesus Christ, instead of Mormons. We use both, though. LDS is just more formal while Mormon is more casual.
She was a little confused because she thought LDS and Mormon were two different sects. Like, a break-off group or something. So I explained to her that when Joseph Smith died, there werebreak-off groups. That's why there are now RLDS (now Community of Christ) and FLDS (I think that's what it's called?) churches. We have some of the same basic doctrine, but there are significant differences. For example, the FLDS have been all over the news because of polygamy, whereas we don't practice that anymore. (The look on her face told me that I hit right on the money of what she had been thinking.)
At this point we had been standing outside of the classrooms for awhile and she really needed to get into a session. I wished her luck with her genealogy and she wished me luck with my touring of Philly. Then she gave me a hug and thanked me for being willing to share and talk with her. Then she asked my name and we talked about how I just got married (yes, my name tag says Tianna Lovell), and she went off to class.
As I walked back to my hotel room, I couldn't help but be a bit pleased with myself. I had done it! I've been praying for missionary opportunities and for the courage to act upon them when they came... and I did it! I truly was blessed today. First, to sit by Susan, second to have the impression, and third, for receiving the courage to act upon it. Tears filled my eyes as I thought about it. I may not know everything, I may babble too much, my voice may have shook through the whole conversation, and I maybe didn't say all of the things I should have said (whoa - this sounds like me on Fast Sunday if I get up to bear my testimony), but I knew I did what Heavenly Father wanted me to do. And now I have a friend in Susan.