Ever since I can remember, I had planned to go on a mission for the Church. It was expected of every Mormon boy. When I opened my first bank account before I turned six years old, my mother told me I was to use the account to save for my mission. I was taught that I should always be preparing for my mission by learning the gospel. I was taught the gospel at home, in Sunday School, and various other church classrooms since I was three years old. We were also taught Church doctrine in “Seminary” as part of our high school curriculum. My father, mother, and stepfather had all served missions, and my father and mother taught “Seminary.” I never questioned if I would go on a mission when I turned 19. To question it would demonstrate that serving the Lord was not my highest priority, and that was absolutely unheard of in my family.
When families sit down to eat a meal together, they often offer a prayer. We called it “blessing the food”; others may call it “grace.” The prayer is usually consists of reverent phrases that indicate a belief in God, the family’s devotion to Him, and a recognition of His generosity and love. In some families, the same phrases are repeated in every prayer, and in some families they vary. What is not normally said in a prayer at the dinner table are requests for help with personal issues and struggles that any one individual at the table is dealing with in his/her life. Those things are left to individual prayers offered alone in silence. The prayers at dinnertime are reverent, standardized, and have little to do with personal issues.
My family lived our lives at all times like a prayer at the dinner table. Any dialogue was as pious as a family prayer. There was never an admission of doubt for any part of the strict religious teachings that ruled our lives, nor was there ever an admission of any moral weakness. Problems like that existed but were never discussed. It was assumed that we all dedicated our lives to the Church, and everything else in life, whether it was earning money, romance, or schoolwork, came second to our dedication to the Church. Any personal problems I had at school or with girls were never discussed and I handled them without any counseling from my parents. We always relied on church doctrine to resolve personal issues. Any other options falling outside church doctrine would be sinful.
I seldom received any help with my homework. My mother sometimes typed papers and read some of my reading assignments to me, but I don’t remember ever discussing an author’s philosophy or anything philosophical for that matter. After all, thinking philosophically may lead to questioning our religion.
I attended Church, cut the lawn, took out the garbage, shoveled snow whenever needed, and I never complained. As far as I knew, my friends lived the same kind of lives. Those boys my own age in the neighborhood who did not live the same way were labeled as bad boys and I was told not to associate with them, nor was I ever taught how to deal with them or understand them. I trusted that if I continued living like that, everything would work out fine somehow. The problem was that I was not prepared to deal with someone who did not live his or her life as I did. I did not know how to handle distrust, and I had no experience in finding ulterior motives behind what people said or did. When I encountered those inconsistencies, I could only ignore them or assume I misunderstood the situation. I was taught to follow a set of rules without ever questioning those rules.
I anxiously awaited a response from my missionary application to learn where in the world I would go on my mission and if I was to learn a new language. Learning a new language would mean two and a half years instead of just two years as a missionary, allowing six extra months to learn the language. My letter came one afternoon in August of 1964 a few hours before I had planned to go with some friends to a drive-in movie to see the latest James Bond film, “From Russia With Love.” I was very pleased to see I was called to serve in the British Mission, headquartered in London. It was in a foreign country, but I was not going to have to learn a foreign language. Although a missionary had to be at least 19 years old, I was scheduled to leave a week before my 19th birthday so I could return home early enough to begin fall quarter classes at the University of Utah to avoid the draft. I could get a draft deferment by going on a mission or attending school. Any significant gap in time between the mission and school could put me in Vietnam. I had attended one year at the University of Utah prior to my mission, and my education had to wait until I returned home.
The envelope containing my mission call included a list of what I was to take with me. I was limited to one suitcase not to exceed 40 pounds. I needed a couple of dark suits, dark ties, white shirts, the right kind of underwear, comfortable but dressy walking shoes, scriptures, and a modest amount of money to get me started. The letter also specified the modest amount my parents would be sending me each month for my support. My upkeep as a teenager must not have been costing them much less than that amount.
I had to prepare a printed program for our local Church service that would become my “farewell service.” I identified who, in addition to me, would speak, and offer the prayers at the service. I had attended many missionary farewell services, so I knew the drill.
The first week of my mission was spent in the Mission Home in downtown Salt Lake City, along with about 180 other missionaries who were going to various parts of the world. I was assigned a companion with whom I would share a room. The beds were clean and comfortable and the food was plentiful. We received basic training lectures as to what is expected of missionaries such as:
- Keeping women physically and emotionally at arm’s length.
- Always being with a companion.
- Writing our parents weekly.
- Referring to the male missionaries as “Elder” and male members as “Brother.”
- Referring to female missionaries and female members as “Sister.”
- Beginning the day every morning at 6:00 am.
- Praying morning and evening.
- Memorizing the lessons to be taught to potential converts called investigators.
We were given instruction from general authorities of the Church as well as the Mission Home staff. It was all very “Rah” “Rah” and would have put any Amway rally to shame. It is no wonder Utah is the multilevel marketing capital of the world.
The companion assigned to me was Charles Manley Brown, a grandson of Hugh B. Brown, a counselor in the first presidency of the Church. He was an okay guy and, as a Peanuts fan, I had fun saying my companion was Charlie Brown. Of all the missionaries in the mission home, he and I and four sisters were going to the British Mission.
After a week in the Mission Home, I was eager to begin serving my mission. I was able to say goodbye to my family and some friends, including a couple of girlfriends, at the airport. Then I left on my first ever commercial flight, a new United Airlines Boeing 727 to New York City, and from there I would go to London on an Alitalia Boeing 707. I marveled at the views of our country, New York City, and London from the air.
We arrived in London at about 10:00 am, London time, having missed a night’s sleep due to the time change. London seemed cloudy and humid. The six of us were picked up by a couple of missionaries driving a van and we sat on wooden benches along each side in the rear compartment. We were taken to a small hotel where we were allowed to catch a few hours’ sleep before we were picked up again and taken to the mission headquarters in South Kensington. The streets were narrow and the houses were all connected. Cars were driven on the left side of the street, and for the most part, the cars all seemed small. We saw several sites that I had seen in photographs such as Buckingham Palace and the Tower Bridge.
At the Mission Home, I met the mission president, my district leader, and zone leader. A district leader is over 10 or 12 missionaries and a zone leader is over several districts. I was surprised that my district leader and zone leader were both guys I had known in high school.
After meeting briefly with the mission president, I bought a used bicycle for four pounds (about $11.00) from a missionary who was going home. I loaded my suitcase and the bicycle into another van and was driven to meet my new companion in Herne Hill, just across the Themes River in South London. He was introduced to me as Elder Bradley. We had a room on the third floor of a large house owned by a friend of our mission president. Our board and room cost four pounds, ten shillings a week each (about $13.00). As the van left and we were walking into the house, Elder Bradley said to me, “Just call me Phil; I hate this Elder stuff.” I was disappointed with his disregard for the rules such as referring to missionaries as “Elder” and “Sister.” Did we not need to follow all the rules? I had been raised to follow rules.
After eating dinner with some dental school students who also had rooms in the house, we went out to call on people whom Elder Bradley and his previous companion had been teaching. At the first house, an attractive young lady in a negligee answered the door. She looked at me and then at Phil and said, “Hi, Phil,” and then invited us in showing no hesitation due to her attire. Elder Bradley had an awkward moment and declined to enter. It seemed strange to me that we did not go in. Surely, if she were being taught about the Church, we would want to accept her invitation even if she did have to put on a robe. Instead of going in, Phil introduced me as his new companion and asked if she still had the book he had left for her (a copy of the Book of Mormon). She had to think a few minutes before she remembered the book. The whole scene made me wonder just how “arm’s length” this relationship was. She gave us the book and we left. I also wondered, if Phil did not want to go into her home, why did we even call on her? Did it have something to do with the negligee?
The arm’s length thing had to be an absolute rule. At 19, missionaries are at the peak of their sexual drive and away from home for the first time without supervision other than their companion. The Church just cannot have its representatives dating or even flirting with young women when they are preaching the gospel. Several months later, I attended a church service at a branch of the Church in Maidstone in Kent County. Although there were about 90 members on record and the Church owned property for a chapel, only two members were at the Sunday meeting I attended. The reported cause of this extreme fallout was a missionary who had sexual relations with a young lady in the congregation. Sexual relations would cause a missionary to be excommunicated and sent home dishonorably, bringing disgrace to himself and his family, as well as the Church.
I had been indoctrinated as to the seriousness of the arm’s length rule and was shocked to learn that my companion, whom I was to be with 24/7, and who was be my mentor, could possibly be disregarding this rule as he did the “Elder” rule. I wondered what other rules he did not think we needed to follow. Should I report him or should I let it ride and see what happens next? I was taught to follow the direction of whoever was in charge and he was my senior companion. In retrospect, I should have reported him, but I did not. If I had, I would have immediately been assigned to work with another companion.
I had planned on keeping arm’s length from girls, and I was actually looking forward to not having to deal with the dating scene. In my family, the rules for missionaries were part of our unyielding code of conduct to which obedience was assumed and expected. Any deviation was either ignored or was someone else’s fault. We never discussed problems, especially about girls, so I never gained experience dealing with them. We never discussed sex or the issues around dating, so I became afraid of my naiveté when it came to girls and I tended to shy away from them. It was as if we lived in a society of arranged marriages, except such a service was not provided, but somehow, when the time was right, a potential spouse would magically appear. That was how my parents were raised. My mother was in college when she thought she could get pregnant from kissing a boy. Whatever I learned about sex, I learned at Boy Scout camp. Socially, I belonged in kindergarten. I was not prepared to deal with this kind of problem. Elder Bradley was my leader, but he was not following the rules. I had no experience dealing with this kind of conflict.
Later that first evening, Elder Bradley (Phil) showed me which bed was mine, and when I pulled back the covers, I saw that the sheets which had once been white were now a light brown. In disgust, I asked how long it had been since the sheets had been washed. Elder Bradley paused for a moment, scratched his head and said, “Well, I’ve been here five months and they haven’t been washed as long as I’ve been here.” The sheets could not be washed until next Monday, since there was a rule that we could only do laundry on a Monday, our “diversion day,” and laundry was not considered to be missionary work. I had to sleep in those sheets for five nights. That was one rule Elder Bradley did follow, and I was not surprised when I got sick.
So here I was, sick in a different part of the world, away from home for the first time in my life, sleeping in who knows what, and my companion was destroying every image I had of what I should be doing there. My mother had always changed my sheets once a week. They were always clean and white, but now I had to crawl between those filthy things. I should have reported these problems and not ignored them, but I was raised to ignore problems. I was actually more concerned with staying arm’s length from those filthy brown sheets than from young women.
Maybe Phil was just too lazy to wash his sheets, but what about his companion whom I replaced? Was he a bum, too? Were missionaries unable to function without their mothers?
Eventually I went to a chemist (pharmacist) who gave me something called “The Mixture” which helped reduce the frequency of my trips to the toilet; and after washing the sheets, I eventually got my health back. There were many new English germs my body had to get used to. I was told many missionaries get sick when they first arrive—“inoculation by affliction,” or something like that.
One Sunday after working with Elder Bradley for a month or two, he and I attended a Stake Conference. Elder Bradley sat with his arm around the back of another attractive female member in full view. That was seriously against the rules and I was embarrassed to be sitting by him. Phil may not have gotten away with it because I was soon assigned another companion, Elder Van Orman from Canada. I would never know how or if Phil was disciplined since I never saw him again. Missions are like that. You are with a companion day and night for several months and then you never see him again.
Many young, single women in the mission field are looking for romantic relationships with missionaries. Missionaries from the United States are a good catch. This made it even more difficult for young men to ignore those hormonal urges. Most of the missionaries are male, and this may account for there being more young women than young men in the congregations.
There was one member, a young woman named Jacque Hartley-Davis in the branch we attended who showed a particular interest in me, but I did not have any romantic feelings for her. She was attractive, although a little over weight, and she walked with a limp. She was pleasant to talk to, and I must have given her my home address because the next spring she traveled to Utah and called on my parents. She must have given my parents the impression that I had long-term plans for Jacque. I had no idea she had met with my family until my parents wrote me about her visit and mentioned how much they liked her. From another letter Jacque wrote my parents a year later, it became evident that Jacque had been keeping an eye on me since she mentioned seeing me at a conference.
The next summer I was transferred to Margate, a seaside resort town on the northeast corner of Kent where the Thames opens into the English Channel. My companion, Elder Bunker, was more like Elder Bradley when it came to rules, with the exception that his thing was mice instead of girls. He raised mice to dissect them.
One evening Elder Bunker and I were at a picnic hosted by the local members when it began to rain. In England people say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes and it will change.” Someone raised a large plastic tarp, and we all climbed underneath to wait the obligatory ten minutes for the rain to stop. While under the tarp, Sister Kartchner, a beautiful wife of an American Church member, put her arm around me in some kind of embrace. She was about twice my age, but suddenly, those 19-year-old suppressed hormones hit me like a tidal wave and I did not know what to think, let alone what to do. I immediately became aware that she was very attractive. Nothing was said, and nothing else happened under the tarp, but the feeling remained with me. She asked us to stop by her home whenever we were in the area, and we did stop by several times. A couple of those times we found her sunbathing in her back yard wearing a two-piece bathing suit showing off a very nice figure.
She and I spent just enough time together to sense that we were attracted to each other. As a naive young man it was very difficult for me to deal with all these emotions. I was unprepared for being attracted to an older woman. A woman twice my age showing a romantic interest in me gave me validity I had never known. She was older, much more mature, and yet she was interested in me. I felt like a man for the first time in my life, rather than a boy waiting for something that would graduate me into manhood. It was a huge boost to my self-image, which only compounded my attraction to her. I wanted her affection. I wanted to hold her, kiss her, and feel her body next to mine. I thought of running my hands up and down her legs and cupping her breasts in my hands. I knew she wanted the same thing from me, but I was also aware of the missionary rules and I thought of the heartache that being sent home in disgrace would bring to my family and me if we developed an intimate relationship. Thoughts of Elder Bradley also helped me control those emotions. I was able to avoid a scandal involving the beautiful Sister Kartchner, but I still remember the impact of the strong emotions I felt when I was with her.