A day in the life of two Mormon missionaries

Amy Cavalier

Dressed in white short-sleeve, button-down shirts, neckties and slacks, the two young missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Leder and Elder Osborn, approach a house where the owner is working on his porch.

Leder introduces himself and begins to explain his mission, but before he can finish, the homeowner interrupts.

“Not interested,” he says.

“Is there anything we can do for you?” Leder asks.

“You can go,” he gruffly replies before quickly disappearing into his house.

Splotches of red appear on Leder’s already pink cheeks. Heads down, they turn and leave.

Elder Jason Osborn, 23, is from Cut Bank, Mont., and Elder Cody Leder, 21, is from Woodburn, Ore. They have dedicated two years of their lives to being missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often known as the Mormon Church. Missionaries adopt the title “elder” during their time serving the church. Currently the two men are canvassing the Gates and Chili area.

At the next house they stop at, the men receive a warm response from Sierra Cason, a teenager who is watching her younger siblings play outside. She is polite, she listens to what they have to say without interrupting, and accepts a card from them with information on how to learn more about their religious beliefs.

Cason says she listened to the two missionaries because she didn’t want to be rude. She realizes not everyone is as patient.

“Some may not be interested, some may take the time to listen,” she says. “A lot of people don’t want to be bothered or care for it.”

Leder estimates the response is 50/50 in terms of positive and negative receptions when they go door to door looking for people to teach.

As they head down the street, a man in a white Veterans Outreach van beeps the horn and waves to them. They recognize him as Dave, a man they met last week while they were out walking. Dave was barbecuing and invited them to join. Although he isn’t a Mormon, he told the missionaries he is a man of faith.

“He invited us to come back any time,” Leder says.

Leder came to New York to begin his mission in October 2006. Osborn’s began a month later; the two hadn't met before then. They are staying with a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As they go door to door, sometimes they are mistaken for salesmen. For others, like the homeowner working on his porch, Leder and Osborn are an annoyance. In a day and age when unannounced drop-ins are rare, perhaps it’s the door-to-door approach that puts people on guard.

That’s not all they do, though. Six days a week, from 6:30 a.m. until 9 p.m., the men dedicate themselves to helping others and sharing the message of their faith. Their day begins with a two-hour gospel study. The rest of it is spent teaching people, meeting people interested in hearing about the Mormon faith and putting informational cards out at area businesses, and once a week they volunteer at the Red Cross service warehouse.

Mondays are dedicated to doing laundry, food shopping, checking e-mails and recreation.

While they are on their mission, Leder and Osborn do not watch television or listen to pop culture music — only the religious variety.

“It really helps you to see what's more important,” Osborn says. “Back home, I'd watch TV and be with friends all the time. Out here you don't know anyone.”

Although both of them will remain in New York for two years, they will cover many locations -- missionaries are reassigned to a different area every six weeks to six months.

“We talk to people from the roughest parts of the city to the richest areas,” Leder says. “The bottom line is, we’re all children of our heavenly father, and we all need spiritual guidance regardless of our living situations.”

Earlier in the day, before heading out, the two missionaries made a house call to Arlene Combs. Bedridden, she’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has been given about two years to live. Although she’s not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she welcomes the missionaries into her home. A friend directed Osborn and Leder to her, and they’ve gone to visit her several times.

Sometimes they talk to Combs alone, other times members of her family gather around and listen as Leder, Osborn and Combs discuss the Mormon faith, read from the Book of Mormon, and pray together over the loud hum of the medical equipment attached to Combs’ bed.

“God speaks to us through these prophets and through these inspired men who give us instructions on how God wants us to live so that we can prepare ourselves to live with him someday again,” Osborn says. “Jesus Christ himself was one of the greatest symbols of God's love. That he sent his only son to Earth to pay for our sins is a marvelous gift and one of the greatest loves.”

Combs speaks, though it is muffled by the tubes in her nose that help her with her breathing.

“I've been thinking about that a lot,” she says.

Before departing, Leder and Osborn leave Combs with a video she saw on television about the church, and Osborn promises to call one of Combs' relatives and ask them to read to her from the Book of Mormon. She tells them she wants to read it, but she is physically unable to on her own.

Osborn asks her if she's been praying. Combs says yes. He looks over his shoulder to a card on the wall that reads, “Don't forget to thank God for life today.”

“Your sign is still up,” he observes.

As they leave, the two men notice a young mother next door has dropped something from her porch. Osborn reaches down, picks it up and hands it to her. That prompts a conversation and a follow-up call. She wants to know more about what they have to say.

Leder and Osborn had to apply to become missionaries for their religion. They are two of more than 50,000 serving around the world, and about 113 serving in western New York.

Once accepted, missionaries must complete three weeks of training at one of 15 missionary training centers around the world. For those who must learn a foreign language, the training is nine to 12 weeks.

Missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints generally begin serving when they are 19 to 21 years old, although retired seniors, men, women and married couples also serve missions that can range in time from 18 months to two years.

Missions are completely voluntary and are not paid for by the church. Leder and Osborn said they saved money before coming on their missions.

They both are surprised at how few people know about the church.

“We're not forcing this on anyone,” Leder says. “Our invitation is to listen to what we have to share and then we want you to ask God. We don’t expect anyone to believe us. We’re not all that smart. We’re young. We’re just here sharing the message of the Restoration with people because it’s brought us happiness, and we want them to have that same happiness.”

When Osborn returns home, he’ll graduate with a degree in business management from Montana State University in Bozeman. With a year of college at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Leder put his plans to pursue a career as a nursing anesthetist on hold to serve. Leder estimates it costs a missionary about $10,000 to serve for two years.

They said it is people like Combs and the comfort they’ve been able to bring her, even if only fleeting, that keeps them upbeat, despite some cold receptions.

“She’s expressed to us a lot of things she’s gotten out of it,” Leder says. “She’s looking death in the face right now. We’ve been able to teach her a lot about what happens after we die, and that itself has brought her a lot of hope that she will be OK.”

“The thing that drives you is the people you see grow,” Osborn says. “You can see how you’ve influenced them a little bit, and it helps you keep going.”

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