Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stories from My Mission: The Argumentative Missionary

A while ago I posted a story about a preacher from the Assembly of God who was rather argumentative and confrontational. This story is from the opposite side, where a missionary was the one who was argumentative and confrontational, with a similar negative effect on the person being argued with. I'll spoil the ending now and say that it is never a good thing to be argumentative and confrontational when you are supposedly a representative of God.

Coincidentally this happened in the same area where I had my confrontation with the preacher. The missionary I was with was not my companion, we were on what is called splits or exchanges where another missionary companionship comes to our area and we split up and go with an Elder who is not our companion to work in our area for a day or an afternoon.

Because I was the one who knew the area I was in charge of determining where to go. After leaving our house (we had a whole house with a yard! but we never cut the grass in back so it grew to be about 8 feet high), we tried to visit a few people that my normal companion and I had talked to previously, but no one was home. As we were walking down the street we passed the house of a lady who had talked to the missionaries previously but most of that contact happened before I came to the area and I had only visited with her once, though I had talked to her a few times but only briefly. I knew that she might be home and I thought that perhaps she would have time to talk to us.

I explained this to the missionary I was with, who had been in the mission for about a year longer than I had, and thus had more experience with teaching and also with speaking Spanish. He agreed that we could try and talk to her so we stopped and clapped at her house. She was home and she was willing to let us in to talk to her for a little while. After sitting down, exchanging some pleasantries, and the other Elder introduced himself and we then moved into what should have been the more religious portion of our visit. The other Elder asked her a few questions about her previous interaction with the missionaries and how much she had read of the Book of Mormon.

After a few questions the other Elder asked her why she had not progressed more and read more of the Book of Mormon. She answered with a simple response that indicated that she had her doubts about the veracity of what we were teaching. Her response was something along the lines of "Well the Bible says such and such, so I don't see how what you are teaching can be true." It was a response that now with many more years of experience I would know how to respond, but at the time I was a little unsure of how to respond and since the other Elder was leading the conversation I just left it up to him to address her doubts. That was a very bad thing to do. Looking back I now know better how to respond to doubts like that, and I would learn through the course of my mission what is needed to overcome doubts like that. A moment like that is a perfect time for tenderness and understanding with a good dose of knowledge and humility. What she got was just the opposite.

When she expressed her doubt to us the other Elder looked at me with a slight smile and a look that said, "I can't believe she just used such a stupid argument on us!" He then flipped open his Bible to a relevant verse and read it to her and explained in a somewhat condescending way why she was wrong. She countered with another argument from the Bible to which the other Elder again whipped out another verse to "thump" her with. At this point he was no longer interested in conversing with her, he merely wanted to Bible-bash with her. This continued for a while until she started getting nervous and stopped arguing back at the other Elder.

During the exchange I just sat there unsure of what to do. When it was over and the other Elder had "won" we gave a half hearted goodbye and left. After we left her house the other Elder looked at me and confidently proclaimed that he loved it when he got the opportunity to Bible-bash since the other people never know what they are talking about, and he can just "thump 'em" with a whole list of memorized verses from the Bible. He showed me his list of verses that can be used in case of just such an argument. He also recanted to me a series of his best "Bible-bashing" sessions that he had had. I was rather embarrassed by what had happened and unsure of what to do. For the rest of the time I was with that Elder I tried to steer clear of talking to anyone who might put up a fight.

A few days later I was walking down that same street with a member of the branch (so I was not with my normal companion again) when I heard her call out, "Hey Elder!" I went over to the fence in front of her house and she spoke to me and said, "I still don't know if you are from God or not, nor do I know if that Elder Whats-his-name [referring to my normal companion] is from God either, but I know that that one Elder you came by here with a few days ago is not from God. I don't know if the pastor of the church I go to is from God or if you are, but I can tell that that other Elder definitely is not from God."

In what was a moment of maturity beyond my years at the time I very graciously admitted that she was right, and with full sincerity I offered my apologies for what happened. I never spoke to her again.

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