Alternative education

Jan 302006
Authors: Margaret Canty

A lot happens in two years. People can get married, graduate, move, die, travel, grow together and grow apart. Imagine devoting that time entirely to someone or something else in a place chosen by others. Now take away almost all contact with family and friends and throw in the book of Mormon. Welcome to life of a 19-year-old member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Almost every young male in the church, and many young women, embark sometime around their mid-20s on a mission trip – a journey designed to spread the religion. Currently there are over 50,000 missionaries in 160 different nations and more than 50 CSU students have at one point served.

"We're called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to other areas of the world," said Ryan Koenig , a sophomore chemical engineering and German double major and Institute of Religion student president. "What we know, many have not had the opportunity to learn."

The mission is not mandatory, but is considered "a responsibility" of men in the church. Women are not obligated to serve as missionaries, but can if they so desire. Most go between the ages of 19 and 23.

"You send your papers, or basically information about yourself to the headquarters of the church in Salt Lake City," said Dallin Kuzmich , a junior electrical engineering and violin performance double major. "A group of people determines where you'll go. It's more involved than just random guessing."

However, before the papers are even sent to Salt Lake City, Institute in Fort Collins Director Russell McClure interviews the candidates.

"The first question I ask them is 'Do you want to go?'" he said. "Then I ask them why. They have to be sincere about going. Nobody's making them."

Missionaries are then informed through a letter where they'll be sent, generally a month and a half to four months before they're expected to go. Spencer Curtis , a freshman mechanical engineering and chemistry double major, expects to leave in May and has yet to find out where he'll be going.

"I'm nervous because I'm slightly apprehensive as to where I might go and what language I might have to learn and what will happen," he said.

Kuzmich, a returned missionary in Santiago, Chile, didn't find adapting to the missionary lifestyle too difficult.

"I went to the University of Northern Texas for a year before leaving, so I was already kind of used to being away from my parents," he said. "But it was hard to adjust to not going to school everyday."

Many Mormons, like Kuzmich, put school on hold for their mission. Koenig considers giving up school for the two years part of their "sacrifice of time," and sees it as well worth it.

"The experience that I gained far outweighs that of anything I've learned from the university," he said. "It's worth getting behind in an academic sense."

While on his mission, Kuzmich spent his mornings reading and studying scripture, and the remainder of his day teaching people about his beliefs.

"We'd get referrals from church members and sometimes get invited over to talk to people about our missionary work," he said, "so we didn't necessarily have to find people to teach. It is a team process."

Throughout their time away, missionaries are not allowed to speak with family members or friends, except for phone calls on Mother's Day and Christmas. They can communicate through letters and occasional e-mails.

"To be consumed with friends and family is distracting. It's not that we don't value friends and family, but it's easier to get homesick and not focus on the work at hand," Koenig said.

Kuzmich considers the experience both a positive and negative one.

"There's no guarantee that it will be the best time of your life, but you connect with the people and learn to love them," he said.

One of the hardest parts for him was dealing with rejection from those he was sharing with.

"People would invite us over, and we'd be teaching them and somewhere in the process they'd decide they didn't want anything to do with us," he said. "But it doesn't wear on you as much as you think."

Readjusting to life back home was just as if not more difficult than adjusting to missionary life.

"I found it very difficult coming back home," Kuzmich said. "I had found what I loved to do, talk to people about the gospel."

Despite the variety of experiences and struggles, most find the mission trip well worth it.

"I'm much more sure of who I am. I learned the value of serving others," Koenig said. "I would highly recommend going."

Margaret Canty can be reached at

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