Here’s a secret: Deep down, Mormon missionaries who serve outside the United States try really hard not to think that they are better than the missionaries who stay stateside -- because, even deeper down, they suspect that they really are better. Like maybe physically or emotionally or psychologically or intellectually better. Not spiritually better, though, because to think that (even deep, deep down) would be judgmental and demonstrate unrighteous pride (although let’s face it, just because one thinks one is not better than someone else doesn’t prevent one from actually being better than someone else, right?).
I, of course, never thought any of that. I was more humble than that.
But this week I went out with the missionaries in my ward and was able to observe some stateside missionaries firsthand. At first they seemed totally normal, comparable to any missionaries I knew in Belgium and France: Physically healthy, socially well adjusted, bright enough, totally earnest and well-practiced in the “spiritual voice.”
But then I discovered the dark weakness that surely precluded them from serving in a place like Brussels. They could not, for the life of them, give directions. Here's how it went:
ELDER: Hey Brother Davis, can you come with us to visit a Haitian guy whose French is better than his English?
ME: Sure, does he live near the church?
ELDER: I don’t know. Probably. Maybe not. I think it’s, like, one or three miles away. I’ll have to text you the address.
[That night, in my haste to get to the appointment after a crazy day at work, I mistakenly went to the wrong address. I couldn’t use the GPS on my phone because the battery was about to die, so I called the Elders for directions as I tried to find the correct location on a map.]
ME: Can you give me directions?
ELDER: Sure, just type in the address.
ME: Driving directions, not directions on how to work a GPS. I’m just off of Wilson and Glebe, and I assume I need to go south on Glebe. Is that right? If so, where do I go from there? Do I turn east onto Route 50?
ELDER: Gee, uh, I have no idea. I mean, you’ve got the address, right? It’s on 8th South.
ME: Yes, but I don’t know how to get there. I promise, I don’t have GPS. What about this: if I go south on Glebe to Route 50, and then turn left on Carlin Springs [all of which are major roads], I’ll get to three different 8th Souths -- 8th Place, 8th Road and 8th Street.
ELDER: You don’t have GPS? Wow! Are you, like, doing all that from memory?
ME: No, I’m looking at a map.
ELDER: Ohh . . . a map . . . .
ME: Yes, a paper one that I keep in my car. Anyway, did any of those directions ring a bell to you?
ELDER: Nope, can’t say that they did. I have no idea which 8th South you’re supposed to be on. Just look for the apartment building with a big parking lot in front of it. Or tell us where you are and we'll come find you, then you can follow us back.
ME: That's a terrible idea. Okay, look, I’m just going to go with what I think is right and I’ll call you when I get there.
[My directions were exactly right, and I just happened to pick the right 8th South -- I spotted the Elders instantly in their car in the parking lot in front of the apartment building.]
ELDER: [all astonishment] Holy cow! I can’t believe you made it! I could never have found my way here if I didn’t have a GPS!
ME: [shaking hands with Elder Obvious, refrained from comment]