In today’s Dominion Post there is an article about a new Broadway musical ‘the Book of Mormon’ by the makers of South Park which appears to mock and applaud the Mormon religion in equal measure, described by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, as ‘an atheist love letter to religion’. If you believe the article, this musical is set to take Broadway by storm and seems to be finding favour with both atheists and Mormon’s alike. No mean feat. It brought to mind a recent experience I had on a provincial commuter route flying south to visit a dying Uncle. I had boarded the Dash 8, found my window seat and was just adjusting my seat belt (something I always do long before take-off) when filling the aisle were two large handsome men in dark suits. The sort of men that you instantly recognise as God-botherers by their bulk, their youth, their suits and your own prejudice. I heard a voice apologising to me before the owner of the voice sat down. This is such a Kiwi thing, to say sorry even before a perceived infringement. I imagine the young man was already considering the inconvenience he would cause as he placed his large frame in the small seat beside me. I smiled at him and squeezed myself a little smaller (I’m not that big anyway) and turned to look out the window. I’m a nervous flier, and frequently force myself to watch out the window to will myself to enjoy the spectacular hurtle down the runway, the miraculous lift-off, the shifting land and sea beneath, to convince myself that this is extraordinary, instead of terrifying.
It was a perfect Wellington day and as we flew across the harbour the city revealed itself, in almost cloudless serene perfection. The young man watched over my shoulder out the window as the plane veered, banked, climbed and we peered down on my city. I shifted a little to afford him a better view, we commented on the beauty of the grey buildings, the perfect day and this led to confidence (mine in being on a plane, and his in sharing why).
The young man told me he was heading south to take up his very first mission. I didn’t need to ask what sort of mission, but he told me. He was a Mormon from South Auckland and leaving home for the first time in his life to visit a small provincial city, the size of which he had no real idea. It was the city I grew up in and even I couldn’t enlighten him of the exact population. We speculated. He said his Mum would miss him, but grinned and told me that possibly it was time he left home anyway. He was beaming with something irrepressibly innocent and wonderful that I recognised – something I once had in bucket-loads when I first left New Zealand on a ship to Vancouver to then embark alone on a Greyhound bus trip around the United States in search of love. It was the very early seventies, and I wanted to see San Francisco where the flowers grow and I was in search of love somewhere between the moon and New York City (and long before that song). I recognised and envied this young man’s remarkable innocence and fresh enthusiasm. I went from wanting to ignore him to wanting to know more about him. It didn’t take long. We soon hit a wall of cloud obscuring the usually panoramic Marlborough Sounds and so I was forced to turn my face from the window to my companion’s face. He told me about his friend who was heading to Blenheim and wondered how far away Blenheim was from his own mission. On this I could enlighten him.
So, I said, ‘you’ll be door knocking’. Yes, he told me, that is what he would be doing. He would be living near the rugby park in the city and cycling – and then he hesitated and asked me if there were many hills. Well I said, matter-of-factly, you’re going to face an awful lot of rejection. He grinned and explained that this was all part of his moving into adulthood. And, he added, that once he got the hang of rejection, he was planning to find a young woman to marry and by the time he got to that stage, he’d be ready for her, if she said no. What could I say to that? I imagined this fortunate young woman being pursued by a handsome dedicated lad determined to marry her, and allowed romance to carry the day. Perhaps she too would believe and they would ride the bicycles into the sunset with or without the romantic raindrops falling on their heads.
He told me that for the two years he is on the mission he is not allowed to watch television or listen to the radio and this led me to thoughts of the upcoming World Cup and I just knew this young man was a rugby fan. What will you do I asked him, during the World Cup, surely you’ll want to know how the games are going, the scores, who’s winning? He grinned, and agreed, it was going to be tough, but he had a small window of opportunity. It seems he is allowed email contact with his family and friends, albeit not Google or any access to mind-altering news bulletins – but, he supposed that somehow his friends would leak information about the rugby. I imagined this handsome eager evangelist on his bike ducking into a local dairy for an ice-cream and dodging the newspaper headlines. I could see him door knocking during the World Cup, and local rugby enthusiasts answering their doors, the rugby on replay, annoyed at the interruption, him beaming, them growling, and maybe Sonny Bill Williams poised for a cup winning try and my companion, trying to ignore the TV and focusing on God.
We were firm friends by the end of our short flight and we shook hands and I told my local friends whom I spent the weekend with, they must look out for him, no matter how they felt about God, and if not a cup of tea, then perhaps a chat about rugby with him later in the year.