A few days before my MTC cohort flew to Toronto, we all went to a meeting to experience what would become a defining story of my mission. It featured a presentation by a guy who had been home from his own Toronto mission for a few years. He was there to orient us culturally and tell a few inspiring stories.
The culture stuff was fun, but it was only the warm up for the big act: the Ghanaian conversion story. It started out innocently enough with a tracting scene–the beginning of 80 percent of missionary stories. One of the doors that opened that night happened to have a Ghanaian family behind it. The presenter told us that the family wasn’t interested to begin with, but that everything changed when he sang them a little song. They threw the door wide and insisted on feeding the missionaries reservoirs of peanut soup, mountains of fou fou, and entire herds of cow’s foot.
“And now I’m going to sing you the song,” he said. The lights went down, the overheard projector snapped on, words appeared on the pull-down screen, and we all leaned forward.
Dawna say, dawana say. Daw una may naw say.
Ifreesay, Oh yeah, nana do, do soooooooo.
Dawna say, dawana say. Daw una may naw say.
Through this song and a healthy dose of dues ex machine, a big old baptism came to pass.
You have never seen a more rapt audience. We lapped this story up as if it were the nectar of the gods flowing down our throats, electrifying our spirits, and inflaming our zeal. Pen tips flew over paper, scratching out the lyrics of this most amazing song. And then, we sang the song over and over again all the way back to our dorms, during lunch, between classes, during classes–any chance we got. We were NOT going to forget that song!
What happened that night was simple. A myth had been planted in our minds. There was nothing any of us wanted more than to sing that song to a Ghanaian family, eat peanut soup, fou fou, and cow’s foot, and then baptize the family. We believed with every fiber of our being that to end one’s mission without having this experience would be to admit that you had not truly been a Toronto missionary.
It’s the same feeling many young Mormons have, sitting in sacrament meetings listening to the stories of the newly returned missionaries. Even if you didn’t remember the individual stories, you remember their outlines.
We tracted for weeks, fighting off rabid dogs, plucking banana spiders from our heads, and trying to stem the tide of our latest bout of diarrhea. Finally, one night, we were exhausted, the spiders had built nests in our hair, we were giving a new definition to the word skidmarks, and it was 8:55 p.m. Only five more minutes until we could call it a day. But WE TRACTED ONE MORE STREET! And found our golden contact.
Remember the thrill? Soon, that story became a part of the myth of being a missionary in our minds. It would probably strike us as absurd to think that a missionary might come home without a story like that. And we sure as heck weren’t going to miss out. Myths are unique in that the role of main character is open, and we can step into it.
It is with great pleasure that I announce my successful participation in the Ghanaian myth. I did indeed tract out a Ghanaian family, I did indeed sing them the song, and lo, I did feast upon peanut soup, fou fou (a gelatinous glop made mainly from corn starch and water), and cow’s foot (nothing to write home about).
But the fact was I DID write home about it. Because I had finally arrived. I could now stand in front of a clutch of bright-eyed young recruits and tell the Ghanaian myth from personal experience. I even had a few bonus features to throw in (visions of angels, anyone?). I got to participate in a few other myths as well, like the overly-toothed guard dog myth, the epic encounter with the grumpy Italian man, and the battle with the anti-Mormon preacher. Really, I can’t complain.
I sometimes feel sorry for people who go on missions to areas that aren’t very exotic to them. I wonder if they feel a bit left out—If they feel like they’re being denied a number of potential myths to step into. I certainly missed out on the “I said something really obscene in another language without knowing it” myth. And the “I crapped liquid for a month” myth.
But then again, maybe these people are lucky. Their mythical space isn’t all taken up, and they have more room to create their own stories.