Dear Sister Carter,

I hear you are a mother.


Don’t worry, your greenie will soon sleep through the night and grow out of bursting into tears every hour whether she is hungry or not.

For the first half of my mission, I played the part of mission mortician, sending four missionaries back to the lone and dreary world. It wasn’t a bad job since I always got first swipe at the stuff they left behind (I never had to buy another pair of garments). Perhaps my mission president wanted to balance me out a bit because while I was in North York, he sent me two sons in a row.

I was genuinely surprised to receive the first. I had never considered myself a successful missionary, and had struggled to even extricate my previous companion from our apartment on a regular basis. But along came Elder C: a short skinny fellow from, of all places, Utah.

There are perks to training greenies. For one thing, they’re rich—an envelope of cash in their breast coat pockets from a teary-eyed mother at the airport. For another, they’re charitable. Add these together and you’re suddenly dining in high style on your companion’s dime. Also—for the first week, anyway—you can do no wrong as a missionary. Your trusting greenie regards your every move as gospel. He gapes as you actually talk to someone on the bus; swoons as you nonchalantly knock on the doors of strangers, gazes rapturously as you present the first discussion from memory, stumbles in holy pain through the days and days of street contacting and tracting you drag him through. He totally misses the fact that you’re straining, too: trying to be the perfect missionary, trying to call those blessings down from heaven by brute force, trying to make this poor kid’s first area something to remember. And not sure it’s going to happen.

Our area included a collection of four gigantic apartment buildings we called the Chalkfarm, after the street they were on. Last year, a Toronto newspaper said the area had a”blood-soaked, 35-year history.” “From the trash-strewn parking garage, up the stairwells tagged with gang graffiti, and on to the highest balconies, life in these buildings is missing a pressure valve.” In other words, it was the kind of place missionaries spend way too much time inside.

Elder Carter's spiritual fire gets out of control in a Toronto apartment building.

We haunted the urine and curry-perfumed halls of those those buildings for months, a treadmill of contacting—the kind of work that wore my soul down the most. I probably became grumpier and grumpier as our time together wore on. I felt bad that I was initiating EC into such a prosaic and unrewarding missionary life. A lot of other trainers could have done a better job.

Something great did happen during our companionship, though. You remember I wrote you earlier about the Ghanaian narrative that was planted in each Toronto-bound missionary at the MTC: the singing of the song, the eating of the fou-fou, the baptizing of the family, etc. Well, that story actually happened to EC and me. (In fact, even more than that happened: during her baptism interview, the mother of the family told our district leader that an angel had appeared to her in a vision in answer to her prayers about the Book of Mormon.) It was quite a dramatic way for EC to start his mission. But I didn’t get the feeling that that conversion was linked to the mileage we had worn into the bottom of our shoes or the calluses we’d grown on our knuckles, or even to our attempts at righteousness and exact obedience. All I could be was amazed that we had been there.

Then, the Sunday before transfers, Elder C and I returned to our apartment to find a message on our answering machine. It was from the mission president who was apparently so desperate that he had decided to let me ruin one more greenie. As I sent my first boy out into the great big world, I heaved a sigh of relief: we had worked hard, we’d had some success, and boy was I worn out.

Not a good way to start another training companionship.