The way it was set up, Toronto-bound missionaries left the MTC at about 10:30 p.m.—a.k.a bedtime. They got on the plane at about 12:30 a.m. stopping in Atlanta and Buffalo before heading into Canada. The new missionaries rarely slept on the flights, full of the jitters as they were, and ridden with guilt as they were for having not offered the discussions to the person desperately pretending to be asleep in the seat next to them.
They’d arrive in Toronto just in time for lunch the next day and then head out to their areas. In other words, greenies came into the Canada Toronto East mission in a highly suggestible state, having slept not a wink for the past 30 hours, and having another nine hours of awake time before they could finally crash.
When I arrived at my first apartment, my district leader and his companion were there to greet me along with my trainer. They brought me into the apartment where two candles burned on either side of the flipchart turned to Joseph Smith’s first vision. Each missionary took a turn kneeling down in front of the altar to chant a strange little prayer. Open-mouthed, I watched this ritual until they turned and said, “Your turn, Elder Carter.”
What did I do? Did I rebuke them? Did I call the mission president? Did I tap their dust from my shoes? I did not. I fell on my knees and then on my face until I was fully prostate. I said a very sincere prayer of thanks—it was, after all, the closest I’d been to horizontal in more than a day.
Fast forward a year and a half. My second greenie was coming in. I’ll call him Elder C2, to differentiate him from my first greenie (Elder C). I wanted this to be a memorable day for Elder C2, and scheduled a very special fourth discussion with some very special investigators.
Only a few minutes after he dropped his suitcases on the floor, I brought him to the home of a nice mom and her teenage daughter. The mom had kindly provided us with goblets of grape juice to whet our whistles during the discussion, and gosh that discussion went well. Principles were taught, testimonies born, juice quaffed, yawns suppressed.
Until we got to the fourth principle: the Word of Wisdom. They beamed at us while we taught about how they weren’t supposed to smoke; they nodded as we decried coffee; their faces turned ashen when we waxed eloquent on the evils of alcohol.
Elder C2 began to gasp, his poor sleep-deprived brain unable to process the magnitude of our unintentional sin.
And then his brain was suddenly burdened with the extra task of wondering why everyone was laughing at him. To his utter relief (and no doubt, yours as well) the mom and daughter revealed themselves as already-baptized Mormons. The wine turned out to be mere grape juice. Hangovers were not in our future and neither was a confession to the mission president. It still took a minute for Elder C to quit hyperventilating, though.
We took a picture of the aftermath, Elder C2 and me toasting the camera with our goblets; his face, one of a man just snatched from the claws of hell.
And it only got better from there. Elder C2 was a great storyteller and made tracting time speed by. I kind of hoped people wouldn’t let us in so we could keep barreling through our conversations.
But my first greenie, so recently departed for fairer fields, had apparently really worn me out. I had spent my reserves of energy on him, and was now finding that I had little to spare on Elder C2. I wasn’t nearly as good at leading him into the trenches of missionary work. Sometimes we were slow getting out the door in the morning. Sometimes a miniature billiards competition would keep us at dinner longer than our allotted hour. Sometimes lunch turned into a nap.
I felt just terrible about this. One morning, in a fit of remorse, I got out the Bonnie Boy. The Bonnie Boy was my mascot: a plastic sculpture of a cherubic boy taking a leak. Pressing the button on the base produced a stream of water from the appropriate orifice.
I filled the Bonnie Boy with water and stood over Elder C2’s sleeping form. I pressed the button and intoned the “Bonnie Boy Bond,” which I made up on the spot: something about being more obedient. I don’t remember how much we improved–it’s been a long time since this stuff happened. But I know we kept trying.
As with my first greenie, something miraculous happened during this companionship. I wrote about it at length in my essay “The Weight of Priesthood.” It was among the most defining times of both our missions; a time Elder C2 and I still talk about when we meet up these many years later.
This particular greenie grew up to be a zone leader in my beloved Belleville. He was very successful and I was quite proud of him. I don’t think his success had much to do with how I trained him, though. He likely succeeded despite my influence.
A few months ago Elder C2 and I got together for an evening. He told me that the thought going through his sleep-deprived head as we went to our wine appointment was, “Man, that guy’s legs are long. I’m never going to be able to keep up.”
He kept up fine.