By Ivan Raconteur
Zach E. Roberts of Lester Prairie will soon be living a dream and carrying on a family tradition as a missionary in Oregon.
Roberts, son of David and Heidi Roberts of Lester Prairie, has accepted a call to serve for two years as a proselyting missionary in the Oregon Eugene Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church).
His father, two uncles, his grandparents, and other family members have also served as missionaries.
His grandfather served first when he was single, and later, served on two missions with his wife, once in Bolivia and once in the Canary Islands.
Roberts described his motivation for the mission using an orange juice analogy.
“If I had some really good orange juice, I would want to share it with others. What I have in my life is pretty good orange juice, and I want to share what I have,” Roberts said.
He admitted there have been a couple of times over the years when he briefly questioned the mission, but said it has pretty much been understood since he was young that this was the path he would take.
Young men in the LDS Church are eligible to serve as missionaries when they turn 19, and most missionaries are between 19 and 21 years of age (women are not eligible until they are 21, and most female missionaries are between 21 and 23).
Roberts will report to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, Wed., April 16. There he will receive instruction prior to traveling to Oregon. The training center in Utah is one of 17 centers world-wide, and is adjacent to Brigham Young University.
The LDS Church maintains 330 missions throughout the world. Missionaries are selected by LDS Church leaders at the Church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
For Roberts, the selection process began with meeting with his local church leaders at the Hutchinson branch of the LDS church.
After determining he met basic qualifications, which include physical and mental health, he was interviewed to determine if he met spiritual and moral standards required of those who choose to serve a mission.
Physical fitness is important because of the nature of the mission. Roberts said applicants must be able to walk six miles per day and bicycle 12 miles per day.
The church also requires that any pre-existing medical condition be corrected prior to the start of the mission.
Roberts had to have his wisdom teeth pulled in preparation for his mission.
After the lengthy application process, the information was reviewed by leaders at LDS Church headquarters. Roberts then received a “call to serve” an official notification of his location assignment through the mail, from the president of the Church.
Upon arriving at the Missionary Training Center, Roberts will be assigned a companion with whom he will work and study during his three-week stay.
Every missionary is assigned by the mission president to be another missionary’s companion. Once in Oregon, he will be assigned to work with a more experienced missionary as his companion.
Missionary companionships are generally maintained for months at a time, and Roberts will most likely serve with multiple companions by the end of his mission, eventually becoming the senior, or more experienced missionary.
Roberts is not concerned about the prospect of spending his days talking to strangers.
“I like talking to strangers,” he commented.
He has plenty of experience working with others.
Roberts earned the rank of Eagle Scout by the time he was 15, and spent three summers working as a camp counselor at Many Point Scout Camp in northern Minnesota.
He described this as “the best job on earth,” where he spent his time living in the wilderness and teaching survival skills to young people.
He also spent a summer working at Valley Fair, where he was promoted to team lead, and spent his time talking to strangers and assisting visitors.
The Oregon Eugene Mission covers a large portion of southwest Oregon, extending slightly into northern California and northwest Nevada. Roberts will have the opportunity to serve in a variety of locations within that area, and will become very familiar with the towns and people in each of those locations.
Missionaries are expected to pay their own expenses while on their mission, often with assistance from family and friends.
Because some countries and locations are obviously more expensive than others to serve in, the LDS Church introduced a program to equalize the financial responsibility for each missionary.
Roberts (or his family) will be expected to contribute $400 a month to a church general missionary fund. Those funds will cover the cost of his food, lodging, transportation, and personal items needed.
Since a missionary’s time is fully occupied with mission work, Roberts will not have any other job or occupation during the two years. Part of his challenge and experience will be managing to live on $400 a month.
Roberts will have one “preparation day” a week for taking care of his personal needs such as laundry and grocery shopping. He will also be expected to use that day to correspond (by mail) with family and friends who wish to stay in touch with him. Letters and “care packages” are greatly anticipated by missionaries, even those who stay within the United States. Roberts is hopeful people will remember him with prayers and packages.
A different lifestyle
Mission life could be a bit of culture shock for a young man that is used to the freedoms enjoyed by most people his age.
Missionaries are not allowed to use cell phones (and Roberts has logged more than 9,000 text messages in a single month).
Missionaries are allowed to call their parents only twice each year (on Mother’s Day and Christmas). E-mail use is limited to church business.
The only link Roberts will have with friends and family during his two-year mission is letters.
He explained that the intention is to allow missionaries to focus on their mission, and said the outside world can be distracting and stressful.
Dating is also prohibited, but Roberts said he expects his days to be full.
He will be expected to be up by 6:30 a.m. to exercise and study, and after breakfast, he will be out meeting people in public and at appointments.
The routine continues after lunch, and he will have to be back in his apartment by 9:30 p.m., and in bed by 10:30 p.m.
Roberts said the dress code requires a minimum of dress pants, a white shirt, and a sport coat. Missionaries must also be clean-shaven and have short, well-kept hair, because they are representing the church.
Roberts said he is looking forward to mission work, and expects it to be a life-altering experience.
“I hope to grow up a little,” he said.
Roberts has not yet decided what he will do after his two years are up.
“I might just disappear off the face of the earth for awhile, and see where the wind takes me,” he commented.
He added that he would like to spend some time traveling when he gets back, possibly to eastern Europe.
After taking some time off, he plans to carry on another family tradition. His goal is to earn a PhD in Psychology, and work with teenagers. His grandfather and uncle are also psychologists.
His mother, Heidi, commented that most young men who have served as missionaries are older than their fellow students when they enter college as freshmen except at Brigham Young University, where mission work is the norm.
“In our church, we believe in tithing 10 percent of our income, and Zach has described his two-year commitment as tithing his time - he said two years is 10 percent of his first 20 years of life,” Heidi explained.
Roberts has been working with local missionaries in Hutchinson and recently had his first experience going door-to-door representing the church.
He said he has already encountered a variety of people. The reception has not always been welcoming.
When the missionary he was working with told one resident that there is a web site, www.mormon.org where he could find more information, the man replied, “There is also ‘go jump in the lake.com,” and shut the door.
Despite the challenges, Roberts is excited about the opportunity to share his faith.
“I wish I could have gone right then when I got the letter (informing him he was accepted), but I understand that I have to go through the training. I have learned a lot from being around other missionaries, and I will be a couple of steps ahead when I get there,” he said.