It's about time I told this story again. I actually was invited to attend Priesthood Session of Conference last Sunday...and during one of the talks Elder So and So remarked that for every missionary, their mission president had been selected for them by inspiration. I had to laugh at that. You'll see why if you can stomach reading through this mini novel.
Once upon a time in Sweden, I was patiently waiting out every day and every night whilst eating, drinking and breathing nothing but religion. It was the most horrifically boring 6 months of my life. I had some adventures here and there worthy of note, and overall I'm still grateful for the experience, but nothing ever compensated for the sheer boredom of having to live a life without one shred of even momentary solitude. Once, I was invited to take part in a priesthood blessing for an elder who was suffering from allergies. The Mission President was giving the blessing, and I think I should taken the fact that he kept telling these allergies to "get thee hence" as a very bad sign of things to come.
So I'm 7 months in, almost a third of the way there, and it's companion trading day. This is the day you lose your old comp, and gain another, and if you're lucky you actually get to be alone a few hours as your new companion travels to your location. Unfortunately for me, Sister Hendersen, a dear old member who made it her business to know the whole routine and keep innocent elder's from having any kind of fun at all, insisted that I stay over at her place during the interim. I sat on her couch waiting for my new companion's call. It should have been at most maybe three hours, but three hours turned into five, and then six or seven, and then finally we called up the mission office to report my new companion being missing in action. I was told he'd missed his flight, and that he'd be arriving the next day. In the meantime, I was to go stay the night at the next city over, with the missionaries stationed there. Now this was odd, as if my companion really had missed his flight, it would only be another hour before the next, and there were several of these flights every day. Something was not adding up, but oh well, you do what you have to in the service of the Lord, right?
So Elder Fiatt arrived (name changed to protect his guilt), and didn't really explain his lateness any more than
a bad day at the airport. But in the meantime, he began to receive phonecalls from a young girl late into the evening. The plot thickened. Fiatt claimed she was just an earnest investigator whom he was helping to lead to the light, but there conversations went a little long and they didn't sound like they were discussing the high points of Alma 32 much.
So after several days in a row of this investigator calling, my companion finally fessed up. She was not so much an investigator as she was a girlfriend. And they'd been naked together. In fact, as I was sitting in Sister Hendersen's home watching the clock, he had been buck naked performing something other than angelic ministrations with his priesthood if you get my meaning. But it was important to note, he pointed out, that they didn't actually punctuate the naked wrestling with penetration because she was having her period. Ding ding, saved by the bell.
Well, he had then headed straight for the mission office to confess to the Mission President. Only President Wilbur (again names changed) did not begin proceedings to send Fiatt home as Fiatt expected. Instead after hearing about the escaped the President only took one long, deep and disgusted sigh. And then he waved his arm at the elder. "In the name of Jesus Christ, I command thee to get thee hence." My companion had just been exorcised and the whole problem of his sexual hijinx solved in under thirty seconds. Now that's priesthood power at its most convenient.
Now I liked Fiatt a lot. He seemed a decent enough guy, one of the funnier companions I had. True, he didn't always sweat the 6:30 am alarm, but overall we were making a game effort. But when he told me this something in me was just so horrified. I was dumbfounded. The problems that lead to this missionary actually getting down and busy with a young investigator (she actually WAS an investigator after all, heh heh) being summed up as demonic possession was a deep and vicious lie. I do not know how you earn a demonic possession while on your mission, but I do know this much--it involves far darker sinning than getting naked with people. It was a horrible accusation to put on his character.
So confronted with this horror, what did I do? Did I pray earnestly in my apartment? Did I contact someone for counsel? Did I search the scriptures for answers? Nah, I went out and bought a 12 pack of beer.
This was the first time I'd ever drank. And oh, it was a great and wonderful buzz. And harmless too. I thought that beer drinking was definately highly underrated by the general Mormon public. Now the second time we got drunk, that was a bit more problematic, as I swore to the Lord I'd never drink another drop as cradled the toilet.
So...as you can guess, the missionary work suffered a bit from this point.
Elder Fiatt wanted nothing more than to return to his investigator. He wanted me to come with him. He even said that she had some friends she could set me up with. Wow, alchol consumption covered, why not knock another biggies out of the ball park? It was seriously tempting. But I couldn't just dissappear. We might make the local news in Utah, and stressing my parents out like that was just something I wasn't able to do.
So I stayed behind as Fiatt returned to his previous location to further explore the relationship.
I was all alone for a day and a half, really nice days. But a member finally spotted me out wondering around in my civvies and the gig was up. President Wilbur was called. The missionaries from the neighboring city were dispatched. I was visited upon by them and they had the air of govenrment officials as they "rounded me up". They came into the apartment and called up Wilbur. I was in my bedroom and they handed me the phone. They decided it was best to give me privacy and closed the door behind them.
"Oh elder, do you know what this means?" screamed Wilbur at me. "EXCOMMUNICATION! Disgrace to your family!"
That was all I needed to hear. I put down the phone, opened up my bedroom and jumped out. I ran as fast as I could, heading to the bus station. "Ladies here I come!" says I. "If I'm getting exed, I'm gonna damn well earn it!"
But in a few minutes, I remembered that the reason I was not going to disappear was to spare the pain of my parents. That was still a priority. So I returned to my apartment. The missionaries looked at me in astonishment as they were still in the living room, thinking I was still talking on the phone, and didn't have any understanding at all as to how I was coming in through the front door. The president, god bless him, was still on the line.
I was handed the phone again, but this time my escorts remained firmly in the room.
"If you ever try to run away again, Elder Johnson, I will have you thrown in jail."
"After you excommunicate me you mean."
"Well, I was probably letting myself get carried away about excommunication. But I will have you thrown in jail, you just try me."
And that was it, that was the full extent of our conversation. No concern for my welfare, no asking me about anything that had happened. What I was going through was apparently of no concern whatsoever. Ah, but this was the man that God inspired to be my prez. What a wonderful system!!!
Anyway, we take the train to the neighboring city, and all the while I'm thinking "JAIL? He can't put me in jail. Where does he get off threatening jail?"
We go to zone leader's apartment. Here I am comforted, interviewed a little, and preached at. One of the zone leaders tells me a long involved story, to which I do not hear a word. "Jail? JAIL? JAIL? Just try me?
I do not remember why I was left alone with poor Elder Newburg. Newburg was about 5'4 to my 6'4 -- this is important. But it was while I was with Newburg that I decided "Fuck it. I'm going to Denmark."
I started to walk out with my suitcase and Newburg tried at first to grab me. I looked at him and smiled. "Don't I still have my agency, Elder Newburg?" I implored.
He had to think this one over. "Yes, yes you do. But if you leave now, you'll be excommunicated for sure."
"Hmmmph." I said. "Promises promises."
And then I left to jump on a ferry and boat over to Denmark. Fuck that guy and fuck jail. Come and get me, asshole.
Denmark was fun. I had an uncle that lived there, that was my ace in the hole. I dissappeared for a night, but I did call my parents to let them know that I was alive and safe. I regret that I didn't take this opportunity to tour all of Europe, dropping postcards to the mission office at every stopover. But I felt impelled to settle things up after my little rebellion.
After calling my parents a second time I was told a fascinating story. The President told them that when i had left Elder Newburg, it wasn't just Elder Newburg in the room but about a dozen missionaries. The president told my parents I was possessed by a demon, and that I had thrown the other missionaries up against the walls like rag dolls. I had gone through them, he told my parents , like a bowling ball through ten pins.
Aha, my turn. Now I'm the one who is possessed. This is definately Wilbur's catch all.
So in the end, I decided to return to the office to have one last conversation with Wilbur. I wanted explanations. He gave me none. Everyone still wanted me to stay on my mission. My dad made it clear to me that it would be better that I return home in a coffin than return home early. So I decided I'd give the pres one last chance to try and explain himself. I took a plane back to Stockholm.
I was met at the airport by the entire office staff. Ten elders nervously surrouned me, I guess expecting me to go into "Super Bionic Demon" mode again at a moment's notice. The story of my raging demon fit was all over the mission now. I often wondered what Newburg thought of that story, and how far he went to correct it. If I'd known I was going to be accused of throwing missionaries against the wall, I'd at least maybe of thrown Newburg down on the floor and given him some of my older brother's famous red belly treatment. You know..that's when you pull up the shirt and just slap that belly till it's pink. Something to earn my rep at least.
Taken under gaurd to the mission home I was never talked to once by the President. I was just expected to take on office duty, go out with the office elders into the field, like business as usual. I was wondering what the hell was going on...and finally one of the office elders confided in me.
"We prayed about what was going to happen. We prayed if you should go or stay, each one of us. THe president and everyone else felt the Lord wanted you to stay. I felt like you should go home."
Wow, a circle jerk of prayer on my behalf. And my fate decided.
After hearing this I went into the President's office. I conducted my own Priesthood Interview, and swiftly determined this man just wasn't worthy. I asked to be sent home.
And sent home I was.
I know, I know, a novel. But I'm almost done now.
The epilogue to my horror story was that when I got home, many of my ward members tried their best to salvage my membership. One general authority came over and asked me about my story. I told him exactly what happened, and he told me he was going to investigate. He didn't want some wild cannon on the loose in Sweden. Wow, I thought. Justice?
A few days later he called me into the Church Office building. He sat me down in Paul H Dunn's office ,which was unnocupied. I hadn't heard about his problems yet, so I had no idea where Paul was. But I sat in his office one day, all by myself, after having been handed a manila envelope full of papers to read.
I read through them, and was perplexed to discover that they were official church documentations of missionaries who had been possessed by demons.
I didn't read them all. I was too devestated. I walked into his office.
"So you believe him. You believed President Wilbur. Did you pray on it too? It would be very nice and easy if it was all just about getting possessed by a bunch of demons, wouldn't it? Come one, come all. Party at my house! But Elder Hiawatha, it was not so. I did a lot of un missionary like things over there. But not once, not one time, did I ever lose grip on the wheel. It was all my own doing "
And I left with no further conversation. And that's my exit story. To this day, when someone remarks about how their missions were the best days of their lives, I have to smile. My best ones too, almost. Making that stand, making that rebellion, was a beautiful awakening to life and a whole new plane of discovery and happiness. Thank you President Wilbur. Thank you, imaginary demons. Thank you Elder Hiawathe and the LDS X-Files. I will always be grateful for the extra push I got into the light.