MISSIONARY EPISTLE FOR WEEK ENDING 1/8/2016
ELDER LARRY AND SISTER BEV ELKINGTON
We apologize for missing an epistle for last week. We had several family members spend time with us over the holidays. We loved seeing them, but it did take a lot of our time and energy preparing places for them to sleep and preparing meals. We are learning what family and others have been telling us – we do not have the energy to run a hotel and restaurant – we need to scale down to a bed and breakfast.
We have known of the struggles Native Americans have in trying to maintain their native cultural while also fitting in with the “white culture”. But it was really brought home to us when we visited with Stan, an active member of the Heritage Park Branch. Bev asked him if he had a positive experience participating in the Church Indian Student Placement Program as a youth. Instead of just a “yes” or “no” answer, he elaborated. He said when he was with his white foster family he felt he could not associate much with the other Native American students at school because he felt he needed to “be more white than the white kids” to fit in. Then when he returned to the Navajo Reservation in the summers he was viewed with suspicion, so he had to “be more Indian than the Indian kids” to fit in. He was torn between two cultures and did not fit in either one. It fractured his personality – he didn’t know who he was anymore.
Also, when he was home on the Navajo Reservation, the nearest branch of the Church met about 55 miles from where he lived. Each Sunday he would get out of bed at 5:00 AM and start walking to Church dressed in a white shirt, a tie and slacks. He said the Native Americans (including his relatives and friends) who passed him knew he was going to Church and would throw things (including rocks) at him as they passed. They would not stop to give him a ride. Often, he would not make it for the whole meeting. And sometimes he would see he could not be there until the last meeting would be over. So he would cross the road and start walking back home. On the way home cars would sometimes stop and offer him a ride. How many of us would have gone to Church in our youth in those circumstances?
He related how one morning he had walked 17 miles without being offered a ride and he could see he could not possibly get to Church before the meetings ended, so he stopped – then crossed the road and started back home. He didn’t try to go to Church after that for a number of years. He got into trouble, spent time in jail and lived a life outside of the Church. It might have been different if even one of the active Church members had taken an interest in him and reached out by offering a ride or at least concern for him.
As Stan related his experiences, he could not hide the pain he felt as he recalled these experiences and feelings. How many are there among us at Church or other places who are making valiant efforts to do what they believe is right against seemingly unsurmountable odds? And how much difference could it make if we reached out with love and concern - whether or not we are serving as set-apart missionaries?
After he married, his wife asked him who he really was. He went for counseling and realized his sense of who he was had been fractured – he was neither white nor Native American. He worked through the issues plaguing him and later became active in the Church (as a result of two home teachers in the Heritage Park Branch). He and his wife and their family now have recommends to go to the temple and be sealed.
We also met with a young single Native American mother with the young elders as they taught her a lesson on the Book of Mormon. She said she would be to Church Sunday. It’s Sunday and she didn’t come to Church - so much for good intentions.
We are in the last month of our mission. It causes very mixed emotions! We love serving the Lord and we love our calling as missionaries.