Wake up. Work out. Pray. Hit the streets. Talk to people.
These are the daily rituals of two missionaries who are nearing the end of their two-year-long service to their church as they spread the word of their faith. Elder Scott Snow and Elder Logan Genduso, both 20, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Aka, they’re Mormons.
Elder is a title used by missionaries within the faith, according to Elder Genduso. The term Mormon, which references the faith’s holy text, The Book of Mormon, is a sort of nickname for those who practice it.
After a chance meeting with Elder Snow around the corner from Altria Theater, where the musical, The Book of Mormon, is being performed from February 7 to 12, we swapped phone numbers. A few days later, I tagged along with Elder Snow and Elder Genduso as they chatted with students around campus at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Neither missionary has seen the musical and though they have considered approaching people outside the theater they have been instructed not to do so in order to avoid misinterpretation, according to Elder Genduso.
“It could give a stigma to the Church from the world that we’re trying to battle this or trying to cause some kind of uproar,” said Elder Genduso. “We’re not, but it could be viewed as that.”
Despite South Park and BoM creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s history of poking fun at the faith, GayRVA theater critic Julie Clayton wrote that the play “delights, offends and warms your heart.”
The musical is pretty much an equal opportunity offender to many things in this big, wide world. BoM the musical explores faith and doubts of two missionaries with a helping of irreverent humor. The LDS Church has even placed advertisements in the Broadway production’s Playbill that encourages people to read the religious book.
“Everyone has Freedom of Speech,” said Elder Snow. “And that’s also what The Book of Mormon is. Everyone has the ability to worship God and to express their views.”
Elder Genduso is from California and Elder Snow is from Utah. The two are partnered together most days, and though they’re currently in Richmond, they’ve also spent time in Charlottesville and Fredericksburg. The nomadic approach to their mission has allowed them to interact with a variety of people; usually at the college campuses they tend to frequent.
As we wandered the sidewalks outside of Cabell Library, one of the people they talked to was Saad Asham, a Pakistani biology major at VCU.
According to Asham, he is a not-too-strict practicing Muslim, but that didn’t stop him from interest in talking to Snow and Genduso. After a few minutes, he gave them his cell phone number and we parted ways.
Striking up a conversation about God with strangers is nothing new to the missionaries. I watched as they gauged people’s interest. The end of the conversation usually results in handing out pamphlets or swapping phone numbers to meet at another time in order to talk longer and more personally.
Not long after speaking with Asham, we headed to the Student Commons. It was nearly 1 o’clock and a pending meetup had been scheduled. Elder Snow smiled when he saw Angel Whitfield, who declined to be photographed, waiting for them outside. She met Snow a few days prior and expressed interest in learning more about the Church.
“That’s the girl!,” Elder Snow said excitedly. “People don’t always show up when they tell you they wanted to. A lot of times you’ll go to meet up and no one comes.”
After a few moments of exchanging pleasantries, the four of us continued inside the Student Commons to escape the cold. We found an empty conference room on the second floor.
Whitfield, who was not raised in a particular religion, is exploring various faiths. She claims that part of her heritage is Native American and that her uncle is a medicine man. She also recently attended a Catholic Mass with her roommate at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
When asked if she believed the Bible to be the word of God, Whitfield claimed that she wasn’t entirely sure. “I feel like so many different people say different things so there’s no one person that I want follow on that.” Whitfield said. “But I want to have that personal experience that tells me there is a book I believe.”
The three of them had a mutual agreement about how confusing religion can be, where even just in Christianity, there are so many denominations and interpretations of religious texts. Whitfield is open to exploring such things. She considers herself a very logic-based person who likes to know all her options before making decisions.
“The Book of Mormon and the Bible together give us clarity on what we need to know and it helps us interpret the word, with two witnesses of Christ,” Elder Genduso said to Whitfield. “They act together to let us know what is really being taught here.”
Whitfield was curious how the guys felt about stereotypes of their work as missionaries and claimed her Catholic roommate had urged her not to meetup with them.
“She was just like ‘oh don’t go because they’re just going to try to force their religion on you,’” Whitfield said. “Not going would be rude. I respect what you guys do.”
LDS Church is one of many denominations of Christianity. According to the religion, Mormon was the name of the prophet who compiled the religious text, The Book of Mormon. According to the LDS Church, The Book of Mormon is another Testament of the Christian Bible that was lost until American citizen Joseph Smith found it in 1830. It teaches that Jesus Christ is the literal son of God and that he came to America after his resurrection.
“I’m intrigued by all types of religions and how they came about,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield feels that religion is a very personal experience. When the guys gave her a copy of The Book of Mormon, she explained that she plans to read it so that she can internally ponder its scriptures. She is open to remaining in contact with them while she explores the faith.
As for the two missionaries, Elder Snow still has four months left in his mission. When his service concludes he wants to pursue a career in the United States Army as either an Infantryman or work in Military Intelligence. His LDS Church name pin is written partially in Chinese because he has been learning the language and would like to apply it to future jobs, just as he applies it when possible to missionary work.
Elder Genduso, who is awaiting a possible acceptance letter from Brigham Young University, enjoys math and hopes to pursue a career in mechanical engineering.
*This article was originally published on GayRVA.com and can be viewed here.