I See a Goal — Sweden or Bust

I prepared for my mission for years. I found out our bishop, who lived right up the street, had a treasure trove of church books. I used to go up to his house every chance I got and read his books. I’m talking old classics by people like John Taylor, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and the Pratt brothers, early church presidents, to name a few. He also had a book of Swedish grammar. Where he got that, I’ll never know. My dad wanted me to take German in high school, but my grandfather came from Sweden, and I always had an interest in that culture, so I read that Swedish book every chance I got and I even checked some Swedish language tapes out of the library. Finally, I got my call to Sweden. It was easy for me to learn the language, having read the books and listened to the tapes, and studied German. I also had Swedish and Norwegian neighbors, so I took advantage of their knowledge. I have always had a good ear for languages. In Sweden, I wanted to learn other European languages so I could communicate with our investigators who came to Sweden from other countries.

Back in those days, we didn’t have an MTC or “Mission control”, as they call it in that Broadway play. We had a week in the mission home in Salt Lake City, and then 2 1/2 years in the country learning the language and serving the mission. I was shocked, again, to see how casually most of the elders treated their mission home experience. Cherry bombs in the showers! Sitting at the feet of the general authorities. Spending a Q&A session the Salt Lake Temple with Harold B. Lee. For me the highlight was getting set apart by my all-time favorite general authority, LeGrand Richards. There were several of us in the room, and after each setting apart, he would shake our hand and say: “Whaddya you know? Another Mormon missionary!” I listened to all the prayers, and he said almost the same thing in each prayer, but I noticed that he said something different in mine. He said: “… Heavenly Father please reward him for all his sacrifices for Thee, and may this blessing follow him into the eternal worlds, this Thy true servant.” On no other blessing did he say “true servant”. I will never forget this, and will always try to live up to this and be a true servant of our Heavenly Father.

Sweden is a very open and permissive society, but LDS missionaries were allowed very little exposure to it, except for the occasional couple that we taught and you found out they were not married, or the occasional women who answered the door topless, or the man who answered the door bottomless. We were not allowed to see any Swedish movies — American movies only. No Swedish beaches. But, we all took advantage of the public baths. These aren’t like the gay baths in America. Over there, everybody goes to them. They are a community meeting place. And unlike, the wimpy American spas and locker rooms, there is no paranoid modesty. When you go into the sauna, you don’t even bring in a towel to wrap yourself, much less sit on. If you do, they consider you a sissy. People aren’t shy, and they don’t flaunt it, either. It’s all rather matter-of-fact. The baths are all men or all women. They either have separate facilities, or use alternate days. But, even on men-only days, they still have elderly female attendants. My football-player companion from Utah literally freaked out when he saw an old women, dressed like a temple worker in her white dress, white shoes, and white stockings, weaving in amongst the naked male bodies, picking up soiled towels. The openness and lack of pretension didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I was quite comfortable with it, and I wish that Americans were so self-righteous and up-tight. There were two occasions when men tried to seduce me in the baths. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I actually enjoyed the attention, but following the story of Joseph, I ran out. I savored the fantasies, later on.

My companion and I met a man in Sturebadet in Stockholm. This was and still is a famous public bath house and gathering place. The mission president thought that only gays hung out at public baths, even though the missionaries were allowed to go to them because many of our apartments didn’t have showers. The mission president told us to make sure the man wasn’t gay. He said that gays are attracted to the church because they feel the Spirit, but we can’t teach or baptize them.

This was the OFFICIAL word of the highest ranking Mormon Church authority in the entire country. This man insisted that when he entered a room, the congregation must arise and remain standing until he was seated. At dinner, nobody was allowed to eat until he began, and when he finished, we all had to hand back our plates, finished or not. He lived like a little king. When his tour of duty ended, a new mission president came in, and he was just wonderful. He inspired me in so many ways, as we will read later on.

Anyway, back to the first mission president. If gays felt the Spirit, doesn’t that mean that they were being directed by God to join the church, and that the Spirit would either help them repent, or maybe God saw no problem with their sexuality? I think of Peter, in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 10, who was prejudiced against taking the Gospel to the gentiles until God gave him a vision and told him not to call anything unclean that God had made clean. Then, Peter saw that the gentiles received the Holy Ghost, so he took the Gospel to them.

We are in a similar situation, today. But those who claim to bear the mantle of Peter, have yet to experience the vision and receive the insight that Peter of old received. Have we learned nothing in 2000 years?

You develop a very close relationship with your companion, and once, I told one of my companions that I had daydreams about men once in a while. He went back and told the mission president. This was the new mission president. The new mission president felt that it was just a bad experience and to put it all behind me. We never discussed it again. Another time, when I was worried about living up to all the damnable mission rules and following all their stupid contests and campaigns, he told me to just relax and forget about the contests because I was already self motivated. Instead, I should spend time meditating and let the “peace of the Gospel” settle over me. That was the first time in my life I ever thought of the Gospel being “peaceful”. Gospel is supposed to be “good news”, but for most of us it is anything but. I took his advice and began to see success after that.

 

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