I usually sleep in on Sundays when I'm off. That's probably because I'd most likely stayed up late on Saturday night. When I wake up, it's an hour or two before noon. I'm not usually hungry, just thirsty. Most times, I just drink water from the faucet, then go back to sleep. A few times, I actually look into the fridge and try to figure out what to eat later. This Sunday, I looked into the fridge, and my eye caught the half empty pitcher of Kool Aid.
'Well, that might be a nice alternative to drinking water', I thought. So I took the pitcher out, grabbed a cup, and sat down at the table. I had made this Kool Aid earlier in the week. I was cleaning out some cupboards and found a lot of stuff that I had forgotten about. Some Kool Aid, some seasonings, and half a bottle of vodka behind some jello boxes. I don't like to waste stuff, so I figured, eh, might as well use them all and that's what I did. When I make Kool Aid, I like to mix different flavors. This one was a mixture of orange and strawberry. I had made two pitchers of the stuff, but was down to this half empty one. Most of it, I had served yesterday to some visitors. Well, not visitors exactly. And as I poured myself a drink, I thought back to what had transpired the day before.
I was putting away groceries when there was a knock on the door. I wasn't expecting any visitors, so I thought about who could it be now. I guessed it was either someone at the wrong place or some salesman trying to sell me stuff. A quick peek in the peephole confirmed it was both. Two young fellas dressed in white shirts, ties, and black pants. The names tags confirmed it: Mormon missionaries.
I opened the door to be greeted by a Hello, smiles, and well rehearsed lines of them being new in town and walking about to get to know the neighbors.
I cut them off and said, "You're Mormons."
They looked surprised and confused. Silence. I could see the wheels turning inside their heads as they tried to figure out what to do next.
But I continued, "I'm not a Mormon, and I've no interest in joining your religion." They started to say their good byes, thanking me for my time, but I interrupted, "But come on in and have a drink. It's a little warm out today."
They were unsure, looked at each other but I opened my door wider and smiled and said, "Take a break. Then be on your merry way." They still looked a little apprehensive, as if still trying to figure out the best way to spread their message to me, so I added, "Dudes, some of my best friends are Mormons. Some have done missions in Asia and Africa."
That got another surprised look out of them. But it was true. Some of my best friends were Mormons and a few had done missionary work in foreign countries. I used to write them letters and sent the occasional care package. They loved the care packages--it was mostly candy and potato chips, junk food that I sent them. They wrote back about the things they've seen and what they had done and the people they've met. When we met up some years after their missions, I was dumbfounded by what they revealed to me about their missions. I knew that they were doing hard work, but I didn't realize how their church made it much harder on some of them.
Missionaries don't get paid. Often, they're fed by the church and its members and the small amount of money their family may send them. But the families are often told that their kids (really, what else are 19 and 20 year olds?) would be taken care of. Unfortunately, some churches enforce a rule that makes it harder for church members to feed the missionaries. Some of these families were told to only have the missionaries over when there was a possibility of a convert. That meant, unless there was someone present whom the missionaries could recruit into the church, then the families shouldn't be having the missionaries over for dinner. And what Mormon family would be comfortable enough to invite unsuspecting friends over for a religious conversion? You'd run out of friends real quick! Not to mention that some these regions the missionaries serve have very few church members to feed them.
When I first heard about that, that made me so mad. It was supposed to be an incentive to make the missionaries work harder to find new converts. But it was just a terrible thing to to do. Missionaries don't have money. The only dinners they can rely on for sure are the Sunday dinners that church members give them. For the rest of the week, they have to live off whatever money their families manage to send them. And most of these families are either very poor or are under the false impression that their kids are being fed well. I was livid when I found out what had happened to my friends. They were in a foreign country, toiling long hours in harsh environments, trying to spread their faith among some of the most hostile regions of the world, and they were starving! I was mad at myself, too, for not sending more care packages. Had I known what they were going through, I would've sent more care packages and money. I asked them why they didn't tell me about their harsh conditions, but they said, they didn't want me to worry. At the time, they really thought it was part of their work to endure, that it was more important to spread their faith.
Some of them have stopped being active Mormons. A few have given up their faith all together. But looking at these young fellas standing at my door, I couldn't help but be reminded of the challenges my friends faced. So, I offered them a little respite from their work. I wish that someone had shown my friends such small kindness. Besides, these fellas were someone's child, and at the very least, I could be a good host to them for the little time that they were in my home.
I had offered them some water (I kept bottled water for my visiting friends who look down on drinking from the tap--snob bastards! Bottled water comes from the tap!). I also looked in the fridge and realized that I had the Kool Aid I had made a few days earlier and offered that as well. They wanted the Kool Aid. So I gave them some and told them that I was going to get them something to eat. I had made some pork chops--I had seasoned them with the seasoning packets I had discovered earlier in the week. I put them in the slow cooker the night before and they were done shortly before I went grocery shopping in the morning. I nuked some potatoes and reheated some fried chicken I had left in the fridge. I didn't have any rice prepared, but I did have some corn tortillas, so I heated those up as well. I told them I had ice cream in the fridge for dessert.
We sat at the dinner table and ate and talked. They drank Kool Aid while I had tap water. They drank a whole pitcher and a half and I was glad that they liked it. They were curious about the flavor, so I told them I mixed flavors, and that they were drinking orange strawberry. I found out that both of them were from the Midwest part of the country, although from different states. They were also starting out in college when they got the call to be missionaries. Typical, I thought to myself; my friends were also starting out in college when they got their calling. It's really easy to recruit from that age group, because they're young, dedicated, and malleable; they've not quite formed their own views on the world and are so naive and optimistic. All that youthful energy and drive is a boon to those who give the orders. Kind of like the military, I suppose.
The fellas were curious as to how I knew about Mormons, so I told them that where I grew up, it was a small community, but there was a variety of beliefs and the prevailing custom was to live and let live. So long as you weren't hurting anyone, you believe what you want to believe. Naturally, a lot of different faiths had thrived. Most of my friends growing up had very different religions, but we all respected each other's faith and would visit different churches from time to time. They were surprised when I told them that I even went to seminary one year--it's like Mormon Sunday school, except it took place on school days very early in the morning. I was surprised when I actually won an award and recognition for my work in seminary that year. But I think it was because I was the only one who did the work that year. I was curious to learn more about this religion. The other Mormon kids barely stayed awake for the lessons, much less kept up with the assignments.
It was during high school, a period when I underwent a spiritual awakening. I was curious as to why people believed and what exactly they believed in. What was their religion all about? Did they believe because they were told to do so, indoctrinated at such a young age that it became second nature, to never question the teachings? Or was it an epiphany or a life altering experience that led them to these beliefs? I visited and explored so many different religions during that time; and some of them had the added bonus of free food and feasts when I attended. It was wonderful time of learning and discovery for me, and to this day, religion and culture still fascinate me.
After the meal, we talked some more before the missionaries got ready to leave. They thanked me for my hospitality and invited me to their church. I said thanks, but chances are, I probably wouldn't be attending any time soon. Besides, I had invited them in because I wanted to; it was the least I could do to show these visitors some Southern hospitality, to temper the hostility they've no doubt encountered in their work. Before they left, I took out a small knapsack that I had gotten from work during a conference. It was one of those freebies they hand out along with pens and pads and other trinkets, most marked with a company logo. I had kept it, not knowing what to do with it. I'm pack rat and I tend to hold on to things, thinking I could reuse them; I don't like to waste things. But every few months I go through and sort and throw out the useless stuff and find uses for the other things. That way, I keep the clutter down.
So I took that knapsack, and I filled it with the cans of potato chips and bag of chocolate candies that I had bought this morning. I rarely buy potato chips anymore, but these cans were on sale for a dollar each; usually they cost two dollars. The bag of chocolate mini candies was on sale, too, and I was going to use it to flavor my oatmeal. That's right; chocolate candy flavored oatmeal! Mmmmm! Delicious! I guess I wasn't meant to enjoy my snack purchases, but they were going to be put to better use. I filled the knapsack with some cans of sardines, some tuna lunch kits, a box of raisins, a box of crackers, and a box of pop tarts. I gave the fellas the knapsack along with two large bottles of flavored water. They were surprised and thanked me for the meal and the knapsack. Their expressions reflected just how grateful and humbled they were. I wished them well on their endeavors and a safe return home. We shook hands and they both left. I hoped that they would be all right. I returned to putting away groceries and did some enjoyable things for the rest of the day.
Now it's the day after, Sunday, and I smiled at the thought that I did something nice for someone. I had fed someone's child and I had given the visiting missionaries some small glimpse of kindness and hospitality. There are still some nice people left in the world; and there are still those of us who carry on the art of Southern hospitality. The proof was in the half empty pitcher of Kool Aid in front of me.
I took a sip of that Kool Aid and my sense of smugness was immediately replaced by horror. This wasn't just my ordinary mixed Kool Aid! Nope. It had a familiar taste to it, one that I recognized immediately. You see, sometimes, when I mix Kool Aid, I add other stuff to it, like sliced fruit. Or alcohol. And this was alcohol. More specifically, the left over vodka that I had found earlier in the week. Yes, I sometimes like to mix vodka with my Kool Aid, usually when I have run out of stuff to mix with the vodka. I forgot that I had poured the rest of the vodka into the Kool Aid when I made it. I hadn't made such a concoction in a long time.
No wonder the missionaries liked it! They were probably feeling a good buzz the rest of the day. I felt a little guilty, because Mormons can't drink alcohol; it's against their religion. I may have wrecked their chances of getting into the highest level of their heavens. Oops. I hope not. Well, maybe they won't be judged so harshly. After all, they didn't know what they were drinking, so it's not their fault. And it wasn't like I was intentionally trying to tempt them and make them sin. I'm not that evil; really, I'm not. I was trying to do something nice for them. So much for good intentions.
They say they road to hell is paved with good intentions. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now. What's done is done. And then I thought; well, maybe it's not so bad. After all, what was Jesus' first miracle? He turned water into wine (John 2: 1-11). That's right. Jesus' first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding! Jesus drank wine. That's how he started his ministry and that's how he ended it. So I finished the rest of that vodka Kool Aid and pondered the meaning of life. Then I went back to sleep, with a hint of a buzz and a happy feeling that the universe has a sense of humor and all was right with the world again.
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