Mormon missionaries find home in Carson City

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

David Smith said he often gets the same answer when he knocks on a stranger's door wearing his short-sleeved dress shirt and tie.

"They usually say something like, 'You've been here before. I already have a church.'"

But Smith, of Omaha, Neb., and Andrew Chambers, of Tampa, Fla., said they like being missionaries in Carson City for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints despite the reception they sometimes receive to their door-to-door evangelism.

Most people are friendly, they said. Church members often invite them to dinner and send them home with leftovers.

"I've never had this support," Chambers said. "It's kind of nice for me."

Nevada is the 35th most populous state but has the seventh highest number of Mormons. Carson City has two Mormon churches and six more churches in the surrounding area. Members are divided into geographic congregations called wards. There are four wards in Carson City.

Chambers, 20, and Smith, 21, said there were few other Latter-day Saints in their high schools and colleges. They didn't drink alcohol or coffee or smoke. People noticed.

"You stand out," Chambers said.

Chambers and Smith both left their homes in late 2007. They didn't know which of the 350 missions around the world the church would pick for them, however.

Both were sent to Las Vegas before they came to Carson City several months ago.

They can be moved to anywhere in the mission area of Las Vegas and western Nevada every six weeks.

They said Las Vegas had more Latter-day Saints than they expected, but people weren't as friendly as they are in Carson City.

Smith, who came to Carson City in October, and Chambers, who came in January, share an apartment and a tight schedule.

They wake up at 6:30 a.m., study for several hours, teach people about their faith, do requested chores and are back in bed by 10:30 p.m.

They are not allowed to watch television or read a newspaper. Their only entertainment is approved music such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Rita Soto of Carson City joined the church after a few months of talking with Chambers and Smith. She said they never judged her or told her what to do.

They just told her to read the Bible and Book of Mormon and come to a decision on her own.

She said they made her and her 12-year-old son, Seth, feel more at home than they ever felt. They even did her yard work.

"They were just wonderful," she said.

Smith said people seem to start thinking about joining the church when they feel they're missing something. He said that's when the church starts to make sense to them.

"I don't think it's a coincidence when that happens," he said.

Kevin McCracken, president of the mission in Las Vegas and western Nevada, said members of the church learn a lot on their missions. It's the first time many are away from home, learn to budget and really care for themselves.

"During their time here, there's a lot of maturing " physically, emotionally and spiritually," he said.

Chambers and Smith said they aren't sure what they will do when their missions end later this year. Both were in college " Chambers for political science and Smith for biology " but they also know the church has an expectation they will become leaders and, eventually, fathers.

Part of what they will have to know as leaders comes from the missionary manuals they study on their own and with a group of missionaries in the Carson City area they meet with once a week.

Smith opened his manual to a lesson about obedience and eternal life during one of these meetings in late March.

He'd written in the margins.

"God gives us commandments so we can be happy," the note said. "If we keep the commandments, we are blessed."

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