Comments about LDS Missions, Part III (Eric Samuelson)

The following is an experience that happened to Eric Samuelson during his Norway mission from 1975 to 1977.  It was first published in Sunstone (Sep 2012):

The Dusseldorf Door Approach:  The regional general authority over our mission spoke at a mission conference and recommended that we try a new door approach that had apparently been very successful in Dusseldorf.  The approach went like this:  We had these small white cards saying we were official ministers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  One missionary would get right up by the door, and when the person answered it, stick his foot in the door opening, shove that ID card right in the face of whoever answered, and declare, “I am an official representative of Jesus Christ.  I have a message for you from Jesus Christ.  He commands you to hear our message.  Can we come in?”  The other missionary stood in the background holding up a picture of Jesus from our flip charts.  Then no matter what the person at the door said, the missionary with his foot in the door was supposed to repeat, “Jesus Christ commands you to let us into your home.”

Since I was a district leader, I thought I’d take the lead, so my companion and I committed ourselves to trying the new door approach for an entire morning.  We learned some things.  For example, when you were the missionary in back holding the picture of Jesus, you felt stupid and useless because you couldn’t no much to help your compannion on the front line.  But when it was your turn to hold that ID badge and stick your foot in the door and command people to let you into their homes–well, I never want to feel like that again in my life.  The good doors were the ones where they laughed at you.  “You what?  Please.  Get lost, loser.”

Mostly people just got really angry.  They’d back away, startled, and then they’d tell you to get your foot out of the door now, and threaten to call the police.  And then they did it!  We scrambled behind a tree when we saw a police car slowly patrolling the neighborhood we were working.

But even the doors where people got really angry and call the cops weren’t the worst doors.  I served in Norway from 1975 to 1977, just 30 years after the Second World War, and a number of the older people still remembered the Nazi occupation.  We saw it some of their faces that morning–that old horrible fear re-awakened.  We could see it in their eyes.  Those were the worst doors, the ones where I understood in my gut, in my soul, what it would feel like to knock on their door in the middle of the day, to take them by surprise, to stick a badge in their face, shout orders, to arrest them.  I’ll admit this too; there was sometimes a moment–just a tiny second–when it was sort of thrilling, when I felt a little buzz of self-righteous power.  When I felt like a member of God’s secret police.

When we went home for lunch, my companion told me that he couldn’t do it anymore.  I couldn’t either.  I talked with my zone leader about it.  “He’s a general authority,” I said.  “Shouldn’t we exercise faith?  Shouldn’t we obey?  Shouldn’t we keep trying it until it works?”

“It’s never going to work,” he replied.  “We either quit it now or we quit when the cops or someone makes us quit.  It’s a bad door approach.  It doesn’t respect people; it’s coercive.  It’s unrighteous.  Maybe it works in Dusseldorf, though I doubt it.  But in Norway?  Not a chance.”

“But he’s a general authority,” I said weakly.

“Yeah,” said our zone leader. “And a guy with a really bad idea for a door approach.”

Other comments about missions can be read here, here, and here.

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