The young man has been in the mission field for slightly more than two weeks. He has learned how to talk to people at doors and in the street. He has helped teach a handful of lessons, and he is progressing in the missionary study program.
It is a mild day in November in Whittier, and they have no morning appointments, so the young man’s trainer, Elder Shaw, has led them to a neighborhood to tract. Mostly, no one is home, but about five houses in, they are standing on an elevated porch after knocking the front door of a white painted wood house. A man appears and cracks open the metal screen door. He has salt and pepper hair, glasses sitting at the end of his nose, and a weathered face.
“Yes?” he says.
“Hi,” says the young man. “We’re ministers of Jesus Christ and we’re–”
The man cuts him off. “Boys, you don’t wanna waste time with me.”
“Why is that?” says Elder Shaw.
“I don’t believe in God or any other myths like that.”
“That’s all right,” says Elder Shaw. “We could visit with you about that, exchange ideas.”
The man snorts. “Look, here’s my feeling. With all the evidence out there, if you still believe in God, I’d say you have your head up your ass and you like the view.”
Elder Shaw stares at him. He’s about six feet tall, wearing beat up shoes and worn slacks. He’s from farm country in Idaho and has been a missionary for twenty-one months. The young man watches Elder Shaw for cues.
At least, Elder Shaw looks down, half smiles, and says, “Well, I suppose if you sit where we do, you might say the same thing about atheists. Have a nice day.”
They step off the porch, and the man shuts the door behind them. They get to the next door, but before they knock, Elder Shaw sighs and says, “The Spirit isn’t here anymore, is it?”
The young man shrugs. “Probably not our best moment.”
Elder Shaw swallows. “All right. Let’s go back.”
Moments later, they are back on the doorstep. Elder Shaw rings the bell, and the man emerges again.
“Wow, are you back to convince me?” the man says.
Elder Shaw shakes his head. “No. We came back to apologize. That wasn’t an appropriate response, and we’re sorry.”
The man looks at Elder Shaw and cocks his head. “I gotta hand it to you. That was very brave of you. Maybe I don’t need to put my viewpoint out there quite so harshly either.”
“Fair enough,” says Elder Shaw, and he extends his hand. The man shakes it, and the young man extends his and shakes the man’s hand.
Back on the sidewalk, Elder Shaw says, “That was a thousand miles outside of my comfort zone.”
“But it does feel better now,” says the young man.
“Yeah, it does.”