A certain popular musical is pushing the idea that Mormons have never been outside their own front doors and have no idea what real problems face the world (or how to handle them). I think this is probably a common thought about Mormons. We’re really nice but we are so totally naive and would be shocked to find out half the things that go on in the ‘real world.’ I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for myself and I’m a Mormon and I know there are other Mormons who have had similar experiences so I thought I’d share some of the experiences I’ve had outside my own front door.
I grew up traveling and have always loved it. I’ve also always loved different aspects of the medical field. When I was 17 I decided to combine those two interests and I went to the Philippines with a medical group of volunteers. The group specialized in fixing cleft lip and palates and also in education for the local medical professionals. In many ways this trip was a lot of firsts for me. It was my first time traveling alone, my first time being completely immersed in a culture totally different from my own, my first real experience in a medical environment, and my first time seeing real poverty and misfortune. This trip changed my life, not only how I viewed life but it changed the whole trajectory of my life. I saw true horrors; children covered in burn scars, severely malnourished children, children and adults who had been literally shun their whole lives because of their appearance, people who could not afford food…at all. I also saw happiness and gratitude in these same people. When I came home from that trip and stepped foot into my room I cried my eyes out, I couldn’t believe how much I had: a functional body, a home, food, family, friends…the list goes on. I decided I would become a nurse so that I could do all that I could to relieve some of the suffering that went on in the world.
It’s now almost 10 years later and I am a nurse. In college I lived in Jordan for a summer to help implement an anti-smoking campaign and educated the medical schools about the harmful effects of tobacco (the tobacco use rate there is seriously around 85%). Again, I was thrust into a culture that was so completely different. I was there during the Hezbollah bombings. Every weekend there were anti-American riots where we either had to hunker down in our lodgings or leave the capital. Again, I saw immense poverty and suffering. Many people weren’t so grateful we were there but we also made great friends, people who taught us about their culture and religion and all the wonderful things about the area.
A few years later I went to Ethiopia with a medical group. My role was largely focused on education. I educated people about STDs, AIDS, clean water, latrines, diet, and fetal-maternal health. I thought I had seen poverty before, I was wrong. The problems in Ethiopia were the most severe I’ve seen. But the people in Ethiopia were also the most kind and generous and grateful people I’ve seen.
Apart from traveling I also worked at a residential treatment center for teenage boys. The boys were there for various reasons; addiction, behavioral problems, compulsive issues, etc. Most of them struggled because of things that had happened to them like abuse or abandonment.
I volunteered at a free medical clinic for two and a half years for those below the poverty line and without health insurance. Many of the people we served were immigrants suffering from serious injuries or chronic health problems with little hope of getting help elsewhere.
While in college I did rotations for a semester at a chemical detox facility. Of all the things I’ve seen this is where people were understandably at their lowest. I was there when they opened up about how their lives had gotten to that point.
The point I am trying to make is that I am a Mormon and I have seen a lot of the horror that is in the world. It is one reason why The Gospel of Jesus Christ means so much to me. Many people don’t see how a happy-go-lucky church can exist while there are real problems in the world. But, that is why it exists. Christ said in Luke 5:31:
And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
In other words, the Gospel is for those that suffer, it is for those that deal with real problems. The Gospel of Jesus Christ can bring happiness amidst sorrow, it can take away our pain and it can help us overcome our greatest struggles. This is not a church for perfect people that are happy all the time and have never struggled. Jesus Christ is here to help us heal and to bring us peace in a world where peace in near impossible to find. Mormons know what is out there, it just gives us reason to hold on to our faith even tighter.