The Bangor Mormon missionaries
“I’m American, and I sell cereal, and I’m a Mormon.”
Elder Steven Kellogg, pauses, and cracks a grin. He likes to make jokes about everything, including his own name. ‘Elder’, however, is not a name but a temporary title; he’s using it in place of his forename for two years of his life.
Elder Kellogg is sitting with me in a quiet classroom in a chapel in Gaerwen, Anglesey. Unlike Church of England or Catholic chapels, this building is usually closed throughout the week and has no ornate architecture or stained glass.
The building belongs to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Its members are colloquially referred to as ‘Mormons’.
Seated next to Elder Kellogg is his companion, Elder Derrick Wong. Elder Wong is from Malaysia, but he speaks English as his first language.
“I also speak Mandarin pretty well, and some Cantonese,” he says. “As for Malay… just a little bit. I mostly just understand it when I hear it.”
I ask Elder Kellogg if he also speaks four languages. “Yup,” he says, “I speak Arizonian, Coloradan, and Utahn.” A long pause. “And English”, he adds with a slight blush.
Elder Kellogg’s happy-go-lucky demeanour contrasts heavily with Elder Wong’s matter-of-fact way of presenting himself, but the two seem to share a peculiar bond.
They’ve known each other for only a month, but mission regulations mean they’re separable only by toilet breaks. Their schedule runs from 6:30 in the morning to 10:30 in the evening and the intervening time is filled with only sleep.
‘I had to make a decision’
Both Elders have been raised in the church. Their parents were converted by missionaries like themselves.
“Growing up in the church, you kind of just do what your parents do,” Elder Wong admits. “I started taking it seriously when I was in high school.
“People started asking me questions like, why don’t you smoke, why don’t you drink, why are your rules so strict?
“That eventually drove me to as point where I had to make a decision about whether I was going to follow my beliefs or not.”
Elder Kellogg was also brought to a point, as a teenager, where he had to choose whether being a Mormon was the life for him.
“If you’re going to put this much time into something, you’ve got to know if it’s true,” he said.
“I prayed for myself, and that’s the answer I got. So I haven’t looked back.”
Both missionaries were assigned to work in Bangor the day they started working together. Missionaries are often reassigned every six weeks, but usually only one at a time.
Elder Wong and Elder Kellogg consider their assignment to Bangor to be a fresh start. But so far they’ve been met with limited success and much resistance.
‘A very… interesting experience’
“We had a street display with twelve missionaries, and there was this drunk man. He came up, asking why we believe in God,” Elder Wong said.
“He started swearing at us in Polish. We tried to ignore him. Then we kindly invited him to go away.
“He went over to where a sister missionary was sitting and talking to someone, and he sat in between them. When she moved, he moved with her.
“When she stood up to walk away, he got very angry. He came back to our street display, he pushed the Elders around, and he flipped the table.”
Elder Wong pauses. “It was a very… interesting experience,” he says wryly.
“I was so glad we were safe”
Elder Kellogg describes another experience with a harasser: “We were knocking on doors and there was this man not too far from us on the corner of the block.
“He started cussing and calling us names. Eventually, he started screaming at us, saying ‘we don’t want you here’. He started walking up to us.
“At that point, the door we were knocking on opened, and it was a man who we’d previously met on the street. He was fascinated that I was an American—he invited us in to see the American flag he’d hung up on the wall.
“So we just walked right in and acted like we were super interested in it, at the same moment when this other man was coming right up to us.
“I was so glad we were safe, I don’t know what would have happened. We stayed there for a few minutes until he went away, and we got out of the neighbourhood as soon as we saw the coast was clear.”
‘I’ve learnt more about myself’
Neither Elder seems all too fazed by their reception. Elder Kellogg concedes that Bangor is a “tough area” for missionary work, but there’s a wonder in his eyes as he tells stories of the good and bad moments of his mission.
He’s only seen one successful conversion during his time as a missionary, but Elder Kellogg has a positive outlook on his year of missionary work.
“Just living with your companion, you learn a lot about independence. You do your own laundry, your own dishes, you cook for yourself,” he says.
“You’re also communicating with people every day. I’m still learning how to use my words, really, but the mission has been a big help.”
Elder Wong concurs: “I’ve seen more of the world. I left the safe bubble of my home, and I’ve learned more about myself.
“No matter what happens, I know that I’ve grown as a person. I want to see people accept our invitation, of course, but opposition has made me who I am today.”