Bicycles in the land of Baptists

South Boston News

How many 20-year-olds do you know who willingly avoid TV, Internet, magazines and pop music for two years? Who stay at their roommate’s side all day? Who get dispatched around the country, sometimes into somewhat, er … foreign territory? All on top of their usual ethic of shunning alcohol, drugs and extramarital relations?

Welcome Elder Farrar of Utah and Elder Hughes of Nevada. They’re Mormons.

No first names, please; they’re on a mission and believe this is a time to be literally set apart from the world. Like their dark suits and ties, their bicycles and their Bibles in hand, the honorific “elder” sends the signal that they’re here to proselytize and to serve.

The Mormon mission at their age isn’t required, and plenty of perfectly good kids opt not to do it, they say, but having done a two-year stint as young men is something they can reflect on the rest of their lives.

They talk to their parents only twice a year (although letters and e-mails are permitted). They rise early every day for a strict regimen of prayer-workout-study-and-service. There’s no such thing as a day off or R&R. The young men laugh that they barely knew who was playing in the Super Bowl. All this, and they had to raise their own money (they decline to say how much) for the privilege.

As for why; it’s easy, they say.

“We were not asked to do this by some person; we were asked by God,” says Hughes.

“We’re blessed,” chimes in Farrar.

Both young men were raised Mormon and feel strongly about sharing their faith with others.

“I want to bring that happiness to everybody else,” says Farrar.

Mormons’ sacred texts are the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

That message is apparently gaining traction. In data out just this week from the 2011 Yearbook by the National Council of Churches, Mormon membership inched up by almost 1.5 percent from the previous year, contrasting with similar-size drops among Presbyterians, United Methodists, Southern Baptists and Evangelical Lutherans as American church membership overall continues to slide.

And there may be 6 million Mormons across the country, but not too many in Southern Virginia (although with a new Mormon church beside Edmunds Park, local numbers may pick up).

Even so, the missionaries say they’re generally treated well as religious minorities.

“I can see me moving back here,” enthuses Farrar.

The two won’t stay here the full two years. Hughes is farther along in his two-year commitment (having already been to several North Carolina communities) than Farrar, and each will rotate from here to another community, goodness knows where.

And when they’re home again?

For Farrar, who has retained his boot-camp carriage, it’s back to the Marines, from which he is on two years of inactive status, and college. He can’t wait to snowboard again.

For Hughes, it’s back to college, a job and looking forward to getting married.

In the meantime, there’s plenty to do here. Aside from evangelizing, they want to help people.

“We’re not able to babysit,” deadpans Hughes. But already they’ve raked leaves, built a shed and worked at the Good Samaritan clothing and food bank.

“Anything we can do, even if it’s just screwing in a light bulb,” Hughes says. “And it’s not just that missionaries would do it, it’s what members worldwide do.”

The elders invite anyone to the local Mormon church at 3192 Dan River Church Road in South Boston; the Sunday services are at 10 a.m. To contact the elders about service projects, reach them at www.mormon.org, under the “missionaries” link at the top.

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