Mormon missionaries in Mattapan

Elders Fields, Loftus, and Macallister – “Mac”.

In an apartment building mostly home to Haitian and other Carribean immigrants, three strait-laced young Mormon missionaries in dark formal suits and ties are discussing with Haitian mother Marie Fortuna her next visit to the temple.
A soft-focus DVD about the youthful visions of their religion’s 19th Century founder Joseph Smith is playing and replaying on the television. Elder MacAllister hands over a genealogy form for the names and marriages of her grandparents and great-grandparents.

The goal is a “proxy baptism” of her dead relatives, to bring their spirits a ‘knowledge of the truth’. The baptism of the dead in places off-limits to outsiders is often seen as one of the stranger aspects of a particularly American religion.

“When Jesus comes back, my family will be together,” said Ms Fortuna, who was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints before she left Haiti for the US in 2002, but has only recently made her first visit to the temple here.

The election of a Mormon president to the White House, Elders Macallister, Loftus, and Fields agree – all young men from the American West between school and college – would make an enormous difference for the exposure and interest in their religion. Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign alone has already done that.

But none of them plan to vote. For more than two years, like Romney when he served as a Mormon missionary in France, they have been cut off from family, girlfriends, and forbidden to read newspapers or use the internet for anything but weekly emails home. they don’t know enough to make an election choice, they say.

“People are going to want to know more about him, his background, and his beliefs,” said Elder Loftus, from Utah, whose mother’s family has been Mormon for generations. They are fielding questions about their religion, like never before, they say.

“Daily, people come up to us and speak about it,” says Elder Macallister, whose nickname is Mac. “Our message is about Jesus Christ, not about Mitt Romney.”
When the three go door to door in the streets around Mattapan in the Boston suburbs, home to an estimated 20,000 Haitians, they can hear people talking about them in Haitian Creole, which they speak fluently – sometimes wondering if these men in black are FBI or CIA agents.

They are trained in languages at missionary college and dispatched anywhere from mexico to scotland. Zuline Warren, 66, a recent Haitian convert, congratulates them on speaking Creole “like a rat”, chattering like a Haitian does. she has photographs of Obama on her shelves along with many souvenirs from Haiti.

They are often asked whether they are going to vote for Romney – and some times challenged about the church’s formerly racist rules that barred black members of it’s priesthood until 1978.

Mitt Romney was bishop of a Mormon congregation in Belmont, a vastly more wealthy Boston suburb where he lived with his wife Ann and their sons. Some claims have surfaced, denied by the candidate, that he pressured one woman in his congregation not to have an abortion, which the church opposes, despite a doctor’s recommendation for health reasons.

Romney supported the construction of an imposing new temple in Belmont, a building – unlike local chapels – where non-Mormons must stop at the foyer. But he is credited with helping find a compromise on the building’s size when other locals complained.

Romney spent 30 months in France in 1966 at the age of 19. “On a mission, your faith in Jesus Christ either evaporates or it becomes much deeper,” he said later. He got engaged to his waiting girlfriend Ann, it is said, on his drive home from the airport.

Every day life for an estimated 50,000 missionaries world wide begins with an hour of studying scriptures, and much of the rest of the day in efforts to convert new members and often in prayer with them.

“If the president is a Mormon, all Americans will know a bit more about a Mormon,” said Grant Bennett, who followed Romney as bishop of Belmont, more like a voluntary parish priest in rank than Anglican bishop. “Many of the misconceptions about the church will clearly be shattered.”. But just because Romney as a Mormon doesn’t drink alcohol or coffee, it doesn’t mean they won’t serve wine at state dinners, he said.

All three Elders speak fluent Creole after language training at the missionary college. They talk to strangers in the street or homes, hand out cards and book appointments. They also offer food gifts, help with immigration forms, and English classes, and odd jobs in people’s homes. Bringing in new converts is still an uphill task.

The church keeps a studious neutrality in political matters – with it’s most senior political figure actually the Nevada Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat and Senate Majority Leader.
But there’s little doubt a Romney victory would be offer a huge leap for the church as part of the US establishment. “We have these parents who tell their kids: one day you will grow up to be president,” said Elder Greer, another missionary volunteering for post-hurricane cleanups in Belmont . “It just shows in America religion won’t stop you fulfilling your dreams.”