Twenty-one-year-old Skylar Warden and 19-year-old Granden Ray have known each other for about five weeks, and they do everything together. They wear similar clothes, keep the same hours, and they’ve both even changed their first name to “Elder.” But it’s not because they’re best friends.
Both Warden and Ray elected to serve as missionaries for the Church of Latter Day Saints, an optional service. And for two years, all missionaries give up their first name and are referred to as elders. “Elder in Hebrew means ‘teacher,’ and we go around sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to people,” Warden said.
Behind the bright, white shirts and pleasant smiles, Warden and Ray, along with around 86,000 Mormon missionaries worldwide, run a tight ship while ministering. Waking up a 6:30 a.m. each day, the two keep a rigorous schedule: exercising for 30 minutes, followed by scripture studies for two hours and then hitting the streets to talk about their faith. Walking (or biking) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, the boys knock on around 60 doors a day.
Mission work aside, Ray and Warden also are living by themselves, away from family and friends for the first time.
“It’s definitely eye opening to how much my parents did back home. Like, cleaning, cooking, just doing things on our own,” Ray said.
The men aren’t Texans. Warden, who is from Nevada, has been proselytizing for 19 months while Ray, from Arizona, has been ministering for seven. The two saved to be able to financially support themselves during their time of advocacy. A practice, they said, that is pretty common. They move around every six weeks to six months to different cities.
Warden said he has only ran out of money once and didn’t want to ask for help. A church member ended up giving him four grocery bags full of food, after his missionary partner at the time told the member about Warden’s situation.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience,” he said. “I learned how to balance my budget after that.”
Ray said one out of every 30 houses is the ratio of people that listen to the message of their ministry, and that they were even knocking on doors in the recent icy weather.
“We get rejected a lot, but the best thing is seeing people listen and watching the gospel change their life,” Ray said. “There’s people in Arlington that I’ve written and kept in contact with.”
Ray and Warden both said that they can tell their religion is true because of the experience they get with the Holy Spirit.
After studying scripture and praying, they feel they are prepared for the challenges that come with mission work, including when people question their ministry.
“We know the book of Mormon is true because we’ve read it and prayed about it, and we encourage others to do that as well,” Ray said.
Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Roger Olson, said mission work is more about planting a seed than converting people on the spot. A convert himself, more than 50 years ago missionaries knocked on his door, and he stopped to listen.