`Great commitment' to missions

Dedication: Young Mormons take missionary work seriously, spending months in the field spreading the teachings of the church

March 31, 2000|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Steven Lundberg was 19, he began serving a 2 1/2-year mission in Germany -- going door-to-door spreading the teachings of his Mormon religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Now a colonel stationed at the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Lundberg, 55, serves as bishop to one of the congregations that meet at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building in Ellicott City.

The church is home to three congregations, or wards, in the area. Two wards come from Columbia and the other is from the Catonsville/Ellicott City area. The three wards, all part of the Columbia Stake, have a membership of 1,400. Lundberg is head of the Catonsville/Ellicott City ward.

The Mormons encourage men 18 to 21 to be missionaries for two years. Women in the church may serve for 18 months between ages 21 to 23. Married couples, usually retired, are missionaries for a year. Brent Bargeron, president of the Columbia Stake, said missionaries pay their own way.

Roma Barrus and her husband, Harrison, came to Howard County from Idaho to serve a one-year mission. She works in the Mission Office, directed by mission President Jay M. Smith, on Dorsey Hall Drive.

Mrs. Barrus said missionaries serve in other states or other countries -- away from their homes. "They do that so they'll be more dedicated and so they won't have the desire to run with their old friends," she said. "It's a great commitment.

"They get up at 6: 30 in the morning. From 9: 30 in the morning to 9: 30 at night, they proselytize. They learn dedication and learn how to work and focus on what they're supposed to focus on."

Bargeron said: "Their general charge is to strengthen the church. They teach about the church and teach the Gospel. They also have a responsibility to serve in the community. Missionaries may help with blood drives or offer help to a widow in need."

The church is home to an extensive genealogical library. Bargeron said the Mormon Church is the largest facility for this kind of work in the world.

He said the church tracks genealogical information because "we believe the whole human family is tied together."

"The apostle Paul said that we would not be saved without our ancestors, so we need to be involved in knowing who they are and identifying them," he said.

Mormons can perform ordinances, or sacraments, by proxy for their ancestors. A member of the church can have an ancestor baptized posthumously or have ancestors' marriages sealed by proxy in the church.

"You go through the same procedures for your ancestors as if they were alive," Smith said.

"We have a phrase in the church," Lundberg said. "Families are forever. We believe that families and their ancestors will have a continuing relationship as families in the next life."

The Family History Center is open to the public. The center has a volunteer staff of 30, including 15 nonmembers. Some of the volunteer staff are members of the Howard County Genealogical Society.

"It's an invaluable resource for anyone interested in their family history," said Dottie Aleshire, a member of the genealogical society and a volunteer at the center. "There's no other facility to compare to this."

Aleshire said that through the Family History Center, she was able to find two microfilms from a little village in Poland where her grandmother was born. "I got baptismal, marriage and death records for the last 250 years," she said. "I could not have gotten that information from anywhere else."

In addition to books on researching family history, the center has 13 microfilm readers, six microfiche readers and four computers with access to genealogical data stored in Salt Lake City. The church also offers an online genealogy site: FamilySearch.org.

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