Knocking on Kingman's door
Elders enjoy challenges of 2-year mission
KINGMAN - They are easily recognized by their dark slacks, white shirts and Bibles in hand, but missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say their message is often misunderstood.
"We've had people slam doors in our faces, threaten to call the police or answer the door with a gun," said Elder David Dabasinkas. "We're not out to force ourselves upon anyone."
Dabasinkas said only a portion of their time is spent going door-to-door, or what is referred to in the church as tracting. The rest of their day is divided between visiting with members of their church, teaching lessons to those who have invited them into their homes and doing service projects, which have included everything from moving a piano for an elderly woman to helping with a sewer line project on someone's property.
"Whether they are interested in our message or not, we can help people," Dabasinkas said. "If you can tell us how to do it - and you don't mind a few mistakes here and there - we'll do it."
An estimated 2,500 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints call Kingman home, with around a dozen visiting missionaries living in three houses around town. The missionaries are each responsible for one of five wards, with Dabasinkas and his partner, Elder Juan Pinto, covering the southeast corner of town, referred to as the Boulder Springs ward.
Both have been in Kingman less than a week and came from separate wards in the Las Vegas area, where some 225 missionaries serve. They are both relatively young and come from very different backgrounds.
Pinto, 22, has been on his mission for 12 months now. He was born in Colombia, South America. His family, which has been Catholic for as far back as they can tell, moved to New Jersey when he was 8. They converted to the church a year later, when missionaries such as himself came knocking.
Dabasinkas, 25, was baptized into the church 10 years ago. He is the son of an Episcopalian deacon and Southern Baptist. One of his brothers has a doctorate in theology, another is Buddhist and two are agnostic. He describes his sister as a born-again Christian.
"We all have very different beliefs but there is an undercurrent of love and mutual respect for those beliefs," he said.
Both young men said it was the church's message of family that attracted them to the faith. Each saved up the requisite $10,000 needed to serve on a 2-year mission, which covers boarding, travel and other necessities, as well as a $115 a month stipend. Missionaries must have their affairs in order, such as not having any outstanding debt, and because of the global nature of their work, must have their wisdom teeth pulled out.
Male missionaries, called Elders, can go on missions once they turn 19. Women, called Sisters, can go out once they turn 21.
"The title we have (Elder) is that of teacher, but we're constantly being taught ourselves by the people we meet and the things we do," Dabasinkas said.
They work in 6-week periods, he added, so are in constant flux as to where they live and who they are paired with.
"We are always with a companion, which comes from the New Testament, which says, 'go out two by two,'" he said.
Contact with friends and family back home over the two-year period is limited to letters and two phone calls - one on Christmas and one on Mother's Day. Both Pinto and Dabasinkas say their friends and family are supportive of their choice to serve as a missionary.
"If someone won the lottery, they'd start thinking about all the ways they could share that money," Dabasinkas said. "What we've found is that which is above any price, how to live a good life, be with the ones you love and make it back to God. Why not share that?"
Both admit it's hard to live such a regimented life, one where smoking, drinking, caffeine and dating are prohibited during the missionary period, but they say it's worth it.
"It's very hard, like anything in life worth doing, but it's worth it being able to see the changes it makes in people's lives." Dabasinkas said.
They also just want to be a part of the community.
"If you see us, give us a wave," he added. "When someone drives by and says, 'Hey Elder,'" it makes our day."