Mormon missionaries ditch smartphones, television for God in New York

In Alphabet City, there lives a group of young men who don’t date, watch movies or television, read the news or have internet in their home.

These Avenue D roommates may sound like anachronistic hipsters, but in fact, the clean-cut millennials are among the 250 male and female Mormons serving in the church’s New York New York North mission, which spans from Manhattan to Albany – a number that has exploded from 148 missionaries two years ago.

Hayden Kroff, 19, and Tahuahi Berryman, 23, better known as “Elder Kroff” and “Elder Berryman,” had no idea where in the world they’d end up after submitting applications to become missionaries. They could have landed in Micronesia or Buenos Aires, but they found out they were headed to New York.

“Being from Mesa, Arizona, it was a big culture shock, but I was pumped,” said Berryman. “I was so excited to come to New York.”

Kroff, who hails from Bozeman, Montana, said he never even visited a big city before moving to New York. “I was nervous, but excited as well because I knew it would be a big change from Montana – which it definitely is,” he said.

The pair, who have been working, eating and living together every day for over two months, are hard to miss on the m14D bus – they always sport their name tags, even when they’re in gym clothes. Kroff and Berryman have had anything but the typical New York experience. For two years, missionaries cannot consume secular media (TV, movies, books, newspapers), date or call their families except on Mother’s Day and Christmas, though they are permitted to e-mail friends and families once a week. They are allowed to use Facebook, but only to spread the gospel – missionaries are not supposed to post non-work-related messages or read their Newsfeeds. They also use iPad minis, but strictly for work purposes; they keep scriptures and lesson plans on them.

Missionaries are also required to keep a highly regimented schedule. They wake up at 6:30 a.m. and must exercise for 30 minutes before eating breakfast and studying the gospel for two hours. Then they proselytize all day with hour-long breaks for meals and return home at 9:30. All Mormon missionaries have a half-day off; in the New York New York North region, they have Wednesday afternoons off to play basketball or visit museums.

“We expect a lot from our missionaries,” said President Thomas Morgan of the New York New York North Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “When you sign on to be a missionary, you agree to pay for the experience yourself and to keep a lot of stringent rules.” Morgan was on his way out that day to do surprise check-ups on missionaries’ apartments for cleanliness. “We like to surprise them,” he grinned.

In spite of the rigid structure and strict code, you won’t hear complaints from Kroff and Berryman, who claim they barely miss secular pastimes. They said their work schedule keeps them busy enough and they feel closer to God. “These are some of the things we give up, but we do it to help other people,” said Kroff. “The things you learn really outweigh the sacrifices you have to give up for a small period of time. Two years isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things.”

In fact, Berryman said he’s disappointed to see his mission come to an end in two months. “The days go by quicker and quicker and when my time comes to go home, it will be very bittersweet,” he said. “Everything I’ve been through on my mission – it will be sad to leave it.”

Kroff and Berryman acknowledged that proselytizing in New York can be very challenging. “It definitely depends on the person. For the most part, people are pretty respectful of what we’re trying to say,” said Kroff. “They’re not very interested in talking to us but we don’t often get people who are rude.”

Kroff has almost a year left of his mission, but Berryman will return to Mesa for work and school. He has one thing left to check of his list: President Morgan allows missionaries to watch a Broadway show at the end of their term, and Berryman is very excited to see “Wicked” in two months.

Could you handle being a Mormon missionary? Take this quiz and find out.

Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark


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