This new series will be a daily account of the Utah Missions trip I co-lead with Kristeena Cardoza July 1-7th, 2012. We went to help Mormons move away from the false beliefs of Joseph Smith and assist in their journey to find the Biblical Jesus. Other members of the team were: Brandon Sims, Nick Perkins, Teresa Barlow, and Norma Puerta.
The Utah Missions Team consisted of volunteers from the post college group at Emmanuel Faith Community Church in Escondido. I was asked to join primarily to help equip the team on how to share with Mormons. We all raised support from friends, family, and members of the church. Our objectives for the week were to 1) Grow in our understanding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS); 2) Connect with various ministries reaching out to the Mormons; and 3) Engage in spiritual conversations with LDS. We wanted to challenge their false beliefs.
I joined the team near the end of May and only had a month to get them ready for Utah. I focused on both content and tactics. I was asked to teach on Mormonism to the entire post college group for two consecutive Wednesday evenings. The first evening I came as Mormon Elder Bruecker. It was a great evening as I fooled many and had a few individuals angrily walk out of the room. They thought I was a real Mormon and didn’t appreciate my attacks upon historic Christianity. An intern chased them down and let them know who I was and they returned to the room. One of my goals was to show the group the importance of knowing what and why they believe what they believe.
The night went great as there were at least 3-4 hands up the entire evening to ask questions and try to pin me down. My experience with sharing with Mormons helped me escape all challenges. What they didn’t know was how much I was struggling as I attacked my own beliefs; I felt like a heretic. Finally, I revealed who I was and why I portrayed a Mormon. I told them I’d return the following Wednesday to share why Mormonism is false and why our beliefs are solidly based on the Bible.
On consecutive Sunday afternoons, I met with the team only. I focused on the doctrine of the Trinity and tactics in conversations. On another training day we had James Wallace Warner come out to train the team. He is an apologist with a great knowledge of Mormonism. He runs the ministry web site called Please Convince Me. James brought his son Jimmy to portray a Mormon based on his vast experience of sharing on the streets of Salt Lake City. This was a turning point for our team.
I knew ahead of time Jimmy would act as a Mormon missionary so I decided to sit back and let the team ask all the questions and answer his challenges. Our team applied what they had learned the last couple of months. At first the team sat back too much and tried to be too nice. James Warner, Jimmy’s dad, told them that if he was an observer of this conversation he’d have to say the Mormon was making the better case; they needed to step it up. This invitation was all they needed, as they made stronger challenges the rest of the afternoon.
Over the years I have met with many Mormon missionaries and Jimmy acted just like any of them who have sat in my front room. He was the best Mormon imposter I’d ever seen! I later told the team he would be by far the toughest LDS they would ever encounter.
From this training I knew our main task was to become better listeners. I told them they let Jimmy off the hook way too many times. He made assertion after assertion and they let him get away with them. They needed to ask the why question to force him to justify his conclusions. Brandon said he was too focused on what to ask next, which got in the way of listening to Jimmy. I listed at least 10 assertions Jimmy made that should have been challenged. This experience helped me as their trainer to work more on asking the two main questions, “What do you mean by that” to get clarification and “Why do believe that to be true” to force the person to justify their belief. This was the last training experience before we traveled to Utah.
Sunday July 1, 2012: Following a family wedding in Chico, CA I flew in from Oakland to Salt Lake City Utah (SLC) to join the team driving up from Escondido. I met Russ East, founder of the Utah Partnership for Christ, at the airport. His ministry provided the housing and agenda for our team. We drove to SLC to meet the team at a restaurant. After dinner we went to temple square to begin our trip with prayer. Bobby Gilpin, an intern for UPFC and UK apologist, gave us tour of the LDS facilities and provided an overview of what the various buildings represented. At each stop we then prayed around temple square for wisdom of speech, open hearts, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for our upcoming conversations with LDS. We then returned to the “Blue House,” our housing for the week, for last minute instructions and sleep.