The Book of Mormon: Real Life in the Little Falls Flood Zone

In the Broadway hit “Book of Mormon,” Elder Price, waiting for his missionary assignment, really, really wants to be sent to Orlando.  He gets assigned to AIDS-ravaged Uganda instead.

Maybe in the sequel, he’ll be sent to New Jersey.

Yesterday, a cluster of yellow-shirted Mormon missionaries, including Elder Devan Munk of Idaho and Daren Montierth of Arizona, were walking the streets of Little Falls on behalf of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Part of a group of 135 young Mormons stationed in New Jersey for a two-year service stint, Munk, Montierth and their fellow missionaries spent yesterday afternoon going door to door with a form designed to assess the damage of each individual home in the storm-ravaged town. That information was then given to a team of six disaster recovery experts sent  from Salt Lake City, who will decide which households need most help. Then, this Saturday and Sunday, more than 2,000 New Jersey-area Mormons  will join the young missionaries for a huge cleanup effort, armed with two tractor trailers of supplies and tools — also sent from Utah. They’ll remove fallen trees, rip up carpet and take down walls.

Jon M. Jeppson, president of the NJ/Morristown Mission, oversees the local contingent. While their ultimate goal is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, he says, they are a formidable army of Christian do-gooders when a disaster strikes. “These young people are remarkable,” Jeppson told Baristanet. “They leave their families, friends, colleges, cars, pay their own way for a period of two years, and go wherever in the world they are called. They’re a significant force, who give their energy, effort and backs to provide good Christian service to people who have lost hope of being helped.” Jeppson said that the volunteers are explicitly forbidden to preach in the course of their flood recovery effort work, though they can answer questions if asked.

According to Mormon doctrine, Jesus Christ himself decides where missionaries are sent, handing the orders to current church president Thomas S. Monson. Sometimes the assignments are puzzling. Munk was sent to Newark to work with a Spanish-speaking community, even though he had never spoken it before. “I learned,” he said.

Jeppson himself was planning to retire from his law practice in Salt Lake City next year before being unexpectedly assigned to oversee the NJ missionaries. Two months ago, he and his wife left their six children and 13 grandchildren, packed up their lives and moved to Morristown.

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