by Billy Clouse
Originally published in Revolt — Vol. 1, Issue 1
Flickering candles cast shadows on the walls of the wooden hut. Sounds of crying can be heard from outside as men speak Kiribati, an island language. Despite the waves crashing against the moonlit beach, peace can be found inside.
Scot Carrington, a former SUU student, has been home from his mission to the Gilbert Islands for a year, and although he said he is glad to be home, he will never forget the two years he spent as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Carrington left his home of Layton for the isolated archipelago to bear his testimony of the church. While away, he learned Kiribati, met new people, tried new foods and changed his outlook on the world.
Although he preached for his whole mission, in the final weeks, he met a man that he had a special connection with. Tekekee’s daughter had recently passed away, and Carrington talked to him about families and the beliefs of the LDS Church.
“He asked what would happen to his daughter, and I said, ‘In this Church, we believe — and I can testify to you — that you’ll see her again after this life. The expression on his face just knowing that he could see her again was profound. When he heard that, he started to cry and we did, too.”
This was the most powerful experience of the mission, according to Carrington, but he had other memorable moments.
That one time on my mission, I experienced culture shock
Over 2,000 miles aways from his home, Carrington said he was out of his element when he arrived. With no electricity or running water, and a diet consisting mainly of fish, rice and coconuts, many missionaries got sick soon after arriving to the Gilbert Islands.
“First stepping off the plane, it was so hot and so humid,” Carrington said. “(The airport) was just four cement walls with no security checks. The dirt roads were really bumpy; honestly, I don’t know if I would compare them to mountain roads — they’re just awful. The house we lived in was four log pillars for the corners and a stick platform that you slept on.”
His experience was different than most missionaries because he and his companion served alone, with no district meetings except when they were occasionally on the mainland. For much of his stay, he had to mail letters home because internet was rare.
Some of the people Carrington taught had never seen missionaries or white people before.
“You’d bike down the street and the kids would all gather around and yell ‘Imatang,’ which means ‘white guy,’” he said. “Everybody would come out of their house to see the white people biking down the street, and it was funny because the kids would chase you down the street.”
For a while, the children were hesitant around the missionaries.
“A big group of kids would come up to a house with you,” Carrington said, “and the adults would say, ‘What are you guys doing? They’re just like people. Get out of here go play or something!’ and they’d all scream and run away.”
As time went on, though, the children talked to the missionaries about the U.S.
“They’d ask you weird questions, because if they see a movie, they think it’s real,” Carrington said. “They’d say, ‘Back in America, do people really run around with guns and bazookas and blow each other up?’ and then you joke around with them and say, ‘Yeah, I got a bazooka at my house.’”
Carrington said that despite all the jokes, the islanders were always friendly to the missionaries.
“They’re so keen in giving hospitality to anybody who’s not from their island,” he said. “They’re such a kind and loving people.”
That one time on my mission, I almost died
One Sunday after church, Carrington and his companion had to get home from the island of Ribono. Despite the clouds in the sky, the two received permission to ride a boat with a man to the other side of the lagoon in the middle of the island.
Rain began to fall, and because it was low tide, they had to avoid coral reefs and rocks. The man’s son walked in front of the boat to see if they would hit anything, and soon gave the all-clear. A few moments in, however, they rode a large wave, and as they descended into the trough, the motor hit rocks.
“We couldn’t get (the motor) back on and all we could see was that we were in deep water and were slowly getting pushed back toward this big rock that was on the shore,” Carrington said. “Everyone jumped out of the boat and into the water. I couldn’t touch the bottom for a while, but I thought, ‘there’s no way I’m dying today.’”
Everyone got out of the way in time, and they navigated the boat back to the sand. The motor wouldn’t turn back on, so they stayed the night and walked back in the morning.
That one time on my mission, I ate a dog
Food is part of every culture, and when you’re in the middle of the ocean, familiar food can be hard to come by.
Dog is a common food at parties, and Carrington said that although it may sound sad at first, the dogs on the islands are feral.
“They’re not house dogs, and they’re not nice by any means,” he said. “We got chased several times on our bikes at night. You kick at them and they still come back and try to bite you, so whenever I got to eat a dog, I would think ‘Yes! One less dog to try and bite me in the forest.’”
Another popular food was worms, which were either smoked on a stick, dried out, made into a soup or occasionally eaten raw.
Carrington said he hated the taste of the clams, but he “never thought (the fish) would taste so good.”
Although Carrington said the foreign food was usually bland, this made him appreciate his first meals as a Returned Missionary.
“I got a cheeseburger from Burger King at the airport in Fiji, and that was the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had in my life,” he said, laughing. “Oh man, and I hate Burger King, too. When I got back with my parents, they got me a Baconator or something from Wendy’s, and oh man, that was over-the-top! It was so good.”
That one time on my mission, I made a new family
After two years away from home, Carrington said he had mixed feelings on the way home.
“It was like being torn apart in a bunch of different ways,” he said. “Part of me was ready to go home; I’d been out for two years. Then again, during that last year, I grew so attached to that place and the people. It was like leaving my family there to go to my family back home.”
On the plane, Carrington talked with those around him to take his mind off of the emotions.
“It’s like that saying — once you’ve visited another place and made so many new friends, your heart will never be in one place again,” he said. “When I got home, I was content for the first week or two, but ever since, I’ve at least wanted to go back for a little bit.”