The true meaning of service: Scott Miller and Mark Hubble’s “The Book of a Mormon”

Book Review Mission

Like many young Mormon adults, Scott Miller set off on a mission largely because he had always planned to — but wasn’t really prepared for what he was getting himself into.

This mission memoir takes place in the late 70’s — earlier than most others I’ve read. Amusing 70’s-specific tidbits include Elder Miller trying to explain the racist priesthood/temple ban and later finding out about the end of the ban from a non-member who had read about it in the newspaper. Curiously timely stuff if you’re interested in learning from history.

He also got the fun of experiencing the missionary uniform back when hats were obligatory. (Today they’re forbidden.) Aside from that, the mission experience has stayed remarkably constant over the years. Notably, it was already painfully obvious back then that tracting is ineffective, and consequently demoralizing. I wonder how many more decades it will take before the inspired leaders of the CoJCoL-dS will figure it out.

The central theme of the story is the contrast between real service and what the missionaries are expected to do. Early on his mission, Elder Miller has an experience that profoundly impacts him — he meets a clergyman of another faith who treats him with kindness and who jumps up to help someone else in an emergency, while Elder Miller does nothing… and asks himself why.

This story featured probably the most tyrannical mission president I’ve ever read about: a man devoid of compassion, full of calls to repentance, and so enamored with petty rules that he wrote an annex to the “white bible” for his missionaries. This extreme example naturally backfires and instead teaches Elder Miller the value of flexibility. His willingness to put people before rules allows him to perform an act of real service for his companion and even earns him an accidental conversion.

The Book of a Mormon is a good story with a well-constructed story arc and lively characters. For anyone who doesn’t know what a Mormon mission is like and wants to learn, this book is a good choice. For those of us who already have the general idea, it leans perhaps a little too far in the direction of being a documentary on Mormon missions and on the culture of Sweden, yet it is still quite an enjoyable story.

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