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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Guest Post: Cuyahoga Tales 5 - Dedication, Toledo Style

Reed Soper was born and raised in southern California. He considered attending the Lord's University but opted for BYU instead where he met Kathryn Lynard doing his home teaching. They married in 1992 and have seven children. Friends and loved ones often describe Reed as "difficult" or "a slow learner." In his spare time, he likes (virgin) pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Don't miss Reed's previous guest posts.

There are two types of mission stories – inspirational and funny. I like to save the inspirational ones for church talks.
- Reed Soper

One of the monthly tasks that Elder W-R and I had was to offer a monthly inspirational message at Zone kick-off meeting, held on the first preparation day of each month. In February 1987, our inspirational message well was running dry. Our zone was filled with Elders, not a sister in the whole bunch, and they were a bit hardened and cynical. Cold Toledo, Ohio winters can do that to a person. We knew that if we were going to inspire this ragtag team of misfits, we would need to pull out all the stops. What follows is the true story of what we (well, almost exclusively Elder W-R) did to get those cynical Elders on their feet clapping and cheering.

After a long cold, winter of sleeping on the floor in Perrysburg, Ohio, it finally hit us. We were sick. Both Elder W-R and I had colds. Sick enough that we were given the direction to take a day off to recuperate. There are few things more boring than staying home sick when on a mission. Your apartment has no ways with which to entertain you. No tv, no radio, no nothing. The only "approved" mission music were hymns and stuff like "I'll Build You a Rainbow." Hardly ways to get you through a day without losing your mind.

Don't get me wrong, in my past, I spent many a day vegging out and doing next to nothing. After being on a mission for (at this time) almost 22 months, my body was used to a certain amount of activity. It needed the walking, the door knocking, the door slamming. It needed the icy cold winter winds blowing off of Lake Erie, so cold that it would freeze your nose hairs on the warmest of the cold days and cause you to walk backwards on the coldest of the cold days for fear that your eyelids might freeze shut. Just like it needed the 98 degree summers with 90+ % humidity. Heat and humidity when, combined with bike riding, that would leave clothes bone dry in the front and wringing wet in the back. So, we sat on our makeshift beds on the floor of that cold apartment in Perrysburg with our bodies equal parts sick and raring to go.

Humans are classified as mammals. One of the criteria is hair all over the body. I'm sure you are aware that there is a range within the human species of the "hair all over the body" component. I was on the light side of hair of the body hair spectrum. Elder W-R was somewhere on the other side of that same spectrum. This information is crucial to what happened next.

Elder W-R was finishing bathing and was shaving in the bathroom. His full beard mocked my sorry collection of facial hair. I hadn't noticed he was taking extra grooming time until he called me over. As I came over, he proudly displayed the letter "T" that was shaved into his chest. Actually, using his electric razor, everything but the letter "T" was shaved, leaving that letter made up of his chest hair. It was something to see.

"T," he said, "T for Toledo." We were both zone leaders in the Toledo zone. After his morning grooming was compete, we started discussing that perhaps the "T" could be incorporated, somehow, into our inspirational message we'd be giving in but two days. I can't guarantee that what came to him was inspiration, but let's just say it was. Our topic for the month was "dedication" and if any group needed a reminder about being dedicated to missionary work, it was our zone. He felt that maybe he could begin to talk about dedication, breaking down the work into its components (1) and challenge the Elders of the zone to do something to represent their renewed dedication to the work.

And that is how it transpired. He started slowly and deliberately with the goal of gradually building to a crescendo, carefully leading the Elders through his points about the importance of dedication. As you recall, this was a zone of Elders, not a sister in the bunch, which provided the opportunity for what happened next. As he continued, the pace and urgency of his message increased and he methodically removed his sweater. He continued to offer inspirational (2) words as he unbuttoned his shirt. The Elders were so transfixed by his message that they didn't notice his subtle unbuttoning. Finally, as he reached the apex of his message about dedication, he pulled up his t-shirt and displayed the large letter "T" on his chest and exclaimed that, "This letter "T" I've shaved in my chest represents my dedication to you and to the Toledo Zone!" (3) Each elder, to a one, leapt, yes leapt from their seats, clapping and cheering.

Did this extra special inspirational message cause a significant turnaround in the work in Toledo? Hard for me to say as I was transferred within a couple of weeks. (4) I will say it definitely resulted in a good chuckle between Elder W-R and I for years to come. I'm also pretty sure it resulted in Elder W-R's chest being really itchy as the hair grew back.

(1) Following the same model that Michael Keaton did in the movie "Night Shift."
(2) Maybe they weren't inspirational. Who can tell in the moment?
(3) Or something like that. I can't remember exactly. I was a little caught up in the moment myself.
(4) I don't think there was any correlation between our zone kick-off presentation and me being transferred at all. And I don't think there was any measurable increase in missionary work output whatsoever.

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