Monday, March 18, 2013

Of Dogs and Missionaries

A dog may be man's best friend, but such is not always the case when it comes to missionaries. I encountered many dogs on my mission. To be honest, most were either friendly or apathetic. But even the best dogs had this annoying habit of transferring doggy hair and doggy scents onto a missionary's suit and tote bag.

All Mormon missionaries nowadays carry their teaching supplies in backpacks. Nobody did that back in my day. It was common for those of us serving in Norway to use a 'veske.' That's a type of carrying bag that looks a lot like a big purse. Although men in Norway commonly carried these things back then, we would try to find the manliest looking purses possible.

I acquired a particularly durable veske that was the envy of many an elder in my mission. It had the unusual properties of being able to repel dog hair and taking no damage when sliding along the pavement after accidentally being dropped from a fast moving bike.

As the the conclusion of my mission approached, I asked one elder if he was interested in taking over my veske. He looked at me with wide eyes and asked why I wasn't taking it home with me. I looked at him like he was an idiot and said, "I think you've been in Norway too long, elder. Think about it. What would a guy in America with one of these things slung over his shoulder look like?" "Oh, yeah," he replied.

Man purses aside, not all dogs were friendly to us missionaries. Once when I was chased by a dog that seemed intent on taking a chunk out of me, my hillbilly companion (who was confused as to the number of siblings he had but could tell you the remotest detail of every hunting trip he'd ever been on) yelled at the dog to stop and return. The cowering dog obeyed him, even though, Elder hillbilly was yelling in English.

On another occasion a large German shepherd came toward us out of the darkness exhibiting the usual threatening body language: menacing growl, teeth bared, head lowered, eyes looking a bit wild, etc. I froze and contemplated whether my bladder and bowels were about to involuntarily empty their contents into my Swedish double-knit pants.

My companion, on the other hand, (a different companion) calmly dropped into a stance that clearly conveyed to everyone and everything that he was ready to take care of business. I'm not even sure that his pulse rate went up.

It turns out that Elder W.'s parents owned a martial arts studio and that Elder W. held various black belt ranks in four different disciplines. He was reported to have used his martial arts skills only once while serving as a missionary when a group of drunk punks tried to assault him and his companion. One swift kick to the side of the ring leader's head had brought the matter to a quick close.

As soon as Elder W. dropped into his stance, the dog's body language changed completely. It became fully submissive. It backed up, gave us a wide berth, and wandered off into the darkness. I asked Elder W. what that was all about. He casually replied that he had been ready to rip the dog's throat out if necessary, and that the dog knew it.

I walked confidently off into the dark at Elder W's side. The armor of God is a wonderful thing. But never underestimate the value of extreme martial arts training.

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