“Up from Down Under,” New Era, Nov. 1985, 31
When my mission call came, I read the letter until I got to where it said ‘Birmingham.’ I thought, well, it’s going to be cold there in England. Then I read again and I saw that it said Alabama Birmingham Mission. I had to go find a map of the United States so I could see where I was going.”
That’s how Elder Terrence John Brooks of Perth, Australia, discovered he would be heading north to serve in the South.
“I got to Alabama in February 1984. So far I’ve served in Sylacauga, Florence, Bessemer, and now I’m in Montgomery.”
And in Montgomery a surprise was in store.
“When I got my mission call to Alabama, I laughed,” said Elder Graeme Thomas McKim of Adelaide, Australia. “It was the last place I was thinking of and there was sort of disbelief. But I was really happy. I thought it would be an interesting foreign country. My friends couldn’t believe it. I got heaps of Alabama jokes poured upon me in Southern accents. My mum was a little bit apprehensive; but she was just happy, as was the rest of my family, that I was going on a mission.
“My first assignment was in Troy for four months. Then came transfers.”
And, of course, Elder Brooks and Elder McKim ended up as companions. Now they make the rounds door-to-door in Montgomery, causing a few double takes when people hear their conversation.
“Most people think we’re English,” Elder McKim said.
“Someone told me I had a nice South Dakota accent,” Elder Brooks chimed in. “A man in Florence asked me if I could understand English better than I could speak it.”
The elders are quick to add, however, that they are in the South to preach the gospel, not to talk about their homeland.
“The fact that we are ‘foreign’ stirs a desire in people to speak to us,” Elder McKim said. “They want to know what we think about America. They want to know about Australia. They are curious about the way we speak and why we are here, even more so as we labor together. It’s the same with the members, too. We are the first Australians many of them have ever known.”
“But laboring here in Montgomery with another Australian only makes a difference as far as the initial reaction,” Elder Brooks said. “It doesn’t make a great deal of difference as far as teaching the gospel is concerned.
“To me the most spiritual thing a person can do is to find, teach, and then to baptize someone, to watch them grow, to go through their adjustments and trials with them. To go through these trials and come out with a testimony of the gospel is the greatest thing that can happen.”
Elder McKim agreed. “I’ve had several spiritual experiences since coming on my mission, but the one that comes to mind happened in Troy. We’d been working all day, but we hadn’t been very successful. Then one woman invited us in. At first she was cool toward us, polite. But we talked to her and taught her a lesson and noticed that tears were coming to her eyes. The Spirit was very strong.
“At the end of the lesson, she told us that for weeks she had been depressed and that the night before, at her lowest ebb, she prayed that the Lord would send someone to help her. The next day, there we were! It was such a great experience for me because I had heard so many stories like that before in magazines like the New Era. You hear these stories, and you think it would never happen to you. But it did!”
Elder McKim, 19, was actually born in Glasgow, Scotland. “We moved to Australia when I was five. My parents are converts to the Church. Most of the children were born after my parents were sealed in the London Temple. My father was a stake patriarch in Glasgow. He was set apart by President Kimball, who was at the time a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
“I was brought up in the Church, and when I was a little boy I knew I was going to go on a mission. But as the time grew near, I planned to put it off until the end of the college year. Then one night I just had this feeling that I had to go on my mission and I wasn’t to put it off. I talked to my bishop and put my papers in. And I’m glad I did. My mission has drastically changed my life and my ideals. Things which I thought were important are so trivial now. And things which I really didn’t think of before are now so important.”
Elder Brooks’s story is quite different.
“I am a convert to the Church of four and a half years, the only member in my family. I became interested in the Church through a girl I dated that was a Mormon. My testimony came slowly over a period of ten months. I really didn’t want it to be true because it meant I would need to change my life-style. But the more I was exposed to the Church the more convinced I became that it was true. The things that rang true were that there is a prophet on the earth today and that there is modern revelation. As a child I always wondered why the Bible stopped where it did and why we didn’t have someone like Moses on the earth.
“Since I was 23 when I joined the Church I thought I’d be too old to go on a mission. But I went to a Young Adult conference in Brisbane, and after talking with some friends there I was motivated to go. I worked as a civil servant before my mission, and I had saved enough money to support myself as a missionary.
“My mission has changed my life, too. I used to be shy, almost embarrassed to talk about the Church. That shyness has left me and I feel now that I can talk about it with anyone. When I told my parents I was going to go on a mission they were quite upset—they were concerned about my job. But when I received my call they were really happy for me. So in a period of about six weeks there was a real transition in my family’s attitudes. And now they are actually having a friendship with the missionaries at home. I don’t know if they’re being taught or not, but there was a time when they wouldn’t even let missionaries in the door.”
Both Elder Brooks and Elder McKim say they’ve had to adapt a little to life in the States. “The biggest adjustment is to cars being driven on the wrong side of the road!” Elder McKim said. “Several times my companions have saved my neck as I’ve gone to walk out in front of an oncoming car,” Elder Brooks agreed.
They’ve also had a few strange looks from fellow missionaries when they talk about Australian children eating fairy bread (bread and butter with candy sprinkles), or when they reminisce about hot summer Christmases celebrated with a barbecue at the beach.
“One preparation day we had an Australian day for missionaries in our zone. We invited them to an Australian party and tried to make it as authentic as possible, with food like fish and chips served on newspaper. It was especially fun for me and Elder Brooks, and the other missionaries seemed to enjoy themselves,” Elder McKim said.
In the early days of Church history, the gospel restored in New York and eventually headquartered in Utah sent missionaries from America to other lands around the globe. As the Church continues its worldwide growth, young men like Elder Brooks and Elder McKim will increasingly represent a new generation of missionaries, those who leave their homes to help share the gospel in a foreign land—America.