On Centre | Centre Region: Recent Mormon grads taking their faith on the road

On Centre: Centre RegionJune 19, 2014 

Their faith will be put to the test. Literally.

Four young men and women will soon depart for 18- and 24-month missions with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to share their faith on three continents.

Cathryn DeLong, Jessica Gardner, Max Hults and Hannah Leavitt, all recent high school graduates from the State College area, will follow in the Mormon tradition of deferring higher education to pursue mission work — proselytizing, teaching, learning, helping others and immersing themselves in cultures far different from their own.

There’s much more to serving missions than knocking on doors.

DeLong, who, along with Leavitt, will go to Russia, said that a typical day is very regimented, requiring missionaries to be up early studying scripture independently and then with their companions. Then they’ll “go out, knock on doors, walk around and tell people about Mormonism,” she said.

Community service work is a big part of it, too. But for DeLong, 20, it’s all about her faith.

“I’m excited to be spreading the gospel, which is our primary focus,” she said.

But before one can spread the gospel, one must study the gospel — and the language. So, for two months prior to heading overseas, she’ll attend mission training in Provo, Utah. That, she said, will give her a good foundation.

Once in Russia, she will live and work with a companion.

About 84,000 Mormon missionaries are currently serving in more than 400 countries, according to Wendell Williams, public affairs director for the Altoona stake.

Williams said missionaries pay their own way — food, housing, travel expenses — putting off school, work and dating to completely devote themselves to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hults, 18, is “super excited” to be going to Reno, Nev., after six weeks at a mission training center in Mexico.

He just graduated from State College Area High School , and he wanted to go someplace where he could speak Spanish. Missionaries are called by the church in Salt Lake City based on their language experience, medical needs, interviews with church leaders and other factors. They don’t choose where they go, so, given that they could be going just about anywhere in the world, the news comes as a pretty big surprise.

DeLong didn’t set her sights on a particular place.

“I knew wherever I was going it would be the right place,” she said.

Gardner, a 2014 State High graduate, will travel to Germany.

Hults wanted to use his Spanish-speaking skills and had hoped for South America. But he wasn’t at all disappointed to learn that he would get to use his Spanish at a mission in Reno, where the focus of his work will be serving those who have already converted.

He’ll be teaching, he said, but also learning how to listen to the needs of others. He’s excited about speaking Spanish on a daily basis and sharing his faith.

“It’s a big part of who I am,” he said.

After his mission, Hults plans to attend Brigham Young University, and eventually attending medical school. “But that’s a long way off,” he said.

DeLong, a 2012 State High graduate, will have to resign her appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy for two years, but she plans to reapply after her mission and a little “my time” traveling.

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