April 10, 2017

Alabama Birmingham Mission


Kristin (Alabama Birmingham Mission)

–Paraphrased from Kristin’s mission interview–

Mission Geography

In Alabama we cover three different states: Alabama up to Tennessee and a little bit of Mississippi. We have 300 missionaries. It was the largest amount of missionaries in the world at the time. Half of those were sisters. Our mission president, President Hanks, is handling it so well. There are six stakes in Alabama and a temple in Birmingham. There are lots of wards in branches. They speak English and Spanish mostly as the main languages. There is a really good number of Spanish speakers and Spanish branches.

Historical Sites

There are still segregated churches in some areas. Elvis’ birthplace is in one of the Mississippi areas where I got to serve. Rosa Parks lived in Montgomery. We went to the museum for her and the civil rights movement there. There is a lot of history down there for sure. Talladega Nascar Racetrack is there. That was my last area. Every area is a little different. The part of Mississippi that we covered had the real Southern women with the way that they cooked and the people have thicker accents. In Alabama they have the Southern women as well, but they are more industrialized. There is a lot of racial differences.

People and Culture

The people are so wonderful and kind. They will take care of you and love you because they are very Christian. They aren’t afraid to talk about God to anybody. They love Jesus and love to follow what He commanded in the Bible. They are very humble and willing to talk about that with you. They will invite you over to dinner even if they don’t know you well. They play Christian music in stores. Football is a religion itself down there. They taught us to not go tracting on game days. Life rotates around Alabama football. In one of my areas we found some people that wanted to hear more because she was white dating a black guy and the churches around there in the small town wouldn’t let them come in together dating. It’s easy for people to come to church because there are so many different religions down there.

Bronte (Alabama Birmingham Mission)

–Paraphrased from Bronte’s mission interview–

Football

The Birmingham Alabama mission is the best mission in the world. Everybody that goes there thinks that. It is the home to some really crazy football fans. Roll tide and War Eagle are like war cries there because you have Auburn and Alabama football.

The Most Sister Missionaries in the World

In my mission, we had the most sisters in the world for a time. We had about equal numbers of elders and sisters. Maybe 150 sisters and the same amount of elders for a time. My transfer was the first giant transfer of sister missionaries. We had about 30. I can’t remember exactly, but we had a lot of sisters. I asked the elders how they felt about it and at first they thought it was weird because they had already been out about 6 months before the first big group of age change missionaries. It was a big blessing later on because when sisters and elders work together for the same cause with their different gifts and natural talents they work together well.

Alabama Birmingham Mission Boundaries

My mission covered the top half of Alabama. Montgomery area up to a little tiny chunk of Tennessee in Fayatteville. It was just a little section. And we had a good chunk of Mississippi. It was awesome.

The South

There is so much love. People love Jesus Christ and would do anything for the Lord. They love to be His hands and to really help people. One time we were biking in Huntsville where it is pretty rich and wealthy and has people from all over the world and we came across this meat smoker. We pulled our bikes over and started talking to him. He said he was smelling BBQ and asked who we were. We told him that we were representatives from the Lord and are from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He pulled out these beautiful plates of BBQ sandwiches with baked beans and said they were for us for no charge because we were serving the Lord. They are not closed off at all to serving people that are serving God. They want to be good people. They know the commandments and know how they should be living. They have such great stock in the Bible.

Whitney (Alabama Birmingham Mission)

–Paraphrased from Whitney’s mission interview–

Arriving to the Mission

It seems like most everyone that was flying out to our district were all in and out of having a cold. We were all stuffed up and sick all night. I remember my ear wouldn’t pop and I felt half deaf. I was so excited to land in Alabama and meet the Mission President and all of the new missionaries. That first day was so fun, but I was so scared. I remember looking around and seeing these people at the airport and I was terrified to talk to them and share the gospel with them, but I was just really excited to do it. Even though there were a lot of ups and downs emotionally, it was a fun exciting time.

Alabama Birmingham Mission Geography

The Alabama Birmingham mission covers the top two thirds of the state. The farthest southern edge is in Greenville. I served there on the border. The bottom third is part of the Tallahassee Mission. We cover mostly the state of Alabama and a little bit of Mississippi and part of Georgia. You’ll mostly be in Alabama if you’re called to this mission. We have the Birmingham temple. The mission president was great and tried to get us there a few times a year. Sometimes it didn’t happen but he tried to make sure we could go do sessions a few times on our mission.

The Bible Belt

Alabama is part of the Bible Belt. People would tell us that it is the buckle of the Bible Belt. I really liked being in the South and experiencing that culture, because religion is such an important part of the Southern way of life. Walking around talking to people about Jesus was totally acceptable and a lot of people were excited about it. We could always find people to talk to about the Gospel because religion is so important to them. I really loved that. It’s a huge advantage going to the Southern states because it gives you a chance to build on the faith that they already have in Jesus and give them more.

Southern Food

A lot of deep fried food. If you go to any festival or town market, they will have deep fried oreos or deep fried snickers. One food I saw was chitlins. I didn’t have to try it, but I heard a lot of horror stories. They have a lot of vegetables. They have greens, which is like a leafy vegetable that they would stew. I wasn’t crazy about it. They have okra too. I like fried okra, but it’s really slimy when it’s stewed. They have lots of peaches in the summer and wonderful produce. You can get homemade mac n cheese, fried chicken, and other things that are really great. Biscuits and gravy is another weird breakfast food that I didn’t have before. Deer meat is popular during hunting season, and everyone likes to hunt. Grits are okay. You’ll find normal things too. The food is always really good.

Religious Culture

Everyone goes to church, and everyone has a relative somewhere that is a preacher. It’s definitely a relaxed environment. Southern hospitality is definitely a thing, especially in the small towns because everybody knows everybody else. Every house has a porch on it and everyone sits on their porch in the summer and drinks sweet tea. I had never seen that before, but everyone drinks sweet tea.

Jaxon (Alabama Birmingham Mission)

–Paraphrased from Jaxon’s mission interview–

Birmingham Mission Geography

I served at a time where a big transition took place in the mission. Geographically, the mission covers as far north as Fayetteville TN and then the very bottom of the mission is Greenville Alabama, which is about a 4 1/2 to 5 hour drive from top to bottom. To the west we covered the Tupelo MI which covers Tupelo MI on down to Starkville. We also covered little parts of Tennessee, so it is a pretty big mission geographically. Member wise there are six stakes, Huntsville, Madison, Tupelo, Birmingham, Bessemer, Montgomery. In total, there’s about 30,000 members of the church in the mission, so it’s pretty strong. There’s a temple just north of Birmingham which covers all of the stakes in the Birmingham mission, plus a few more to the south just outside of the mission. It’s a small temple, but it’s filled to capacity whenever they have a session.

Missionaries in Birmingham

Missionary wise, there were 150-160 missionaries when I got into the mission. When the age change happened in October, nothing immediately changed. But in the months after in the spring, the number of missionaries rose to over 300, which was a big, big change. Obviously, the number of sisters skyrocketed as well.

There are 4 Spanish branches in the mission, so we had about 50 or 60 Spanish missionaries, since there was a lot of Hispanics in Alabama. The branches were really strong and well functioning,  so they needed little help from the stake. Talking to other missionaries who served in the South, it seems that our mission had an abnormally large amount of branches. When you get there, you’ll find all these towns that have been there forever, and people are slowly moving away to bigger cities. As people leave the branches, which used to be wards, are still there, and about 50-60% of the areas in the mission are branches. It is a great experience, you feel so much more a part of everything that happens because you are an integral part of the unit. The Branch president needs you to do things, the members love you, and that’s a great dynamic in the South; to be a part of the family and the southern hospitality of those people.

Alabama 101

Alabama is the heart of the civil rights movement. MLK jr preached in a church in Montgomery for many years. Rosa Parks lived in the area. People are very proud of that. It’s a fun thing to be a part of. Segregation isn’t a problem down there like people might think. As a missionary especially, they are very welcoming. I think it’s one of the real treats of serving there. I really wanted to learn more about other faiths when I went down there and I got to. The Southern Baptist Church is very strong down there. They typically believe in the Trinity. They love the Bible. They read it every day and have Bible study outside of church. I remember one guy that was a pastor who asked us how well we knew the Bible. He started listing off scriptures to his wife and she just could quote all of them. She knew almost 700 verses. Methodists are there as well. They were very kind to us. Presbyterian isn’t quite as big. They do have a really big church down there though. Seventh Day Adventist is more common in the north of the mission. They have a university up there. It’s really the culture for these people. You come to see the passion that people have for religion. In the grocery store line, people ask you what team you root for and what church you go to. The Church had a rough history in the South. The missionary work is progressing slowly, but there are still a lot of misconceptions of us down there. You will come to love the Bible and to understand the importance of the Book of Mormon as well.

Alabama Weather

I thought it would be hot year round. It was hot when I got there. It starts warming up in May and it goes until the fall. The winter months really surprised me. I didn’t even bring a coat. It was freezing, because of the humidity. It didn’t matter what you put on. The cold went straight to your bones. Bring leggings, gloves, underarmor, hats. It snowed in February and it shut down the whole state. We were driving home and there were cars lined up on the side of the road because people were just too afraid to drive. It gets really cold down there, but it gets really hot too. You will sweat a lot. One day we biked a lot and then we played basketball with some investigators. At the end of the day I weighed seven pounds less than when I weighed myself in the morning. I had no idea tornadoes existed there but they do. We dealt with quite a few when I was there.

Diversity in Alabama

There is a movie called Sweet Home Alabama, and I had this thought that everyone in Alabama was white and a farmer, but there are a lot of African Americans in reality. There are a lot of towns that used to have factories that supported the town, but when those factories close down, the people there are often stuck there and don’t have a lot of options. I had heard the word “projects” before my mission, but I really learned what they are in Alabama. It’s just government funded housing for people that need help and can’t work for whatever reason. There are a few areas in the mission that are agricultural, but the majority of the saints there live in the cities, because that’s where the jobs are. Huntsville has a plant for NASA where they built the first rocket that went to the moon, so there is a large engineering presence there. Birmingham has very strong medical schools and programs. You’ll deal with people of both races and also there are a lot of Hispanics. It’s a very unique mix and the people are amazing.