It’s been ten years since my mission to Ecuador. Recently I thought it would be fun to revisit the experience through reading my journals. As I skimmed through the pages I came across something quite precious and unique for an LDS missionary. On April 17th 2003, in Quevedo Ecuador, my zone of fellow missionaries coincidentally collaborated with the local LGBT community to create a mural at a public museum. This turned out to be a very positive experience.
Sometime before the project was even thought of, a couple of my fellow missionaries taught a gay investigator who seemed to have a genuine interest in joining the church. He happened to be the director of a public museum and also had some role in the local LGBT community. As the gospel lessons progressed he eventually figured out that the LDS church policy wouldn’t allow him to get baptized. Nevertheless, he had a lot of respect for Mormons, especially for the community and spiritual service.
One day he was in great need of help at the museum. He needed some artists and a large crew of volunteers. So, he asked our entire zone (12 missionaries) to help paint a mural with some volunteers who were from the LGBT community (6 individuals). I am an artist, and this was a great opportunity for me to serve the community and put my artistic talents to use. I knew that I was called by God to serve my fellow brothers and sisters and to bring all his children closer to Christ. The sexual identity of God’s children, which is not a choice, was no factor in my willingness to fulfill this sacred calling. Moreover, this was not the typical ditch digging project I usually did for service. This was art! Since I was the missionary with the most art experience, I volunteered to sketch out our project ideas. The only challenge I faced was to make an efficient plan so that the mural would be completely finished within the three hour missionary service schedule. Together we did a bit of brainstorming and came up with the plans below.
The overall theme of the mural was Peace. In the center we decided to use the dove, the peace sign covering the earth, and the Native American symbols of the healing palms. On the right we planned on painting the names of the sponsoring organizations who painted the mural. On the left was to be some quote about peace, but at that point we did not know yet what to use. The museum director decided to find a quote later.
At 9:30 am the service project started. I was nervous with the large task ahead, but eventually I gained confidence as I started to direct the volunteers. My journal account that day reads:
I never done a project like this before. When I saw that blank wall and a ton of confused people not knowing what to do, and others were goofing around, I got worried. So, I just busted out the cans of paint, put up the design, and guided it. In three hours we had a beautiful mural, I loved it. (Mission Journal, April 17th 2003)
It all worked out as planned except for one minor change. We first painted the church logo on the right, but later we erased it and put “Quevedo II.” This was because the Spanish quote that was eventually used on the left alluded to “war” and “peace.” I explained the issue in my journal “…we are still in war, I believe, and we did this mural. The thing is the Church itself has nothing to do with it, so we put as sponsors Quevedo II.” It is a mission rule not to comment on politics or war, especially during the controversial time of the Iraq war. So, we simply painted the name of our mission zone, “Quevedo II.”
In 2003 I had little idea what this three hour art project would mean to me today. Of all places, it was on my mission that I first served the community in collaboration with my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We had two common interests, art and the desire to serve others. These values made us a team. I remember more than just painting a mural. We had positive conversations. As we worked on the painting we listened to each other’s ideas and learned from each other’s perspectives. It was through this working art process that we became a community of practice. That is, a diverse people coming together with a common interest. After just three hours we achieved a mutual feeling of accomplishment as we stepped back to admire our mural. Despite our diverse identities, we worked together to do something beautiful and good. In today’s era I believe it would be great to see collaborative service projects. Whether it be a mural or some other selfless act of Christlike service. It would only benefit humanity.