by Guest Poster Dr. B.
Last Sunday in church I spoke with four missionaries who told me of a strange ritual that used to be practiced in their mission. One missionary assured me that he had personally been involved in this questionable practice. When I was a missionary we really didn’t have any missionaries that would do something so wasteful. But somewhere in the 1980s there developed a strange folk practice among missionaries throughout the world where they ignited parts of their clothing in a huge bonfire. Some people would consider it a harmless practice as they would burn off parts of their clothing as a ritual sign of passage. I am not certain myself if it is a good or bad thing since this week I attended a conference about green issues. Only a wealthy society could consider the incineration of a tie, a shirt, a pair of pants, and a suit jacket as an item of inconsequence.
A couple of weeks prior was a missionary poster asking for ties to be sent to Peru for the poor Peruvian elders. I wonder how many of them engage in this practice of burning off apparel as a sign of the passage of time.
There was a ward mission leader seated in the foyer when I talked with the missionaries. I asked him if he had ever heard of missionaries burning their clothing before. He said sure, ten years when he served a mission he burned a tie at six months, a shirt at a year, a pair of pants at eighteen months, and his suit the day before he came home.
I thought this practice was just unique to elders then I discovered that a few sisters also engage in this practice right before they came home. I actually found a photograph of one sister burning her dress. It is amazing how they incinerate them.
I was told that they torch them with lighter fluid or gasoline. It is a wonder to me that they haven’t burned down their missionary apartments. I know that lots of boys are pyromaniacs. Even I love a good fire on occasion. I wonder why they didn’t toast marshmallows on the pyre when they sent up their burnt offerings.
After attending my seminar this week I wonder if it is environmentally friendly for missionaries to be burning their clothes. I think if half of the 50,000 missionaries engaged in this practice there could be lots of emissions. Not to mention how expensive a suit is. I remember how I spent over a thousand dollars to outfit my children for their missions. I wonder how many parents know that the fifty dollar tie, thirty dollar shirt, one hundred dollar pair of pants and two hundred dollar Mr. Mac coat is going up in a ball of flames.
I told the one brother that I couldn’t afford to burn my suit pants because I only owned three pair of pants on my mission. A matching pair for my two suits and a pair of blue jeans for P-Day. If I burned either pair I wouldn’t have had anything to wear on Sunday. In fact I was so poor after my mission I wore those ratty suits and ties for another year or two.
If I had been richer maybe I would have changed them from a solid to a gaseous state too. I am perplexed how this custom ever started. I guess most of them figure the burning of clothes is a way to symbolically shed time towards the day when they will go home. After my mission I wish I had been able to stay longer or do it over again.
I do have to admit if their clothes were as ragged as mine, they probably had soggy ties or suits from the hours I spent in rain, snow and sleet. The Mormon missionaries are like the postal service: nothing keeps them from knocking on doors. They climb ravines, ford streams, fall on the ground, wrestle their companions. I wonder how they even keep their suits clean for as long as they do.
If every parent could see what abuse the missionary clothing goes through, they would never spend thousands of dollars outfitting their son or daughter, as I did. Instead, they would immediately head for the nearest thrift store to purchase a “burning suit.”