September 01, 2008

Backing Up

Many years ago, Jeni's sister-in-law Carin took a series of pictures involving our children as either missionaries or grown-ups and the poses were hilarious. I think she intended to make them into greeting cards and I'm sure they would have sold well. The picture above was one of these. Joey's friend Tyler was pretending to be a missionary backing up his car with the help of his companion, Joey. If you served an LDS mission before 1992, this sight may not look familiar to you. But look at the missionaries serving now and you will see them all doing this as a hard-fast rule; a rule intended to prevent missionaries from backing into things they can't see; a rule I may have helped to create.

While in my first area in Quantico, Virginia, we lived in the basement of a wonderful member family's home. I had been in the field about 3 months when late one evening my Senior companion was on the phone with the District Leader, and the member needed us to move our car that was blocking the way out of their one-lane driveway. Now this home was nestled slightly back into the woods and there was very little light outside. My companion motioned for me to go ahead and move the car and threw me the keys. I didn't think much of it at the time. I was helping out my Senior companion, a charitable thing to do! So I got behind the wheel and carefully started driving in reverse. About halfway down the long driveway, the car just kind of slowed to a stop, even though I hadn't pushed the brake. I was going slowly and I thought this very strange. I drove forward a few feet and then put it in reverse to try again. Same result. One more time. Same result. The car just slowed to a stop. I got out of the car and saw nothing behind me. Then I walked over to the passenger side and found that somehow a large tree had stuck itself to the side of the car. A little nervous now, I got back in the car, moved it off the remainder of the driveway, allowed the member to leave, and then pulled it back up by the house. I got out, tried to assess the damage and in the very limited light it seemed like the car was fine. I went back inside the house and didn't mention any of this to my companion.

The next morning we went outside and as I walked over to the passenger side, my heart sank. Unseen the night before, the whole side of the car was dented in, scraped by the tree I was unknowingly running up against. My companion came over to look and suggested we call the mission president, the last thing I wanted to do as a new missionary. On the phone, I explained what had happened. My mission president, who was as strict as can be, said "Elder Shearer, lets count how many rules you broke." He explained that I had 1) Driven the car without permission (I wasn't the designated driver), 2) Driven without my companion in the car, 3) Left my companion alone, and 4) Not reported the incident immediately. He paused for a few moments and then expressed his confidence in me as a missionary, but suspended me from driving for 6 months.

Within the next few weeks, we were informed that a new rule had been implemented nationwide for all missionaries. When backing up a car, the non-driving missionary had to stand behind the car to help direct the missionary driving, just in case there were any cars present that the driver couldn't see.... or trees. Come to find out, the same week as my accident, a sister missionary in Canada had done something similar and those two incidents had been the final straw for the Church to change its policy.

So, if you were a missionary wondering why you had to stand outside the car to back up your companion, now you know. I'm sure you were a much safer driver as a result and my accident in some small way probably prevented you from getting into one of your own. You are welcome.