BANGOR – As one brother comes home, another one leaves. Their paths do cross for a moment or two, but soon the three go their individual ways.
That’s the way of life for a Bangor family with three sons who have served – or are serving – as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Michael Strout, 19, left last week for six weeks of training in Russian culture and language in Utah before his two-year mission trip to Russia. Matt Strout, 21, arrived home from his mission in Montana on June 28, just before his brother left. And older brother Chris Strout, 23, returned home in August 2001 from his own mission to southern France.
“I overlapped with Chris, so I didn’t see him for four years and I overlap with Mike – he just left, but I got to see him for a couple weeks before he left,” said Matt.
“It’s hard. It’s probably more hard when you’re at home,” he added. “When you’re on your mission, it goes by pretty fast. Of course you think about home, but it goes by fast. When I’m at home, it’s hard not having your brothers there. We’re best of buds.”
All three brothers cited following their faith as the reason for taking two years out of their lives to become Mormon missionaries.
“I want to spread what is important in my life,” said Michael, a sophomore studying aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech.
Many people think that Mormon youth are made to go on missions, explained Alan and Kathy Strout, the young men’s parents.
“I guess one of the misconceptions is that they have to go,” Kathy said. “These boys have chosen to go. It speaks well of their character to want to do this. I’m really proud of them.”
The middle son, Matt, said he learned a great deal while in Montana on his mission.
“It’s a wonderful experience for us to grow,” he said. “For myself, I definitely gained better knowledge of the Scriptures. We talked to a lot of people, so my ability to talk to people has improved – and your relationship with God can’t help but become stronger.”
Chris agreed with his brother, adding that a part of mission work is giving back to the community. Volunteer work in churches and food banks is a common part of mission work.
“My goals were to just make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “Another goal I had was to grow myself and become more mature, and learn about another culture and expand my personal view of the world.”
Many people don’t understand the Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints, Matt said.
“We are Christian-based and we believe in the Bible – the Old and New Testament,” he said. “We also believe in the Book of Mormon. It’s a lot like the Bible. The Bible is the writings of prophets. Those people lived in Jerusalem.”
Mormons believe that prophets also came to the American continent, Matt said.
“We believe that God is the same yesterday, today and forever,” he said. “We believe our church is led by a prophet today.”
Gordon B. Hinckley is the leader of the Mormon Church based in Utah.
Mormon families pay a portion of their income to the church. The Strouts pay 10 percent, plus an additional fund for their children to participate as missionaries.
“Some missions are very expensive and some are very cheap,” said Kathy Strout. “Basically we make a contribution to a church fund, and they pay their rent and give them $140 per month for food and toiletries. They don’t make it a lot, because they want them to be frugal and humble.”
Those who want to participate in the program pay the same amount – $375 a month – and if a family can’t afford the cost, the church still allows the young people to participate, Kathy said.
The hardest part of being a missionary’s mom is watching the children leave, she said.
“When you see them get on the plane and know you’re not going to see them for two years, it’s hard,” she said. “But you’re also happy for them because they’re doing the right thing. They leave a boy, and come back a man. It’s pretty great.”
Throughout the year, missionaries are allowed to call home only on Mother’s Day and Christmas. They write weekly letters home, and missionaries in foreign countries can use e-mail, if the mission leader allows it.
Kathy said it’s her job to keep her children informed about what’s happening at home, but at the same time encourage them to stay concentrated on their mission. She said the most unique item she has sent, so far, was peanut butter to her oldest son.
“Only a mother would spend two and half [dollars] for peanut butter and $25 to send it over to them,” she said.
Working as a missionary in France was not easy, Chris explained.
“The LDS Church is not large in France, it’s small, so we spent a lot of time spreading the gospel,” he said. “You just don’t knock on the door and talk about it [religion]. It’s not a very natural thing to do [there] and they are taken aback. You have to get past that first little brick wall. You have to gain their trust first, before you can start bringing up the subject of religion.”
Chris, who is working as a sea kayaking guide in Bar Harbor for the summer, liked both the food and the opportunity to see France.
“The food was great. Oh, man it was good,” he said. “Nothing compares to the cheese over there. Who could have asked for a better place to go? It was really pretty and there were a lot of historical places to go and people to see.”
Chris spent his two years in and around the French Riviera, but never went to the beach -because he was there to do a job, he explained.
All three brothers said they want to finish college, but Chris, being the oldest, added a little to his future outlook.
“I’d like to finish school at Brigham Young for environmental science, become a teacher, get married and have 2.5 kids and just be happy,” he said.