Brady Schvaneveldt and Shawn Moffett talk to their mothers twice a year — Christmas and Mother’s Day. Neither will see their families until 2012.
The two 19-year-olds, Elder Schvaneveldt, top, from Lehi, Utah, Elder Moffett from Norman, Okla., are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints. They are recognizable — two matching, impeccably dressed teenagers biking around town and handing out literature on their church.
“A lot of people think ‘Elder’ is our first name,” Elder Moffett says, pointing to his nametag pinned to his short-sleeve white button up shirt. “Then they look at the other guy — ‘Your name is Elder too? Are you guys brothers?’”
Their small, East Naples apartment looks like most college kids’ living quarters: magazine pages scotch-taped to the walls, a stack of Little Caesar’s pizza boxes in the corner, a couple of empty Powerade bottles discarded on the khaki-colored carpet, Christmas lights tacked to the walls, photos of family, friends, girlfriends, a golden retriever, a graffiti-scrawled stop sign nailed to the wall. But look closely. The magazine cutouts are paintings of Jesus Christ — Christ as a shepherd, Christ descending out of the clouds and Christ teaching a group of children. The graffiti on the stop sign reads: “LDS — Let’s Do Something” and “Life is a garden — dig it.” Above Schvandeveldt’s bed hang two magazine cutouts of Biblical scenes, along with a photocopy of the Ten Commandments.
For two years they must live a life stripped of temptation and societal excess. They devote themselves to teaching strangers about the Mormon faith. This mission has taken them away from everything they know and love in Utah and Oklahoma and dropped them in Southwest Florida.
“I think one of the biggest problems we face are the misconceptions about us,” Elder Schvaneveldt says.
“A lot of people think I’m a polygamist,” he says laughing. “They ask: ‘So, how many wives do you have?’”
His response: “Why? Do you have a daughter?”
Elder Schvaneveldt says that people think he is a salesman when he goes shopping at Walmart and will ask him where the soap is. If they recognize him as a Mormon missionary, he is often asked about magic underwear, if Mormons believe in Jesus and whether or not Mormons have horns.
While Elder Schvaneveldt says he misses the mountains back home, he says it was his choice to go on a mission.
“People say: ‘That must be a big step back — you’re missing two years of school…two years of dating,’” Elder Schvaneveldt says.
“But everything we do is setting me up for a successful life. It will help me to be a good husband and father some day. In the long run, it’s the greatest thing I could do.”