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Friday, October 14, 2005 

The Screw

Jason Hancock was my trainer on my mission. When I arrived in Moscow, I was overwhelmed. The airport was dusty, load, old, and it spoke a foreign tongue that seemed wholly unlike the one I had learned in the MTC. The AP's had hired a city bus to bring us into town. The buildings were crowded together; the innumerable host of people appeared as windswept as the perpetually flying plastic bags. One by one, the people whom I had come to Moscow with were picked up by bright-eyed young men in crisp white shirts and dark ties. I was the last to leave the office. All the elders there assured me that Elder Hancock would come, that he was just screwing around with me.

Jason Hancock had a wide smile, dark hair (parted down the middle), slightly dorky glasses, and ring around the collar. Although he isn't ugly, the person he reminds me of most is the smaller, rounder kid of the trick-or-treaters in The Nightmare before Christmas. The personality kind of fits, too.

Elder Hancock finally came, took me out to the street to get a taxi, chatted the driver up all the way to our apartment, and then helped me carry my things up. Some of Hancock's missionary buddies were there, having spent the night because they had come in from Nizhny Novgorod. They joked and laughed with each other, cracking jokes in Russian about my inability to understand them. I asked Elder Hancock what we were going to do and he said that he had nothing planned, because I would need to sleep. He was right. Some of the best advice he ever gave me was, "Don't wake up until morning, no matter what."

Live with Hancock was interesting. We tracted some and street contacted some. We also listened to an awful lot of Broadway Musicals. Any respect that I have for Andrew Lloyd Webber comes from this period (tempered by an abiding hate for The Phantom of the Opera). Of course, we didn't necessarily limit ourselves to musicals. Hancock had become enamored of Sarah Brightman (see above Webber comment) and had purchased her latest CD. Occasional other rock or classical motifs appeared. Hancock had plenty of music to choose from because he had convinced his trainer to bring Hancock's entire CD collection with them from Utah when they came to pick up their son.

I can't remember the name of Hancock's trainer at the moment, but he was famous for having a glass eye. When kids got unruly during discussions, he would pop it out and turn it to watch them. Apparently, they quieted up under the gaze of the all-seeing eye. He had been shot in the eye with an arrow by his kid brother. His family owned the "kiss-a-pig" petting zoo in Vernal, UT (with a pig on the sign). Of course, I got all of this information from Hancock.

Hancock wasn't the most notorious liar in the mission. Another elder, who made AP, apparently managed to convince one of his companions that the Three Nephites had dropped by for a visit while the companion was in the shower. Yet another attempted to convince a greenie that the Church had okayed vodka use for missionary purposes in the Russian field (and was shocked when the greenie went along). However, Hancock was probably the most charismatic.

Hancock loved shopki, the stereotypical, boxy Russian hats. He took me to a vast open-air market on my second day in country so that I could buy one. He told me story after story to demonstrate what a shrewd bargainer he was. He had bought several of the hats already. He got himself an impressive wolf one, which gave him a bearing somewhat like a cross between Christopher Lloyd and Yahoo Serious. He also helped me buy a "black mink" one for something like $100. When, months later, I discovered that black mink meant "dyed rabbit", I could have killed him. But he had already left.

I was his next to last companion. He had four months left when he got me and he loved to discuss what he would do when he got home. In particular, he imagined himself naked...in a pool...with girls (I wonder how many searchers that sentence will pull in).

In our second month together, Hancock got appendictus. They took him to a Russian hospital where, he later told, all the nurses came in while he was being prepped for surgery because they had never seen a circumcised man before. During the surgery, the entirety of The Phantom of the Opera played out in his head. He was shaken awake by a nurse briefly, who asked him if he wanted what looked like a pickle in a jar. He only later realized what he had turned down. He was terribly disappointed in his judgment.

I have many heroes. My wife, my parents, my siblings, my kids, church figures, and others. I don't know why I feel like discussing Hancock. He was an unrepentent screw. He didn't much care about mission rules if they interfered with his idea of a good time or idea. During his convalescense, when all I could do was sit around the apartment, he encouraged me to read Tom Clancy books. He was convinced that our landlord was sneaking in to our apartment when we were out and using our soap. He was hedonistic, trunky, abrasive, irreverent and goofy. I love him to this day.

One day, we were out working. We actually did a fair amount of it, though not as much as our overzealous DL thought was necessary. In any case, we spent a full day getting nothing accomplished. So, Hancock decided we would go home. We still had plenty of evening left. Work could have been done. But Hancock had the wisdom to see that we weren't going to be able to do it. When we got home, he got out brooms and we cleaned the apartment. I am not sure why, but cleaning that apartment that night brought me closer to the Lord than all the frustrating work that we had done during the day had. Afterward, Hancock encouraged me to sit out on the balcony and watch the sunlight fade away.

Hancock understood that we are, after all, just folk, in a way that I didn't then and sometimes still don't. God doesn't expect us to be perfect; he expects us to be us, and he seems happy to work with that. God doesn't expect heroics from us all the time, he realizes that we have to sleep. Hancock did whatever he did sincerely, with a good heart and an understanding of the fragile humanity that binds us together. In his own wierd way, he was a hero.

Very interesting post, John. Your companion sounds like a pretty good missionary to me. It may be that on a mission, you need to be wholly focused on the work, but I'm guessing (never having been on a mission) that it still helps to be a person, if not your pre-mission self.

what d-train said.

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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