The three missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were just driving on a county road, away from being in their apartment where they were doing most of the work remotely while on their two-year commitment.
But the former college students were confronted with one of our area’s most persistent, and ugliest trends.
“We just started complaining—what the heck is all this garbage?” recalled James Vance, 20, from Idaho Falls, Idaho. “But then we went and picked some up. It’s a good way to get out and serve.”
“It’s super-fun,” agreed Joey McNames, 20, from Washington state.”It’s always good to serve. I feel that’s a big part of why we’re here.”
They have been cleaning parks and local roadways for a couple weeks now, usually twice a week-- at least two bags filled by each of them by the end of the outing. Since they had some extra time and needed to get out of the apartment they thought they’d take action.
On Friday afternoon , January 15, they were cleaning up the sides of Patuxent River Road, outside Davidsonville Park. They’ve noticed that Maryland has a particular affinity for one type of litter in particular—beer bottles and cans.
They filled six large trash bags, mostly with beer bottles—over 100 bottles per bag.
“Pretty much all six bags were just beer bottles,” Vance confirmed.
They may be suffering from a little bottle-picking fatigue, but the men said the service they’re doing has been beneficial in multiple ways, and has already had a positive impact.
They getting out in the fresh air. They’re beautifying the area. And they’re enjoying it.
“Whether we share our message or not, we just want to help,” said Raygn Robertson, 19, from Idaho.
The missionaries had their original missions, including overseas trips, curtailed due to the pandemic. They were re-routed to Maryland. They’re current work has been curtailed too, mostly to Zoom chats and Bible study from their home.
The companions have only been together for five weeks. Their church’s mission work is voluntary. They even put money towards it themselves. It does require a serious commitment.
They don’t watch movies or music while on mission, or play video games. Their lives are pretty much service 24-7, they indicated.
“We don’t hang out with friends or family,” Vance said.
The men were placed together on their mission without knowing one another, but they said they are getting along pretty well.
“These guys are homeys, so we get along,” McNames said “Everybody wants to make it work.”
These joint missions of their church are usually successful in teaming church members to do their work, they said. The members are unified in their commitment to the Gospel.
“It’s kind of a swim-or-die situation,” Vance said. “you either get along or...”
The three also have education and career plans they are looking forward to getting back to once the mission is complete. They’re talents are quite varied.
Vance is an electrical engineering student who wants to pursue an MBA and entrepreneurship.
“I was making stuff to help paraplegics get wheelchairs up and down stairs, “ he said. “I want to make stuff like that—that helps people and hopefully makes me money too.”
Robertson, whose family owns a 4,000 acre farm, hopes to go into medicine.
“I want to be a chiropractor,” he said. “It’s in-person. When they come in they’re hurting. When they leave you’ve made them feel better.”
McNames has an artistic gift he wants to continue to share.
“I was studying illustration,” he said. “I’m going to be getting a bachelors in fine arts. “I love story telling, and I’ve always had a knack for illustrating.”
They’re well aware of the negative impression some residents may have of missionary work. Vance said in pre-pandemic times they would be out in their white jackets and ties, knocking on doors in hopes of introducing people to the life of Jesus Christ.
“I feel there’s a connotation of trying to force it on people,” Vance said. “So we try not to be pushy. Everybody’s been super nice to us. We just want to be nice.”
Spreading the Gospel message is something they love to do, they said. In their effort to aid to the communities they serve, they decided to think outside the box. The mission is is to spread the Gospel, but it is also to be good neighbors.
They said they were bit surprised by the abundance of litter they’ve seen. The same problem isn’t as common where they come from.
The trio has reached out through social media to ask residents for new locations to pick up trash and gotten a pretty robustly.
Vance agreed. “It’s cool,” he said. “using Facebook as a way finding (locations), connections that we make—just grinding in the face of difficulty.”
In just a short time they have also inspired others to get to work and clean up the county. On Friday Robertson said a woman saw them in Davidsonville Park, and began picking litter along with them.
“We’ve had a positive interactions,” he said. “People are seeing it and they actually went and did it as well because of what we did.”
Even though their host state has a serious issues with littering, when asked about Maryland McNames had a quick reply.
“It’s awesome!” he said.
They hope to have a continuing positive impact on their new neighbors. And they also hopeful that this experience will even give them takeaways they use for the rest of their lives.
“Doing something you love for two years, for us a religious cause, it really has long-lasting effects,” Vance said. “It definitely positively effects your life.”